Sunday, December 23, 2007

Recap for December 23, 2007

We began with introductions, and an announcement that the magazine Color Lines has a section called “The Innovators,” in its January/February issue. It features Rosalind Bell. Subscribe, information at

Dexter announced he is going on sabbatical leave from the University, starting in May. One of his topics is a group of Rastafarians who call themselves the Nazarites, who were in the town where he grew up. He told part of his story today.

We discussed Jamaican words and phrases, the odd twists and turns we make in our working lives, the world of air-traffic controllers. We also noted the meeting of moral commitment and social action found in liberation theology—asking questions like, if the church is so rich, why are the people so poor? We went on for some time learning many detailed features of Dexter’s life. This note taker, keeping with our common practice, does not write down the details of the story teller—but let me say the Members were fascinated and the story-teller was good natured in sharing those details. One feature Members commented on and asked about: ‘blue streak’ language was part of several of the stories, but Dexter doesn’t curse. So the challenge was to convey the flavor and impact of the words without saying them. Well done.

Callista spoke to us about a Tibetan Buddhist holiday, Losar, which is the celebration of the new year. The holiday predates the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet, part of the Bön (focused on nature). The founding story for the holiday is about a woman who discovered the passage of time marked by the cycle of a fruit tree—many cultural features have something to do with the rhythms of agriculture, or management of water. The ancient practice of linking the new year to forces of nature is at the center of Losar. Among the way Tibetans adopted Buddhism—the local deities, or spirits that acts as place protectors, had to be converted to Buddhism before they would allow monasteries to be built and for people to practice it. The holiday is thus a Buddhist appropriation of an earlier tradition.

Preparation for the holiday begins with weeks of purifying chants, and is marked by a central celebration at the Potala in Lhasa. For the last few hundred years this central celebration was officiated by the Dalai Lama. People petition enlightened beings like the Dalai Lama, who is said to be a reincarnated version of an earlier realized being, to stick around in samsara (the limited and ignorant world in which we live) to encourage us in the right direction. It continues for more than one day.

Buddhism is transmitted in lineages, and the one Callista shared with us is a form of the Shambhala tradition. In that tradition Losar is called ‘Shambhala Day.’ Their way of celebrating the holiday includes a chant added to daily practice. The tradition is rather precise about numerical expectations for the chants, so the more the merrier in celebrations (100 people each saying a chant 10 times produces 1,000 chants). The chants are a path to transforming negativity—the chant itself is not a magical incantation, it is a way to get the chanter out of their usual tendencies and circumstances. One way to put it: clean up your life. Start with the house, and do it with the internal stuff as well, such as grudges. The path will lead, hopefully, to kind and direct conduct, to openness to your own awareness, transform one’s personal energy, and to paying attention to the details of our lives.

Some questions were about the “kind and direct conduct,” and how some folks who claim to be direct are actually being damaging or aggressive. One teacher (Trungpa Rinpoche) described this way of being direct with the phrase “idiot compassion.” The notion is, one is being direct for themselves, not really doing it for the other person.
In Callista’s Shambhala tradition, they perform a purification ritual (which includes the burning of juniper leaves and working with the smoke), meant to dispel negativity and encourage wisdom, a liturgy about overcoming materialism, and a feast ceremony that explicitly encourages people to not seek anything for themselves (it is not an opportunity for networking). Some of us has read an account of how a Navaho use of ritual and art was astonishingly close to Tibetan practices, so much so that a group of Tibetans encountering a group of Navaho thought the latter were Tibetan.

One question was about the term ‘spiritual materialism.’ One of her teachers believed Americans are too often drawn to Buddhism as a Thing To Be, as in “I am a Buddhist.” The search for personal aggrandizement, or seeking things in one’s life as part of a yearning to be separate and special, is entirely missing the point. So, spiritual materialism is a warning about that.

One question noted the account of Buddhism sounds a lot like leading a healthy life. The response included the idea that the Buddha was not a god, he was a human being—and so being Buddhist is about learning to become a human being. One early attraction to Buddhism—the notion that when someone is pursuing you, challenging you, is seen as a teacher, because it shows you how you encounter the world (the story of the monks being chased after the invasion by China).

A member asked about how that story is connected to what we try to do here in the Conversation. That response, seeing challenges as teachers, is called ‘sacred world.’ If we find an unsacred part of the world, say, features of the color line in the USA, we try to find the places we can work with. And when we acknowledge we have not yet found the point we can work with, we look for people who seem to have found it, and learn from them.

In response to one question, Callista noted that all the things we find in Christianity—bureaucracy, turf battles, doctrinal disputes, corruption, and so on—you would find all of it somewhere in Buddhism as well. One nice phrase: “the center of trade is also the center of plunder.” There is wealth that accumulates when things get institutionalized, and issues arise around what to do with it.

Several members spoke to the notion of knowing, or becoming aware of, self. This is connected to the way institutions channel our energies, and make some outcomes more likely. Another feature of it is the connection to social action—what is the point of pursuing personal enlightenment without some kind of social reverberation?

Martin Luther King’s notion of redemptive suffering is a similar challenge to the self—one part is understanding how you encounter the world, and one part of it is a call to live in the world and attempt to reduce the causes and conditions of suffering.


April 26 is the Ebony Fashion Fair.

January 15th 7 pm at Pierce college, , Michael Chabon, author of “Yiddish Policeman’s Union.”

March will be the Dine Out for Life to support the PC AIDS foundation.

The 2012 CD goes great in the automobile stereo. Awesome. We got ours from Keith.

Tacoma Art Museum, Threads that Bind,

December 26, 10 am, School Board will have a study session on the Superintendent search.

Second Sunday Salon will meet January 13. See the website at That website also has notices of other speakers about local war resistance efforts and Iraq refugees, on January 18 and January 24.

January 9, a panel discussion on contemporary issues with a civil rights coalition, flyer passed around. This emerged out of an examination of progressive white and communities of color, noting a separation that arose a long time ago. This is an initial step in an effort to find constructive steps to take here in Tacoma.

The YWCA sends thanks for the support and gifts the group gave in previous weeks.

Anyone with ideas for who to ask for financial support for the MLK Jr. event on January 20, let the organizing committee know. Make out a check to Associated Ministries, with the memo line note “MLK 2008” to make a tax deductible contribution.

Friday December 28, at Mandolin Café, on 12th, Record Hop/Sock Hop MLK Fundraiser. 7:30-midnight,
Rosalind has tickets.

See to see the notice for the PBS show that will look at the connections between inequality and health.

Reza Aslan, the internationally acclaimed author and scholar, will deliver the first lecture of the 2008 Swope Endowed Lectureship on Ethics, Religion, Faith, and Values at University of Puget Sound. The talk is scheduled for Thurs., Jan. 31, 7 pm, free tickets from the info desk in the UPS student center.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Conversation Recap for December 16, 2007

We tried a new check-in routine, where everyone was asked for a paragraph about what is going on in life—joys, challenges, drains, hopes. We learn a lot about people from a short introduction. Everyone showed up, but we are on different trajectories. At the end of each introduction, the convention is to say, “and I’m in.” What we mean by this: we are fully present, in our discussions here.

We welcomed back a couple of members who were elsewhere for a while, tending other obligations, including the life threatening kind. Man, it is good to say welcome back. And we welcomed a new member to the Conversation.

After the check-in, we talked about some of the issues that came up. One experience many members shared was a child who had the opportunity to go do college, but did not do so or decided to drop out. Message to all kids: Parents feel this, really hard.

For a while we have been planning to see Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. We scheduled it so we could see the New Orleans Monologues first. We planned on doing it today, but it will take a little more time than we have this morning. And, it would be good to do it with the author of the New Orleans Monologues, so we can discuss the writing of projects like this.

For your information, When the Levees Broke is a documentary released in late 2006, and its “four acts” run 255 minutes. It won an Emmy for best director, a Peabody award, the Venice film festival Human Rights Network award, and others.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Conversation Recap for December 9, 2007

It began to snow as we got underway today.

We began with a video on the Bill Cosby/Alvin Poussaint program on the program, Meet The Press. They wrote a book called “Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors,” which one review calls “a three-pronged hybrid advocating increased black self-determination and government accountability.” The book has spurred a lively discussion, to say the least—the review in The Nation describes the argument and comparisons to books by Tavis Smiley and Michael Eric Dyson. (Your note-taker could not find the video on the Meet The Press web site, but you can read the transcript of the interview here. Pasted into a Word file, it runs to 16 pages.)

Cosby and Poussaint talked about many things—the host of Meet the Press, Tim Russert, questioned them about unmarried mothers and children born to unmarried parents, and Cosby said we should start “firstly” with racism—systematic racism that keeps people from getting an education, and many other things. Among the topics they quickly mentioned: high school graduation rates, the number of people in prison and the incarceration rate in the United States, ideas in popular culture and in the media—it was truly broad. Russert emphasized their criticism of black popular culture, not their suggestion the discussion also include, let alone begin with, racism.

At one point, Cosby said this: “If you really understand what Bill Cosby is saying, if you really listen, he’s saying, “Get an education. Drive your children with love and care, and they will feel confidence when they go to school. Build a confidence about yourself and what you can control, and then you will be able to fight the systemic and the institutional. You will care more about what you do and what is done to you.” I’ve said that over and over.”

