This Sunday, North Meadow Friends will be discussing our past year’s experience with implementing the American Friends Service Committee’s (AFSC) new program, Quaker Social Change Ministry (QSCM).
To many of us who have been participating in QSCM, we have come to feel this is a more spiritual, effective, and meaningful way to approach our peace and social justice work. We have had several discussions, actually, about how the meeting’s peace and social concerns committee, and QSCM might work more closely together, or whether we even still need both.
In preparation for that discussion, I’m including several blog articles that I’ve written about this.
KI and North Meadow Friends
Last night’s meeting of North Meadow Friends at the Kheprw Institute (KI) with Imhotep, Pambana, Miss Fair and Alvin was a dream come true for me. I am realizing I’ve known people in both groups for nearly the same amount of time, actually. Lucy Duncan (AFSC) recently asked what it was that gave us hope, and this collaboration does that for me.
Alvin often asks the question what does such and such actually accomplish, and too often the answer hasn’t been any kind of lasting change.
I think one of the few ways to affect change is by changing one person at a time, and the way you change people is by listening to them, and seeing what it is in them you can connect to, and create a space for sharing that allows everyone to feel comfortable examining themselves, and an atmosphere of exploring ideas together, instead of a confrontation and unyielding expression of position. As Imhotep often says, conversation is undervalued. One of the real geniuses of KI’s work has been to refine community conversations for this purpose, led by the community’s youth.
In fact, this resulted in a unique situation last night when Indy10 was also holding a meeting at KI at the same time as this meeting with North Meadow Friends. The experience of a number of Friends with Indy10 had a lot to do with us getting to this point. Indy10 refers to a group of 10 young people who didn’t know each other before they met via social media at the time of Michael Brown’s killing. One of the ten was one of a North Meadow couple, who both became involved with the activities of this group as they tried to address similar issues in Indianapolis, as did I peripherally. There were probably a number of reasons involved, but after several months of intensely working together, the Friends in the group had to leave, with a good deal of trauma. It’s really disappointing when something that ignites your passion somehow goes wrong. It continues to be difficult because Indy10 is really working hard in a way, and on issues that we continue to care deeply about. When others in the meeting (North Meadow Friends meeting) became aware of how traumatized we were by that experience, Evalyn and JT offered to meet with Erin, Kevin and I to try to work through this. Which we did monthly over the past winter and spring, and found to be very helpful.
So when I heard about AFSC’s new program, Quaker Social Change Ministry (QSCM), I immediately recognized it as an implementation of what our meeting has been doing with the post Indy10 meetings, in combination with the various relationships several members of the meeting had developed with KI over the past couple of years. The two main concepts of QSCM are to focus on the spiritual dimensions of our social justice work, and to do more effective work by finding an organization impacted by injustice to work with, and actually spending time and doing work with them. The emphasis is on trying to avoid the mistakes of the past, where Friends tend to try to take charge and solve problems. Instead, we should recognize that those who are experiencing injustice are the ones who know both what the situation really is, and what they need to try to deal with it. I donâ€™t think I would have considered getting involved in QSCM if it wasnâ€™t for already knowing about KI, and how they fit into this model so well, and that many Friends already had a relationship with KI.
And KI had other experiences with Quakers. Several years ago one of the KI youth interns created a video at KI that won the â€œIf I Had a Trillion Dollarsâ€ contest sponsored by AFSC. AFSC’s Erin Polley was involved in the contest, and the trip to Washington, DC, that was one of the prizes. Erin, who attends North Meadow, was at last night’s meeting.
It was very interesting to hear people from KI reflect on their work, and on spirituality.
We didn’t come up with much in the way of specific plans. It was more a meeting of hearts than of minds, in a way. But I think we all felt we would like to continue to find ways to work together. And I think this will actually give us some answers to Alvin’s question of did anything really get accomplished. This gives me hope.
Quaker Social Change Ministry at North Meadow Friends
This is the story of the experiences of North Meadow Circle of Friends, an unprogrammed meeting in downtown Indianapolis, that were triggered by the killing of Michael Brown August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, and where that has led us.
