Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!

What I Told My Granddaughters the Morning After the Election

Posted November 9th, 2016 by Tom

I awoke this morning to the realization that a man who has loudly and regularly proclaimed racism, sexism, xenophobia, white/male supremacy, and general intolerance has been elected President of the United States. I, along with so many others, feel various levels of shock, disbelief, and sadness. My first conscious thought as I rose from bed was of two granddaughters who were getting ready to go to school in the living room. They, ages 8 and 9, their mother, and my wife and I, have lived together for the past four years. I fully expected that I would speak with them today about the election of the first woman in the history of the United States to become President.

Instead, I walked into the living room for quite a different discussion. They understand that Donald Trump has said some very mean things; that he uses words that are on the “Bad words we should not say” list they wrote up for me a couple years ago; words their mom taught them not to use: hate, stupid, jerk, among others. They understand bullying. They get it when people are not nice. Make no mistake, children pick up on racism and intolerance.

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My granddaughters paid close attention as I told them what happened in the election. I told them even though Donald Trump will be the president, and that the president is supposed to set a good example, that it is not okay to be mean to other people or to hurt other people. It is still not okay to use bad words.

I’m scared,” said the younger of the two.

It’s okay to be scared,” I said. “Lots of people are scared. And I want you to know I am here for you. So are your Mommy and Daddy. We will protect you. And no matter what happens, it is important for us to be kind and to help and support each other and other people.”

We talked for several minutes about intolerance and kindness, about fear and love. I told them I loved them several times. Our conversation was the best I felt I could do for them in our brief time together this morning. They soon walked out the front door with their grandmother for the short walk to school.

I think often of what Frederick Douglass said,

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

There are many men and women who understandably and justifiably feel broken today. And this is nothing new. I want to repeat that for myself and others: This is nothing new. This election is a reflection of the consistent, historic foundation of systemic racism, sexism, and injustice upon which the United States was built, and sadly, continues to perpetuate. I’ve communicated overnight with many friends; people of color, people in the LGBTQ community, and women. People who are afraid because they live in the marginalized communities specifically and directly targeted during this election by the man who has been elected, and by many who supported his candidacy.

I’m also reminded today of words spoken by Dr. King:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

cttt-logoUndoing and replacing deeply embedded systems of injustice is long, hard work. The results of this election are a powerful reminder of how much work remains to be done, and the urgency of this work. The Vision and Mission of Coming to the Table, the organization I’ve been involved with for more than a decade, is needed now more than ever.

Those who feel sad and angry, go ahead and feel sad and angry. Mourn. Honor what you’re feeling and work through it. Talk about it. It is through difficult and challenging times that we often learn how strong we are. This is clearly a time to be strong and to recognize the opportunity we have: to build peace, to seek justice, to honor and practice Love. Systems will change when attitudes change. Be that change. You are needed now more than ever.

We have a responsibility to remain committed to the long arc of the moral universe.

We have a responsibility to help build strong children.

We have a responsibility to support and care for the most vulnerable among us.

We have a responsibility to be compassionate voices for equality, justice and peace.

We have a responsibility to our children and grandchildren, to ourselves and each other, to remember that Love prevails over fear… always.

No matter how you voted in the election, let’s reflect on where we stand today as a nation and as individuals. Let’s support each other. Let’s work for justice and peace. Let’s embrace Love. There is nothing – nothing – stronger than the power of LOVE.

That’s what I’m telling my granddaughters today.

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Coming to the Table: Now more than ever

Posted July 18th, 2016 by Tom

More people dying. More funerals. More tears. More rage. More division. More frustration.

Many of us feel numb and helpless in the wake of the recent killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota by the police, and the killings of police officers Brent Thompson, Lorne Ahrens, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael J. Smith, and Michael Krol in Dallas, Texas, and Montrell Jackson, Brad Garafola and Matthew Gerald in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

We struggle to figure out what we can do that will make any difference.

Our world desperately needs love, compassion, justice, truth, understanding, peace, and healing. We talk about these and other ideals every time such killings show up on social media and in the news; recorded on someone’s phone. But what can we actually DO in the face of racism, injustice, and terror? An all-too common theme heard in churches, community groups, schools, around kitchen tables, and elsewhere across the United States is a desire to have deep conversations about race that will actually make a difference but not knowing how to go about it.

In order to transform our world, we need to transform how we approach confronting the problem. Old, fear-based, us-versus-them reactions haven’t ever worked, yet we keep reverting to them. We need a fundamental shift in our approach if we are to achieve a fundamental shift in our world.