At one point, Poussaint said this: “ I think one of the things we emphasize in the book is that to make things happen, to bring about change, that you have to be an activist of some sort because things will just not happen for you. You have to go out and, and make demands, you have to get involved, you have to vote, that it just will not come. And you have the power to do that if you come together and you unify as a community and begin to talk about what we need to have a better community and better conditions for all black children.”

In the discussion, one member described a conversation she had with Michael Eric Dyson. He told her he has no disagreement with many of the things Cosby says, yet the celebrity that everyone knows is emphasizing the failures and dysfunctions in black families and communities. So the problem is not the message, but with Bill Cosby using his celebrity status to focus on the problems of black people, and could better balance it with more thorough discussion of white peoples’ roles in all of this. Here is a Dyson quote from that Nation review linked above: “Bill Cosby is a famous black guy who has a bully pulpit the size of the world. It's global. He puts his colossal foot on the vulnerable necks of poor people, and as a result of that we don't have a balanced conversation,”

One member noted that Cosby no longer lives in Philadelphia. If the successful leave neighborhoods, who is left to do the work and provide the examples he describes? Plus, who is his audience? Who is picking up the book and reading it? Who is watching Meet The Press? The member raised the comparison of Cosby going where the problem is found, instead of the big audience found on MSNBC and the book tour. The member inquired about his motivation.

Another member took issue with questioning his motivation, and argued the issue is what is the truth of the matter, of what needs to be done.

Another member thanked Bill Cosby for letting him off the hook, (as a white man)* and having no responsibility for any problems, and allowing him to sit on the sidelines. He suggested Cosby’s argument does not present any risk to the power structure.

Many of the comments emphasized the balance or lack of balance in the Cosby/Poussaint presentation. This is a conversation that few people encounter quiescently—Cosby and Poussaint touch many hot buttons.

One member said she agreed with every thing he said, but that he comes across as laying responsibility for racism onto the shoulders of black people.

One member said she continually observes whites doing all the things Cosby and Poussaint describe as distinctively black behaviors. Also, the dialogue stigmatizes single parent families, which means mostly women as head of families. There are countries with lots of women-headed households where you don’t see the differential outcomes—because there are features of the way work, school and social supports are organized that help people take care of each other.

Another member reminded us that the number one reason people end up single is domestic violence. Transformation is needed…. and be wary of talking about the problem as if the transformations are all needed in the black community.

One member described his own path to some of the things Cosby talked about, and emphasized that there are other paths than Cosby describes. His own mentor is completely missed in Cosby’s analysis.

Someone asked what all is Bill Cosby doing. He has a website about community things.

Several members emphasized that the real work is in the how, how to get from where we are to that better society.

One member expressed some pleasure at there being some active changes going on, that she sees a lot of people moving beyond a focus merely on personal responsibility. There are things to do as parent, as mentor, as activist, and find ways to do something.

Note: Almost an hour more of conversation continued after our note taker left at the formal ending hour of just a bit after 11am. The following are notes about that 2nd hour.

As stated in the notes on the first hour, most of the dialogue revolved around whether or not Cosby & Poussaint put too much emphasis on the “personal responsibility” angle and whether or not we should just take “facts” that they lay out and figure out how to address them. On member, talked of frustration about the focus on the breakdown of the black family as the root of all as well as the implication that it is the fault of black men who desert their families and then black women who can't or won't do an adequate job of raising the children. She talked about how slavery split the family--husbands and wives, parents and children and who's responsible for that breakdown of the black family? During Jim Crow segregation when fathers had to seek work, often times far from home and who's responsible for that breakdown of the black family? If one continues up to today with the prison industrial complex imprisoning many fathers and the welfare system creating a situation in which it makes economic sense for a father to be absent, indeed the welfare system will not provide for children of present fathers, so the jobless, once again, must seek work often far from home. Who, again, is responsible for this breakdown of the black family?

Most members, albeit to varying degrees, agreed with virtually everything C & P said, however those critical of the message made the points that, a) the arguments they make are the ones that are most comfortable and comforting to the system of white privilege and that if they had, in fact taken on the “personal responsibility” of white people for taking on racism, the book and it’s authors probably would never even get on a show like Meet the Press and b) those that emphasize taking on personal responsibility are often the same people who, when the “made it” left their communities rather than staying to mentor and help to pull others along with them. One young member challenged groups that purport to exist to support black political and economic enfranchisement yet since he’s become a member has yet to be invited to lunch or ever even asked about how he is doing and what assistance could be provided. He made the point that this is true even though he is already working to transform himself and should therefore be easy to work with. What about those youth left behind in the communities C & P are talking about, who have very few models and mentors left?

Members of this group are very active in mentoring youth, but all agreed that they too often represent the exception. Some feel that Cosby’s message is just that—where we can, we should take responsibility. The problem is, with whom does that personal responsibility lie? The quote comes to mind--“To whom much is given, much is expected.” It seems that many see Cosby & Poissaint as saying that to whom little or nothing is given, much is expected and those who benefit the most from the way our society is structured bear little responsibility for mitigating it’s effects.

*The second notetaker felt it was important to the context of this comment to reveal that the speaker was a white male.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Conversation Recap for December 2, 2007

We opened with introductions, and welcomed three new members. Nice full room.

Today we heard Karen’s story.

The discussion brought out several interesting comparisons. Tacoma has changed rather dramatically over the last forty years—from goat and horse farms in Northeast to its present situation; the sense of community shared among people in the small-town atmosphere, which can cut across class lines; it is important for everyone to feel they are valuable members of a community; AND, the New Orleans Monologues is one of those very best things about Tacoma.

We heard from the education group. The discussion at first centered on the group’s website, which keeps track of issues and events. See it at
We heard that after this last Thursday’s meeting offered a ray of hope. Several additional meetings were scheduled:
• Dec. 6, Student achievement: 4:30-8 p.m. Thursday. A 26-minute video of a student summit on diversity, leadership and learning will be shown at 4:30 p.m. to set the tone for the discussion.
• Leadership and the search for a new superintendent: The week of Dec. 10, with day and time to be determined.
• Planning, including upcoming contract negotiations with teachers: The week of Dec. 17.

An interesting feature of these meetings is that the public is engaging with the Board. This has been an issue the education group has raised with the Board several times.

One member asked about whether the Tacoma school district has been informed of alternative approaches to engaging the public in policy and change. One way to do this is to bring to light the practices of other districts. Maybe we can produce a checklist of best practices, with examples.

We went over some school reforms, and the content of today’s policy discussions seem to be regularly referring to evidence. This is a hopeful sign. The Board also seems to be embracing the idea of opening itself to public participation, and there are signs they are learning how to do this. It might be that school board members are reinterpreting their job descriptions. The norms were rather passive before. And it is rather clear that the participation of groups in Tacoma school politics—the education group of the Conversation, the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance, and others—is making this difference. One way to think about it: the Board becomes a mirror of its community. An engaged community might produce an engaged Board. Remember the Board meetings are not broadcasted in any way, such as the way other meetings are on CTV. So this community influence on the Board occurs only when we walk in the door for the meetings, and they only hear from us if we come before the meeting begins and fill out one of the blue ‘wish to comment’ cards.

One member pointed out there are many opportunities for school board members to be aware of best practices. If board members do not know them, it seems like a sign of not doing the work needed to do the job well.
One member described Board member motivations—that this largely voluntary job is a source of community status for members, the opportunities for public ceremonies of a symbolic nature. We should reconstitute the design of the Board to focus on what it should—what is happening with the kids.

A general point about sloppiness of Board work: an illustration from a report on the achievement gap, presented at a meeting of the group that went to the Harvard program. A very badly constructed graph actually distracted attention to the important questions—and when this was pointed out to District officials they elided the issue. This was presented as an indication of the lack of rigor on the part of administrators.

A book came up in our discussions, David Tyack, The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education (a new edition in paperback from Harvard University Press, ASNB13: 978-0674637825). One reviewer said the book is a very good history, PLUS forcefully makes the point that urban schools were designed, on purpose, to be this way—impersonal, bureaucratic, and unequal. It pays special attention to the pitfalls in looking for One Best Way to address an issue, and cautions about putting too much confidence in lists of Best Practices.

There doesn’t seem to be good mentorship about doing the job of school board member.

We heard about one dismal moment at the School Board meeting last Thursday: one Board member asked if there is agreement on the definition of achievement gap. The administrator being asked the question said, no, and a general hum went through the school board—one said “well, there you are,” another shrugged. The vibe may have been unintentional, but it struck members of the education group that this was an unpleasant exchange, when the Board could have demonstrated a commitment to doing something but instead seemed like an expression of their being off the hook. The format of the meeting was not such that members could say, “baloney” and point to clear state declarations of the term. See the web page,

We ought to look at public schools in Tacoma and say, we are better than what we are doing right now. We want to see it totally transformed. [And we should be willing to televise the revolution….] We will take this vision of thorough change seriously. We will take it forward, advance good candidates for Board elections, raise questions in public forums and keep asking them. When we find people who are raising good questions, who are floating ideas that take us in the right direction, we will encourage them to keep doing it, to lead. We will prepare ourselves for the positions of leadership that will make these changes in education. We will be the ones who bring the experience of other towns and school districts, and show them to people and officials in Tacoma. If Tacoma is going to be the world class city we want to live in, then we are going to have to make it so. We are the people we have been waiting for.

