Apologies by the pope, the Oscars are the first step in where we need to go | Opinion

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Last month, Pope Francis begged forgiveness over the abuse at Catholic Church residential schools in Canada.

On Monday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which presents the Oscars, said in a statement it had apologized to Sacheen Littlefeather, an Apache activist/actor who was booed after she refused the Best Actor award on stage at the 1973 Oscars on behalf of Marlon Brando. The famed actor was protesting Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans. She was 26 at the time.

Both gestures were noble and touching.

Still, there is a lot more apologizing to be done, starting right here in America, where there is still a bunch of racist stuff going on.

Yet, I was recently encouraged when the three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man jogging through their Georgia neighborhood on a Sunday afternoons, received sentences worthy of the crime they had committed.

Gregory McMichael, 66, and his son Travis McMichael, 36, who shot and killed Arbery with a shotgun, were sentenced to life in prison. Their neighbor William Bryan, 52, who joined the McMichaels in chasing down Arbery, was sentenced to 35 years in prison. The sentences stemmed from federal hate crime charges, in addition to the state murder convictions.

While I never heard one of the men say they were sorry for their action, they did say they didn’t want to serve in a Georgia state prison for fear of being killed. How ironic. I wonder if they even thought about how Arbery must have felt as they chased after him, as he was running for his life?

An apology won’t bring back Arbery. But it would make me and a lot of other people I know feel a lot better if we knew the men were truly sorry for their terrible deed. Apologizing for the sake of apologizing is never enough. The apology must come from the heart.

Pope Francis calls Canada’s church-run residential schools ‘evil’

Pope Francis called Canada’s church-run residential schools a “disastrous error” and “evil,” and asked survivors of the system that abused thousands of children for forgiveness. News reports quoted him as saying, “I am sorry. I ask for forgiveness…” to nearly 2,000 survivors of the residential school system, citing his indignation” and “shame” over the painful memory of the treatment of Indigenous children.

It is now known that for more than a century, at least 150,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and forced to go to schools run by the Catholic Church. Not only were children snatched from their families and culture, like African slaves, they were physically abused and punished for speaking in their mother tongue. Like African slaves, I believe the Indigenous children found ways to communicate with each other, which is why so many survived to tell their stories.

While people around the world have heard the stories of the suffering Africans endured under nearly 250 years of slavery in this country, many people are not aware of the pain and abuse that Indigenous parents and their children suffered when their homes were torn apart, and their children snatched from their arms and sent to camps and schools.

And while I am not trying to compare the suffering of one group of human beings against another, I believe that it is important that Pope Francis apologized to Canada’s Indigenous people. His apology won’t bring back the lost Indigenous children of Canada. It won’t erase the memory of the pain endured. But it will help Indigenous families to move on.

I feel the same way about The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ apology to Littlefeather. She was a brave soul in 1973, standing before such a critical audience, representing Brando’s refusal to accept his Academy Award for his role as Don Corleone in “The Godfather.”

At the time of the Academy Awards ceremony, members of the American Indian Movement occupied the town of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Brando wanted to raise awareness of the Indian Movement’s standoff with federal agents. In December 1890, U.S. soldiers slaughtered about 300 Lakota men, women and children at Wounded Knee.

Littlefeather told the audience that Brando would not be accepting the award because of his concerns of how Native American people were portrayed in film and in television and by the government.

Her message was met with jeers and boos from the audience of beautifully dressed entertainers. Littlefeather later said that actor John Wayne had to be restrained by security officers backstage from assaulting her.

John Wayne died June 11, 1979, six years after that Academy Award incident. If he were alive, I’d be interested to know how he felt about the Academy’s apology to Littlefeather. I would like to think he would approve. After all, people do change. Sometimes.

These two acts of humility — from the Catholic Church and from the Academy — make me think that there is still hope, that we will get to where we need to be as a people. One step at a time.

Key West to honor those who died during African slave trade

While we are on the topic of apologizing, Sunday is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. A celebration in its honor will be observed from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Key West African Cemetery Memorial, 1094 Atlantic Blvd. at Higgs Beach between White Street and the West Martello Tower Brick Fort.

According to Dinizulu Gene Tinnie, co-director, Middle Passage Ship Replica Project, and one of the organizers of the event, the ceremony will include traditional and modern rituals and prayers, live music, performances and open “Village Talk” for participants to share thoughts and meditations.

“The ceremony will culminate with a candlelight procession and flower offerings carried to the sacred waters of the nearby ocean,” Tinnie said.

The annual observance “honors the memory of the millions who perished in the centuries-long human trafficking known as the Middle Passage, or the African slave trade, and of those who survived the crossing and slavery, itself.”

The event is free and open to the public.

Grove’s Bahamian celebration

Before there was an Overtown, there was the “Colored” section of Coconut Grove, one of Miami’s oldest Black neighborhoods.

At noon Monday, Aug. 22, at the E.W.F. Stirrup House, 3242 Charles Ave. in Coconut Grove, the Miami-Dade community is invited to the name designation of “Little Bahamas of Coconut Grove” to honor the Black community in the Grove established by Bahamians in the 19th century, even before Miami was incorporated as a city. The Stirrup House dates to 1897.

George Simpson, right, and his father, Dr. George Simpson, whose family owns the 1897 E.W.F. Stirrup House in historically Black West Coconut Grove, have restored the home with the help of development partners. The historic home is now open as a lodging and event space while the partners work on a plan to build a companion, island-style inn on lots they own across the street.
George Simpson, right, and his father, Dr. George Simpson, whose family owns the 1897 E.W.F. Stirrup House in historically Black West Coconut Grove, have restored the home with the help of development partners. The historic home is now open as a lodging and event space while the partners work on a plan to build a companion, island-style inn on lots they own across the street.

“This recognition of the historic significance and the impact of the contributions made by the Black Bahamians is long overdue,” said George Simpson Jr., whose family owns the Stirrup House. “It was the many skills that they brought to Miami’s oldest neighborhood that helped to transform it from lush wetlands to a thriving and productive community.”