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Most recent posts
Remembering Wiletta Woodson with a big smile on my face
My Salinger Year – a book review
Hangin’ out with Robin Williams at the Springsteen gig
A Message for Peace
Sometimes my life gets in the way of my life
Coming to the Table National Gathering
Can you handle an honest conversation about race?
The Most Important Journey of Cheryl Strayed, Author of Wild
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Coming to the Table
Gather at the Table
Inheriting the Trade
Race, Oppression, Privilege
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Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!
I’ve just completed my third week-long class at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Last October I participated in the first level STAR training (Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience) and wrote about it here. This week was STAR II; an opportunity for “religious and civil society leaders from around the world” to “expand their capacity to respond to the violence, trauma, and conflicts they encounter in their particular context.”
Check out photos from the past week at my Facebook page (this is a public link so anyone can view the photos whether you have a Facebook page or not).
I joined peacebuilders who work in many places around the globe, including Ghana, Rwanda, Burma, the United States, Guatemala, Mexico, Ecuador, the Netherlands, Columbia, Belize, Peru, and elsewhere. Some work in physically dangerous places. All work with people experiencing trauma in some form, including historic, unhealed harms. I am in awe of the work my colleagues and allies do. Their commitment is inspiring. My relationships with them give me strength and hope. Most of all I know that I have allies around the world who are committed to, and are working for, peace (physical and psychological, collective and individual).
STAR came into being in the days after September 11, 2001 as a joint effort of EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and Church World Service. Its mission was, and is, to provide strategies for people to become aware of trauma infecting communities and individuals, to develop resilience in ways that empower them to heal, and to break the cycles of violence (physical and psychological; causing harm to one’s self or others).
The STAR framework recognizes that healthy individuals and communities understand and incorporate the ability to heal from, and be resilient to, life’s inevitable traumas. They successfully integrate systems of restorative justice, conflict transformation, human security, and spirituality.
Those completing STAR II are eligible to use STAR materials in workshops and trainings they lead in their travels, institutions, and communities. I look forward to sharing some of what I’ve learned at the upcoming White Privilege Conference in Memphis, Tennessee (April 1-5), the Denver Green Festival (May 2-3), and Institute of Noetic Sciences International Conference in Tucson, Arizona (June 17-21).
For more information visit the STAR website or drop me a note. I can’t say enough about the importance of this (and other) training being offered by the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at EMU. These folks don’t just “talk the talk.” They’re doing the good work of creating a more peaceful and just world.
Today, at the Duke University Hospital, John Hope Franklin died of congestive heart failure. He was 94. A highly revered and accomplished historian, Franklin literally helped create the field of African American history. He wrote what is considered by many to be the seminal book on the black experience in America, From Slavery to Freedom (1947). He worked on the Brown v. Board of Education case (1954). He lead President Clinton’s Initiative on Race (1997).
The United States, and indeed the world, is a better place because of the life and work of John Hope Franklin.
I would like to specifically invite my white friends and colleagues who don’t know much about Franklin to spend some time at this Duke University website. Your life will be enriched as a result.
The home page on my computer is set to Happy News. To these folks, virtue, goodwill and heroism are hot news. They offer timely stories, geared to lift spirits and inspire lives.
I recently ran across “Curious Minds” — a story from Unicef about young people on the radio in Ghana talking about AIDS, education reform, and other social topics on this program carried by Ghana Broadcasting Corporation.
Go to the site here and watch the brief video clip. I believe you’ll be as inspired as I am.
The more time I spend in Denver the more impressed and inspired I am at all the resources that are available there to people who are committed to improving our world. Over the past several days I have participated in, and witnessed, successful models of education, music, lecture series, and community gatherings dedicated to truth, justice, compassion, and peace.
That same evening Harold and I joined a book group that had chosen several months ago to read Inheriting The Trade in February. Their March meeting happened to coincide with my brief trip to Denver. Thank you to Nina, Karen, Joan, Anne, Carole, Becky, Karen, and Krista not only for reading my book but for an evening of thoughtful conversation and great fellowship over a terrific meal (I’m sure I gained 3 pounds from the brownies Harold and I took home). And thanks, Nina and Krista for already “friending” me on Facebook!
On Thursday I spoke at Metropolitan State College at the invitation of African American Studies professor Jackie Benton. Like other universities and colleges across the nation, Metro offers many opportunities for their students and community members to hear from authors, and a wide variety of other people, who share their thoughts and work.
Thursday evening I went with Harold and Claudia to the weekly rehearsal of the Spirituals Project Choir, of which they are members. From the website: Spirituals uplift in times of crisis, heal, comfort, inspire and instill hopes and dreams, thereby transforming individuals, communities, and whole societies. I am challenged to describe how inspiring these folks are. Their dedication to preserving and sharing both the music and its teachings is remarkable.
