The Willits Book Trust Committee of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting presented books to a number of participants who attended “Crossings: Bridging the Authentic Underground Railroad Past to the Present,” a training event in Niagara, New York Sept. 11th – 14th, 2019, sponsored by the National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, the Underground Railroad Consortium of New York State, the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center, and the Association for the Study of African American Life. The sessions exposed participants to the latest scholarship and interpretation of the 19th century Underground Railroad, focusing on both its international context and its place in the Atlantic World while exploring its continued relevance to the present and future. Field sessions were held in Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and Canada. [Read more…] about PYM’s Willits Book Trust Committee Honors Storytellers and Bridge Builders of the Underground Railroad
Westfield Meeting received a Membership Development Grant for the purchase of an 8X8 foot pop-up tent, 5-foot-long table, table weights, a tablecloth printed with the “SPICES”, and literature from PYM. The purpose was to attend public events and increase awareness of Quakerism and Westfield Meeting as well as other Meetings; develop cooperative outreach with other Meetings and organizations; and focus members of Westfield Meeting on the need for vigorous outreach. We were to attend six events during the first year of the grant, and keep a tally of direct encounters with members of the public.
Events attended to date have been the Historic Riverton Criterium (a bicycle race) on June 10th; Quarterly Meeting at Cropwell Monthly Meeting on June 24th; the Collingswood Farmers Market on July 28th and September and Cinnaminson Day on October 7th. A sixth event was scheduled at the Collingswood Farmers Market on November 6th. The equipment was offered to all area Meetings. Westfield Meeting partnered with Newton Meeting for the Collingswood Farmers Market events, with Cropwell Meeting for the Quarterly Meeting held there, with Westfield Friends School during Cinnaminson Day, and with the Riverton Free Library, which provided hundreds of second-hand children’s books, distributed for free at each of the events.
Setting up the equipment, developing partnerships, attracting people to the display, distributing literature, and working out approaches to our visitors, was a learning experience (we found that there has to be a “hook” to draw people to the table when there are scores of other participants at large public events: free children’s books have worked for us so far; we also had to overcome what seems a natural Quaker timidity about promoting ourselves – to be forthcoming but not pushy).
The result has been increased contact between Westfield and two other Meetings as well as Westfield Friends School, over 360 friendly encounters with the public along with increased visibility in nearby communities, and greater awareness of the need for outreach by Members of Westfield Meeting. Use of the tent will continue into the future (we intend to try indoor events during the colder months), and should include additional cooperation with other Meetings. We have seen no direct effect on membership at Westfield, but Members who have staffed the tent are among those advocating for what we expect will be a large increase in funds budgeted for other new approaches to outreach.
In late October 2018, members of the Willits Book Trust of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Walton Burwell of Germantown Monthly Meeting and Lisa Stewart Garrison of Greenwich Monthly Meeting, visited with Dr. Carl Patrick Burrowes to prepare 250 copies of his book Between the Forest and the Salty Sea: A History of the Liberian People Before 1800 to be shipped to Monrovia. The committee enjoyed a delicious Liberian meal while enjoying their work. The boxes of books, a gift from the Willits Book Trust to people in Liberia, have been shipped abroad to coincide with the author’s return to his native land. Dr. Burrowes is visiting parts of Liberia within and beyond Monrovia to present copies of his book to thought leaders, educators, decision makers, and aspiring students.
One of the oldest grant-making groups of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, the Willits Book Trust Committee presents gifts of books that embody and reflect Quaker values as a means of honoring organizations and individuals that serve African Americans (in communities in the US, south of the Mason Dixon Line) and people in Liberia. Through presentations of written materials and the development of partnerships with groups and individuals, Willits works to bring to light untold stories, advancing the work of those whose visions are aligned with our own.
Dr. Burrowes’ book achieves Willits’ mission by depicting stories of the country’s early culture and natural resources in ways that extend beyond the boundaries of ethnicity and language, to reveal the unifying ties that bind all Liberians. The book reflects three decades of Dr. Burrowes’ research and uses documents first published in Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish, and French, drawing on oral traditions, archeology, linguistics, studies of cultural patterns embedded in masks and other forms of material culture, regional histories and biological anthropology. What results is a story of early Liberia told in ways that evoke attitudes of respect for the contributions of the many groups and regions that make up the country.
Decades of internal conflicts followed by the challenges of rebuilding a war-torn country have posed challenges for the Willits Book Trust as the Committee worked faithfully to develop sustainable partnerships with schools and universities in Liberia. The newly developing partnership with Dr. Burrowes represents what PYM’s Director of Grantmaking Carol Walz has aptly referred to as a kind of answered prayer in that it gives Willits an opportunity to support the study of peacemaking and conflict resolution for future leaders over time. In addition to the copies of his own book, Willits presented Dr. Burrowes with six copies of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; An American Slave, published by the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, to place on reserve in the Cuttington University Library for a course he’ll be teaching on Servant Leadership.
Willits was drawn by Dr. Burrowes sense of spiritual calling and his desire to “give back” to the country of his origins. Following a career in US institutions of higher education as media scholar, historian and administrator, Dr. Burrowes has been appointed Vice President for Academic Affairs at Cuttington University in Monrovia. ““We are honored and humbled to be able to support Dr. Burrowes and the work he will do in Liberia,” said Walton Burwell. “This effort reunites the Willits Book Trust’s work, begun by the late Dick Smith (GMM), but interrupted during the country’s many years of conflict” added Charles Woodson (GMM), Clerk of the Willits Book Trust. “As a member of our committee and the Director of Episcopal Community Services in Philadelphia, Dick first initiated our partnership with Cuttington University, an Episcopal School and the oldest institution of higher learning in Liberia. We are delighted to be able to continue this work through our support for Dr. Burrowes and Between the Kola Forest and the Salty Sea.”