A group of ten young people, who became known as Indy10, discovered each other via social media, as people who wanted to do something in response to the plight of the Ferguson community and the excessive, militarized police response. They arranged to meet and took food and water to Ferguson, and spent some time with the people in the community there. The experience radicalized them, and they were determined to do what they could to address similar issues in Indianapolis. One of Indy10 attends North Meadow Friends. Her partner also became involved, and the meeting was aware of this work.
Unfortunately, after several months of frequent (3 times/week), intense meetings and some street protesting, conflict erupted, and the Friends left the Indy10 group. That indicates how difficult this work can be. It was especially disappointing because it had seemed real progress was being made after significant personal investment. It became apparent that those in the North Meadow Meeting who had been involved were traumatized by the experience. Fortunately some other Friends in the Meeting recognized this, and offered to meet to work through it. Five of us, the three meeting members who had been involved with Indy10 and several of the Meetingâ€™s spiritual elders, began meeting monthly over the winter last year (2014-2015), and found the meetings to be very helpful. (I was the third, but more distant Indy10 member from North Meadow).
You might imagine our surprise, and excitement, when we learned that the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) was looking for Friends Meetings that would be interested in participating in a pilot of a program called Quaker Social Change Ministry (QSCM), because that program seemed to reflect this process that we had started to deal with social justice work.
The Quaker Social Change Ministry program has two broad, connected goals. One is to bring a more intentional spiritual focus to a Meeting’s social justice work, as well as to encourage people in our Meetings who don’t usually see themselves as activists, to become one. It is common for meetings to have a number of people very involved in social justice and peace work. But I think it is a little unusual to find that meetings do much more than support the individual in many cases. They often donâ€™t get involved, themselves, in that person’s work. But just imagine what it would be like if the whole meeting found a way to participate in such work together. Imagine how such work could flourish with the attention of more Friends, and how the spiritual life of the meeting would benefit by this shared work.
The second goal is to get Friends out of the Meetinghouse and into the community. The idea of accompaniment is for the Meeting to find a group of people who are dealing with injustice now, and to learn from them what we might do to help. Most of us are familiar with Friend’s history of jumping into situations and trying to provide leadership which often ends up not being what the impacted community needed. This can end up causing more harm than good, and is why activists so find themselves discouraged, often giving up the work entirely. QSCM helps Friends change the focus to the impacted community, because the people there are the ones who know the factors and people who are impacting their situation. The impacted community has a better idea of what the driving issues are, and thus know what solutions are needed, and probably have a good idea of how to create those solutions. Our role is to be ready to do what we are asked to do, when we are asked to do it.
To put it bluntly, white Quakers are simply ignorant about many issues facing people of color. You know nothing until you realize that. King Samuel Benson. Until three years ago, I was as ignorant as most other white people I knew. Now I know some things you can easily learn yourself, once you are aware of whatever the issue at hand is. I have been very fortunate, but often saddened to have been able to see how different my new friendsâ€™ lives are from mine. But this is the only way I see to begin to solve this problem. Once individuals reconnect as fellow human beings, the problems then belong to all of us, and working together we solve those problems for all of us. But I still have a great, great deal more to learn.
Ignorance can be corrected, as long as one is open to learning new things. One of the problems of ignorance is that one simply doesnâ€™t know what it is one does not know, or realize which historical narratives represent history that has been rewritten, to cover up injustices and atrocities. I personally do not think you can be successful in this work if you do not start with the assumption of your own ignorance. Friends in particular have a great deal of difficulty with this. They are used to being well informed about social issues, and seen as leaders in social justice and peace work.
I know of the dangers of generalization, but what I have learned leads me to believe that if you are white, you do not understand, and you cannot understand what is happening to people of color until you have spent time with, and become friends with people of color. These things cannot be learned intellectually, they are only taught by experience, informed by the heart and soul.
The community your Meeting partners with is doing you a favor by helping you correct your ignorance. But be aware of this possible first misstep. It actually adds insult to injury when (usually white) people expect those experiencing injustice to teach them (white people) what they (white people) need to know. How would you feel if, after experiencing years of injustice, some of the very people who were involved in that injustice, even if they were unaware of doing so, came to you expecting you to teach them what the problem is and what they should do about it?