At the end of the meeting, some reminders and announcements.
**don’t forget the deduct box, make a contribution for the group expenses.
**we gave appreciation to the group members who put together last night’s salon and fundraiser for the upcoming MLK day event, reclaiming the vision.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Conversation Recap for November 25, 2007

Josephine was ill and absent today.

3 new people came today as well as 1 guest.

As Josephine had been on the schedule to speak, we took suggestions for topics of discussion:

• School Yard to Prison Yard
• Tukwila Teachers (Counter-Recruitment)
• Divisiveness through Labels
• School Board Study Session Ideas
• Non-WASL Essentials
• Police Civil Rights Violations, Including Shootings
• Graffiti-“Tagging” as Felony

Tom read an article called School Yard to Prison Yard by Marian Wright Edelman reprinted in Seattle Medium (find it also here).

Also brought up was Jesse Jackson’s show on which the topic Feinstein’s plan that could put children as young as 13 in prison for life if gang affiliated, etc.

Institutional racism is the problem. It hurts not only people of color but white children also since this is their education as well. And the people perpetuating it don’t even know, sometimes, that they are perpetuating it.

One member reported overhearing this while in a bathroom stall, “Over at Wainwright, we had a social experiment, a mini society of sorts, 1st grade on. Gov’t, entertainment, police. Those kids on the hill were underhanded, devious etc. then there was a police brutality complaint because some black and white kids were fighting in the bathroom.”

If there’s a pipeline running from schools to jails, how do we turn off the pipeline valve?

One member talked about the Black Education Roundtable (for some history on this group, see here) as well as the School Board mtgs. She believes the answer is more public involvement. A testament is how the School Board has at least been making a shift in how they include public opinion. She brought up Black Legislative Day. We can’t beg and plead—we have to agitate.

Another member talked about framing the talk not in terms of inside/outside, but in terms of how the system works—interest groups get their issues on the table using a focused strategy and aiming at the pressure points and getting their needs met.

We need agitators as well as allies. Change will happen if you organize for it. School reform hasn’t happened even though efforts have been made for decades because we work inside the system, essentially “moving the deck chairs of the sinking ship.”

One member noted that there are a lot of teachers in our group. What can we do? He gave the example of Che Guevara-before you can be a revolutionary Dr. you need a revolution. It relates to our discussion of schools because, while we can do a lot of these reform efforts but until parents have jobs, we’re just putting band-aids on the system.

Another member talked about Cesar Chavez and how much was done by people who had no money. Also, Mothers Against Police Harassment in Seattle.

Systemic change is needed

Clover Park Schools has a psych profile and if you don’t pass, you don’t even get an interview. Some feel that they may have been aced out through answer to the question about developing a personal relationship with students and their families.

A new member said that we need to create effective dialogue. Share what’s in our hearts and minds. In doing that we find those who share our ideals and dispel the fear that we are alone.

One member talked about the problem of staying in the box of a value system that says get a good job so you can make money so you can buy a big house so you can go to Best Buy and get a big screen tv set.

Another talked about encouraging parents to help children and also getting tutors and assistants in the schools to help the parents help the children.

We need to know what our mission is with respect to this “spiritual fight.” Do our homework and teach the children to think for self.

One member, African American, who works at Clover Park High School with the Hero Program (see here) was in the office and was questioned about being a student and then when found out he was staff, questioned him about whether he had been through a background check, requiring him to fill out a form on the spot.

Another member talked about the racial disparities evident in the ways in which school children who don’t “fit” are treated with the question “why is it that white children have ADHD and Black children are disruptive and badly behaved?”

One member talked about how revolution does not occur just because things are in a bad way. People can live under the thumb for years and until hope is infused, nothing will happen. This connects with the comment earlier about effective dialogue—because “talk is action”-- by talking with each other we are infusing hope into the desperate situation.
(you had to be there)-- How do we affect legislation? An example of something that needs to be tackled is the cutting of Headstart Funds. The question was put whether Tom H. would be willing to educate us about affecting the legislative system.

Another member brought up the Backbone Campaign (see here) example. Maybe the Public Education Oversight Committee could make a report card on the Tacoma School system.

One member (from another country) brought up that she couldn’t believe some of the things she was hearing that are allowed in the US school system. In her country, the military and the church are not allowed into the schools. Another thing that caught her attention was that in California where soldiers go into schools and you see little kids with military uniforms and guns. It’s a way to create a consciousness within children to be ready to go to war. What’s most surprising is that it seems to happen most in schools that are very poor. So why aren’t there programs to stop this kind of discrimination of militarization of poor schools? She also has heard that there is a program in some Texas school(s) that allows students to bring their guns to school.

A member talked about agreeing with the language of hope and dialogue as well as the problematic use of inside/outside language. Also asking questions that cause people to think of an alternative way of living. “We” have little problem talking in terms of dropouts and students finding their own back door, but when our district referred to as a drop out factory (which shifts the burden) “we” want to expend all this energy on getting rid of the label rather than getting rid of the problem.

Another member brought up that individual decisions are circumscribed by the system not set up for everyone to succeed.

One member brought up the list of talking points from students in Tukwila who walked out of school in protest of the Iraq war. Some teachers are in danger of being fired. Ethelda Burke is the new superintendent of Tukwila schools. He thinks it would be good if folks in this group could use their influence to help de-escalate the situation because there is going to be a push-back.

Another said that while it’s a good and necessary conversation, it needs to be more intentional and lengthy than we have time for today, but what he said was that it’s tricky for administrators when folks come at an issue from strong positionality

Another member made the point again that we need to transmit information and values to our youth. He paraphrased an author in saying that a person’s mental health is predicated on that individual’s cultural self-love.


Sat. Dec. 1 is the Salon fundraiser fro the MLK event-flyers were passed out
Town Hall Meeting with Adam Smith at UWT Carwein Auditorium Sat. Dec. 1 10-11:30am

The Harvard Group has made a commitment to be a catalyst for change in Tacoma Schools. The mtg. schedule===

Tacoma Schools Central Admn. Bldg. on S. 8th and “I St. 8th Fl. Conf. room
Fri. Nov. 30 3-5pm
Thurs. Dec. 6 4-6pm
Fri. Dec. 14 3-5pm

Interim Superintendent Art Jarvis
Asst. Sup. Michael Power
Asst. Flip Herndon
Prin. Dan Dizon McIlveigh
Prin. Graig Eisnagle Mt. Tacoma
Prin. Pat Irwin Lincoln
School Improvement Director, Karen Clark
Facilitator Kelly Hofstra
Dorothy Anderson
Tom Hilyard

Dec. 1st for about a month Tacoma Art Museum will begin featuring AIDS quilts from NW

Conversation Recap for November 18, 2007

We had a Thanksgiving Potluck at the home of one of our group and talked about the history of Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving traditions/memories and what we are thankful for.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Recap for November 11, 2007

During introductions we welcomed two new members.

Today we heard David’s story. He mentioned a book his father showed him, “Melanin: The Chemical Key To Black Greatness” by Carol Barnes. Some of the discussion that ensued explored sources of African American identity, and Members expressed anticipation of the next installment of his story. One theme questions and discussion kept circling back to was the sacred trust between the adults and the children—we heard examples of how to keep that trust.

We heard a brief report from the education group. Sunday, December 2, Tom is leading the discussion, and we are likely to include the activities of the Conversation’s education group. One Member noted that part of the education group’s work involves pointing out the workings of Whiteness—the way the school board selected the previous superintendent, the way they selected a replacement, without examining how the advantaged group regards its position as the social norm, and how this affects their policymaking. If you want to see more about the education policy group, about the recent Johns Hopkins report referred to in today’s meeting, or the outcomes of the group that went to the Harvard workshop on the achievement gap, please go to

We began our discussion of the documents put together by Susan and Dexter, about our values and mission. We assembled into groups of five to discuss the drafts. There were many, many comments about the draft. Each group is forwarding their notes, and they will be incorporated into new drafts, to be posted here soon.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Recap for November 4, 2007

Good morning, everyone. We went around with introductions, and welcomed two first-time people.

Next week we will consider a document about our vision and mission [attached below].

This morning we heard Steve’s story. Much of the ensuing conversations focused on the ways people get involved with movements.

We welcomed Bernie Kleina, exec dir of the Hope Fair Housing Center, in Wheaton, Ill. [See their web page here]. An introduction to some of his photographs on display can be read here. [You can read more about Bernie here.]. He shared with us a video about a law professor, tenured faculty at the University of Richmond, an African American woman, who was recently denied rental housing based on color. Her story described the consequences of the personal insult of housing discrimination. “It is not just something that happens, and you get used to it after a while. Who should get used to being degraded? Who should have to get used to that?”

Bernie got involved in civil rights after watching marchers beaten in Alabama, and realized he could not just do nothing. His first visit to Alabama (in which he was arrested for parading without a license, in a party of five—that and black people walking together constituted a parade in those days) helped him realize that discrimination is not a Southern issue—it is for all of us.

He now has a display of photographs traveling the country that describes the situation in Chicago, which is as segregated as ever. [The exhibit is entitled [The Chicago Freedom Movement — Remember Why You're Here, Brother.] Part of the story is about how basic discrimination is still rife—he told a story of lunch counter discrimination. His group has sent out groups of testers, to see if various merchants and public facilities treat people the same regardless of color. One of the things the testers show us is that apparently good treatment at stores is revealed as something else—such as an African American who felt like he was being treated well at a jeweler, but the comparison pointed out that whites were shown several watches at a time, instead of one. Or how polite treatment by potential landlords masks outcomes starkly marked by color.

