The visual animosity being displayed in the news the past few weeks can be a teachable moment for families to discuss racial prejudice in a productive way. Shutterstock photo
The visual animosity being displayed in the news the past few weeks can be a teachable moment for families to discuss racial prejudice in a productive way. Shutterstock photo
" What does Jesus say about loving one another? "
Between protests over violence against people of color, and opportunists using the cause to riot and loot, the 24-hour news cycle has been filled with disturbing scenes. Add the powder keg of social isolation during a months-long pandemic, and suddenly the nation can feel upside down.

How can parents discuss the current events of social unrest and racial prejudice with their children in a productive way, and instill God’s message of love for one’s neighbor? Dr. Ellieen Ancrum Ingbritsen addressed that very topic June 10, in both an interview with The Monitor and an afternoon panel with students and faculty of Ewing High School.

“I think the primary focus needs to be active listening,” said Ingbritsen, a special resources teacher at the high school in both English and history. “A parent knows their child more than any other person, and listening to them with an open mind is extraordinarily important.”

A member of Sacred Heart Parish, Trenton, Ingbritsen was former diocesan director of the Office of Black Apostolate and secretary for Ethnic Ministries under Bishop Emeritus John Smith. Currently she serves as an adjunct professor at Holy Family University, Philadelphia, in the School of Education.

Another key piece to the puzzle, she says, is honesty. “We as adults have to work through our fears and anxieties. … So if your fifth-grader is asking you, ‘Mom or Dad, are you prejudiced?’ then we need to reflect back that question and answer honestly – because our honesty should bring us and our family to another level.”

Ingbritsen recalled integrating in Holy Cross School, Rumson, in 1967 as the only African-American pupil. “The only people they knew who were black were servants or drivers,” she said candidly. “I had great experiences there. But many of those families had never encountered people of color before our family came there.”

Many in the Diocese of Trenton may live in areas that are not diverse. “We need to examine, what do we know about someone who is not immediately in our purview? That’s a piece of loving. You love people that you know, and those you need to learn more about,” she said.

Along with confronting the unfamiliar, Ingbritsen advised reflecting on one of the most prominent Christian calls.

“What does Jesus say about loving one another?” she suggested parents ask their children – and each other. “‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ That means everyone. What does that mean in our family? Not just in our house, but when we go outside our house – how do we treat other people?”

She compared current events and the treatment of people of color to the Passion of Christ, who endured unimaginable suffering only to be resurrected.

“This is our human passion story, of sinfulness,” she explained. “I am hoping our resurrection as a human family comes about as a result. We now need to be resurrected in humanness, understanding, honesty, to see that we all fall short of the prize – but we can do better.”

Finally, Ingbritsen said, reflection needs to move into action.

 “We have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. It’s a matter of not overthinking it. We as adults have to work through our fears and anxieties,” she continued, “so that we can ask our sons and daughters, ‘How will you make the world different? What are you going to do to be a witness? How are you going to enact ‘love my neighbor?’”

This is a good time, Ingbritsen noted, to explore other cultures. She suggested taking a virtual tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, and reading books like “Before the Mayflower” by Lerone Bennett Jr., both of which explore the history and experience of black Americans. NBC also has a children’s news program available to stream.

Because of the nature of the visual animosity, parents may instinctively shelter their children from the news. But Ingbritsen said this could instead be a chance to learn.

“There is opportunity … for a teachable moment,” when we share the news with our family, she said. “Where we shelter too much, we don’t confront what we need to.

“There have been presumptions about progress – but the reality has been revealed to us through our current experience – we are short of the mark; we have not hit the bullseye,” Ingbritsen continued. “We’ve come far, but only to a certain place … we need to honestly look at who we are as Catholic people.”

As to values being taught in school, as some media have suggested, Ingbritsen believes home is the origin of attitudes.

“As a teacher, I only see you 82 minutes in a 24-hour day – it’s nothing,” she explained. “You bring what has been taught to you to school. And that’s why as Christians, we should be the leaders in change – because our baptism has given us this mandate to ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ We can’t just talk about it, we have to do it.

“It’s giving people dignity, whoever you are,” she emphasized. “We’re all human persons ... We need to be renewed; we need to rise.”