Overall, we’ve had 386 people attend during six days of annual sessions’ virtual programming, including young people who participated in Youth Programs.
While the Community Engagement team ran a multitude of keynotes, worship sharing/affinity spaces and meetings for Business or Worship, devoted Youth Program staff built meaningful All Together Time, and facilitated morning and afternoon programs supported by Friendly Presences. There were also Bible classes, tech sessions, and very helpful, previously curated, advance documents and videos. Young Adult Friends (YAFs) did spiritual practices including lectio divina, welcomed two YAFs as keynote speakers, and convened contemplative prayer. Parents gathered for an evening worship sharing as an online version of the “Family Neighborhood.” Five plenaries, 18 workshops, and five meditation classes preceded everything as part of the ‘Runway to Sessions.’
We benefited from the talents of four keynote presenters. We spent creative time with Zenaida Peterson who inspired an outpouring of poetry; we grew spiritually with Marcelle Martin; and we found fire in the Light with Naomi Madaras before welcoming our final keynote team: City Love.
Middle School Friends Coordinator, Elizabeth Croce shared a brief biography of City Love at the start of the evening, naming their work “as a social justice music education group that uses song to spread love, hope, dialogue, justice and healing at assemblies, workshops, residencies, and performances in schools, colleges, and conferences.”
Elizabeth, who has known City Love for the past several years and “is always blown away by it,” thanked them for bringing “great energy, (and) skill to their work with young people.” She said, they offer “big questions for the youth to consider,” and provided “encouragement (to youth) to use their voices to change the world.”
City Love offered ‘musical closure’ to the 340th sessions with a live presentation of songs plus a created-that-same-day PowerPoint and song collaboration with Youth Program participants.
Brian Casselli Jordan, Emyne Sanders-Rasul, and David Stills made up City Love’s August 1st performance team. They called their day with Youth Program participants “Quakertastic.” Brian spoke about some of the songs and conversations they’d been having at Annual Sessions and discussed the work they do with school communities. He said that “there is extensive research showing that prejudice forms very early on—even as early as two and three—but we have a chance to interrupt that.” Brian added that by talking about differences, fairness, caring, and sharing with all people, both in our homes and classrooms, we teach tolerance, and that is the point. He characterized City Love’s most recent album as “a musical love letter to the world we need.”
As the team worked through their playlist, they engaged in personal conversations about race with the audience via a chat box discussion. Later there was a breakout session centered in the query “what does your racial identity mean to you right now? What are some of your thoughts about race in the age of uprising after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others?”
City Love premiered a new song in the second half of the program; Stand up … shine your light. It was co-created with PYM Youth Programs and the theme was about being an upstander. Youth recorded rap, sang, and made a PowerPoint slide show—all of which City Love integrated into a very wonderful, original performance.
City Love team-member, David Stills, said that as we lean into some of these hard conversations, we may not have closure. There may be frustration, sadness, or depression. “We are talking about things that are really hard and affect people in an extremely negative way.” David concluded that the way to embrace racial justice is to “lean into discomfort” and continue the hard conversations whenever you are able.
David, who teaches at the Philadelphia School, also shared a deeply personal story about how important this kind of work is to him as a Black father of brown skinned children. Becoming a parent made him “realize that it’s not just me. I am 39 years old and I’ve gotten used to those stories about cops and guns, being pulled over, (and) being stopped when you’re in the wrong neighborhood…It shakes me up but it’s me.”
David adds, there is a whole new layer of pain when prejudice is directed at your children. And in Black and Brown families, it affects everyone, even the very young:
It’s starting to happen to my children. Now.
I have a five-year-old and a seven-year-old. And, long story short, a woman threatened to call the cops on my children. She threatened my wife. She said, ‘well, you don’t know what the cops are (going to) do if I call them.’
These are interesting times and people are being emboldened and whether or not they realize it and I’m just so thankful to all of you for being willing to talk and work through this. I wish that woman was here too even though I’m really upset with her, but that’s something that my wife and I had to deal with. And then we had to talk to our children; about how the cops aren’t actually going to come, when we weren’t even sure if it was true or not.
They are young…we all know that children deserve the right to be children. But the truth is, those preparations are important. We have to prepare for different things, and my wife and I are now preparing them for growing up with brown skin in the US. …We’ve been doing it, and now it’s intensified.
So even with the George Floyd murder, and with all of the hype, and all of the media, this kind of thing is happening to people all of the time. And it’s terrible when things happen and it’s wonderful when we are all aware of it.
David, Brian and Emyne closed City Love’s program with the final song “We belong together.” Inspired by David’s experience with his own children, it features rap and song together.
The topic is urgent, but there is hope. As David says: “We can’t give up, We are going to keep going, and keep going, and the more of us who are aware and ‘working’, the better chance we have of having a safer, fairer world, and then we start to work on the systemic stuff and getting to the root of it…We can’t do it apart…”
City Love has a new young children’s album about race, equity, solidarity and inclusion. Information on the full body of their work is available at muchcitylove.com.
An edited video of the August 1 City Love program will be posted when ready.