Last month, I participated in a 3-day Leadership Training Institute and 4-day National Gathering organized by Coming to the Table (CTTT), a non-profit organization I’ve been involved with since its inception ten years ago. After this week-long immersion into workshops, dialogue, and relationship-building experiences with a large group of deeply-committed people from all across the United States and Canada, I feel more strongly than ever that Coming to the Table offers valuable tools for people trying to figure out what to do. As another participant wrote,

“There are precious few forums where descendants of slaves and enslavers can engage in meaningful dialog about what the legacy of slavery has done to this country and how to move forward.”

IMG_6100CTTT has a Vision for the United States of a just and truthful society that acknowledges and seeks to heal from the racial wounds of the past—from slavery and the many forms of racism it spawned. The Mission of CTTT is to provide leadership, resources, and a supportive environment for all who wish to acknowledge and heal these historic, traumatic wounds.

And let’s make no mistake. These recent killings – like so many before – all stem, at least in part, from the legacy of slavery in the United States; unhealed wounds around issues of racism that continue to haunt our nation.

I know from experience the Coming to the Table Approach to acknowledging, understanding, and healing these wounds can make a positive difference. It’s a practical approach that seeks to create a space where people who are serious about the work of undoing racism and oppression can feel safe-enough to participate deeply; to share their stories, listen to the stories of others, and see each other as ultimately-connected human travelers in this challenging journey of life. It’s more than creating a space for people to talk and feel better and go home. The CTTT Approach requires effort and commitment; a commitment to stay at the table when the work gets messy and hard, which it does and will.

The central framework within Coming to the Table is the STAR Program; Strategies for Trauma Awareness & Resilience. STAR brings together theory and practices from neurobiology, conflict transformation, human security, spirituality, and restorative justice to address the needs of trauma-impacted individuals and communities. Traumatic events may have a range of harmful effects on everyone involved, including victims, perpetrators, witnesses, bystanders, health professionals, law enforcement or military, clergy, family, and friends. If the traumatic wounds are not addressed and healed, they will persist and have further harmful impacts, and be passed on to future generations.

Two resources that help create a safe-enough space for this work are Touchstones and the Circle Process. Touchstones are a set of principles people agree upon when beginning “deep dialogue” together. Some examples of such agreements might include being 100% present, listen deeply, be open to new ideas, agree not to try to “fix” or correct others, maintain confidentiality, expect non-closure. More examples can be found here. Touchstones allow groups of people to establish ways of “being” with each other; to create a “container” for the often-difficult conversations to follow.

The Circle Process is another way to create a container for participants to feel safe enough to be in the space; often with people they consider to be “the other,” and perhaps even perceiving a threat to their safety or mental or emotional well-being. As Kay Pranis writes in The Little Book of Circle Processes, this tool “draws on the ancient Native American tradition of using a talking piece, an object passed from person to person in a group and which grants the holder sole permission to speak.” Utilizing the Circle Process is a way of bringing people together in which everyone is respected, has the opportunity to speak without interruption, share their stories, and where everyone is equal. Pranis also notes that Circles can create a container strong enough to hold anger, frustration, joy, pain, truth, conflict, diverse world views, intense feelings, silence, and paradox.

The Coming to the Table Approach to achieving the above Vision and Mission involves four interrelated practices. Uncovering History includes researching, acknowledging, and sharing personal, family and community histories of race with openness and honesty; Making Connections to others within and across racial lines in order to develop and deepen relationships; Working Toward Healing is exploring how we can heal together through dialogue, reunion, ritual, ceremony, the arts, apology and other methods; and Taking Action, actively seeking to heal the wounds of racial inequality and injustice and to support racial reconciliation between individuals, within families, and in communities. For a more thorough understanding, download the free CTTT workbook, Transforming Historical Harms.

As Michelle Alexander recently wrote,

I think we all know, deep down, that something more is required of us now. This truth is difficult to face because it’s inconvenient and deeply unsettling. And yet silence isn’t an option. On any given day, there’s always something I’d rather be doing than facing the ugly, racist underbelly of America. I know that I am not alone. But I also know that the families of the slain officers, and the families of all those who have been killed by the police, would rather not be attending funerals.”

This work of undoing and replacing racist structures and systems – in our nation and in ourselves – is hard. It takes courage and commitment. If we are to make a difference, we need a different approach. There are many organizations and individuals doing important and powerful work to confront racism and injustice. The Coming to the Table Approach offers a way in which all the other stuff we are trying to do can work better.

