Thursday, December 13, 2018

Hospitality of our hearts and minds

This month, Richmonders from many parts of the city celebrated twenty-five years of work for honest conversation on race, reconciliation and responsibility by the Hope in the Cities network. “It was launched in perhaps one of the worst racialized locales: Richmond, Virginia – given its Confederate history – a city that became the capital of racial contempt and enslavement with a racial war to prove it,” said Rev. Dr. Paige Chargois. “But where else in America could such work have become more significant or productive!”

Senator Tim Kaine sent a message in which he recalled his words eight years ago at the launching of my book, Trustbuilding: “Racial discrimination remains with us, and we will continue to need the help of Hope in the Cities to conquer our lesser instincts.” He wrote, “While I am saddened that this observation holds true today, I am heartened by Hope in the Cities’ work to confront our lesser instincts…This commitment has spread across the world where activists work to create more peaceful, just and equal communities.”

Recalling the first public walk through Richmond's racial history, Kaine said,"In an age of heightened bigotry, my advice to you is to keep on marching as you did twenty-five years ago."

What lies behind the depth, dynamism and durability of this movement in Richmond? The answer can be found in the lives of many of the individuals present at the celebration. In different ways, each of them made choices to step beyond their fears, pride, privilege or hurt and to reach out to those who are different. Audrey Burton, an African American community activist, told how she and her husband, Collie, built a friendship with a man they had suspected of racial bias, the senior assistant city manager, and opened their home to people of all backgrounds.  

Audrey also enlisted her friend Paige Chargois. “Hope in the Cities resonated with me for several reasons,” said Paige. “Most importantly, it had moved beyond simplistic approaches to more serious efforts of racial reconciliation. The challenge of reconciliation is brokenness. To reconcile, a relationship must be broken from its old way(s) of relating superficially – or with historical bias – then put back together in a different, healthier, and lasting way. Without disruption, the work of racial reconciliation can become superficial or placating at best, non-existent at the worst. 

“Within the work of racial reconciliation and seeking to end racism, we realized that we could expect to be wounded, offended, and diminished at times as we fought to make the work successful!”  As one of her former colleagues I can attest to some of the struggles!

The Hope in the Cities team determined that relationships were more important than projects, and over the years they have accompanied each other and many others in the wider community who needed support, often acting as silent partners without any demand for public recognition.

This accompanying role was highlighted in a letter from the chairman of Initiatives of Change USA, Alex Wise, who was chairman of the Museum of the Confederacy when he first encountered Hope in the Cities. He came to realize that “people like me were used to telling the story of the Civil War with blinkers on, and that this was contributing to the South’s racism and resistance to change.” He began to imagine a new museum where the whole story could be told from all perspectives. “Gaining the support of Hope the Cities was a key to our success.” Thanks to the trust Hope in the Cities had built, “we were able to gain a hearing and win the support of enough black opinion leaders to get the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar off the ground, and to help to change America’s narrative of the conflict that still shapes our nation.”

As Tim Kaine noted eight years ago, “Hope in the Cities focuses on the 'still small voice', not loud and flashy approaches, or neon signs…Listening is a lost art in this world. Hope in the Cities is creating a space where people can talk. It is incredibly important work…That listening thing is needed more than ever, and not just in racial issues."

Creating space for change requires us to create places of hospitality in our hearts and minds. For many of the Hope in the Cities founders like Audrey Burton and Paige Chargois it meant welcoming diverse groups to their homes. Hospitality means laying aside our preconceptions, bias and prejudices and learning to listen. Listen to the story of the other person, the other group; and listen to the voice of the Creator. None of the breakthroughs that have come through the efforts of Hope in the Cities could have occurred without the willingness of individuals to listen deeply to that inner voice.  

According to the historian Philip Boobbyer, Frank Buchman, the initiator of the Initiatives of Change movement which birthed Hope in the Cities, once said, “If you break the power of your instinctive actions and reactions by obeying the Spirit, you are on track.”  Susan and I have benefited recently from reading Listening to the God Who Speaks by Klaus Bochmuehl. It contains a wealth of insights about the guidance of the Spirit, which, according to St Bernard of Clairvaux, “admonishes the memory, teaches reason and moves the will.”  Bochmuehl highlights the "liberation" of listening: liberation from the "dominant cliches," the "clamoring voices of our culture," and a "return of creativity and spontaneity." Those who listen to their inner voice become "spiritual resource people, constant sources of inspiration rather than irritation." 

