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.
I wrote a few days ago about the fireside chat that Harold Fields, Claudia Roberts, and I attended at Iliff Theological Seminary that started my time in Denver with tremendous inspiration.
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.