Quaker Universalist Conversations

Now is the Time

Rick Brown, AICP, CBSP, has been an urban planner for nearly 30 years, primarily serving communities in the State of Michigan. He was convinced in early 2016, and he is very proud to be a liberal Quaker who strongly supports the universalist belief that the human family can find strength and unity through its diverse spiritual traditions. We published earlier pieces by Friend Rick in March 2017 and February 2018 .

With last week’s opening1 of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (a.k.a. the Lynching Memorial) in Montgomery, Alabama, I think every single American, particularly those of us who have never felt the sting of bigotry and prejudice, should pause and reflect on our role in the injustices that permeate our country.

"Nkyinkim Installation by Kwame Akoto Bamfo at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice"

Even before formally becoming a Quaker several years ago, I strongly believed that the light of God exists in and emanates from every person of regardless of race, creed, culture, gender, sexual orientation, economic or political status, and/or religious belief. That being said, there are mistakes I have personally made during my lifetime that were less than stellar in this regard.

Thirty years ago, I was not as supportive of LGBTQ rights as I am today. It took time, personal reflection, and a family member transitioning from a woman to a man to fully open my mind and my heart. In addition, there are certain inappropriate terms used along with other teenagers in the 1970s, to describe male classmates that were perceived as weaker, more feminine, or less athletic that I am wholly ashamed of having said to this day.

I wished I had challenged my parents more ardently about being sent to a private school for my high school education to avoid the possibility of being bused to an inner city school. Instead of focusing that it was the wrong from a prejudice standpoint, I mostly referenced missing and/or losing my friends. Please don’t misinterpret this as a full condemnation of my parents. They were good people, but on this issue in particular, my parents were sadly mistaken.

Fortunately, there was a silver lining to this story, as the diversity of my classmates, the political openness, and the social equity lessons taught at my Jesuit high school actually proved to be quite beneficial despite the original rationale for me being sent me there. Believe me, when my folks learned that I was reading Mao’s Little Red Book for a class, they literally had a cow. To this day, I feel that my fervent belief in social justice, fairness, and equality were nurtured by attending that Jesuit high school.

As a progressive Quaker Universalist, I believe that one of the best ways to rectify these past errors is to live my life in a manner that sends a clear and concise message to others on a daily basis that prejudice in any form is flat out wrong.

If that means stopping a friend or co-worker mid-sentence from speaking inappropriately, then so be it.
If that means writing blog posts such as this, then so be it.
If that means advocating and marching for peace, equality, and justice whenever and wherever I can, then so be it.
If it means challenging those who speak of or spread hate, then so be it.
If it means donating my time, money, or skills to causes that champion the rights of others, then so be it.
If it means voting in a manner that demonstrates my belief in a free and open society that treats each and every individual equally, fairly, humanely, and with respect, then so be it.

The United States has a lot to be proud of, but how we have treated (and continue to treat) minorities is not one of them. My hope is the opening of National Memorial for Peace & Justice will be a watershed moment for our society—that the sheer magnitude of the cruelty demonstrated by this compelling memorial will shake thoughtful Americans to their core and be the impetus for real and lasting change.

If South Africa can find reconciliation, so can we. If Northern Ireland can find peace, so can we. If the two Koreas can find common ground for ending hostilities, so can we.

No more excuses. Now is time to take a stand – a stand for peace, justice, equality, and righteousness across this land.


Note & Image Source

1 See “A Lynching Memorial Is Opening. The Country Has Never Seen Anything Like It.,” by Campbell Robertson, The New York Times (4/25/2018).

Image: “Nkyinkim Installation by Kwame Akoto Bamfo at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice,” by Soniakapadia [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) ], from Wikimedia Commons.

Comments

Now Is the Time is, also, the title of a book by Lillian Smith, a white womun active in the Civil Rights Movement (or, "the Movement To Make Democracy Real,” as Vincent Harding put it). Lilian Smith, also, penned the influential books, Killers of the Dream and Strange Fruit.

A decade or so ago, Without Sanctuary, an over-size and heavy book of pictures and post card images of lynchings was published. For six or more months, that book was nearly always checked out of the Jacksonville (FL) Public Library, until it disappeared.

Yes, now is the time. The Lynching Memorial AND Montgomery are places of pilgrimage. One need not travel there; they may be “distant” guideposts. One needs first to do the Quakerly thing: quiet oneself, find within – and among your society – where, how, and to what degree one lynches, one is lynched, and tend to what one’s soul, one’s Godde leads one to do.

Do not turn away from one’s grief, anger, shame, guilt, blame – embrace them, take them in, acknowledge them: grief, anger, shame, guilt, blame. Quakers today often acknowledge great appreciation for early Friends’ (Quakers’) writings. These letters, journals, pamphlets are full of grief, anger, shame, guilt, blame. (So is the Bible, for that matter).

As a white person in the U.S., I feel each of these states of being. And, I feel Deep, Deep Joy in sitting in Quaker meeting for worship stillness, acknowledging the acknowledgement, the encouragement of spirits of those Africans and Black folk lynched, beaten, drowned, shot, whipped, raped, terrorized for white folk’s pleasure, leisure, fears, pride, and because-we-could.

One need not wait for the transforming encouragement one may sense visiting the Lynching Memorial – even reading about it and seeing pictures of it. When one sits in the stillness of Quaker meeting for worship, one eventually discovers we agree to open ourselves to the horrors and hopes of our lives, our families, our ancestors, our neighbors – wherever our neighbors be in the world. We need not wait one more minute to do what is right, good, and sincere. We start with ourselves. Now Is the Time.