Friday was a FULL day. Harold and I began the day meeting with close to 200 members of Denver Eclectics for a screening of Traces of the Trade and a discussion after. We returned at 6:30pm for a dinner and further discussion with approximately 70 members. Their interest in the subject of the legacy of slavery, commitment to delve more deeply into this difficult subject and consider ways in which they can contribute to healing was inspirational. This was a first attempt by Lee Everding, director of Denver Eclectics. to offer two such opportunities in the same day. From my experience I hope they repeat this in the future. It worked quite well.
In between the Eclectics events we traveled to Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts (MESA) in Thornton, Colorado. We met with two large classes of 8th grade students at the request of teachers Jeanette Edelstein and Becky Martinez. These incredible students are far ahead of where I was in the 8th grade (or in college, for that matter) in terms of knowledge of certain “buried” aspects of our nation’s history. From my experiences with students over the past year and a half, in many places across the United States, they are also far ahead of most of their contemporaries in other schools and communities. The students at MESA have studied the triangle trade in-depth including the interconnection among sugar, molasses, rum and the slavery industry. They’ve focused on the institution of slavery and how it shaped our country’s economy and laws. These were two of the most inspiring hours of my time in Denver. If American students were exposed to more of the history that is kept out of classrooms because educators fear that it tarnishes our nation somehow, we would be a far more knowledgeable and–most important–understanding and tolerant society. I hope and trust that the students we interacted with at MESA take leadership roles in their futures. The United States will be well-served by them.
Jackie Benton, the Metro College professor mentioned above, is the daughter of Byron and Christine Johnson. In 1998 a lecture series started in the Greater Park Hill Community area of Denver that was named in honor of Jackie’s parents. It’s mission is to develop and support programs that promote an awareness of history, an appreciation of heritage, and the renewal of hope in the face of great odds. An added aim is to build a sense of community that stretches across cultures.
On Saturday morning Harold and I met with several of Jackie Benton’s students for an hour in the church library. They had read Inheriting the Trade and watched Traces of the Trade and had a lot on their minds for us to discuss. Then we moved into the church parlor where I spoke to approximately 50 people at the Johnson Lecture Series.
This was one of the most powerful interactions I’ve had with an audience during the past year. The people who came to Park Hill United Methodist Church Saturday morning inspired me and each other. Many of these folks have been in the trenches working to undo racism for decades. Our discussion after my talk about Inheriting the Trade was rich indeed.
I know that Harold will be in touch with those we met this week and many will follow up with additional discussions and actions.
Our work is to see that models such as these–and many others operating in cities around the nation–are implemented more widely in our world that remains desperately in need of healing.
I flew to Denver Wednesday thinking that the reason I was coming was to meet with a reading club, speak at Metro College, Denver Eclectics, Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts, and the Johnson Lecture Series over the course of four days. And all that is true. I just didn’t know that it wasn’t ALL.
My friend Harold Fields makes sure that whenever I’m in Denver our schedule will be very full. We had a couple of free hours on Wednesday afternoon and that just wouldn’t do. So Harold drove our friend Claudia and me to Iliff School of Theology to witness a “fireside chat” with Dr. Vincent Harding and Dr. John D. Maguire.
What I learned is that what I witnessed was also one of the key reasons I came to Denver. John David Maguire is the President Emeritus at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California near where I grew up in Pomona and where my grandmother lived the last years of her life. Dr. Maguire is a veteran of the civil rights movement. A friend and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King, they worked closely together from 1951 until King’s death in 1968. At Coretta Scott King’s request John served as the chair of the board of the King Center when it began (1968-69) and remains a life director to this day.
Maguire is on the Steering Committee of The Beloved Communities Initiative. The purpose of the initiative is (from the website) to identify, explore and form a network of communities committed to and practicing the profound pursuit of justice, racial inclusivity, democratic governance, health and wholeness, and social / individual transformation.
This is also the work of the Coming to the Table initiative. I was excited to learn of this work being done in a systematic way in a university setting. A question I ask myself often is how do we train people in how to establish sustainable Beloved Communities in order to address the challenges we continue to face? How do we learn to live together more successfully; to listen to each other, support each other, accept, work, and love together? How do we establish trust (the most difficult challenge of all)? In order to succeed as human communities we must learn how to build a multi-racial, democratic society. To do so we must face, and overcome, racial, cultural, linguistic, social, and other differences. We must each work on our own “stuff” as we learn to work better together. We must each learn to be constructive participants in our various communities.
This is radical stuff. In spite of what some folks may believe–that we’re already there–we have a long way to go in achieving completely inclusive, interrelated, safe spaces in which to work and grow together based on shared power and love.
If you didn’t click on the link above take some time to discover what the Beloved Communities Initiative has found through their work with ten different communities around the United States about what a Beloved Community really is and how one operates successfully. Click here.
Now, what part can you play?
I’m listening to Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger today. My 1982 live concert LP “Precious Friend” is spinning around on my old Sony turntable. Pete and Arlo always give me a lift. These days it seems we all need a lift more often than not. Running across one song in particular from this album brought a huge smile to my face today so I’d like to share it with my friends.
