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All The Light We Cannot See
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Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!
An article I wrote, “Dear Ben Affleck, My Ancestors Were Slaveowners, Too” was published this morning.
I was contacted this past Wednesday by an editor with Zócalo Public Square, an L.A.-based not-for-profit that hosts live events and publishes daily humanities journalism. They describe themselves as an “ideas exchange” — their mission is to connect people to ideas and to each other.
She wrote, “I’m hoping you’ll consider writing a piece for us. As you probably heard, Ben Affleck asked producers of the PBS documentary series “Finding Your Roots” to not reveal that his ancestors were slave owners. I thought it would be interesting to get a response from you — as a writer who has delved so deeply into the story of your family history …and as the head of an organization devoted to healing the wounds rooted in our nation’s history of slavery. I thought you could write an open letter to Ben Affleck that essentially tells him why it’s OK (and actually really good) to dig into one’s family history, even when it involves something as painful and horrible as slavery.”
The article begins…
I’m certain being in the spotlight for not wanting the PBS show Finding Your Roots to include mention of your slave-owning ancestor has been a real pain. The unwanted headlines, the online comments, the “Dear Ben” letters must be getting old. I’m sure you want this whole episode behind you. I get that: I’m related to the most successful transatlantic slave-trading dynasty in U.S. history.
I thank you for your honesty in admitting you were embarrassed. Many white people, upon discovering enslavers among our ancestors, feel embarrassed, ashamed, and guilty. But as I learned from Will Hairston, a white descendant of one of the wealthiest Southern enslaving families in American history, “Guilt is the glue that holds racism together.”
I appreciate you writing on your Facebook page, “We deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors and the degree of interest in this story suggests that we are, as a nation, still grappling with the terrible legacy of slavery. It is an examination well worth continuing.”
Yes it is. And I can tell you from personal experience that what you choose to do next to continue that examination is what matters now.
You can read the full article here.
SUPPORT A GREAT CAUSE!
This Holiday Season, you can give copies of Gather at the Table, or Inheriting the Trade, books from the King Legacy Series, the powerful An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (which I recently reviewed) or virtually ANY book published by Beacon Press to your friends, family, and professional colleagues and you will SAVE MONEY and SUPPORT HEALING in the United States!
My publisher, Beacon Press, has partnered with the non-profit organization Coming to the Table, for which I work as Executive Director, to offer this special. Order as many books as you want directly from Beacon Press. When you go to your “Cart” to check out, enter CTTT in the “Coupon or Promotional Code” box in the upper left corner and click the “Apply” button. You will receive:
Make a positive difference in the reading lives of those around you, and in everyone who is served by Coming to the Table! I wish you a joyous and blessed holiday season. Let’s join together in working toward more Truth, Justice, Mercy, and Peace in 2015!
The National Gathering of Coming to the Table took place at Eastern Mennonite University during the Summer Peacebuilding Institute May 23-25. An article about the gathering, “Desire to address, heal, traumatic legacy of U.S. slavery sparks growth in Coming to the Table group“, shares the heart of what we hoped participants would experience.
My writing partner Sharon Morgan and I both served on the Planning and Facilitation Committee for the Gathering. We were pleased that we were filled to capacity and that participants were deeply engaged and satisfied with the experience.
Visiting our son’s family in Maryland, including our new, 1-month-old grandson, I sat down on Sunday morning with the Washington Post. In it I read Jonathan Capehart’s opinion piece, “That honest conversation about race everyone wants? We can’t handle it.” It’s one of the best commentaries I’ve read in a while about the difficulty navigating “race talk.” Here are a couple of teaser quotes to encourage you to read the article:
I work for the organization Coming to the Table. We provide leadership, resources and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism that is rooted in the United States’ history of slavery. My friend Sharon Morgan and I wrote about “living” the Coming to the Table model together over a 3-year period in our book Gather at the Table.
Coming to the Table has members and supporters throughout the United States. It isn’t always easy or pretty, but we are engaged in an honest conversation about race. Our mission is to inspire more people to do the same. Learn more here. Join our Facebook group here.
