Lessons learned about Quakers and racism

I am in no way an expert on racism.  But I would guess many of you have shared the years of frustration that I have, wanting very much to do something about this, but not knowing what that might be.  The circumstances I will try to describe here opened opportunities for me that seem to be one possible approach, and maybe you can use and improve on something here.   I just started writing a blog about a year ago, and have written a number of posts about all of this in some detail.  I’ll add some of those links here to try to keep this from getting way too long.

I’m a birthright member of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), was raised in the Bear Creek meeting community in rural Iowa, and attended Scattergood Friends School.  I then went to Indianapolis to do my alternative service for the draft (1970), although I ended up turning in my draft cards.  I’ve lived in Indianapolis ever since, and attend (unprogrammed) North Meadow Circle of Friends.

Environmental concerns were my activist calling for most of the subsequent years, including refusing to own a car for the last 35 years, and work as an Action Leader in the Keystone Pledge of Resistance.

But I always wished I could find a way to work on the issues of racial and economic injustices.  I increasingly felt an urgency about this, the more I learned how privileged my life is.  God finally gave me such an opportunity.  About three years ago 350.org organized one of those national calls to action.  When I checked the Internet site, the only event in all of Indiana was at KI, the Kheprw Institute.

KI has been in existence for over a decade now.   Things started when Diop Adisa, son of Imhotep and Pambana needed to spend the summer with his father (related to academics).  A couple of Diop’s friends also got involved, and at the end of the summer everyone could see the value of what had happened.  One of the first quotes I remember is Imhotep saying “education should never have been taken out of the community.”  From the beginning, KI has been about mentoring youth, emphasizing critical thinking and community building.  The other two leaders are Miss Fair and Alvin.

From KI’s website I saw they had a project referred to as Open Source Activism, using open source programing tools and technology for social activism.  I’m a computer programmer, so I saw this as a way for me to get involved.

As these blog posts explain, part 1 and  part 2, one rainy night I rode my bicycle to the old convenience store building KI was located in at the time.   Imhotep,  Miss Fair, Pambana, Alvin and about a dozen young people were there.   Rather than discussing computer software, I quickly realized I was being interviewed to see if I was someone they felt comfortable working with, or not.  I eventually learned KI had been keeping itself a rather protected community, having not necessarily been readily accepted by the surrounding neighborhood, and was also concerned about protecting their young people.

So providing the usual general information about myself was not nearly good enough.  Since Quakerism is such a fundamental part of my life, I said I was a Quaker, which stimulated questions.   I talked about Quakers believing there is that of God in everyone.  I made a point of saying that to several of the kids so they knew I was talking about them.

Miss Fair then did a nice job of talking about the history of Quakers and the underground railroad.  When she was finished, everyone looked at me for a response.  I talked about how grateful I was that my ancestors had done that, but I didn’t do it, and Quakers try not to take credit for other people’s work.   The blog posts go into this in some detail.  At that point, I felt I needed to show how my own life reflected my faith.  Since KI is focused on environmental concerns I talked about being led to live without a car.  At that point Imhotep smiled and called me a “warrior”, which, being a pacifist, I found humorous.   Now that I have gotten to know him, I suspect he was messing with me.  Being embarrassed, I made a joke, and, fortunately everyone laughed, and the meeting concluded.  The best part was then some of the kids shook my hand.

Well, this is already too long, so I’ll stop there for now.  Much, much more has happened since, and is available on the blog.  These people are my close friends now, and we have worked on a number of things together since.

This is how I see things.  Working together on shared projects, and just spending time together is what is important and effective.  Sharing ideas, arguing, critically thinking and having fun together allows us to grow into community together.

I keep thinking of the Nike motto, JUST DO IT!  You will probably have to look hard for opportunities like this, and when you are fortunate enough to find one, when God leads you to one, recognize it and jump in with both feet.  Listen hard for the inner light.  Recognize and respond to the inner light in others.  Be completely open and honest about who you are and what makes you tick.  Speak about your faith, but don’t pressure others to share about theirs.  You probably noticed the KI folks promoted the discussion of faith after I mentioned being a Quaker.

Always be aware you are the student.  Do NOT make any suggestions until you have spent MONTHS learning what the situation is.

I have been totally transformed.  I wish you well on your journey into this.  We are blessed.







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