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.

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