When we decide, as a human family, that love, compassion, justice, truth, understanding, peace, and healing are more important than skin color and ethnicity, political parties and religious affiliation, who wins and who loses, who’s right and who’s wrong, and our fear over what we might lose when we create a just and equal society, we can transform our world. If we are ever to break free from these cycles of violence we continue to find ourselves caught up in, we have the responsibility to do the work. The Coming to the Table Approach can help.

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Inside Out

Posted June 23rd, 2015 by Tom

My oldest granddaughter (age 8) and I went to see Inside Out, the new Disney/Pixar flick, during its opening weekend. In connection with my writing, my study of Trauma Healing and Infinite Possibilities, and my work with Coming to the Table, this is one powerful movie. I will absolutely be utilizing clips from Inside Out in future workshops and presentations I offer.Pixar Post - Inside Out characters closeup

Riley is uprooted from her home in Minnesota (Note: I originally called it the Midwest in this post, but when my granddaughter read the draft, she said, “that makes no sense, Papa, she was from Minnesota” so Minnesota it is) when her father starts a new job in California. The transition at home and at school does not go well. We get to watch that transition from inside Riley’s mind… and those of her mother and father… as we watch the key emotions inside their brains advise and direct their choices in life. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear jockey for position in response to the events in Riley’s and her parents’ lives.

Understanding the impact that trauma has on us physically, spiritually, psychologically, and emotionally, and knowing how deeply rooted responses to trauma are in our bodies and brains, in our instincts and emotions; watching a IMG_7703fun, engaging, animated film explore issues of memory, emotions, and trauma in thoughtful and thought-provoking ways is refreshing and useful. I’ve been talking ever since with my granddaughter when she laughs or scowls — about who is at the control panel in her brain at the moment… joy or anger; disgust, or…

An interesting and critical aspect of the film for me is the moment I realized I had been rooting for Joy to be in control all the time and eventually understanding the important roles Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear play in the richness of our full lives.

The more I study trauma, how our brains work, racism, and Infinite Possibilities, I realize how clearly our thoughts become the things and events of our lives. How we direct our thoughts, particularly in reaction to what happens to us and others, goes a long way in determining who we become and how we create the rest of our lives.

You gotta see this movie (and respond in your own life accordingly).

No indictment (and, sadly, no surprise) in death of Eric Garner

Posted December 3rd, 2014 by Tom

So let me see if I understand what just happened…

  1. Eric Garner was choked to death by a New York City police officer in July
  2. The NYC Police Department prohibits the use of choke holds
  3. Garner’s death was ruled a homicide
  4. and the grand jury will not indict the officer involved.

Is that about it?

Again the system has failed us. “How? How? I don’t know how.

– Jewell Miller, who has an infant daughter with Eric Garner.

Eric-Garner-Michael-BrownAll true. A New York grand jury failed to indict white police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choke-hold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, this past July. Sadly, I’m not surprised. After the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri failed to indict white police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, another unarmed black man, it’s what I expected.

And black people across the United States are reconfirmed in the knowledge that their lives are less valuable than the lives of white people. The lack of trust in law enforcement by black people grows stronger. And many white folks don’t understand. And the wide gulf between us grows wider; seemingly insurmountable. Read the rest of this entry »

Hangin’ out with Robin Williams at the Springsteen gig

Posted August 13th, 2014 by Tom

I’ve been thinking a lot about Robin Williams this week. Reading stories and blog posts and opinion pieces as people who were impacted by his art, his humor, and his life come to grips with his death. And an image keeps popping up in my head; a very pleasant image. That time Robin Williams and my wife Lindi and I attended a Bruce Springsteen concert together.

RobinWilliamsIt was late November 1995 when Bruce was on his solo acoustic Ghost of Tom Joad tour. The concert was at The Berkeley Community Theater in San Francisco, one of those opulent Art Deco theaters, the only theaters that ever really feel grand and alive enough to properly host a great show. Okay, so Lindi and I went to the Bruce show with Robin Williams in the same way we went with the other 3,500 people who were there. We were in the same building together. No big deal, right? Well, to you, maybe. But to me?

