What Happened at the Recent Thread Gathering on Diversity and Equity in Our Meetings and the World, and Next Steps
The February 2020 PYM Thread Gathering on Diversity and Equity in Our Meetings and the World was a day-long workshop that explored the spiritual foundation of the work of healing racism. Facilitated by Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting members .O and Dana Reinhold, and Francis Elling, a member of Unity Meeting and attender at Ujima Friends Peace Center and CPMM, the workshop focused in particular on building our personal readiness to transform as we uncover what is needed for our Meetings to become truly equitable and inclusive.
The workshop’s purpose was supporting individuals and Meetings to move forward with racial healing and wholeness, through experiential exercises, deep listening and sharing. Participants practiced some tools, shared resources, and built connection with one another. The workshop was guided by the belief that as we move ourselves individually toward healing racism and into wholeness, we will in turn be more able to support the movement toward racial healing in our Meetings.
The 50+ participants started by committing to create and hold a “Brave Space,” acknowledging that there is no such thing as a “safe space” – we all have caused wounds and we all carry scars, AND we can call ourselves and one another to more truth and love. Friends of European descent can recognize that healing institutional racism and implicit racism will require developing more tolerance for feeling uncomfortable. Growth and healing will be supported by learning to distinguish feelings of discomfort and fear of change from real hurt or harm. Readily accessible self-awareness tools such as attention to breath, body, emotions and thoughts can lead to insight, allow for the release of feelings and tensions in healthy ways, and open the door to transformation, for both Friends of Color and Friends of European descent.
The morning’s experiential exercise gave a sense of how rapidly a group situation can produce feelings of exclusion, without any conscious harmful intent required. The afternoon included more practice with self-awareness tools as well as guided visualizations to support access to emotions of caring and gratitude. This was followed by a demonstration through role play of two versions of a difficult conversation involving implicit and institutional racism in the context of ordinary functions in our Meetings.
Agreeing to share these ideas with a wider audience in PYM, participants reported that efforts in their Meetings to address racism have included a wide variety of activities on various levels. These included holding monthly conversations about racism; including conversations around racial inclusion and equity in the membership clearness process; involvement with POWER Interfaith, attending POWER-sponsored anti-racism workshops, and hosting one of these workshops as a Meeting; encouraging Friends of European descent to examine race-related uncomfortable feelings and problems primarily with support from white people who are working on healing racism, rather than making Friends of Color take care of them; having a support group or caucus for Friends of European descent to provide mutual support for their work to heal racism in their lives; having a support group or caucus for Friends of Color for mutual support; not confusing the Quaker tradition with present-day inclusion, but instead creating active outreach efforts to establish authentic connection with the community outside the Meeting; reading and discussing literature on racism; reading the book “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies” by Resmaa Menakem, which includes many experiential exercises; sharing personal stories and experiences; understanding that responding to racism is not optional and that failing to work to end racism is a choice that allows it to continue; sharing the joy of Quakerism with the wider community, meeting people and listening, showing up where this is needed, and practicing connection; holding anti-racism and racial healing workshops in our Meetings on such topics as micro-aggressions, “White Fragility,” and systemic racism; a “21-Day Challenge” to work on personal implicit bias and discrimination; holding film screenings and discussions of illustrative films; encouraging attendance and providing financial support for members to attend “Beyond Diversity 101” workshops (originated by Niyonu Spann, a member of Chester Meeting); having a committee that supports racial healing in the meeting. (The facilitators as well as Zachary Dutton, PYM’s Associate Secretary for Program and Religious Life, can provide a brief list of informational resources.)
Many kinds of action and change, and deep long-term commitment, will be required to heal racism. This workshop focused on developing skills for the inner work each of us needs to do, skills that provide a foundation for the healing and corrective outward actions which we must undertake in the world. The first focus was on tools and techniques to stabilize ourselves emotionally. Reducing emotional reactivity opens the door to gaining insight and beginning to free ourselves from the emotional binds that tangle us inwardly and block us from real and open connection across the lines of race. We are, all of us, tangled up in the racism woven into our culture from its beginnings. Looking clear-eyed at one’s impact on others, separate from one’s intentions, can make white people uncomfortable. Building the stamina to tolerate this discomfort, and becoming more able to acknowledge and release our internal reactions — physical and emotional – in healthy ways can open the way to deeper connection, greater freedom and more joy. With integrity, compassion and love we can bring our practice into our monthly meetings and our yearly meeting. The workshop was intended to nurture our growth toward becoming the Beloved Community in our Quaker world and beyond.