He quoted another M. L. King Jr. speech, “When the guns of war become a national obsession” that something happens to conscience—it becomes mutilated and deaf to justice. [See King’s most famous speech on Vietnam here, and another of his speeches on the war here].

The task now: Enforce the law. Keep sending out the message that all of us are protected by fair housing laws. And we need to keep working at the obvious inequities, such as in education, that produce very different starting places for people.

We were introduced to a four-page document describing our values, mission and activities. Well, we were going to go into it (at 5 minutes to 12 we had not yet presented it). But Dexter introduced the discussion with an additional topic that emerged out of the last few weeks’ discussion of our values/mission document: What is Whiteness? This was the topic of a lecture he presented at UPS, and at a recent conference. Whiteness is a “discursive formation,” an idea that is widespread—in knowledge, the ways people think we should act, actual practices of the way we live. Historically, whiteness has been framed as an essential part of being American. He shared some quotes from Hector St. John, do Crevecoeur, the third of his Letters from an American Farmer, 1782. American identity is a mixture of white national origins from northern Europe. The melting pot metaphor meant melting Swedes and Germans and English. At the time Crevecoeur was writing, the population of the United States was about 16 or 17% African origins (the slave trade went on for another quarter century). Part of whiteness is to render nonwhites as invisible. We discussed some of the implications of who the Census historically decided to count—some people are missing from those old figures, for reasons (such as trying to exterminate a people). A similar issue arises with regards to crime statistics—the reported figures are a product of a place where whiteness is the norm—so white on white crimes are underreported.

The first black newsletters in the United States, in about 1827, proclaimed that for too long others have spoken for black folks, and that the description of racism need to come from the voices of those not yet heard. More recently, one of the points made by black scholars was that Europeans would be surprised to hear how many people are not part of the white European peoples, and not Christian, either.

One target of the concept of whiteness is to “de-center” it—being white is offered as the default category, as being Normal. And as heard from Bernie this morning, and as several Conversation members have said before, pretty much all white people have to learn they are white. It is not apparent in the general culture, and it is an idea that is warred upon in most social circles. [A discussion of whiteness is appended to the end of these minutes.]

Winthrop Jordan, in his book White over Black (Norton, available as a paperback book—he also wrote The White Man's Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States.), has traced the origins of whiteness as a concept back to the early 16th century. Whiteness was framed as laudable and glorious, and blackness was framed as base and corrupt. As successive groups came to the USA, they worked to become acceptable—to become white (Irish, Jews, Italians, etc., were not regarded as white). There was one group that could not adjust.
Members of the Conversation brought up several points about the concept of whiteness and its uses, and interpretations. One example that came up—why are crime statistics reported by race? Why not do it by religion (how many crimes committed by Presbyterians?)? Another example—of white America learning to see blackness as a threat, as in the case of a Michigan university that was 70% white but whose white students believed it was 70% black. We also mentioned a couple of times how science, social science, and media are brought into the service of justifying whiteness. Media treatment of whiteness is instrumental in transmitting the ideas—the genre of the Western, for example. We discussed, for a while, the historical construction of whiteness back in the 16th through 19th centuries, such as in the treatment of the native peoples here, the use of biblical interpretation to provide a justification of whiteness as normal. Several people gave examples of treatments of native peoples, such as stories presented in the book 500 nations.

One teacher described how, in her classroom, she had students draw a timeline of the peoples here in North America, over the last 30,000 or so years, which highlights how recently were whites here, how many of the changes that constructed the present situation occurred a very short time ago, as a way of getting at the way we have constructed the present as normal.

One person introduced the idea of what the world would be like, if there were only 100 people in it, but in the same mix as at present. A graphical presentation of that is here, and a text presentation is here.

Another person reported that she hears, over and over again, that here in Pierce County there are no real problems of racism. “Why do you always go on about it?” She described whiteness as similar to a cancer, affecting the whole society and easting away at us at so many levels.

One person attended a Diabetic Association conference yesterday at Stadium High School, and one of the presentations highlighted how the diversity of Pierce County is increasing—and so is the spread of diabetes. This was linked to the gentrification of the Hilltop area—mostly a white phenomenon—and how this distracts attention from the ways poverty is linked to diabetes, and affects so many nonwhite peoples disproportionately.

Does multiplication of diversity, do differences, have us press toward the middle—the middle being white, protestant, and so on? Criticisms of African-Americans for keeping the hyphen are signs of whiteness in action: why can’t you people be like the middle? When we press towards common cultural standards, which ones are we going to use? The standard is whiteness. One example ended with a question--You smell any culture you walk into—the food, the spices, are different—but, what does one say about the difference?


A discussion of whiteness, by a member of the Conversation.

What does it mean to use the concept of white privilege, or whiteness? At one level, it means the set of advantages that accrue to whites simply by virtue of their color (historical ones, such as labor laws that excluded predominantly black occupations, programs to promote home ownership or college attendance that accrued predominantly to whites, or present ones, such as the way people are treated at automobile dealerships). The advantaged group regards its position as the social norm, so that the holders of privileges do not recognize them as such.

This entails a power to name and define issues, such as the way the affirmative action debate is framed. For example, in the recent case of the University of Michigan’s affirmative action policies, the President and the media almost exclusively focused on the University’s bias in awarding black applicants twenty points (out of one hundred and fifty) based on race. There were other point bonuses that were seldom mentioned. Applicants from Michigan’s upper peninsula area, which is almost exclusively white, received sixteen points. Poor applicants receive twenty points—but the twenty points were not added if the applicant already received the points based on race. Ten points were given to students from top ranked high schools, and another ten for students who took several Advanced Placement courses, and four points if one’s parents attended the University—categories overwhelmingly of white applicants. Whites who scored on all of these categories would receive fifty-eight points, but little was said about this in the public debate. Whiteness is the default category, and goes largely unexamined.
Non-whiteness is defined as the Other, and is suspect if any privilege accrues to it.

Can we admit white privilege exists? The concept is a staple of critical race theory, critical legal studies, and similar academic fields, but it has not penetrated mainstream social science or popular political dialog. One very valuable insight from these fields is apparent from their methodology. Critical race theory, in particular, employs a lot of narrative. This tends to focus on the experience of people who have experienced discrimination. Most accounts of justice in mainstream political theory, by contrast, treat such perspectives in a formal fashion, if at all. So part of systematic ignorance is the methodologies that encourage abstraction as if that covered relevant perspectives, when it clearly does not.

How do we see privilege? What period do we examine? Why not start when I was born? Why not start when my mother was born? Do we want to include a period that will tally the benefits accrued from the 1862 Homestead Act? My family benefited from it, black families did not. Do we want to include a period that will include the benefits accrued from grants of land in the mid-17th century? My family benefited from some of those. Or, what about benefits from the relatively open immigration policies of the mid-19th century? How do these make a difference? My mother’s family was able to take money from these sources out of Massachusetts, and use it to build wealth in cattle and banking in Kansas. They lost most of it in the Depression, but the kids, including my grandfather, went to prep schools and to college. They also had a restaurant and a big house that provided their income and a home during the Depression, and they were in a fairly good position when the economy got better. They could send their surviving child, my mother, to a private college. There she met my dad, whose family had similar wealth that they did not lose during the Depression (although his grandmother gave it all away to the Methodist church). After WWII my dad went to college and got a Stanford MBA, courtesy of the GI Bill. I grew up in a nice home on a ranch my parents bought with a GI Bill loan at less than 6% interest. So there was no question about whether I would go to college, and the professional world was open to me. All I had to do was study and avoid jail. I went through college when public support for education was at its all-time high. A half-time minimum wage job would pay for college and the cheapest apartment in Seattle’s university district. Graduate school was financed completely on scholarships. When I finished school I had no debts. My kids all had the expectation of going to college, and could afford it without too much in loans. These benefits accrued to living persons, people I knew. This is a story not untypical for white families, but very rare for black families.

The important thing to notice here is the role of government policies. New Deal policies of the 1930s that helped workers (such as rights to form unions, minimum wage, and relief to the unemployed) required the support of Southern Democrats, who were able to exclude agricultural and domestic workers from coverage under the Social Security Act, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, and the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Local administration of relief programs allowed exclusion where racial segregation was the norm. In the South, white privilege grew stronger because of the New Deal. These programs helped make covered workers much better off—while excluded workers were left behind.

The GI Bill opened educational opportunities after WWII, but these went overwhelmingly to whites, in large part because the armed services, colleges and universities practiced segregation. GI Bill home and small business loans, which expanded home and business ownership, operated through lending institutions that discriminated and redlined. The effects of this were bigger than individual decisions about where to live, although those choices were probably influential in Northern Democrat lawmakers’ role in policies.

The major results of these policies are seen in wealth. Average income of black households is about 2/3 that of white household; but average wealth of black households is about 1/10 that of white households. Over 70% of white households own their home, about 25% of black households own their homes, worth about 60% as much as those of white households.

During the lifetime of people I have known, these and similar programs helped white families get ahead in life. The advantages were not available to black families.

(The following are footnotes for the above article, but this blog does not allow for their formatting. I've included them here, though they are not properly identified with the sections which they reference.)

