“We are responsible for the world that we’ve inherited, and the world that we pass down.” — Reverend Naomi Washington-Leapheart
January Workshop Opens Conversations
At the start of the year, the Mayor’s Commission on Faith-based and Interfaith Affairs invited members of Philadelphia-area faith communities to spend four days examining the intersection between theology and systems of white supremacy alongside reparations and truth telling. Under the leadership of Reverend Naomi Washington Leapheart, Director for Faith-Based and Interfaith Affairs for the city of Philadelphia, and the Commission’s ongoing “Rise Up for Reparations” campaign, inaugurated in June 2022, the January program was part of ongoing work to build a culture of reparations in the city – and one where faith leaders are at the front of the movement.
87 participants gathered for the intensive course, also supported by The Truth Telling Project. One goal of the campaign is to invite majority-white congregations in Philadelphia to sincerely engage in reparations accountable to grassroots Black-led organizations and small churches. Several PYM meetings had participants in the workshop, including Central Philadelphia Meeting, who sent eight members and attenders under the auspices of the meeting’s Racial Healing and Wholeness Committee. In the meeting’s 2023 Spiritual State of the Meeting report, they reflected: “We anticipate deeper engagement with Black reparations will grow from this seed. We are aware of the need to go much further than saying appropriate words. The Meeting’s and individual members’ engagement with the work of community organizations for racial justice go part of the way, but there is a yearning and growing energy on the part of both long-time and newer members and attenders to address the need for Black reparations.” Another meeting who attended described how the experience “deepened their understanding of processes and possibilities for repair.”
Discussions about reparations include consideration of wealth distribution and reparative justice as a result. What does that look like for Friends as colonial-settlers in the Philadelphia region who built their wealth in this place? What is the spiritual calling to the depth of reparational repair required? What are the questions for us to be asking in Quaker communities? What might be the collective impact of the meetings in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting doing reparation work?
Patterns & Examples, Relationship & Process
Lucy Duncan, a member of Green Street Meeting, is the co-chair of the Mayor’s Commission and a Truth and Reparations Education Fellow for The Truth Telling Project. She is a founding member of the reparations committee at Green Street Friends Meeting. In 2021, Green Street Meeting approved a minute dedicating at least $50,000 a year over ten years from Meeting reserves for the work of reparations in support of Black residents in Germantown. Lucy describes the “collective impact of little cells getting animated and doing this work,” and that reparations is both a response to history and the “deep medicinal action” that is needed for racial justice: “Cell by cell, movement from the ground up is a deep process of convincement around the healing of the world.”
Lucy describes reparations as relational, and process work. The abolitionists in history asked us to listen to who we are, and look at who we meant by “we the people.” How are we listening and asking those questions today? After the 19th century US abolition of enslavement, the movement dismantled and didn’t stay in the game to end white supremacy, which is why reparations is the next stage for engagement: “If we trace our lineage to abolition then reparations is an obvious spiritual commitment to make.”
The process of reparations work is apparent in the ongoing work of Green Street Meeting, and other meetings who attended the January Mayor’s Commission workshop and have stepped into this work as a result. Questions about what a community has to offer towards repair, whether funds or land or other, come into the Light held by the community. Those Friends who showed the way in the 18th and 19th c. abolition movement, like Benjamin Lay and John Woolman, also spoke to care for the earth and the liberation for white Quakers were connected to abolition and the liberation of enslaved people. Lucy’s writings speak to the liberation in that experience, and the vital need to center accompaniment and agency: Today we continue to walk in a space where the experience of BIPOC folks needs to be at the center of this work, and for a white person your place in the world will be shifted, even deeply disturbed, by the decentering you experience.