At this season of new birth, what could be timelier than to make our hearts and minds places of hospitality for the Spirit? I am reminded of the final verse of a carol that I wrote for our eldest son’s first Christmas:  

Tonight, across the world, ‘midst hunger, hate and war,
In each heart He’s knocking softly at the door.
Through pain and darkness there shines a light
For all mankind to share.

Top photo: Rob Corcoran and Mayor Walter Kenney in the late 90s by Karen Greisdorf. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The key to a new beginning

Recently I was in a retreat with colleagues in a committee leading a History & Reconciliation Initiative at St Paul’s Episcopal Church. This initiative has done ground-breaking work in uncovering and documenting the church’s central role in Richmond’s slave economy and in promoting the "Lost Cause" mythology.

We came together to assess progress and to look at the challenges facing us as we build on what we have learned. What might this mean for St Paul's and for Richmond's need for racial reconciliation and equity? We also recognized the need to strengthen our own teamwork and to do our own healing work (we are a group of capable and strong-minded personalities), and to support the necessary teambuilding and reconciliation within the congregation so that we might be an authentic model for the wider Richmond community.

We found ourselves meeting under a portrait of the late Dr Syngman Rhee, the former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA). in 1950, he escaped from North Korea through winter snow, joined the marines in South Korea and later  came to study at Chicago and Yale. He served as a campus minister at the University of Kentucky, marched with Martin Luther King, Jr, and devoted himself to reconciliation between North and South Korea.

Syngman was a friend and mentor. I recall him saying, “One stick does not make a strong fire. If we are going to carry on a vision for justice and peace we must learn to be a team. However brave and talented I may be, without a container or framework, compassion and commitment can become wrongly directed.”

I also remember him telling us that the most powerful lesson he learned from King was the idea that "the oppressed have the key to a new beginning.” 

He said, “This touched me deeply because I considered myself oppressed. I had turned my back on Korea." (His father had died at the hands of the communists and he never saw his mother again.) "But the oppressed have the choice of revenge or of forgiving and working for a new society for everyone.”

Teambuilding is intimately connected to forgiveness. Jean Vanier writes in Community & Growth:“A relationship is only authentic and stable when it is founded on the acceptance of weakness, on forgiveness and on the hope of growth... If we come into community without knowing that the reason we come is to discover the mystery of forgiveness, we will soon be disappointed.”

I have spent most of my working life in efforts for racial healing and justice, often in highly polarized situations. But my most challenging and painful experiences have not been in addressing conflicts around issues of race or politics but with my own team, close colleagues and friends. In some of these circumstances I felt let down, obstructed or unfairly judged. Others may have felt similarly about me. At times the stress impacted my health. Ultimately, I was always faced with the need to accept my part of the responsibility for the breakdown in trust.  

But we have long memories. Despite my decision to let go of a resentment or disappointment, there is sometimes a temptation to revisit the experience, to unpack the wound, to look at it again and to indulge in self-pity or self-justification.

Richard Rohr writes in Breathing Under Water that “to surrender ourselves to healing we have to have three spaces opened up within us – our opinionated head, our closed-down heart, and our defensive and defended body." What opinion am I unwilling to reconsider? To whom have I closed my heart? What am I defending?  

Our families, communities and nations are divided and torn apart by individuals and groups who feel oppressed, wronged or wounded. There are no winners in these cycles of blame. But as Syngman Rhee reminds us, we can all choose to be part of a new beginning.   