1. One of the most extensive discussions of white privilege is Stephanie M. Wildman,, Privilege Revealed: How Invisible Preference Undermines America (NY: New York University Press, 1996), with a definition at p.13. A concise description of white privilege is found in Barbara J. Flagg, “Whiteness as Metaprivilege,” 18 Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 1(2005) pp. 1-12. James Baldwin used the concept in several ways. See his ”On Being White…and Other Lies,” Essence April, 1984, and The Fire Next Time (NY: The Dial Press, 1963), where he argues, for example, that whites expend a lot of energy in order to not be judged by blacks. See also Wells, Revilla and Holme, Op.Cit.; Wildman, 2005.
2. GRATZ V. BOLLINGER (02-516) 539 U.S. 244 (2003).
3.The examples are from Tim Wise, Whites Swim in Racial Preference, Posted on, February 20, 2003.
4. On the failure of the concept to penetrate mainstream political dialog, see Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres, The Miner’s Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy 5. This point is made by Devon W. Carbado and Mitu Gulati, BOOK REVIEW: The Law and Economics of Critical Race Theory: Crossroads, Directions, and a New Critical Race Theory. 112 Yale L.J. (May, 2003) 1757.
6. See, for example, Ian Shapiro, Democratic Justice (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999). The book is an excellent demonstration of the strength of a democratic understanding of justice, and is at the same time systematic and tied to concrete examples in our politics. Yet it pays virtually no attention to the justice issues connected to the color line. I use it as an example here because it is among the very best recent books in political theory.
7. These examples are suggested in George M. Fredrickson, “Still Separate & Unequal,” a review of Ira Katznelson, When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America (NY: Norton, 2005), The New York Review of Books, Volume 52, (November 17, 2005) Number 18.

The Conversation Tacoma

Values and Mission

The Conversation is a group of South Sound residents committed to building just communities. We promote social justice through talk and action. We strive to be one of the just, open, compassionate communities we are working to establish in Tacoma and beyond. The Conversation is a family, an affinity group, a think tank, and a safe house. We work to envision and procure a better world.

Two questions guide our work together: The first is philosophical: what is the meaning of our lives – our relationship to each other, the world, the universe? The second is practical and pragmatic: What are our immediate socio-political responsibilities and how do we fulfill them in a world burdened by bigotry, mistrust, and suffering?

Goals and Process

At the Conversation’s weekly gatherings, we engage with issues, values, tasks, and one another. In order to sustain genuine engagement over the long term, Conversation participants engage in four processes:

We talk purposefully and listen respectfully: share life stories; generate ideas and strategies; learn across difference; seek guidance and renewal from activists, artists, teachers, scholars, wisdom texts, and faith traditions; study root causes of social injustice; learn about peace and justice initiatives.

We take action: create social justice programs for the community; join local struggles for equity and peace; produce venues for artistic expression; support one another’s programs and performances, as participants and as audience.

We provide sustenance: establish a safe place to explore issues misrepresented or shrouded in silence elsewhere; find our voices; nurture social activists; renew our courage; strengthen bonds of friendship and trust.

We seek transformation: recognize and challenge our biases; acknowledge our limits and then go beyond them; align our actions and words with our deepest commitments; develop our resilience, power, and capacity for change; celebrate our achievements.

Talk and Action

Our talk and our action emerge from the interests and expertise of those who attend weekly Conversation meetings. There we engage critically with such issues as the legal system, wages, housing, food, healthcare and education. We also take action through programming and advocacy work in three areas: 1) Education; 2) The Arts; 3) Peace and Social Justice. Like the Conversation itself, all of our activities are open to South Sound residents of every race, ethnicity, gender, class, age, religion, and sexual orientation.

Since it’s inception in January 2006, the Conversation has envisioned, initiated, and brought to fruition:

1) Education
Conversation members have created Tacoma Conversation Education, an interest group meeting bi-weekly to scrutinize Tacoma public education policies, advocate for policy and curricular change, and address the achievement gap through on-going interactions and debate with the Tacoma School Board and local officials. This group will continue to seek equity in education for all Tacoma children through grass-roots involvement in policy change.

2) The Arts
Conversation members produced SoJust 2007, a one day program to promote justice through art, music, and dance, to conduct a food and coat drive for Tacoma children in need, and to share information with the local community on how to make change. This program will be continued as an annual local event.

3) Peace and Social Justice
Conversation members produced “Redeeming the Vision,” an annual program to celebrate Martin Luther King’s prophetic vision and to educate the community regarding the full depth and significance of his liberatory message. This celebration will be continued as an annual Tacoma event.

The Conversation also actively supports local initiatives that coincide with our vision and have been created or actively supported by Conversation members:

1) Education
The on-going initiative on education and the color line emerging from the 2006 Race and Pedagogy Conference and the 2007 Race and Pedagogy Summit

2) The Arts
Attend and promote The New Orleans Monologues

3) Peace and social justice
Participate in and attend United for Peace of Pierce County debates on the Iraq war

Envisioning a Future

To envision a future, we address philosophical and practical dimensions of our work. To respond to the philosophical question -- what is the meaning of our lives, our relationship to each other, the world, the universe? -- we need to develop further in these directions:

Deepen our knowledge of African American history, the history of marginalized groups, and the processes of marginalization

Learn more from one another and from our various cultural perspectives

Deepen our encounters with faith traditions and wisdom texts so that they inform our work and our relationships

Practice forms of challenging one another that allow us to address the hard questions while keeping our bonds of friendship and trust intact

Give each person opportunities to lead, to develop cultural competence, to become more ideologically flexible, more resilient, better prepared for hostilities we encounter elsewhere, better able to work with fear and overcome voicelessness

To address the practical question -- What are our immediate socio-political responsibilities and how do we fulfill them?– we need to sustain our current commitments but also expand beyond them by acting creatively in these areas:

Develop more programming for children and youth at the Conversation and in the community—such as monthly classes (on hip-hop; on artist as change agent, etc.)

Develop more programming for children at the Conversation and in the community, such as visual or written arts programming

Increase our presence in the community, at elections, in schools, at School board meetings, at city council, at anti-war rallies

Serve as a community resource on racial justice: provide programming that engages people in the journey to justice through anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anticlassist practices

Become more intergenerational, more diverse, more supportive

Develop multiple levels of leadership

Grow our volunteer base

Connect with our community through joint programming

Help families and neighborhoods become centers of social justice
Enacting Our Vision

At the Conversation, talk is action because it provides us with momentum and direction for wise action. Action is talk because our actions communicate our values and commitments, our vision for a better world. When we enact our vision, we serve others, and we develop our own resources, physical, moral, emotional, and spiritual.

Our action focus for 2008:

Plan carefully for service and social action

Organize SoJust 2008

Organize Redeeming the Vision 2009

Extend the influence of Tacoma Education Conversation on public education policy

Sponsor a 2008 youth summit

Identify and develop new leaders for the Conversation and the South Sound

Establish a weekly or monthly Conversation youth group that meets in the afternoon

Create a partnership with Lincoln High School or with a classroom there, working with students, teachers, families

Develop a ten-year plan for the Conversation

Increase the Conversation’s education about racism

Prepare a capital campaign

Grow average attendance to 50 by October 2008

Read a text together that speaks to our work and sustains our direction perhaps inviting the community at large to join us

Our Long term focus:

Establish a fully developed program of activities to serve our entire community

Increase regular attendance from 25-30 to 70-75

Increase our multi-cultural diversity

Adapt our schedule to balance whole group meetings with smaller action group meetings






Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Recap for October 28, 2007

In announcements the education group described recent developments—the question of whether the School Board will go forward with a Superintendent Search is still in the air; links are developing with other Tacoma; and Members are invited to stay tuned into the education group and come to meetings—all are welcome. A reminder: the Education group keeps track of many of its efforts at a website, HERE

This morning we heard BJ’s story. Members mentioned their appreciation of her story telling talents.

We discussed components of identity—groups label individuals in ways that places them as Other, as above and below. Members appreciate examples of drawing strength from the experience. This is no small feat. The entire western philosophical tradition can be seen as a search for autonomy—but some people subjected to the ridicule of their communities figure it out. One example—valuing connections with other women, while at the same time wanting all of them to be independent. And, Conversation members were rapt at an example of a young kid coming up with real wisdom during a difficult exchange.

We are reminded that none of us are perfect—it is good when we do the best we can, and when we can’t do something, we link up with someone who can. As kids we often get told things that are understood to mean we are somehow short of a standard implied in the statement. This is part of life, and we grownups should be aware of how we talk to kids.

Someone asked about Baha’i during our discussions. The Wikipedia entry informs us that it was founded “by Bahá'u'lláh in 19th-century Persia,” and that “(a)ccording to Bahá'í teachings, religious history has unfolded through a series of God's messengers who brought teachings suited for the capacity of the people at their time, and whose fundamental purpose is the same. Bahá'u'lláh is regarded as the most recent, but not final, in a line of messengers.” See more HERE.

One member appreciated the broad coverage of today’s discussion. We can get at racism, we also want to talk about homophobia, sexism, and other forms of objectification—speaking up against dehumanization is valuable.

A nationally organized antiwar rally occurred yesterday, in Seattle (from Judson park on 1st hill down to Occidental park, just South of downtown). Some Conversation members attended. A few thousand people showed up, and one feature was putting the war on trial. And, the mass media did virtually no coverage.

