Voices of Change: Sr Sylvia Thibodeux

In honor of Black History Month, the SisterStory podcast producers have created a mini-series inspired by the voice of black sisters throughout history. The monologues presented in this series were derived from the interviews shared by author Dr. Shannen Dee Williams and of sisters who attended the first National Black Sisters Conference in 1970.

As a teacher in the Roxbury section of Boston, Sr Sylvia Thibodeux taught subjects that she felt were most relevant to the needs of the students. In an interview, she said, “Every kid coming out of a black school ought to know how to organize a rent strike by the eighth grade.”

The National Black Sisters Conference (NBSC) was established in August 1968. NBSC was organized by Sister Martin de Porres Grey, R.S.M to confront racism in the Catholic Church and in society by supporting, communicating, and educating Black Catholic women religious. What began as a support system for Black women religious has turned into a national support and communication system for members of the Church, congregation, and surrounding society.

Pa Ying:
As an organization, the National Black Sisters Conference uses its platform to speak and act on social justice, educational, economical, and religious issues in the United States and the world. As a collective, NBSC promotes a positive image of the Black community, and serve to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in the communities that they serve and live. As an organization, National Black Sisters Conference vows,

“As women religious and associates, we draw strength and courage from God, support one another in the faith; and hold our elders in high esteem. We study, speak and act on issues that impact the social, educational, economic, and religious milieu of the United States and the world community. We promote a positive self-image among ourselves, and all African Peoples. We believe that through the power of the Spirit working in and through us we can be witnesses of Jesus Christ in the communities where we live and serve.”

This is SisterStory Presents! And, I am Rocky.

Pa Ying Vang:
And I am Pa Ying Vang.

In honor of Black History Month, we at NCSW will be doing a special limited series focusing on the untold stories of Black Catholic Sisters.

Pa Ying Vang:
The stories from this series were discovered with the help of a news article from Global Sisters Report that was highlighting the dissertation of Dr. Shannen Dee Williams. Dr. Williams’ dissertation documents the history of Black Catholic Sisters.

Through further reading of Dr. William’s dissertation and further research, we learned of the National Black Sisters Conference. And, as we read, we found wonderful interviews with and commentary from sisters who were part of the conference. Their words provided powerful insight into their experience as sisters and the importance of this conference.

Pa Ying Vang:
Inspired by their words, we set out to create a very unique kind of podcast project. We read about the sisters interviewed, and, from that, wrote monologues inspired by them.

As these are monologues, they are best heard as they would be performed. So, we recorded them as they were performed on a stage.

Pa Ying Vang:
And, unlike our other series, where Rocky and I are the main voices, we have invited other women to participate.

*break*stage curtain opens and footsteps start*

In her dissertation, Dr. Williams’ wrote, “...black sisters are the forgotten prophets of American Catholicism and democracy.” This is performance inspired by one of those sisters. Performing as Sr Sylvia Thibodeus, this is Nicole Dye.

Nicole Dye:
Now, I’m a sister, and I’m a teacher. And, based on just that, people seem to assume a lot. And, I’ll tell you, those assumptions lead to a lot of shocked parents. Some of them even have got ten the idea that I’m radical. They seem to think that being a sister and being a teacher, I should be meek and mild. They seem to want me to teach their children math and reading, but nothing about the life they will face as adults. Pff, as adults? They may even be facing these things now, whether they are old enough to know it or not. I’m a teacher and I’m a sister, and learning how to be both has taught me a few things: be loving, be kind, be generous, know the world around you, and help out each other. Kids ought to be able to grow up to take a stand. They ought to be able to stand up against oppression. They ought to be taught how. Every kid coming out of a black school ought to know how to organize a rent strike by the eighth grade. Community, faith, and education are means of liberation, tools granted to us by God. We must learn how to use them for the benefit of others. We must use them until all people are free and justice is a right granted to everyone.



NYTimes Article: https://www.nytimes.com/1970/08/15/archives/finding-identity-black-nuns-...

Global Sisters Report: http://globalsistersreport.org/news/trends/forthcoming-book-documents-hi...

SisterStory Presents: Cover Art

About SisterStory Presents:

SisterStory Presents: is a collective podcast for work without a series for a home. One-offs, mini-series, short audio clips, and anything in-between; this podcast serves as a point of connection for SisterStory and the various audiences we serve.