Please find below a statement regarding the change in our keynote address at the 2019 Annual Sessions. This statement is an expression of our commitment to transparency, collaboration, and growth around anti-racism. Bucks Quarterly Meeting was a partner in the drafting.
Announced in the brochure that was mailed to Friends’ homes and in other places, we were excited that the keynote address at the 2019 Annual Sessions would be performed and presented by The Meta Theatre Company. The Meta Theatre Company had worked with other segments of our yearly meeting community; their work would be aligned with our ministry on addressing racism and other “isms” within the Religious Society of Friends and beyond.
In the course of planning, we learned that those members of The Meta Theatre Company who are people of color would not be willing to participate in the keynote performance. The members of color did not trust that they would feel safe enough to work with us at Annual Sessions, based on experiences during a performance at a gathering of Bucks Quarterly Meeting early in 2019. The behavior of several individuals was experienced as sexist and racist. Bucks Quarterly Meeting has shared a statement with its members. The statement describes the feedback the Quarter initially received from the Meta Theatre Company after its performance earlier this year, how the Quarter has responded to the initial feedback, and additional steps the Quarter will be taking in the near future.
Without their fellow members of color, the remaining white members of The Meta Theatre Company offered to go ahead with a keynote address at the 2019 Annual Sessions that focused on whiteness and white privilege.
Our Sessions Coordinating Committee (SCC) came under the weight of the need to discern alternative keynote speakers to honor past feedback we have received from the body. Friends have requested that our anti-racism work go beyond discussing whiteness and white privilege (beyond centering whiteness). After additional discernment, the Sessions Coordinating Committee chose to ask Valerie Brown to offer the keynote address at the 2019 Annual Sessions. Valerie Brown’s keynote address will follow our theme of centering in trust and love; it will not directly relate to our work to address racism and other “isms”. However, maintaining our center is pivotal to healing and reconciliation.
Valerie Brown shares this statement with Friends:
As the replacement keynote speaker for PYM 339th Annual Sessions, I offer this statement in the spirit of transparency and clarity, and to promote greater understanding.
Since becoming a member of the Religious Society of Friends nearly twenty years ago, I have been a member of Solebury Monthly Meeting of Bucks Quarter. While I am not aware of the particular events related to Meta Theatre Company and Bucks Quarter, I am aware of that there is overwhelming need to openly and earnestly address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, not only within Bucks Quarter but also within the wider body of PYM. I am aware too that this is challenging work that invites great vulnerability, transparency, trust, and heart.
In my conversations with the members of Meta Theatre and with staff of PYM, I continue to feel uneasy about PYM’s efforts on diversity, equity, and inclusion. As a Religious Society, we have a significant opportunity to live into our Quaker testimonies, and it is my sincere hope and expectation that together we can and will meet each other in this rigorous work that calls forward ‘urgencies of the heart’.
I welcome the opportunity to continue in dialogue and community about this with PYM staff and Sessions Coordinating Committee.
We have consulted with representatives of Bucks Quarterly Meeting, and we know that the quarterly meeting community is continuing to process Meta Theatre’s feedback. We will follow the lead of the quarterly meeting regarding any requested support. We recognize that there is more work for everyone to do, and we are here to encourage each other in learning and healing.