One member expressed disappointment that more young people are not involved in antiwar efforts. One connection here is that military recruiting is focused more on the urban inner city poor—anyone see the Army commercial about going into the military as how to be the man in the house?

Another member expressed concern that for many young folks, they are in such difficult situations that going to war appears as a reasonable alternative. Several made comments on this on related concerns, and what emerged was a picture of frustration at having too few opportunities to make a difference. And, us being a grassroots group, there were several exchanges on local groups doing things—United for Peace of Pierce County [see their vigil list HERE], Women In Black [the Tacoma group meets 2nd & 4th Wednesdays each month, 5:15-6:15 PM. in front of the federal courthouse (the old Union train station); the Gig Harbor group meets Every Friday, 5:00-6:00 PM, at the corner of Olympic and Fosdick (Safeway corner)] and others are there, people. You can give it an hour a week, if this matters.

One theme we kept coming back to has to do with why we keep coming to The Conversation. We don’t want to lay down and feel like no one can do anything. Pretty much everyone here is involved in something, and wants to keep involved, doing something. More than one shared stories of how years ago their main orientation was anger, and an impulse to destruction reaction to the things we talk about. This is a room full of hopeful people, and a hope that motivates us to action. And one thing we get from coming here is support for action.

One member said: “I know justice is hard work. It does not come just because you want it. Doing the hard work it is sometimes hard to see the change…. It is important to remind ourselves when that happens…. And it is not large numbers that make right, right… I can make this change, and I have the power to influence others to do right and be right. And you really must take courage from the successes that occur….”

One member said: “All of us are going to encounter fear. You must not let it overtake you.”

New Orleans Monologues is in two weeks (the 9th), at the University of Puget Sound. For the matinee at 2 on Saturday the 10th, about 35 kids need rides from Lincoln high schools to the play. Some kind of ride sharing, church buses, university vans, something can be done…..

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Recap for October 21, 2007

A bit rainy, and barely fifty, we assembled at Evergreen in Tacoma.

This morning we heard Bernadette’s story.

Several strands of conversation looked at the construction of self in a land divided by color. One member said, “I wish kids didn’t have to explain themselves” for why they bring to schools their own sets of skills,” it would be good if they were each treated equally.

One focus of these discussions was about the toxicity of the color line in schools—for lots of kids, they are the only person of color in a room. It is vitally important that schools have enough teachers of color, for example. There are several dimensions to this toxicity—young kids who are constructing an identity in the midst of this, for example. We might construct little zones of comfort, but several Members believe the education system here is fundamentally flawed. Doing one program—such as supporting one classroom in one school, for example (see below)—does not distract Conversation members from continuing to work on the systemic problems—the biggest of which might be that we have a system that produces the loss of about three in ten of our kids.

One piece of an answer is to encourage kids to be teachers, to tell them it is the best job in the world. That might not be true every day, but looking at a larger picture, more teachers of color are needed, and have to be encouraged and nurtured.

A related issue came up. How do people in school administration and teachers see, understand the lower test scores among students of color? The members in the room bring a lot of experience in schools. Perceptions differ, to put it delicately. Answers often focus on poverty. There are remediation classes (a claim: research shows remediation does not improve test scores, but mandated remediation programs are the way we deal with it—and, students placed in them are taken out of classes such as music and art.), there are after school programs. But there is a strong consensus among teachers that the basics of classroom organization need to be remade. We know that school should begin at 9, given the physical being of those we call students, but it starts at 7:30 because the buses require it.

One important piece of parent involvement—at some schools, a good proportion of parents do not speak English, and perhaps don’t read much. Schools tend to be unwelcoming places for parents—finding the office, waiting, getting the passes, and so on. There are barriers.

One recurring strand of conversation was to compare the experience of students and teachers from a privileged background. Most privileged folks, as we have gone over many times in the Conversation, do not see it. One story illustrated how teachers can inadvertently accentuate the privilege: the teacher in a theater class asked the students to each announce what their parents did.

Teachers confronting the toxicity face burnout, and operate under these conditions for years. One method of coping is to find other kinds of activities to plug into the week.

How do you get kids to figure out what is valuable to them? This is a perennial struggle. There are lots of vehicles for getting kids to this. Some love sports, and stay in school so they can keep it up. Some are charged by art and theater, and put up with the rest of the classes as a way to be there.

The meta-conversation continues from last week.

We have heard a message from our teachers (which is the line of work most represented among those present), and the examples keep reiterating the same issues.

Perhaps it is time for The Conversation to adopt a classroom, or a school. The education people in the room are encouraged to come up with a design for how that might work. Might we be the ones that would organize things for the parents (some kind of orientation, for example). There are other ideas…. How about the educators here coming up with a plan, within a couple of weeks, that we can talk about? Perhaps the Conversation can sponsor however many students might come from Lincoln.

One Conversation member emphasized an important feature of education—getting parents involved. As volunteers, we can find out what parents need, and have a way to intervene in schools to make them more welcoming places for what parents need.

Another Member emphasized getting the kids involved at the leadership level—such as raising their voices before the school board.

A group of high school students were able to read The Students Are Watching, by Theodore Sizer. A blurb on the book says “Sizers point out that the students are often seen as the school's "clients," as its powerless peopleAthough the authors believe that is a costly, patronizing pretense. Instead, the Sizers call for adults to put stock in the suggestions of children, since they watch and listen to adults all the time and have learned more than we realize.”

A suggestion, immediately endorsed: One way to think about the way we refer to the relationship with a school or classroom—instead of calling it adoption, let’s call it a partnership.

When inviting parents—have food available, arrange carpools, let folks know they can dress however they want, have their kids in the plays…. there are lots of things to do to get students to come.

We talked about the Tacoma schools group. See the web page, at Note the addition of a linked page, at, which is about the Nov. 1-3 workshop at Harvard, to be visited by a contingent from Tacoma Schools, including a member of The Conversation. Members are asked to familiarize themselves with the material as a way of supporting these inquiries into

We discussed the lists we constructed last week, and talked about where to go with it from there.

One Group’s Ideas:
• We can assemble a list of books, a list of films, which support the study of our systems of value (such as Edwin Nichol’s work on axiology) that will constitute a foundation for Conversation topics. This can help reduce the invisible barriers of understanding.
• We can support a classroom or a school. There are different dimensions of this—supporting the teacher, finding ways to support the families. A couple of people asked about the PTA’s, or PTSA’s, whether they are active and viable. One Member recalled that in high school they had a way to identify for each student a Next Step after graduation—which implies early intervention, a group of parents taking care, talking to students and parents, getting conversations going about options, and the PTA was probably involved in this. One topic we discussed at some length: the burdens on low income families should never be underestimated—time demands, barriers mentioned earlier in today’s discussions, for examples—and it means the schools and support organizations need to find ways to welcome and encourage participation of parents.
• Schools should have tutors and teaching assistants in the classrooms of our schools. Many of us in this room have the skills to do that. Some of us remember going to school with teaching assistants in the classroom. We can advocate for this in our schools.
• These conversations led to a deeper consideration of systems of values, of learning tutoring skills.

Another Group’s report:
• We should continue as we are—in the process of getting there, we are on the right Track in the Conversation, esp. in the group dynamics of how we reach those goals (such as influencing the system, closing the achievement gap).
• Inviting people to supporting events, such as the discussions today about getting students to the New Orleans Monologues, November 9.
• The music events, such as So Just, and encouraging members of the Conversation to get out and do the things that use their talents—some can preach, some play music, and all of us can ‘walk the walk’ of Conversation topics in the situations we find ourselves in. We should note that a Conversation member reported hearing from a couple of people who no longer come to our gathering because they did not feel welcome here—because of gender identity issues. We were encouraged to consider this, and consider that we have some unfinished business here. Another member said that she feels welcomed here.

Another Group’s report:
• We need to be doing more street action. We can come up with a list of volunteer and service opportunities for Conversation members.
• A Conversation t-shirt is one way to let others know about us, noting that perhaps we should discuss the wisdom of growing in size.
• We should consider getting involved with schools earlier than high schools.

Another Group’s report: (to be emailed and included later)

Another Group’s report:
• We want to orient new people, have our history and vision, etc., put into a handy document, maybe a trifold, that we can keep ready for handouts. We should have a plan of introduction, to have a self-conscious welcome for new people. Part of it was the inclusion of a list of readings and other texts.
• Offer the Tacoma community at large an opportunity to read a book, perhaps something by M.L. King Jr. Someone mentioned Where Do We Go From Here. (A speech of that topic was given by Dr. King on August 16, 1967, and you can read it at

Discussion of the group lists: There are some common charges in the lists, and some implications for how we get involved in activities that arise out of Conversation discussions. People find us in different ways, with different expectations, identities, resources, and commitments. The common expectation here is that people come to the Conversation, listen earnestly, and over time come to identify the places where they wish to make a difference.

There was some discussion of the report of a couple of people not coming because they felt unwelcome. We are sort of on the side that wants to include everybody, and if some don’t show up because they don’t like being near certain people, well, that is a cost of trying to be inclusive.

Some Announcements:

A Member distributed an advisory ballot for the upcoming election. Call any regularly attending member for its suggestions.

Peace Community Center, Nov. 8, 6:30 am, is having a breakfast and you are encouraged to contact colleen.

Friday Nov. 2, 9-3:30. 923 S. 8th st, Catherine’s Place, a workshop on “Bullies, Manipulators, and other relationship.