This was what really excited us at North Meadow regarding QSCM. Several of us, in our own separate ways, had already established a relationship with just such a community which is not far from the meetinghouse. The Kheprw Institute (KI) is a small (four main adult leaders) community that came into being over a decade ago to mentor young (teenage) children of color. KI has become one of the most active social justice organizations in Indianapolis. They are very generous in making their meeting facilities available for different groups working on all sorts of issues. Because of the excellent training they are able to provide their interns (kids), KI is more and more providing technical support for other social justice organizations and meetings. At a recent NAACP Environmental Justice presentation, KI provided live streaming of the event. But most of their work is done at KI, where the youth learn about (by taking care of) the garden, aquaponics system, composting, web design, and social networking and programming.
Over 30 years ago Imhotep Adisa, KI’s Director, and JT, a North Meadow Friend who was involved in the original post-Ferguson group, and is now active in QSCM, went to the local University together. It was about three years ago that I found KI when I attended an event there that was listed on an environmental organization’s website. Kevin has helped with some construction and wood working. Erin Polley, Indiana’s AFSC staff person, helped with the trip to Washington, DC, when one of the KI youth won the â€œIf I Had a Trillion Dollarsâ€ video contest. So we had the good fortune of a history of acquaintance and shared work.
For a number of years after KI first started, they tended to keep to themselves, forming a protected community for their youth, in a manner similar to how Friends used to maintain their own schools. When I first met with them, I didnâ€™t realize just how small and self-contained KI was. My experience during that first meeting at KI was really amazing to me. I describe that in detail here
Â As I should have expected (but didn’t), that first meeting was actually an interview to see if I was someone who might fit into their community. I mention this because I think Friends should be very cautious during their first meetings. I hope you approach your meetings with the attitude that you are a seeker, wanting to learn about this new community, and, over time, growing into knowing one another, and remain open to what might be asked of you. Remember, at least in my experience, it is better if you wait until you are asked for something, or to do something with or for the community. Try to pay especially close attention, and listen for opportunities that may be somewhat subtle. You might hear “we are having an event”, which is an invitation to you to attend.
Especially knowing how constrained KI’s resources are, I was committed to making sure we did our best to minimize what we asked of KI for this program. Our goal was to help, not add to the burden of the KI community. We were fortunate, again, this time for the wisdom of KI’s approach to community building. For several years KI has held book discussions that are open to the community. These events have a number of benefits, and have been key to KI’s spreading involvement in the Indianapolis activist community, as well as a perfect mechanism for North Meadow Friends to begin to accompany KI and their work. Stimulating books are chosen, which have included “The New Jim Crow”, “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, “This Changes Everything”, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”, and the upcoming “Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States”. Last year the KI interns led the discussions of “The New Jim Crow”, which spanned several months of one a month meetings. Rasul and Keenan would read a couple of chapters, and then each write a blog post about what they had read. The community could then read those blog posts ahead of the discussion. Then Rasul and Keenan led the public discussion. They developed skills in critical thinking, public speaking, and leading group discussions.
Besides all of those good things, these discussions brought a wide diversity of people to KI to discuss ideas in a respectful and civilized manner. The KI leaders, Imhotep, Miss Fair, Pambana and Alvin have created an atmosphere for the interns and all who come to KI that is based upon mutual respect, acceptance, and challenging each other’s ideas. In his often subtle and humorous way, Imhotep helps people clarify their thoughts so everyone understands what they are trying to say. And he gently leads the discussion back on track when it, fairly often, goes astray. And helps summarize things. People really enjoy these meetings because of the interesting topics, interesting participants, and welcoming, and yet challenging atmosphere.
More and more North Meadow Friends are attending these book discussions. During our QSCM meetings we identified this as our first endeavor with KI, which would allow us all to get to know each other over several months’ time. And it is also great in not adding a burden to KI in order for us to get this benefit.
