by Rana Irby
As we in the U.S. celebrate the contributions of Black people in our country for Black History Month this February, it is fitting to highlight the contributions of a dynamic Black woman whose name you may not be too familiar with: Dr. Catherine Meeks. Her work, spanning three decades, is focused on defending the dignity of all people. Thus, she upholds the Consistent Life Ethic. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, she is an author, columnist, noted speaker, and retired professor.
Dr. Meeks was born in Arkansas in 1946 to a sharecropper father and teacher mother. Her family experienced the effects of dehumanization with the death of Catherine’s brother, who died before she was born because he was turned away at a white hospital when his appendix ruptured. Retired from Wesleyan College, she was their Clara Carter Acree Distinguished Professor of Socio-Cultural Studies. While there, she was the founding executive director of the Lane Center for Community Engagement and Service.
She currently serves as the executive director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing. Providing a “brave space” in which “clergy, lay leaders and community members can engage in a brave dialogue that leads to real and lasting change,” the Absalom Jones Center aims to dismantle racism through educational opportunities. Meeks also served as chair of the center’s predecessor, Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism for the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta.
As the Absalom Jones Center notes: “The core of her work has been with people who have been marginalized because of economic status, race, gender or physical ability as they pursue liberation, justice and access to resources that can help lead them to health, wellness and a more abundant life.”
A prolific writer, Dr. Meeks writings have been published in outlets such as The Huffington Post and Sojourners. Her work also includes a piece for the Macon Telegraph, in which she boldly proclaims her consistent life ethic:
My position is that I wish we had created a world where no person would ever see an abortion as a necessity. But since we have not done that and women are going to have abortions whether they are legal or not, I think they should not be done in back alleys and under some of the deplorable circumstances of the past.
But, my commitment to being pro-life happens to extend beyond the womb. I am concerned about the thousands of children in this country and across the world who are dying outside of the womb because of poor nutrition, poor health care and the general lack of interest on the part of folks who are supposed to be managing the social, political and economic affairs of this world.
In the piece, she masterfully illustrates how this concern for life includes not just children, but the elderly and all affected by war, poverty, and disenfranchisement. As the Consistent Life Ethic affirms the dignity of all human life from womb to tomb, the aforementioned piece assuredly falls under this label. Dr. Meeks has shown this not only in her writing, but her on-the-ground work as well.
This includes being a member of the advisory board of the Consistent Life Network. The aforementioned Lane Center, which she helmed, engages Wesleyan College students with its surrounding community of Macon, Georgia, which include at-risk young people, the elderly, and ill. Dr. Meeks’ work also includes speaking and workshops on racial healing. Hers is a career rooted in uplifting the worth of everyone in every stage of life.
The movement for the Consistent Life Ethic is one of diverse voices. It is dedicated to ensuring every person, born and unborn, regardless of race, creed, nationality, or walk of life has a life free from all forms of violence. This month, where we celebrate Black history, we focus on the Black community’s contributions to the United States. This includes those who have dedicated their lives to the Consistent Life Ethic. Dr. Catherine Meeks is a living icon of such work. We uplift her and her legacy.