JoAnna Mullett and her sons, Jacob, 10, and Nate, 8, show off their signs — and a bit of silliness — during the Friday rally. “I think it’s especially important to bring kiddos out here to show that you take action; you don’t just talk about racism,” said Mullett, a member of nearby Holy Family Parish. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
JoAnna Mullett and her sons, Jacob, 10, and Nate, 8, show off their signs — and a bit of silliness — during the Friday rally. “I think it’s especially important to bring kiddos out here to show that you take action; you don’t just talk about racism,” said Mullett, a member of nearby Holy Family Parish. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Every few minutes a horn honked, and one Latino man yelled out his window: “Thank you! God bless you!”

Nearly 20 sign-holders were flanking Southeast Division Street May 7 for a rally with the theme “black lives matter.” The rallygoers also stood in support of racial justice for Indigenous individuals, Asian Americans, Latinos, and other communities affected by systemic and personal racism.

Most Fridays since September the group has convened near St. Philip Neri Church to remind people that “we have made progress but there is much more work to do,” said Eloise Bates, a member of St. Philip Neri and the rally organizer.

Many participants are Portland Catholics but people of other faiths or none join weekly. The evening event is one of four racial justice initiatives spearheaded by St. Philip Neri’s Peace and Justice Commission. Later that night the parish held a vigil that included prayer and testimonies from people of color.

“This moment is so ripe to bear positive fruit,” said parishioner Sarah Peroutka. “My hope is to see eyes opened and hearts ignited from these efforts.”

In June, Sarah and her husband, Alan Peroutka, will lead a 10-week course meant to reveal hard truths about race, bring healing and change unjust social systems. The religious curriculum from JustFaith Ministries is arranged into three parts; the first two were hosted by St. Ignatius Parish in Southeast Portland.

St. Philip Neri also plans to hold a study group to meditate on the U.S. Catholic bishops’ pastoral letter on racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts.”

Standing at the recent rally with a sign that read “Be the change,” Peroutka said she hopes the Friday gathering will grow. “All are welcome, and it’s a fun event for kids and an opportunity to educate them around social justice and public action.”

Near Peroutka were 10-year-old Jacob Mullett and his 8-year-old brother, Nate, who seemed to confirm Peroutka’s assessment as they shook their signs with gusto and discussed why the rally was important.

“You shouldn’t judge people by their skin or treat them badly,” said Jacob. “It’s not a very nice world when you do that.”

“I think it’s especially important to bring kiddos out here to show that you take action; you don’t just talk about racism,” said his mom, JoAnna Mullett, a member of nearby Holy Family Parish.

At first Bates was worried the rallies might feel like theater, but that’s not been the case “It’s a good reminder for people driving by and you feel a connection with drivers,” she said.

Like many members of the parish’s Peace and Justice Commission, Bates has advocated for social justice since youth.

In 1963 at age 16 she participated in the March on Washington, riding a bus through the night from New York to D.C. with her father and brother. She remembers how moving it was to be among some 250,000 people as Rev. Martin Luther King gave his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech.

Combatting systemic racism is primarily a “white person’s problem,” said Bates. “It’s our job to figure out what to do. We need to search our hearts and know when to be silent and when to speak up. We need to step out of our comfort zones and take responsibility for our actions.”

Across the street, Peroutka shared an African saying to sum up the need for people of faith to act: “When you pray, move your feet.”