So this is where we are with North Meadow Friends, KI, and the Quaker Social Change Ministry. I think our participation in the book discussions at KI is appreciated. And those at North Meadow who are involved (around a dozen) are finding QSCM and time at KI, and time together processing all of this to be very invigorating. It does seem like we have had a unique set of circumstances leading to this point. But I hope this program becomes widely used by Friends.
Quaker Social Change Ministry program http://www.afsc.org/document/small-group-social-justice-ministry-model
Importance of stories
I’ve been thinking about the title of a group I’ve recently become engaged with, called “Quakers ENGAGE to End Racism”. I love the word ENGAGE. That taps into â€œactions speak louder than wordsâ€. So, what actions can Quakers take to end racism?
I can only speak of my own experience, so I’ll tell you a story. But first a short bit about stories. In a kind of circular manner, stories are the words describing, most commonly, actions. A body of shared stories shapes the history of the community. In Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) we have an effort to gather the stories of our community. Weâ€™ve actually created a website to allow us to share our gradually increasing library of stories with each other and the world: Quaker Stories Project.
Another reason I feel stories are so important is because that has become one of the primary ways my local Friends meeting has found to become ENGAGED with one particular community of people of color here in Indianapolis, the Kheprw Institute (KI). This link provides a nice description of the KI community. One of the many, many things KI does is hold open, public monthly book discussions, which provide a number of invaluable benefits. KI is totally focused on youth development. These community discussions are usually LED by the KI youth. Last year one of the books discussed was “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. Over a period of several months, the youth would read a few chapters, and then write and publish a blog post about what they read. The public could read those blog posts prior to the community discussion. Then those same youth would lead the discussion itself.
The tone of these discussions feels like worship sharing. People are very respectful of each other and what we say. People actually listen to each other, and silence is appreciated. People speak of their own experiences. They tell their own STORIES. Thus we all ENGAGE with each other. A number of North Meadow Friends have participated in these discussions, and we have identified this as one of our first â€œactionsâ€ in our participation in the Quaker Social Change Ministry program.
The story I’d like to share is of my first meeting with the folks at KI.
I had long been struggling with the knowledge that simply through the circumstances of the family I was born into, my life was significantly better in many ways than that of a great many others in America and the world. This was a spiritual problem for me.
God (finally) provided me with a way to begin to learn about that. Nearly three years ago the environmental group 350.org organized a national day for environmental education/actions. Only one event was listed in Indiana that day, and it was at the KI Eco Center, which was how I found out about KI. The day of the event, I arrived at the run down building that had once been a convenience store. But it was full of kids excited to show us the work they were doing, including their aquaponics system, and the rain barrels they created and sold.
I was intrigued, and wanted to see if I could become involved with this group. So we arranged a meeting. On a dark, rainy night I rode my bicycle to the KI building. The adult leaders, Imhotep, Pambana, Paulette and Alvin, and about a dozen young people from the Eco Center were here. I had thought we were going to discuss working on some computer software projects together, which is another area KI works with the youth in.
But Imhotep began asking me a series of questions about myself. I don’t talk a lot about myself, but Imhotep, I’ve come to learn, is very good at drawing stories out of people. I should have anticipated this, but I soon realized I was basically being interviewed so they could determine if I was someone they felt comfortable working with, or not. So I began to talk about Quakerism. When Imhotep asked me to talk more about that, I said something like, “Quakers believe there is that of God in everyone, and that includes you, and you.” The very first time, I think I hesitated slightly as I was asking myself, “Ok, we Friends always say this, but do you really believe this of a group that is different from you?” And I’m really glad the answer was an immediate and emphatic YES, but it also seemed to reaffirm that by exploring it consciously and publicly. At that point I remember smiling at the thought, and the young person whose eyes I was looking into saw it, too, I think. Each person smiled at me as I said that to them, and I had the impression they were thinking, “of course”. I strongly felt the presence of the Spirit.
That seemed to satisfy the questions for the evening, and they have welcomed me into their community ever since.
I was not used to speaking about faith in public outside Quaker circles, and this was a lesson that it is important to do so. From the beginning, my experience at the Eco Center has been a shared, spiritual one.