(photo from U-T San Diego, (c) Associated Press)
This post was originally published at Gather at the Table
November 19, 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. PBS and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns launched a national effort to encourage people to video record themselves reciting President Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech, one of the most important statements on human equality in American history.
Sharon Morgan and I participated in the project, as have President Obama, Stephen Colbert, Whoopi Goldberg, Rachel Maddow, Stephen Spielberg, and many others. You can watch our video at the Learn the Address website on PBS. Or you can watch it below from the Gather at the Table YouTube page.
We hope our participation will raise more awareness of the Coming to the Table approach to acknowledging and healing wounds from racism and the legacy of slavery that Sharon and I wrote about in Gather at the Table.
And may we all now re-dedicate ourselves “to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…”
One week after Gather at the Table is released on October 9, another book will be published that I hope my readers will strongly consider picking up.
Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves will be published on October 16.
I first encountered author Henry Wiencek through my involvement with Coming to the Table. The co-founders of CTTT, Susan Hutchison and Will Hairston, were introduced to each other by Henry. Read the rest of this entry »
Check out the new Gather at the Table website!
My writing partner Sharon Morgan and I have been working for several weeks with James DeWolf Perry (Executive Director of The Tracing Center) to design and build the site. Thanks to James, our new website is now online and fully functional. There are a few elements still under development that we will add as they are completed, but most everything is there.
You can now read the Foreword to the book that was written by Joy Angela DeGruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.
We also went live today with a new Facebook Page dedicated to the book. We hope you’ll “like” it and help spread the word!
And if you haven’t visited the Gather at the Table YouTube page lately, check it out!
We’ll be quite busy over the summer, collaborating with the marketing and publicity staff at Beacon Press to make sure as many people as possible are aware of Gather at the Table by the time it is published on October 9!
I find myself back at Eastern Mennonite University this week for a class at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute. I’m writing about my experiences this week at the Gather at the Table blog. For this reason, and for all the upcoming news regarding the publication of the new book, I want to remind my readers, both recent subscribers and those who’ve been here for a long time, that to receive the latest news over the summer and into fall, be sure and subscribe to that blog as well. There are two new posts there already this week that I hope you’ll find interesting and inspiring.
Onward toward Peace!
Ten years ago terror struck New York City. From the ashes of horror was born the STAR program at Eastern Mennonite University. Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience has trained more than 7,000 people from more than 60 countries including Afghanistan, Burundi, Cambodia, Fiji, Haiti, Iraq, Israel, Kenya, Nepal, Palestine, Rwanda, Russia, Serbia, and Uganda.
The foundation for the Coming to the Table model of healing from the historic trauma inflicted by slavery and racism grew out of STAR.
My writing partner Sharon Morgan and I have both completed STAR training. It rests at the foundation of our healing journey that will result in our book Gather at the Table when it is published by Beacon Press next year.
To commemorate ten years of healing work, a commemorative e-book has been published. I enthusiastically encourage my friends and allies to read STAR: The Unfolding Story (2001 – 2011), pass it along, and if you don’t know much about STAR, to consider the training.
The world needs more peacebuilders who are trained in resilience in the face of trauma.
Thank you to my Coming to the Table friends Sharon Morgan and Edie Lee Harris for sharing this story.
In 1960, a 6-year old African American girl named Ruby Bridges was escorted by federal marshals into an elementary school in New Orleans after integration became the law of the land. In 1963 Norman Rockwell captured the image of that day in his painting “The Problem We All Live With.”
President Obama recently authorized the placement of Rockwell’s painting in a hallway outside the Oval Office. I strongly encourage you to read this article about the President’s action. It is a jarring and provocative work of art and speaks volumes about what a 6-year old girl, and so many others, faced in the recent past. Then watch this short YouTube video that shows Ruby Bridges discussing Rockwell’s painting with President Obama in the White House.
Thank you also to my friend Nina Hoffert for sharing another story with me; one that reminds us that discrimination due to race continues today. Read about Vance Gilbert’s experience on a recent United Airlines flight here.
The struggle continues.