I was standing in line to buy a couple glasses of wine for my baby and me before the show began. I glanced to my left. Double-take. “That’s Robin Williams,” I say to myself. Anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy meeting the people who have impacted my life with their art. I was in the front row at a Dylan concert when I saw Ken Kesey across the aisle in the second row. Read the rest of this entry »

A Message for Peace

Posted July 31st, 2014 by Tom

cjp_logoYesterday I received an email from Daryl Byler, Executive Director of the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding (CJP) at Eastern Mennonite University. EMU is a place I have studied and will continue to study issues of trauma, restorative justice, conflict resolution, and other subjects, with an overall focus on building Peace. Daryl’s message, on behalf of the faculty and staff of the CJP, moved me deeply. Having studied in May with friends and peacebuilders from Nigeria, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Haiti and elsewhere, Daryl’s message touches my heart, and the hearts of many friends around the world. I share his words here with my friends in the hope that we will all redouble our efforts to build peace… everywhere. Read the rest of this entry »

The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy 50 years on

Posted November 22nd, 2013 by Tom

cronkite_w_bio1Fifty years ago I sat in my 4th grade classroom at San Jose Elementary School when Mr. Monteith, the 5th grade teacher from the room across the grassy space between our buildings was suddenly banging on the window of our room and shouting something unintelligible before turning and rushing back to his own classroom. His antics were amusing, we thought. When he returned a few minutes later and burst through the door into our classroom to announce the President had been shot, we were stunned to silence. We marched single-file to his room because his had a television and ours did not. We watched as Walter Cronkite soon removed his glasses, choked back what seemed to be tears, and announced that the President was dead.

The world as I knew it felt like it was spinning away, changing into something different that made no sense. Read the rest of this entry »

12 Years a Slave

Posted November 10th, 2013 by Tom

12-years-a-slave-001.jpg_rgbMy wife Lindi and I went to see 12 Years a Slave yesterday. It wasn’t a film I wanted to see. It was a film I needed to see. It is harsh and searing and honest in its depiction of the institution of slavery in the United States. I hope (and encourage in particular) my white friends will watch this important film. 12 Years a Slave is now a key resource to understanding the traumatic wounds – physical, psychological, and spiritual – inflicted upon black people for the benefit of white people, and inflicted upon white people (whether directly or indirectly connected with the system of enslavement); wounds that have never been healed, have been passed down through generations, and continue to cause harm to all of us today.

My second request is you read the words of my Gather at the Table writing partner and friend Sharon Leslie Morgan. She wrote “400 Years a Slave” on her Our Black Ancestry blogsite after experiencing 12 Years a Slave the day before we did. I read Sharon’s words (click here) before we went to the theater, and again after we returned home. Her story is as powerful and haunting to me as the film because Sharon’s family lived and suffered and died in slavery and its racist aftermath. When white people make the effort to sincerely understand and acknowledge the experience and feelings of people of color as regards these historic wounds, and to understand how white people were and are wounded, and the present-day consequences of this damage, we take our first real step toward healing.

 

Racism, Whiteness, Unconsciousness, and the Legacy of Trayvon Martin

Posted July 19th, 2013 by Tom

TrayvonMartinIn the aftermath of the “not guilty” verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman over the death of Trayvon Martin, I’ve been astounded at the lengths to which some white folks have gone to defend the jury’s decision in terms of issues of race. With respect, sincerely, will those who deny that “race” is, or should be, an issue in this discussion please pause and educate yourselves?

The denial of racism in this case, and throughout the criminal justice system in the United States (as well as in every measurable social indicator from housing and employment to education and health care), is born of ignorance. Such thoughts may be well-intentioned and sincerely held by people who consider themselves good citizens who oppose racism, but those thoughts are wrong.

I wrote two posts shortly after Trayvon Martin Died. I’ve re-posted Thoughts from a White Parent and The Specter of White Supremacy since the verdict last week. They include links to multiple articles and opinion pieces shine a light on the powerful impact that racism continues to have on all of us today.

President Obama, who has rarely spoken about racism at all since he became a national figure, spoke out today. Watching our President’s full statement is enlightening and important. Watch here.

“You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. Read the rest of this entry »

In Gratitude for the Life of Medgar Evers

Posted June 12th, 2013 by Tom

Myrlie&MedgarEversIt was fifty years ago today, June 12, 1963, that an assassin’s bullet took the life of Medgar Evers in the driveway of the home he shared with his wife, Myrlie Evers, and their three children in Jackson, Mississippi.

I strongly encourage my readers and friends to take a few minutes to watch this powerful interview with Myrlie Evers recorded last week in Washington, D.C. What she and her children suffered and have endured over the years is unimaginable to most white people in the United States. I continue to hope that more white people will learn from the life examples – of tirelessly working for justice, equality, and peace with determination and grace – set by Medgar and Myrlie Evers. To do so will move our nation a long way toward the healing we desperately need.

One of the blessings of my life is to have become friends with Myrlie Evers over the past fifteen years; to have benefited from the wisdom she has shared with me during my own journey of learning about, acknowledging, and healing from the legacy of slavery and racism. I think of Mr. and Mrs. Evers and their family today with deep respect and gratitude, and with love.

Copyright 2012 by Thomas Norman DeWolf | Website: James DeW. Perry