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Liverpool and Richmond: partners in healing

Hope in the Cities can trace its roots back to a relationship with Liverpool that began in 1983. Alfred Stocks, the city’s chief executive (city manager) and other Liverpudlians committed to the principles of Initiatives of Change invited us to bring an interracial group from Richmond to meet with local officials. As described in my book, Trustbuilding, Liverpool had experienced the Toxteth riots just two years earlier and was also still recovering from vicious political warfare after Trotskyites had taken control of the city council and had bankrupt the city as a protest to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s policies. In this polarized atmosphere Alfred Stocks was one of the few people trusted by all sides. 

The Richmond group had never worked together before and there was a history of deep distrust among several members. But a remarkable transformation took place during that shared experience in Liverpool. As one person said, “We came back a team.”

Over the years the relationship with Liverpool grew. In 1993 Gerald and Judith Henderson came to Richmond for three months to help with preparations for the landmark "Healing the Heart of America" conference, which included Richmond first “walk through history” and the inauguration of what is now the historic Slave Trail.

This month we spent two days with the Hendersons. Liverpool has changed greatly since the 1980s. It is far more international. In 2008 it was declared Europe’s “Capital of Culture.” A remarkable slavery museum tells the story of Liverpool’s leading role in the transatlantic trade. It was during a visit there that my colleague Tee Turner met John Franklin, a cultural historian and senior manager at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. John has become a close collaborator with Hope in the Cities.

An hour’s drive from the city we visited the home and workshop of the sculptor Stephen Broadbent who specializes in public art. He remodeled Bridge Street in Warrington with a "River of Life" following a bomb blast that killed two young boys. His "Reconciliation Statue" stands in Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom, site of the former slave market. Stephen and an official delegation from Liverpool were present in Richmond in 2007 for the unveiling.

We also visited Hope University, Europe’s only ecumenical university, which has grown dramatically under the dynamic leadership of Gerald Pillay, the vice-chancellor and rector. I first met Pillay in South Africa in 1995 when he was teaching at the University of South Africa in Pretoria. His forebears were brought from India to the British Colony of Natal. He told the Guardian newspaper: “One of the powerful ways that people like us could articulate the liberation story was through theology, because in South Africa theology was a living discipline, not an ivory-tower discipline...Theology and my interest in Gandhi drew me into the promotion of equity and change.”  He has carried this same philosophy to his work in Liverpool. Impressively, 98 percent of graduate students were employed or further education six month after graduating.

Pillay invited Initiatives of Change to help develop a "School for Changemakers" on the campus. During a previous visit in 2011, I led a lively discussion and a trustbuilding workshop with students. 

Sadly, Gerald was in South Africa when we visited this time as his mother was very ill, but his wife, Nirri, a law professor, showed us the immaculate campus. She joined us for lunch with Omnia Marzouk, a distinguished doctor recently retired from a senior management role at the UK's busiest children’s emergency department. Omnia's family is from Egypt and her father was ambassador to Australia where she spent her teenage years and studied medicine. She has served as President of IofC International and we have worked together on many projects over the years. 

The Liverpool-Richmond relationship is an example of friendships and partnerships that have endured over many decades and the unique global network of trust that is Initiatives of Change.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Notes from the road in Britain

We are mid-way through a month of travel in the UK, visiting family and friends. It’s our first extended visit since 2005.

We are delighting in the beauty of the British countryside and the multitude of historic sites which seem to appear at every corner of the towns and cities. So far, we have visited three UNESCO World Heritage Sites! 

The color and texture of the cloud formations and the soft late afternoon light are unlike anything we see back home in Richmond, Virginia. We enjoyed hiking in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District with drystone walls and stunning views over the passes.

British B&Bs have improved immeasurably over the years with very comfortable beds and immaculate ensuite bathrooms. (Today we are comfortably ensconced in a wonderful Airbnb overlooking Loch Tay in Scotland with cows and sheep grazing outside our window.) But be warned, most Airbnbs do not offer breakfast! And curiously, we often found it difficult to find regular restaurants in country towns which are dominated by pubs and by tearooms that only open at 10am and close at 5pm.

We hired a car on arrival and have covered several hundred miles in England and Scotland. The road surfaces here are far superior to those in the US; even on tiny country lanes (including some incredibly steep and winding ones) I scarcely encountered a pothole. Also, it is nice to drive in a country where people do not pass on the inside lane and trucks do not ride on the fast lane.