On Sept. 28th, 2018, the Willits Book Trust of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting presented copies of the Autobiography of an American Slave to a group of Cumberland County College Equal Opportunity Fund Students at Historic Bethel Othello African Methodist Church in Greenwich, New Jersey. The students were taking part in a Freedom Tour, Freedom Seekers, Free People of Color and Communities of Faith in the Greenwich Area to explore Underground Railroad sites near Delaware Bay.
Willits decision to distribute Frederick Douglass’ autobiography to young people stemmed from our recognition of Douglass as a remarkable man of the nineteenth century and our interest in keeping important stories of abolition and self-determination alive. The Narrative is listed by the Library of Congress as one of 88 books that shaped America and its capacity to recreate the horrors of slavery, while recounting the bravery of freedom seekers is unparalleled. Re-published by the Frederick Douglass Family Initiative on the occasion of the 200th birthday of Frederick Douglass as part of the Million Abolitionists project, the 1845 autobiography became an instant bestseller when it was first published, putting Douglass’ life in danger as he had sought his own freedom from slavery only seven years earlier. According to FDFI, the Narrative helped change the course of the U.S. Abolitionist Movement in the mid-nineteenth century and has been changing the lives of readers ever since.
Frederick Douglass learned early that knowledge was his pathway to freedom. The college students who received these books have each committed to pursuing clear educational goals. Additional book presentations in Cumberland County, now in the planning stages, include a collaboration with the NAACP and the Bridgeton Municipal Youth to Youth Alliance, to involve high school students in discussing the book and developing related service learning projects, in keeping with the mission of the Million Abolitionists project. Willits’ involvement with the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives will also involve a future partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative and new Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.
On May 16, 2018, Fran Sheldon (Providence Meeting) and Paul Sheldon (Lansdowne Meeting) participated in a Demand the Ban action in Philadelphia to demand that Senator Toomey co-sponsor Senate Bill 2095 that bans the sale of assault weapons. As part of a group of thirty-three individuals who had previously received training in Gandhian nonviolent direct action, they were prepared to remain peacefully at his office in the U.S. Customs Building in Philadelphia until he announced his support for S2095. On arrival they found the building’s entrance barricaded, and they instead sat by the entrance until taken into custody and cited with Failure to Disperse. This charge carries a $300 fine, and Fran and Paul applied to the Fund for Sufferings Granting Group for support in paying their fines. Since 1756, the Fund for Sufferings of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting has offered material support to PYM Quakers who have followed a leading to witness to Quaker Testimonies and have experienced financial loss as a result.
By Doug Humes
Quaker Buildings and Programs Granting Group
We grantmakers (at least for “bricks and sticks” – building and renovation projects) participate in the project at the beginning and in the middle, but typically we never see “the end”. At the beginning, we receive an application that describes the project, a new roof, a bathroom, in addition, an energy saving device, a budget and how the applicant proposes to pay for the project outside of the requested grant funds. One of our committee members does a site visit, talks to the project coordinator, and gathers additional information. Because of the lag time between applications and twice-annual committee meetings, we at times visit projects that are in progress, and so get more input on what is being done. The site visitor reports back to the full committee, and we then review each application as a committee. At the end of the process, we typically have more need than we have funds available, and so we divide the loaves and fish as equitably as we can, based on a variety of factors.
The projects that we have agreed to help fund usually move forward to their conclusion. We don’t fund in advance, and so we wait for the applicant to report back on the project. When it is completed, we simply see a line item in a report that tells us that a particular project was satisfactorily completed and that they were sent the grant funds that had been committed. Unless we personally commit to seeing what God hath wrought, the completed project then disappears from our radar.
However, last month, I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation to come visit a project to which we had committed funding over several years – the new Anna T. Jeanes Building at the Hickman retirement community in West Chester. The project involved keeping the Hickman competitive in a growing industry by adding 74 studio and one-bedroom suites, and a secure dementia care program and outdoor garden. Invited guests attended an open house, just days before the first new occupants moved in.
We were taken around in small groups to visit representative rooms, tour the dementia facility, and then attend a reception with food and beverage. The hallways were wide, with lots of light, but with sight lines broken up by curves and half walls and other visual elements. The units were inviting and engineered to accommodate people who may be in wheelchairs – wide doorways, accessible bathrooms, and other tricks of the trade that were not standard features in the old rooming house style retirement communities. And the public areas – gathering rooms for various uses – were bright and colorful, with lots of art on the walls, and tasteful carpeting, lighting, and window treatments.
I had heard about the Hickman project for years – three years of the funding cycle. I had read the words on the page, but your own imagination of what it might look like is never quite what thoughtful planners and architects design and great contractors and craftsmen build. So it was enjoyable for me to come out and see the completed project, brand spanking new and ready to welcome its first new residents.
I know in my mind that our grants make a difference in the world. But it was a bonus this time around to see the new building, and to better understand how retirement communities like the Hickman, with roots in the 19th century, are trying to meet the needs of their residents in the 21st century. And to reach out and touch the “bricks and sticks”, to see the good work done by our committee, and to close the circle on behalf of my committee. Wouldn’t Anna T. Jeanes be thrilled to see her namesake building, built with the help of trust funds left by her for this very purpose?