Fourteen Friends of North Meadow Circle of Friends gathered for the monthly Quaker Social Change Ministry meeting. It had been announced that this meeting would discuss the recent demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, where people opposing the removal of a statue of Robert E Lee, which included supporters of white supremacy, neo-Nazis and the KKK, clashed with counter-demonstrators. Heather Heyer was killed when a car rammed into the counter protestors.
North Meadow has been using Quaker Social Change Ministry, a model supported by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), for nearly two years as a way to approach issues related to racial injustice. This involves various tools to bring a spiritual focus to social justice work that engages the meeting as a whole. A large part of that relates to the idea of accompaniment, which is supporting a local community currently experiencing injustice. North Meadow Friends are fortunate that the Kheprw Institute (KI), a black youth mentoring and empowerment community, has been interested in being our partner in this work together.
The continued hate and belief in white superiority revealed by these demonstrators is deeply discouraging. The more those of us who are white have discovered how racism has been intentionally built into almost every structure of American society, the more we realize the scope of the work needed to correct racial injustice. And racial violence is more visible today, including the killing of unarmed people by police.
To see people violently supporting the continuation of these deeply flawed, unjust ideas is difficult to comprehend.
After opening silent worship and a review of the Friendly agreement (below), Friends shared as they were led. Discussions such as these are difficult to summarize.
We reviewed many of the ways racism is built into our society, and how those who are white routinely benefit whether we want to or not, and often in ways we have been unaware of. One of the greatest benefits of our work with the Khreprw Institute has been an increasing awareness of these advantages, as we see those at KI do not have them.
This increasing awareness has helped us be more aware of the foundational injustices American society is built upon. Stealing the land from Native Americans, and the enslaved labor of African Americans. We are convinced that we can not make real progress in creating a more just society until we acknowledge these foundational injustices, find ways to begin try to make amends, and stop the continuing inequities that have been built into our society.
We are grateful that we can continue to learn about, and begin to correct these things with our ongoing connection with the Kheprw Institute community. Based upon our experience, we would encourage others to consider adopting the Quaker Social Change Ministry Program, which can be used for groups other than Quaker meetings, too.
Be fully present in the moment, with your doubts, fears and failings as well as your joys and successes.
When we offer attentive presence, we nurture love and respect. We commit to restorative justice practices.
Observe deep confidentiality as we build trust. Nothing personal said in this circle will ever be repeated to other people.
Refrain from interrupting others.
Set aside judgment so you can listen to others, and to yourself, more deeply.
Listen with resilience, “hanging in there” when hearing something that is hard to hear. Feel free to ask for time and space for personal reflection if needed. Set your own boundaries for personal sharing; ask yourself, “what parts of my life story, if any, am I comfortable sharing?”
“Pass” or “pass for now” if you are not ready or willing to respond to a question –no explanation is required.
Speak personal truths in ways that respect other people’s truth. Speak using “I” statements,
assuming others can deduce the meaning as it applies to them.
Assume positive intent on the part of fellow participants.
When the going gets rough, turn to wonder. If you feel judgmental, or defensive, ask yourself, “I wonder what brought her to this belief?” “I wonder what he’s feeling right now?” “I wonder what my reaction teaches me about myself?”
Commit to regular attendance.
*Adapted from Parker Palmer’s “Touchstones for Circles of Trust