We must add a word about Britain's intrepid cyclists. This seems to be a rapidly growing sport and we were awed watching scores of bikers climbing almost verticle passes often hemmed in by tour coaches and campers and without the protection of dedicated lanes. 

I am reminded of Britain’s love of dogs. The owner of a pub in the Yorkshire Dales had an enormous St Bernard which sprawled across the area in front of the bar so that customers had to step over it to get to the tables!

As soon as we crossed the border into Scotland we were impressed by the vast reforestation projects visible on previously bare hills. This is obviously a growing industry in Scotland and must be helpful to the climate. Equally noteworthy are the number of windfarms.

Britain is experiencing some of the same challenges and need for trustbuilding as the US. There is considerable anxiety at the ineffectiveness of the central government and uncertainty over Brexit. Despite fierce opposition to immigration from the far right, it is nice to see the increasing diversity of the country in many sectors and to hear black British speak with broad regional accents. Just yesterday the country celebrated as Dina Asher-Smith smashed the 200m record to win gold in the European Championships having won the 100m a few days earlier.

We were hosted in Leeds by Peter Vickers, godfather to our eldest son, Neil. Peter heads Vickers & Sons which specializes in the development and manufacture of lubricants for the textile and marine industries. For generations the family has run the business on principles of integity, teamwork and responsibility. Peter's father was a good friend of my dad who came from a trade union background. They worked together to overcome class warfare in British industry.

We were inspired by our visit with Elizabeth Carson, at 90 still spry and keen of mind. Although she lost her house to a freak fire last month, she is amazingly cheerful in her temporary flat and she took us to dinner with neighborhood friends in the historic town of Haddington, near Edinburgh. Would that we all could be so resilient in the face of adversity! Her steadfast faith on God’s practical guidance for daily life and her care for others is an example for us all.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

A trip down memory lane

A highlight of this week was a visit to Hill Farm, about an hour and a half drive from my sister’s home in Wenhaston, Suffolk.  My mother worked as a land girl there during World War II. In the mid-fifties our family spent several years in a cottage on the estate which was owned Peter Howard, the journalist and leader of MRA (now IofC). I had not set foot on the farm for sixty years and looking across the rolling fields many memories came flooding back.

The farm was a perfect playground for my brother and sister and me. We rode the massive Suffolk Punch draught horses and the milk wagon down to the gate, burrowed tunnels into the haystacks, helped with the harvesting and sledded on the slopes. We attended the school in the neighboring town of Hadleigh.

The Howard children, Philip, Anne and Anthony were in their late teens and early twenties. They were like older cousins to us and they involved us in many games and pranks. They taught us how to play cricket. Our cottage, "Corrie," lies at the foot of a hill below the main house. I recall Philip climbing in our bedroom window and reading The Hobbit.

The main house itself is a 16th Century listed Tudor building with an unspoiled view across the hills. Today it serves as a holistic “inner guidance” retreat center run by Jo and Dominic De Rosa. They specialize in an approach to addiction which they call “quantum sobriety,” based on meditation and Jo’s own experience of going from addiction to freedom. As well as five-day retreats they offer monthly meetings, online courses and day workshops. They offer healthy food, much of it grown in the grounds which Dominic manages.

Back in Wenhaston, there is ample evidence that my sister has inherited my mother’s green thumb. Every inch of her garden is bursting with produce and flowers, and my brother-in-law tends their flourishing allotment a short walk away in the village. However, the extended period of unusual heat and lack of rain has turned everyone's lawns brown. 

On Friday we head north to begin an extensive driving tour. First stop is Leeds, Yorkshire, to visit our friend Peter Vickers who is godfather to our eldest son, Neil. 


Friday, July 27, 2018

Behind every opinion there is a human being

We've just concluded the forum on Addressing Europe's Unfinished Business (AEUB). Yesterday we heard Jo Berry, whose father was killed by an IRA bomb, tell how she met the man responsible for the bombing and how they have worked together to build peace. Two days after the bombing, she said, "I made a vow that I was not going to have an enemy. I wanted to understand the man who killed my father." Sixteen years later after Pat Magee was released from prison, Jo arranged to met him. He began by justifying the bombing as an act of war, but as the conversation went on it became more honest and emotional and Pat finally said, "I am sorry I killed your father." At that point, said Jo, "I felt my father became a human being, not a legitimate target." 

