Yesterday I discussed some reflections as Martin Luther King Day approaches. I can’t help but be saddened as I remember the moral integrity and leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr, Muhammad Ali, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and all those who fought for racial justice, and the paradox of having a President and his party who do not believe in racial equality. To realize how little progress we have made in the years since to undo the structural racism in our county.
I don’t think I realized how much the words and actions of those in the civil rights movement taught me about racial justice. Seeing these people as heroes and mentors to me as I struggled with oppression related to the war machine, and how they put their beliefs, which were also my beliefs, into action made it impossible for me to believe people who believe themselves to be white, as Ta-Nehisi Coates expresses it in Between the World and Me, to be in any way superior to people of color. I love that expression because it makes you consider what it really means to be white. I also love the advertisements for the DNA ancestry kits showing people’s ethnic mix, and that no one is purely “white”, so what does that even mean? Maybe a way to address race is to use DNA to show the ethnicity of every person.
Having spent my life working in neonatal intensive care, and then in pediatric medical research, the worry of parents, and grief at death are universal. I was blessed to work with colleagues of many ethnicities, all of whom I deeply respect, and none of whom showed any bias in the care they extended to their patients and those patient’s families. Working in a narrow area of research, infant lung development and disease, meant being part of a small international community, where we were not only colleagues but friends. Some of my closest friends live in Argentina, Chile, and Brazil, because those physicians spent at least a year in our lab at Riley Hospital for Children, learning how to do research. So I spent every working day with each of them as they spent at least a year with us.
As I’ve written about extensively, these past four or five years I’ve been blessed to have been able to work with the people at the Kheprw Institute (KI) in Indianapolis. One of the many things I appreciate was the way they gently insisted on getting to know me at our first meeting. It was thanks to that, that I was encouraged to share with them what Quakerism meant to me, which provided a spiritual connection among us from the beginning. I wasn’t used to talking about Quakerism, and now realize there are occasions, such as that one, where it is essential to do so. It was also significant that the Quaker meeting I attended in Indianapolis, North Meadow Circle of Friends, chose to become involved with KI by means of the AFSC program, Quaker Social Change Ministry.
In a similar way, I was also very fortunate to become part of the environmental justice community, including the NAACP Environmental Justice members. And, most recently, with those who worked to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline in Indianapolis, which gave me an opportunity to begin to learn about Native Americans.
I am glad I have been able to continue to find such people and communities to work with now that I am back in Iowa. It was a joy to be connected to the Prairie Awakening ceremony that Bear Creek Friends have supported for many years. And share photos with the Meskwaki community.
Being connected with these many, diverse communities, is how I have learned about racial justice, and how much we have in common. And how much work we have yet to do to undo the structural racism in our country.