Saturday, Oct. 27, noon at 23rd and Jackson in Seattle, there is a peace march. Tacomans can meet at the Tacoma Dome bus station at 9:30, and a caravan from there at 10 am.

This Friday, 7 pm, David Price is going to be at King’s Books talking about the topic of his recent book: how anthropologists and other experts are being used in war efforts.

Sun. Nov. 11, 1-4, a Sunday Salon fund raiser for United For Peace of Pierce County. See Kristi Nebel.

Friday, October 19, 2007

We should develop the three key areas already in existence. Decide on what we wish to do about funding? Look for ways to collaborate with other organizations and interest groups in our community. Decide on whether we wish to grow our numbers?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Recap for October 14, 2007

(Note: at the end of today’s notes is a charge for next week’s discussions)

We began a little late today, and welcomed four new first-time members. A standing round of applause for yesterday’s So Just festival. “Everybody held it down, and everything came together.” We gave thanks to our So Just organizing team and participants.

Today we heard Stephen’s story.

One of the topics we discussed was the book, Deep Like the Rivers, by Thomas L. Webber, about education for the enslaved in the American South. You can read a review of it here. (This link is a bit cumbersome as users must have an affiliation with a participating library to access it easily, but the review said Webber argued that “by creating and controlling their own educational instruments the slave quarter community was able to reject most of white teaching and to pass to their children a set of unique cultural themes.”)

We also discussed some dimensions of privilege. Many kids will notice things that seem fair or not fair, and usually the frame of reference for fairness is, fair or unfair for us. Experience in educational justice and social justice issues, actually doing the work of it, enables us to broaden that base for asking about what is fair and unfair. Many of the people at the Conversation share a hope in the power of one person acting.

As noted last week, we are going to talk today about meta-talk, talk about our own processes and goals. Yesterday, at So Just, is an example of some talk that was going on becoming a real thing. Conversation members were encouraged to revel in the moment and appreciate what can happen when we see words transformed into a social event, and to see them transformed into something that was not there before.

Sometimes words take a while to come around to create something. We were reminded of the 1896 Supreme Court decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the Court gave legal cover to a system of segregation. Justice Harlan said, “I dissent,” and predicted the decision would haunt the nation. And more recently chief justice of the Court, Rehnquist, wrote when he was a law clerk in 1952, "Plessy vs. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed." (see this discussed here. Rehnquist’s memo presaged today’s Court, which has effectively moved back to that stage, even more so than when this article was written.)

He shared a document laying out the vision of the Conversation. Part of the document recounted the history of the Conversation. In a grand bit of irony, a church that was an early home to the group, which was reading King’s Why We Can’t Wait, pretty much went through the same processes King described among the church leaders of Montgomery. The church spokespeople were uncomfortable with the discussion of race, and, were squarely on the side of the Conversation. If a group talks about race once, they are easily labeled as “just about race.” And being so-labeled, a group is marginalized. And, several people in the church came to the pastor and said they wanted to get rid of that group. (People who don’t have a copy of Why We Can’t Wait and wish to read a copy of King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” can read it online here.)

Discussions of fairness are easily dismissed because they are construed as discussions of race.

The stories were told to affirm that the Conversation has collected its share of bruises, and that we should look around at it now—the group has endured these and keeps its commitment to keep going, and will as long as it continues to find a good answer to the question—are we relevant? And, many of us ask others to come around with us Sunday mornings—it is worth doing, and worth sharing.

“Come with all you bring, and you flavor what we become.”

One point raised: At the Conversations we call ourselves residents of the area, not just citizens—because the status of citizenship is, historically, constricted for many people, and still is. (Conversations members might be interested in Rogers M. Smith, Civic Ideals.)

At the Conversation, “when you are spouting trivialities and think they are profound, your friends will wake you up.” Supporting each other is a big part of what we do. And sometimes we will have sharp disagreement in our conversations, and bruised egos. But the model we follow has to be a willingness to hang on and continue to engage.

A few things going on here: The education focus group is active. The first annual So Just happened yesterday. Redeeming the Vision will be this coming January 20, 2008, at Urban Grace. We continue to be interested in schools, in individual teachers. We have a number of things developing, such as a possible forum on the relationship between Jewish and Black community groups interested in social justice.
We opened the topic, “Who would you say we are?”
• A group of people that get together to talk about relevant things that are happening, and we are able to talk about all the isms that do not go over well at other groups. One member shared an example of getting censored at another group for doing this.
• A place to gain strategies and courage so that we can bring up justice at other places. We are a think tank, in a way. We generate ideas, and we generate groups that act. We can be seen as evolving toward a strategy and action group, in addition to talking about them.
• This is a support system, a place to explore the things that are uncomfortable, but it is a comfortable place to be uncomfortable.
• There are many in the room have been educators, and have worked with community groups. And the Conversation is a presence more people want to know about.
• Conversation and action are part of a dynamic that feed each other.
• We are a community, people coming together to be a community.
• We are a group of people who have found a safe place to engage in intense dialog about cultural content that we need to address. It is difficult to even talk about the dominant assumptions, and to integrate the conversations into the way we live.

We broke up, every two tables no more than 5 people, with the charge to answer the question: What can we become?

Report from One group
• The question of becoming—hey, wait, it is a dynamic and open thing. It is a good thing to become what we are, this open thing where people can come in, become a part of this, help with the projects and come up with new ones.
• It would be good if we were able to pull together key phrases from different faith traditions that address the themes we address and maybe push us in some direction.
• The Conversation can be a place where people from just about any tradition, and teachers from them, the kids and parents, can come into this group and get sustenance, from burnout to being rekindled. We have a lot to offer in this direction.
• This group started reading a book, and it would be good to do that again. Study something that is going to speak to the work we are doing. This is not a call to do only that, but it is something I value. And we should remember that group that started off by reading a book kept it together, and the community reading of the book built a shared understanding that is very valuable. We could schedule that for a period of time, some designated meetings.
• We reiterated the value of the personal stories, and noted several dimensions of their value.

Another group report:
• talk is action, and we need other action to spread the message about justice
• we like the intimate interaction, and we need to share that with public officials
• a place to find some common ground
• to work with the youth piece of it, be a safe environment where we can develop this and come up with actions
• We don’t want to spread everyone too thin with additional actions.

Another Group
• want to be strong, a place of transformation
• to be able to tell the difference between the truth and the lies
• to change our stories
• close gaps, find community together
• a place to encourage and empower people
• to keep fear from having power over us
• encourage others to attend, educate each other, and be a place where we can take refuge from the loneliness
• a social change agent

Another Group
• We should be a spawning ground for members
• We can be a group that learns across difference, a learning about African American history, learning how different cultures can help us figure out the world
• We want to continue to be a place where we are not afraid to discuss white privilege.
• Churches usually have a common text, and the common text here seems to be the collection of individual stories, and we must continue this. We become footnotes in each others stories, make them all richer.

Another Group
• We don’t do away with the wisdom texts, and incorporate them into what we do.
• We should be more of who we are, a safe space, a think tank, and a role model.
• We can become more present in the community, in elections, at the school board
• We can prepare ourselves more for hostile conversations.
• Be resilient under stress
• A place to find our voice.

Another Group--Intergenerational focus
• be a verb, not a noun.
• Be a community resource for folks interested in racial justice.
• sponsor the 2008 youth summit
• allow development and opportunity for each person to lead
• become more intergenerational, more diverse, explore more formats for encouraging youth participation, maybe one later in the day, try the storytelling there.

Another Group—characteristics of The Conversation
• revolutionary
• think tank
• affinity group—a small group of activists who work together on direct action, are nonhierarchical and work among trusted friends, a community organization that is decentralized, having a shared concern, a flexible ideology
• culturally competent

Responses to what we heard.
• “I am not an agent.” Be careful about identifying people who disagree as ‘agent.’
• It is good to support everyone—one noted that the support for women is not always strong in our institutions, for example.
• We appear to largely agree on what we are about, with a lot of new ideas.
• Good thing to connect to the younger people, too.
• We each enter The Conversation at different stages of the group, at different stages of our lives.

In preparation for next week’s Conversation:
Each of you, please post one programmatic idea to the blog. The question to address: What are some of the activities you want us to engage in.

Recap for October 7, 2007

One Conversation member is starting an amputee support group, and will be telling us more about it at the project develops—which appears to be imminent. She told us about a chance meeting with a person who has resources and a desire to do exactly that. Big round of applause at the story.

Another member read a draft letter addressed to the chair of the Tacoma School Board. The letter emphasized the need for a superintendent search that emphasized the right skills and experience at meeting the District goals to real ALL students, to involve the public in the process. We discussed the perceptions of people attending the last Board meeting, and several reported an unease at the lack of critical Board questions about important issues raised. Someone raised the possibility that the Board is moving slowly toward a search process, and that a safe option would be to retain the current acting superintendent. Remember a previous acting superintendent was invited in to pour oil upon the waters, and stayed for most of a decade. We discussed the importance of being active on this.

Conversation members are reminded that the schools group has published a website that keeps track of some of their conversations, at

It might be a good idea, said one Conversation member, to have the Conversation devote a session to keeping us all informed of the various projects members are working on. Projects that have a community impact may need to consciously build political coalitions—with unions, with community groups, and so on—and to self-consciously build a public information campaign to get the word out and put pressure on the institutions that need to change. At later points in the Conversation others referred to this as a model worth emphasizing—perhaps we should devote a session to it—perhaps next week.