Two Romanian organizers of the forum, Diana Damsa, founder of the Centre for Social Transformation, and Simona Torotcoi, a Roma activist, described their very different experiences growing up and their paths to a new understanding. "I was brought up to believe that Roma were dangerous and unreliable and that I should keep my distance. I felt superior." At a forum in India she was faced with the question, "Who are the people you are afraid of and why?" She was challenged to acknowledge the history of hundreds of years of slavery and discrimination suffered by the Roma people. 

Simona grew up in a two-room house which was better than most of her relatives who lived in shacks near the rubish dump. At school she felt ashamed of being Roma and tried to blend in with the majority children, but as she grew older she became a strong advocate for equality and justice. She and Diana now work closely together as partners.

It is fascinating to learn how Richmond, Virginia, has played a small part in inspiring and encouraging the work of someone like Diana who spent several months in Richmond some years ago studying the Hope in the Ciites approach to dialogue and reconciliation. Yesterday I met with Olena Kashkarova from Ukraine who also interned in Richmond. She has developed dialogues with people of diiferent views about Ukraine's history, and also with people of different political persuasions in the 2014 Euromaidan revolution; and she co-founded a network of of facilitators. She told me that her Richmond experience gave her the courage to do what she is now doing. 

Earlier in the week we heard another remarkable story from Peter Sundin from Sweden who grew up in a racist family with Nazi traditions. "White power music was the only music played in our house." His mother worked as a cleaner and blamed foreigners "for taking our jobs." The family believed that the holocuast was a fraud. As a young man he was jailed for taking part in a brutal assault on an immigrant. His transformation over five years was supported by a friendship  with a police officer who today is his colleague. He has cut ties with family and friends and says, "I learned that behind every opinion is a human being." 

In the training track that Ebony Walden and I led there were several Roma participants as well as Ukranians, Swiss, French, Germans, a Sudanese immigrant and Muslims from various European countries. Over three days we worked intensively on questions of history, identity, and narrative; we explored experiences of being part of dominant and non-dominant groups in our countries; and the participants developed dialogue questions around their key concerns and began to consider how to build teamwork with others. 

Last night we were treated to a magnificent concert by two brilliant Romanian musicians. As the sun set over the mountains, five conference participants joined them in singing "The Whole Wide World's On Tiptoe, Waiting for Something New." 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Addressing Europe's Unfinished Business - Notes from Caux

We arrived at the international conference center for Initiatives of Change in Caux, Switzerland on Saturday morning. Our room has a spectacular view over Lake Geneva. There are 181 delegates here from 32 countries, most of them young people, who have come to begin a three-year exploration of the link between personal and collective identities in Europe, the rise of populism and nationalism, the need to address collective trauma and build more cohesive societies.

Among the participants are 11 young Muslims from several European countries who are part of a program called Learning to be a Peacemaker. One of them said, “Within our communities we have sometimes forgotten the essence of our religion; and in the wider society there is often misunderstanding.”

Tatjana Peric, from Bosnia Herzegovina/Serbia, is Advisor on Combating Racism and Xenophobia for the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe. Speaking at the opening of the forum last night she said the biggest challenge in Europe today is the merging of anti-immigrant feelings with racism. There is a great need to support civil society organizations.

Lord Paddy Ashdown, politician, diplomat and author, noted that power is shifting to the Internet, global finance, and satellite broadcasting which are outside the rule of law or accountability; and economic power is shifting from the West to the East. "It is the end of 400 years of Western hegemony." He warned against the contagion of populism; and he stressed that "the rule of law is the first thing that must be in place." Drawing on his own experience from growing up in Northern Ireland, he called history "the most political issue in any reconstruction." Who tells the story? And how is it handed down generationally? Language is important. Don’t fall into the trap of saying we are fighting for Western values. We are fighting for universal values. Above all, "Get involved. Don't leave it to someone else."  

