The next segment of our interview with Sasha happens to mesh beautifully with day 2 of Kwanzaa, dedicated to Kujichagulia ("Self -determination")—one of the weeklong holiday's Seven Principles, or "Nguzo Saba". Habari Gani!
Nate Tinner-Williams: So, you sing now. You decided to sing and be happy and you ended up in a Catholic church. How did someone—or did someone—convince you to finally join RCIA?
Sasha Massey: It was a couple years into being at the cathedral that it just made more sense for me to understand better, through a teacher, what I was growing and participating in.
And when I approached Fr Arceneaux about it, I was like “I need to take the steps and learn better how to be fully and completely Catholic and join my family.” and he's like, “What makes you think you’re not already that in your heart? What do you think you're missing? How do you know you're not already in this family?”
And I said, “Well, there's a lot of prayers and meanings of things that I don't know. And I've had to learn a lot of things out of the corner of my eye, and learn by rote with people until I actually learned.”
So now I'm a little bit better educated about the different prayers, and the different saints that I talk to daily for help.
SM: So the classes were interesting. I learned a lot about more mysterious things that actually were very simple when Deacon Adam explained them.
One thing that did shock me, in my city, was the amount of apathy for immigrants that were taught by missionaries, and raised Catholic. The plight of other people who happen to be in nations that were at war or—what's the word I’m looking for?—'less developed’, when missionaries came there to bring them the Catholic faith. People who believe Jesus died for their sins, too.
So for them to now be abandoned by people that they're trying so much to be like, because they realize “I have to assimilate or I will be never free of violence and poverty”... They want better lives and there's just so much apathy. I didn't understand how anyone that wanted to serve God wouldn't care what happened to them.
I mean, people die in shipping containers, they're shot in the desert, they're drowned, raped and murdered. And they have no choice but to keep attempting escape, because what's behind them is violence, like a giant flaming boulder. You can only go forward.
To have to flee for your life from violence. It’s not a stranger’s problem. It’s my brother or sister in Christ’s problem.
NT: Yeah, we have a responsibility toward them, right?
SM: Yeah it just stung me to see the way they were beaten, raped and refused medical care. Once they were blessed to make it here, they were captured, their human rights were obstructed at every turn, and families torn apart.
I approached another church in our city that does lots of missionary work and outreach, where I've done some music. They are a super cool church. The pastor is really cool, a family man, and they're really trying to engage with the little bit of youth they have for community-building and even adult literacy.
I talked to them and I said “What can we do? Can we perform a benefit concert? People could donate money, and things that people might need when they have to leave everything behind.” Like, you have no idea how many immigrants and homeless veterans don't have things like socks, clean underwear, razors, tampons, pads, soap…
It messed my head up because, like, OK: I'm struggling to pay bills, I’ve lost weight because I can’t afford groceries, almost started selling plasma again, but there's people with nowhere to go. They have nowhere to go, and they're just like me: they're born already marked as bad just for being brown.
There's this one bit of lore about the Mormon faith, and it was that one of the early church founders said that Black people were Black with sin because they were marked as children of Satan.
NT: Yeah. They refused to fight in the heavenly war, I think, and they got turned into Black people.
SM: So that to me goes back to being born a target, where being different is an excuse for some people to be cruel. Me and you are walking around and we can't hide because, like, our target is our skin. Something we can't wash off.
My ability is part of me just like my color, my freckles. So people who have yet to come to know God, or that very much love and serve Him already, shouldn’t be mistreated or excluded via social segregation nor the extreme violence some people still have to see to believe.
I mean, Fr Arceneaux is a big change for some people at the cathedral. But he’s a warm beacon of love and faith. He's trying to meet everything (and I mean absolutely everything) with compassion and love, because once you make people uncomfortable…
NT: It’s a wrap.
SM: They won't listen, yeah. It’s like this hymn, “No easy grace he offers us, to lull a lazy mind. His words of challenge, words of hope are of a better kind.”
NT: So, rector and cantor at this church now are African-American. How has that been, in general?
SM: It was an adjustment for some. My first two years there, people didn't know me, but I had my granny-type friends who were warm right away.
Many non-members have weddings there. I was questioned why I was walking into a few wedding jobs that I was singing for. “Ma'am, do you know there’s a wedding tonight? Are you supposed to be here?” It was a couple of different men.
NT: Has that subsided?
SM: Completely. The last time it ever happened I was walking through the sanctuary and this guy gets inches from my face, and snarls, “What are you doing here?” He’s sneering at me. I have on my makeup, my dress, a music bag... and any other time I would have seen someone like him, I would have thought, you know, “Well, he's just somebody's dad, all dressed up.”
I calmly say to him, “I'm the singer that was hired for this wedding.” It took him awhile to fold all of the anger in, like parachute material that kind of burst out of the pack; he just had to, like, put it all back in, and compose himself.
I don’t understand what about me was threatening, other than I was the only person that didn’t look like him. It’s made me start to be extra early for gigs, but again, it has completely stopped, by His grace.
NT: Yeah, that's fascinating. And I mean, we live in 'Trump Country'—which is the nice way of putting it. Like, we live in the same places our ancestors were enslaved not that long ago.
SM: I wear my confirmation gift, a blessed cross, when I need an extra physical reminder to bring me comfort. It was like a worry stone at some point, almost. I felt like I was gonna rub the inscribed prayer smooth. But it was God, not an object, that brought me through some tough times, financially and socially.
NT: And He brought you! He brought you through.
SM: Sure did. I'm here.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder of Black Catholic Messenger, a priesthood applicant with the Josephites, and a ThM student w/ the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).