One member observed “this school board is weak, and we should not let it rebuild things on the same shaky foundation,” suggesting there is a real danger that Board members should be pushed in the direction of action. We heard another report from someone in the study session before the last Board meeting who said it was apparent the Board considered the current acting superintendent as here for the long haul. Oh, oh. It appears there are plenty of reasons to be concerned that the Board will back off from its search for a new superintendent.

We also discussed the tone and content of a letter passed around to the Board. Several Conversation members expressed a desire to sign a stronger letter, and the group that composed the letter reported on their discussions of the issue.

One observation, coming off the self-described state of the school board group connected to the Conversation as a group of people who care about schools, or words to that effect: the Board should be aware that something is up, should be concerned with power emerging in the community, and should from time to time be shocked out of its complacency. For example, the actions that contributed to the departure of the previous superintendent were one phase, and many of the people who took part in that let others know they are in for the long haul. Key people involved in that are currently working on school board issues. It was recommended that we allow ourselves to be comfortable with the occasional chaos that might come from a demonstration, and also keep up the work of political organization.

One Conversation member talked to us about disproportionate minority confinement (DMC)—“a condition that exists when a racial/ethnic group representation in confinement exceeds the representation in the general population.” [At times our conversation also used DMC to refer to disproportionate minority contact, since the issue is wider than confinement.] For example, African-Americans age 10-17 yrs old make up 11% of Pierce County residents of similar age, but they are 30-35% of those in detention, and they stay in jail longer than others. All children should be treated equally in the juvenile justice system, disparities in detention is in part the result of processes that are widely considered to be neutral—and so the group described in this talk is working to draw attention to policies that produce DMC. The group understands the need to generate accurate and reliable data, and the need to get people involved who can be effective in affecting decisions in institutions (prosecutors, judges, police, mental health officials, school officials, counselors, and so on).

African Americans in high school get expelled from the Tacoma schools at three times the rate of whites, suspended at two and a half times the rate of whites, and for junior high school the disproportionate rages are two and a half times the expulsion rate, and over twice the suspension rate. In the juvenile justice system in Pierce County sees African Americans get rearrested at three times the rate as for whites.

This is obviously a call for looking at DMC. We heard the ways the group works on these problems. One thing they worked on was alternatives to detention—so found and came up with ideas that police, prosecutors and courts could buy into. They were able to get the state legislature to fund some projects, mostly for the kids who need help and are not accused of crimes against others.

Conversation members might be interested in an article in today’s New York Times, Week in Review section, on this very issue. The article describes the problem, asks when DMC becomes a constitutional issue—but unfortunately is not very critical. It suggests, at the end, that many of the actions that lead to DMC are “unintentional,” by which the article means the officials are not aware of how their actions produce DMC. The article also places the discussion in the context of the present federal court system—where judges increasingly do not recognize racial segregation, even segregation by law, as being a constitutional problem.

Conversation members talked about some of the details of policies that contribute to DMC, such as the need for telephones in the home for certain alternatives to detention to be applied, another example of how many rules treat poor people differently. (Newer technology for at-home monitoring alternative to detention relies on cell phone technology, which has kept lots of kids out of detention. This requires that governments spend money on such technologies.) We heard many examples of the way programs unintentionally lead to DMC. Each program needs to be tested, tested, tested, pay attention to outcomes, and assemble the evidence & bring it to the attention of the group that can do something about it (recall the mention above of the committee that involved prosecutors, judges, police, mental health officials, school officials, counselors). One member emphasized that the agencies that are represented at such inclusive tables may not themselves have paid much attention to disproportionate representation. One example was glaring. Best-practices inventories emphasize the importance and different outcomes that emerge from all-white vs. relatively diverse organizations. Cultural competency is not automatic.

One member observed that a group of assembled policymakers, administrators that are responsible for state programs dealing with juvenile justice, are overwhelmingly white. Other members of the Conversation shared that this is common.

We heard several examples of how the laws have become more punitive, and the default presumption on kids that don’t go to school, or kids that are mentally ill and disruptive, is to lock them up as irresponsible—yet this strongly contributes to DMC. One institutional feature we heard about was the October surge in expulsions—so the school district gets budget credit for the kid, but then the kid is expelled, and state money does not follow the kid to help finance needed services. And such kids fall far behind in the accumulation of credits, in preparation for the WASL, and the increased likelihood that such kids will run into the police. One member described working with such kids, and made the point that there are almost no services for them right now. The other side of the laws becoming more punitive is that money for services is drying up—for example, there is a dire need for a full-time halfway house for school-aged kids on the street, but the barriers to funding, licensing, and getting a site for such a facility are so high. IT IS DISCOURAGING. There sure is a lot of work to do. Several members present described the discouraging experiences they have had. No easy answers, but one member encouraged them to ‘set their face like flint’ and be present, and speak up, at these institutions where policies are made. Members were encouraged to join the group,

One member described the school system as being designed to cull out 30% of the students. It is designed this way, it produces this outcome. The leader of this discussion is part of an organization works precisely with those 30%. Several members emphasized that this is unacceptable, and that we need to hear that from the School Board.

What is it that we need? What if the Governor of the State of Washington was here. What would you tell her? Ideas from various members
• the people assembled at the table have to have experience that enables them to connect to the kids, to understand the situation that produced the situation kids find themselves in.
• Bring parents in
• Equity
• restorative justice involves kids and parents
• full time counselors, nursing, full time safe place for kids and parents also open evenings
• legislation to support small schools
• timing of schools ---adolescents not awake til 9:00
• no kicking kids out for no reason
• deinstitutionalize the racism in the schools, we kick out 30% and feed them into the prison system.
• I think we need fabulous breakfast served, so many kids need it.
• We need two adults in each classroom.
• Make things smaller, stop having 6 periods where teachers have 150 kids they deal with, have more block times…. make 6th grade elementary again.
• Accountability—teachers, administrators, schools are allowed to continue worst practices. And coupled with that we need a support system to help those who change those outcomes.
• Several people mentioned the importance of having parents and families involved in the ways we address this.
• One person asked, Who is making money off of the poor?

There is a list of things people want. OK, how do we get there?
• Parents need to be involved, but we organize the world of work to make that difficult for some people—especially those who have low income jobs and often more than one job. This is a tough one—at least, the agencies that officials DO have control over can change and make flexible hours possible.
• More money needs to be spent on serious job training programs, to give more folks chances to earn the incomes that are associated with more political participation.
• Make it easier to vote—reinstate the vote of people who have been in jailed, and make registration easier or automatic (half of the people who did not vote, but could have, in the last two presidential elections had moved in the previous 18 months).
• Individuals can examine their values, there is so much to do, we can each clarify our values and decide what piece we can take on to be spiritually, emotionally, and physically healthy—and show up ready to work on the piece you have chosen as important.
• We could give parents some kind of tax break for involvement in after-school programs, and perhaps a voucher system for supporting after-school programs.
• Every classroom can have an adult assistant, and make sure there sufficiently diverse people there.
• It is possible to have the adult assistants be decently paid, select many from the students who are precisely the people who have not succeeded, have them in a work-study as part of a college program. Get them on the road to a degree while they can be helping in the classrooms.
• small class sizes, and have teacher pay linked to results in this regard.
• Foreign languages taught from the first grade.
• Teach citizenship and civic education, and problem-solving/negotiation skills.
• No school should have more students than it was designed to have.
• Teachers need to have cultural diversity classes.

Now, what you willing to do?
• work with a group that has picked one of these issues.
• Go to the league of Women Voters, and the ACLU, to help pay the debt of released felons.
• Work through my music to advocate, and also through a community group that does this.
• I’m going to make the group I’m part of more powerful, figure out what it is we can do to be more effective.

This simple exercise suggests we need to push our thinking on this—before you get to the roadblocks, there are commitments you can make.

The Conversation wants to support these commitments to action. They are important. We also want to celebrate the life of the mind, too, and not let action discourage us from taking hard looks at the world. We need to nourish ourselves, and feed whatever it is that keeps us engaged.

Dexter said “We need the activist arm to be pushing us, but I would like an activist arm that is not a blunt instrument, an activist arm that is not easily dismissed.” Alton McDonald has done some work—he is a non-attorney who shows up to be a voice for African Americans arrested for various things. He found a place for himself, he takes action. Good example for us. Let us not buy into the all-too-common duality between theory and practice. It is not one or the other, we need to have a balance between our Conversation and our actions.

We heard from So Just, they got some publicity, they are calling in the pledges, and if there are others who can contribute or want their business cards put into the paid advertisement, now is the time. They could really use $500. They are applying for Grant funding next year. Most important, bring people, show up yourself. It is important to have 100 people here Saturday, at 11. Be there.

Redeeming the Vision this year will be Saturday, January 20, 2008, at Urban Grace, probably at 2 pm.. Tuesday, Oct. 9, and every two weeks thereafter, 6pm @ UPS, is the planning committee schedule. All are invited to be part of the planning group.

Emails will remind you of the upcoming fundraiser for United for Peace of Pierce County.
We are planning a February forum, perhaps at Kings Books, on the possibilities for partnerships in the civil rights communities. That program is in the process of being planned, stay tuned for more.

Pierce College Nov. 29 will have Michael Eric Dyson speaking. Call the Student programs office at Pierce, charge will be $15.