Barbara Hinterman, Secretary General of IofC Switzerland, stressed the role of silent reflection and storytelling as two key ingredients of the Caux experience.  "It can be a trigger for honest conversation and developing trust."

Today we launch into a variety of training tracks. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

The power of narrative

I am writing this as Susan and I prepare to fly to Europe. We will be attending a forum titled Addressing Europe’s Unfinished Business at the Initiatives of Change conference center in Caux, Switzerland. While there I will conduct a training workshop with my colleague Ebony Walden. Our theme is "Trustbuilding in a diverse world: history, identity and equity." Based on a quick look at workshop registrants we will have young leaders from Ukraine, France, Switzerland and Germany.

From Switzerland Susan and I continue to the UK where we will spend the month of August visiting family and friends and exploring parts of the country we are not familiar with such as the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District. It is more than a decade since we spent any length of time in the UK and much has changed in recent years, not least the present chaos surrounding Brexit. It will be interesting to get a first-hand impression of what people are thinking and feeling – not just in the major urban center like London but in the small towns and rural counties of northern England and  Scotland.

It seems that the US and Europe face similar challenges with the rise of authoritarian leaders, populist movements, anti-immigrant sentiment and distrust of central government. As Roger Cohen pointed out in the New York Times, “A vigorous counterrevolution against the liberal-democratic orthodoxy of diversity and multiculturalism is under way.” This movement is characterized by attacks on the media and independent judiciary and the growth of a new elite through crony capitalism. It energizes "a national narrative of victimhood and heroism through the manipulation of history." “Nobody stopped to ask whether the market and liberal democracy were necessary eternal twins. Turns out they were not." We see the growing attraction of Russia, Turkey and China as strong-man models in opposition to values based on universal human rights that are portrayed as "Western." But as Obama pointed out so eloquently in South Africa recently, Mandela demonstrated that these are not just Western values. 

Key to this populist and authoritarian trend is the power of narrative. Trump may be an appalling president but he does know how to control the narrative. One of the focal areas of our workshop in Caux will be how to understand and disrupt false narratives that divide. Recent events illustrate that when people feel they are not being heard they may act in ways that are harmful their own long term interests. They won’t listen to “facts” if they feel their stories are not respected. So we must learn to listen, even to those we find difficult to hear.

Another thoughtful insight is given by David Broder who notes that while national politics takes place through the filter of the media circus, "localism" is thriving in many places. In Washington, DC, politicians throw insults at each other. Local mayors and citizen groups are actually getting things done. “We are in an era of low social trust. People really have faith only in the relationships around them, the change agents who are right on the ground.” 

When localities learn to appreciate their shared history and find ways to work together on practical needs, we may be surprised by what can occur. I can attest to this from our ongoing experience in my hometown of Richmond.

Over the next few weeks I will be sending occasional “notes from the field” as we travel and listen and learn.    

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Richmond's journey of healing

Twenty-five years ago, Richmond took its first steps toward publicly acknowledging its traumatic history of slavery and racial oppression. On June 18, 1993, area residents of all backgrounds supported by representatives of 50 other cities and 20 countries walked together (video in two parts) to mark sites previously too painful or shameful to remember. 

In organizing the walk as part of an international forum, Hope in the Cities, the Richmond-based program of Initiatives of Change (IofC), and its allies issued a call for honest conversation on race as an indispensable step in building a healthy community. They were insistent that this required the full participation of all sectors. And they held up a bold vision: in the words of Ben Campbell of Richmond Hill, “the place of greatest pain might be the place where healing could begin” for America. Significantly the organizers called on all stakeholders to accept the challenge of personal responsibility by modeling the necessary change as the foundation for this vision. 

From the outset, the movement has been distinguished by courageous action by many individuals willing to step outside of their comfort zones. In an early example, Collie and Audrey Burton, two black community activists reached out to A. Howe Todd, the white senior assistant senior city manager – a man they suspected of racial bias. The impact of that friendship was such that someone exclaimed, “What has happened to Howe Todd? Whenever I went into a meeting with him, I felt the cards were stacked, that the decisions were already made. Now he really listens to what I have to say.” 