Lee Hays, who along with Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, and Fred Hellerman made up the influential folk group The Weavers (who had the distinct honor of being blacklisted by Joe McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee in the early 1950’s), once said of the dark days of Watergate and Nixon, “This too shall pass. I’ve had kidney stones and I know.”
And these challenging times also shall pass.
I remember the last time the economy tanked. It was the early 1980’s. Unemployment skyrocketed. Homes were worth less than than the mortgages people had on them. Vacancy rates in business districts were high. The number of people in need exceeded the capacity of agencies dedicated to helping them. Sound familiar?
My solution, business genius that I am, was to open a restaurant with my equally brilliant partner. Actually, all we wanted to do was show foreign, classic, and independent films. The restaurant thing was sort of a package deal to get the space we could turn into a movie theatre. It was a place beloved by a lot of folks–just not enough of them to keep us in business.
We asked our staff to park on the street directly in front of the door so it would look like we had customers. We ran specials on food, movies, live music, you name it. And we borrowed more money whenever we ran low. Over the five years we were in business we lost an average of $3,000 per month.
Horrible, right? Strike up the band playing “My Heart Bleeds For You, Tommy”, right? Doom, despair, and misery on me… sniff, sniff, right?
Wrong. They were some of the best years of my life. I met my wife Lindi then. My ol’ partner and I remain the closest of friends. I learned that sometimes there is nothing you can do once the Titanic hits the iceberg other than sing along with the dance band on deck. Friends stick together and help each other out.
And Tom Paxton wrote a helluva song in 1980.
I love it when something that was written to reflect other times jumps back into relevance when our crazy, human circles repeat themselves. The lyrics to “I’m Changing My Name to Chrysler” are below. Or you can listen to Arlo Guthrie sing it here from the album I just finished listening to. What wonderful times we live in that you can listen to this on You Tube without having to locate a turntable to play this old LP… (oh, you can also watch Arlo sing his updated, 21st century version “I’m Changing My Name to Fannie Mae” here or watch Tom Paxton’s hilarious version here).
There are times when its seems there is nothing but misery everywhere. A dear friend reminded me recently that we need to find joy in the struggle…
I received an e-mail from my friend Eric Manu this morning. He wrote from his home in Cape Coast to remind me that today is Independence Day in Ghana. On March 6, 1957 Ghana became free of British colonial rule.
Ghana has a rich and troubled history; centuries of the slave trade and many decades of colonial rule. Like many countries in Africa Ghana has had its share of misery and missteps over the past five decades of independence as well, including, at times, inept leadership rife with corruption and severe economic challenges. Changes in government came through military coups; the last one led by Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings in 1982.
Rawlings ruled Ghana militarily until 1992 when he was voted in as president of Ghana through free election. He served two terms until the year 2000 when John Kofour won election and power was transferred peacefully in Ghana for the first time. It was one year later that 10 members of the DeWolf family visited Ghana as part of the journey that resulted in the film Traces of the Trade and the book Inheriting the Trade.
This past December John Atta Mills was elected president and the reigns of power have once again been peacefully transferred. Ghana stands as a shining beacon of peace and hope in West Africa. I look forward to returning one day.
It may seem a bit odd to some that I’d discuss baseball on my blog. But hang with me for a bit. It was announced about an hour ago that the Los Angeles Dodgers and Manny Ramirez have agreed to terms. Manny will be wearing Dodger Blue again this year.
I’m no longer a rabid sports fan. The Dodgers of my childhood (Koufax, Drysdale, Wills, Roseboro, Gilliam, Willie & Tommy Davis; coached by Walter Alston) are no more. The big money has reduced my interest. I can’t root for a “team” because teams don’t stay together the way they used to. Sandy Koufax was always a Dodger. I counted on that. With free agency the players have a far more significant say in where they’ll play than when I was a child. AND, I strongly support free agency. The control the owners had over their players was simply wrong from any reasonable human-value perspective.
So thank goodness for Curt Flood. Due to his sacrifice players like Manny Ramirez have choices Curt never did. The consequence is that I no longer root for a team on any sort of long-term basis. I root for a city and the people wearing the uniform each year. I follow the Dodgers and hope they win.
I also enjoy the back-and-forth razzing with my Boston cousins. They were thrilled when Manny left the Red Sox. I hope the Dodgers and Sox both make it to the Series this year. My fantasy: Game 7, bottom of the 9th, Sox on top 5-4, 2 out, 1 on, and Manny steps to the plate…
And here’s the connection. Ever hear of DeWolf Hopper? A distant relative of mine, and descended directly from the slave-trading DeWolfs, “Wolfie” (1858-1935) was a comic actor who made famous the poem “Casey at the Bat.” He is said to have performed it 10,000 times throughout his career.
Now I know what you’re thinkin’ (Dain, Constance, and Dave in particular). You’re waiting for that last line in the poem… There is no joy in Mudville, mighty Manny has struck out. Well, this is my fantasy so it doesn’t work out that way this time… ;o)
Hanging on my office wall are photos of Sandy Koufax and Maury Wills. It’s spring (in spite of the snow in Boston). Time for our national pastime.