For Jesuit Father Fred Kammer, the issue of race is what first sparked his interest in social justice. “Growing up in New Orleans in the late 1950s, the race issue was just beginning to open up,” Fr. Kammer recently told an audience at Cabrini College in Pennsylvania.
Fr. Kammer said he remembers, at age 9, the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 when the court declared the segregation of schools unconstitutional.
“But it really didn’t hit,” Fr. Kammer said. “The glamour of that court decision was the court said, ‘You should desegregate schools with all deliberate speed.’
“The problem is, what is all-deliberate speed? For many states there wasn’t much speed at all,” Fr. Kammer said. “States held off and resisted.”
Fr. Kammer was under what he calls “extra special pressure” being a young man attending a Jesuit school in the wake of desegregation. He said all eyes were on him as a Jesuit student who was supposed to be representing his school.
“The buses were desegregated. I was 13 [when I sat] down next to a person of color for the first time,” Fr. Kammer said. “I had grown up in a segregated world, watching other people sit down or not sit down, or a black person sit down next to a white person who got up.”
The values that drew Fr. Kammer to social justice have stayed with him. As a Jesuit, Fr. Kammer went to law school and worked in legal services in Atlanta and Baton Rouge among the poor. Today Fr. Kammer is the director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans.
Fr. Kammer says being active in social justice is not as daunting as people may think.
“If you can find one way to be engaged with people who are poor and needy – disadvantaged – and one issue that you get really interested in, even for the rest of your life, that’s a wonderful combination,” Fr. Kammer said.
To read more about Fr. Kammer’s talk, visit Cabrini College’s Loquitur website.