This citizen led, organic initiative has engaged hundreds of Richmonders in constructive dialogue across traditional divides and it has inspired and mobilized institutions across the region. It led to the marking and development of the historic Slave Trail, and Hope in the Cities facilitated Richmond’s relationship with Liverpool, UK, and the Republic of Benin and the placing of the Reconciliation Statue. While there are various opinions about the appropriate memorialization of the slave market site and African Burial Ground, there is now broad consensus on the importance of the project. Edward Baptist, author of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, remarked, “I see in Richmond a city that is engaging with its history in a potentially transformative way. There is a long way to go, but even further in other places.” Last year a team traveled from Selma, Ala, to learn from this city’s experience. Community leaders from a dozen states have taken part in IofC’s Community Trustbuilding Fellowship which lays a foundation for narrative change and relationship building.

As important as the ability to talk about our history is the new determination to address its legacy. Together with the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, Hope in the Cities partnered with Dr. John Moeser to conduct more than 80 presentations using census data and historical narrative to demonstrate how racialized policies created and perpetuate concentrated poverty. This gave impetus to the creation of the city’s first anti-poverty commission and the Office of Community Wealth Building. 

Noting this sustained effort, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation selected Richmond as one of 14 locales nationally to implement “Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation.” Now the Richmond region has the opportunity to take its 25-year commitment to honest conversation and healing history to a deeper level. Through cross-sector collaboration, Initiatives of Change is working with its partners to demonstrate that racial equity benefits everyone. 

With a talented and committed new generation of individuals now stepping into leadership roles, it is time for me to transition to a new phase of life. My family came to Richmond in 1980, never imagining that we would be here nearly 40 years later. We’ve had the honor of working with people from many walks of life who are building a new future for a city scarred by a history of slavery, civil war, and discrimination. It has been our privilege to accompany them and to learn from them.  

The world’s cities face increasingly urgent issues of diversity and inclusion. I look forward to sharing Richmond’s ongoing story as an encouragement and practical framework for concerned citizens everywhere who are striving to build trust across historic divides.  

Friday, May 25, 2018

A toolkit for white allies

We need a new approach to dialogue about race in this country, according to David Campt, one of the nation’s most experienced and innovative practitioners who once advised the White House. I first met him when we were working together on a dialogue guide for President Clinton’s One America race initiative. Over the past decade, in Campt’s view, the role of dialogue has diminished nationally. There was a burst of activity in the 90s and early 2000’s but it was under-resourced and was largely confined to people already concerned about racism.

“Now we are facing two challenges," says Campt. “People of color are saying, ‘I’m not going to go on educating white people and try to persuade them that racism is real and it is wrong.' And there are a whole bunch of white people who are not affected by any claims of racism. Their perspective is ‘the demographics of the nation are changing and people like me are being treated unfairly.’* So how do we have the conversation about race? How do we engage people who believe racism does not exist?”

Campt was in Richmond this month to launch his new publication,"The White Allies Toolkit Workbook: Using Active Listening, Empathy, and Personal Storytelling to Promote Racial Equity." The toolkit is predicated on the belief that some progress in race relations is best achieved through conversation among white people. It is a comprehensive step-by-step resource for white allies (those people who want to support the struggle to end racism) to learn better ways to engage with other whites who don’t believe that racism is a problem. He calls the later group “racism skeptics.”

In an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams, Campt says, “A lot of people who do this kind of work, they think that it is important that white people feel bad about themselves…I’m not sure that that’s the best strategy for having people learn.”

He told the Richmond audience that in today's culture racism is practically the worst thing you can be accused of “just below murder and child abuse.” He suggests that white allies need to adopt “code switching” in talking with racism skeptics. “We need to talk differently to people based on who they are. Black people have done this for hundreds of years.”

 “White allies tend to adopt the prophetic voice, lecturing people about white supremacy. But skeptics will not be shamed into changing their minds. We need a coaching perspective, we need to bring them along, not berate them.”