In 2021, Abington Meeting gathered for a Discernment for Unity session, and approved a Minute of Reconciliation which was also endorsed by Abington Quarterly Meeting and made available to all members of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Abington Meeting engaged in a process of deep listening and coming to unity, and the approved minute connects racial reconciliation and healing with the testimony of equality, equity, and justice, recognizing both past Quaker witness and past/present harm caused by settler colonization and enslavement of Africans. Thanks to a beloved member, the Bothwell Reparations Fund was started and Farmer Jawn was the Reparations Committee’s recipient this first year for their work on food access and justice in Philadelphia. The meeting’s witness continues, and in April 2023, Abington Meeting hosted the inaugural Benjamin Lay Lecture, “Divesting from White Supremacy: Reparations as the Next Phase of Benjamin Lay’s Prophetic Vision” by Lucy Duncan and Rob Peagler.
Where Does a Meeting Begin?
Begin with learning.
Lucy Duncan describes ten years of conversation in Green Street Meeting about racism and the learning about reparations as one place engaged when twelve members of the meeting took a course from The Truth Telling Project. She notes that people often do not know about or understand reparations – they think they need to give something up. While reparations work does require honest conversation, it’s about both what does racial justice really mean to you and what could you give up in a real accounting, budgeting for reparations? It’s not about something being taken away, it’s questions that align with Quaker’s testimony of simplicity – what do I/we really need? And it’s about prioritizing collective care.
The faith communities who attended the Mayor’s Commission workshop have had monthly support and accountability as a cohort in relationship with program facilitators. On their final day in January, the attendees began drafting plans to bring back to their congregations, with the aim of concrete action in the next 12 to 18 months. Meetings in PYM are engaged in that work of community and process, and several mention this in their 2023 Spiritual State of the Meeting reports. Additionally, the PYM Addressing Racism Collaborative has a collection of online resources for learning and guidance (see below).
It’s a journey and a continuum. We continue learning. — Guinevere Janes (PYM member at large) on her experience of the January workshop and what’s next.
Resources to Learn More About Reparations
- Resources for Reparations from the Addressing Racism Collaborative, posted on the PYM website.
- Green Street Meeting has shared their story: “A Letter from Green Street’s Reparations Committee” (12/22/21, PYM website) and Green Street Reparations Committee Presentation (Spring Continuing Sessions, 2022)
- “Philly faith leaders hope weeklong seminar awakens a ‘citywide culture of reparations’” (BillyPenn 1/18/23)
- Pendle Hill’s Monday lecture on June 5, “Reparations Is to Justice as Art Is to Freedom: Linking Healing and Creativity” with K Melchor Quick Hall, Ph.D. is available for viewing on the Pendle Hill YouTube channel.
Later in the summer, a week-long workshop (August 7-11) will focus on, “bold visioning of our shared liberation through the development of individual and collective art works: Aiming for Freedom: Race, Reparations, and Right Paths.
- reparationWorks – a laboratory for material, relational, and spiritual healing and repair co-founded by Lucy Duncan and Rob Peagler
- “Reparations and Transgenerational Healing” – Lucy Duncan with editorial support from Robert Peagler (Friends Journal, 1/1/23)
- “10 Ways White Supremacy Wounds White People: A Tale of Mutuality” – Greg Elliott, (AFSC, 7/21/16)
- “Descendant” (2022 documentary film, on Netflix) tells the story of activists in Africatown, a Black community in Alabama, as they fight to reclaim their history as descendants of The Clothilde, the last recorded vessel to bring enslaved people illegally into the US in 1860.
- From the Zinn Education Project, a lesson plan for high school-age youth: “How to Make Amends: A Lesson on Reparations”
- The Truth Telling Project – supports and implements grassroots, community-centered truth-telling and reparations processes to achieve Black liberation and BIPOC solidarity, amplify traditionally silenced and disenfranchised voices, and abolish white supremacy.
- The Grassroots Reparations Campaign is a program of the Truth Telling Project, and shares these resources: A Toolkit containing our history, our principles, and strategies for hosting a Reparations Sabbath, Saturday, or Sunday event. A secondary Toolkit + a Teach-in Facilitator’s Guide for holding your own teach-in about full reparations, commemorating the Sacred Reparative Season, and hosting a Reparations Sabbath, Saturday, or Sunday event is also available.
Image source: Dreamstime