Yes, a Better World is Possible!
by Nancy Black
Many of us at Brooklyn Meeting were inspired by the Black Lives Matter protest marches that filled the streets on an almost daily basis following the George Floyd killing at the end of May. I live in Downtown Brooklyn, one block from the meetinghouse, and on the corner of a boulevard that leads onto the Brooklyn Bridge. I could see, peripherally, most of the marches along that route, either heading to or coming from the bridge. However, one of those marches actually came down my street, and I was able to see the marchers from beginning to end. For forty-five minutes, socially-distanced, mostly masked individuals, Whites and Blacks together, streamed past under my window. Later, I learned that my daughter and another member of our meeting were among them.
We in Brooklyn Meeting, like so many across the nation, became acutely aware of the injustices, past and present, committed against black and brown folks in our midst. Inspired by these events, Brooklyn Meeting approved the following minute on June 4th:
Black lives matter. The members of Brooklyn Meeting are committed to joining with others of good will in seeking inclusive justice for all and dismantling systemic racism. Brooklyn Meeting commits itself to spending the next year focused on building racial justice through the actions of individuals, small study groups, standing committees, and alliances with others beyond the meeting.
Maria Arias and I were named co-clerks of an Ad Hoc Committee on Racial Justice. A committee of seven was quickly constituted, and we have been meeting approximately every two weeks ever since. We view ourselves as primarily a coordinating committee, devoted to encouraging work within the meeting in three areas: (1) individual work to examine ingrained racist attitudes and understand white supremacy; (2) analysis of meeting structures and processes to ensure inclusivity; (3) identification of concrete actions the meeting can take to challenge structural racism in the larger society.
A great deal of work during the past seven months has been accomplished spontaneously by individuals outside of our Ad Hoc Committee on Racial Justice. A White Quaker Anti-Racist Affinity Group meets monthly. A book group is reading Black Fire: African American Quakers on Spirituality and Human Rights, edited by Harold D. Weaver Jr., et al. Friends are encouraged to journal about their reading and activities. Monthly NYC ARCH meetings have been reading Say the Wrong Thing by Dr. Amanda Kemp. The History and Library Committee has posted information weekly and is readying for publication a very informative booklet, Brooklyn, Quakers, and Slavery 1672-1865. Our committee has been heartened by these activities. In addition, in order to encourage analysis of meeting structures, we sent a set of queries to standing committees and asked them to include a summary of their discussions in their annual reports to the meeting.
More recently we have turned our attention to identification of concrete actions the meeting might take to promote racial justice. To this end we prepared a document, “Potential Issues of Anti-Racist Engagement,” that identified six issues: education; defunding the police/re-imagining policing; prison/criminal justice reform; economic justice; health care and well-being; and environmental justice. For each issue, we listed specific platforms/agenda; connections to Quaker testimonies; and opportunities and entry points for engagement. We distributed the document and then held an information meeting on November 18, 2020. After a brief presentation on each issue, a period of worship-sharing followed.
We are following up with a workshop on each issue; two have already been held—on education and on policing—and we are planning workshops on the remaining four issues in 2021. We hope to identify one or two issues for the meeting as a whole to focus on; alternatively, we may decide to form clusters of folks to work on all six issues. Throughout this process, we are paying attention to the spiritual basis of our work, knowing that, without strong leadings and guidance of the spirit, we can accomplish little.