He admits that people of color have sometimes urged white allies to adopt a lecturing style because they are fed up with racism. “But it’s not the best communication strategy. The question is what will be effective.” Crucially, he believes that to move the ball forward “we have to extend dignity, even to those who are denying dignity to others.” The goal is to move the conversation from a battle of opinions and "facts" to an experience-based inquiry. The project does not take the position that bringing white skeptics out of their denial of racism necessarily means getting them to abandon their conservative beliefs. For many ideological skeptics, their perspectives about race are part of a larger battle between what they see as healthy conservative values (such as hard work, obeying authority, merit and uniform standards) and a liberal attack on these values.

The Toolkit outlines a four-step process for engaging with a skeptic:
  • Reflect: be prepared to be in a listening mode. This requires careful personal reflection before the conversation, being aware of your listening blockages and being prepared to find something however small in what the skeptic says that you can align yourself with.   
  • Ask: inquire about the personal experiences that have led the skeptic to their belief.
  • Connect: share a personal anecdote that is likely to have some resonance with them. There may be an experience in the story you share that they can identify with. It is important to make the skeptic feel that you place some importance on the point of agreement. 
  • Expand: tell an anecdote that invites an awareness of race or racism. This may be the moment to introduce some data or research findings. 
Each of these steps is explored in some detail along with helpful suggestions. Campt notes that this process may involve a series of conversations or interactions and that getting to stage 4 is challenging. “We need to look at this as a long game.”

Will this approach prove successful and can it be taken to scale? Campt has certainly identified a crucial area for work. He will be back in Richmond later this year to offer some training to groups who would like to try out the toolkit. 

*In a 2017 poll, about 55% of white respondents said that racism against white people is as big a problem as racism against people of color.

David Campt is a faculty member of the Community Trustbuilding Fellowship

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Good neighbors come in all colors

1968 was a momentous and turbulent year. In April, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. Riots broke out in cities across America. In June, Robert Kennedy was shot in Los Angeles. 

Despite the gains of the Civil Rights movement, resistance to change was fierce, nowhere more so than in the housing market where real estate agents, banks and newspapers were conspiring to maintain segregation. Some neighborhoods had restrictive covenants to ensure that homes could only be sold to whites. Following the passage of the Fair Housing Act, also in 1968, agents would often scare white families into selling by telling them that their neighborhood would become unsafe and their house would lose value if blacks moved in. They would then sell the house at an inflated price to a black family. Realtors profited further as whites fled to the suburbs. This practice was widespread across the country. 

But in a quiet neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia, a small group of determined citizens set out to reverse the trend and create an integrated community that was to become a national model. The Carillon Civic Association (CCA) began 50 years ago in the home of a local white lawyer, Randy Rollins, and his wife, Martha, a businesswoman. After the first blacks bought houses, about a third of the neighborhood left within 18 months. But the CCA founders were determined to show that “good neighbors come in all colors” and actively promoted a diverse community The group included Harold Marsh, whose brother was to become Richmond’s first black mayor. Martha says she knocked on the doors of all 350 homes in the neighborhood. 

The CCA filed complaints about race-based listing of housing ads in the Richmond newspapers and by the summer of 1971, this system had ended. An “Arts in the Park” festival, launched in 1972 as a collaborative neighborhood project, draws well over 100,000 visitors to see the work of artists from all over the United States.

This month, two of those who were attracted to the neighborhood in the early days of integration shared their memories at the CCA annual meeting. At the time, John Moeser and Rutledge Dennis were both professors at Virginia Commonwealth University and both served on the board of Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), founded in 1971, which successfully sued real estate companies that were practicing discrimination. Moeser is white; Dennis is black. 

Moeser recalled a meeting of CCA officials: “The board wanted to engage in an open discussion about the ‘tipping point.’ A neighborhood could flip when the proportion of African Americans reached a certain level. What gave me such a high regard was the fact that the board wanted to talk about a really difficult question: How many blacks could the neighborhood absorb? It was honest. If I were an African American I would have been indignant, but they were willing to take the risk of being misunderstood. It was a remarkable conversation.”

Dennis called the CCA pioneers “movers and shakers for a new Richmond and a new America.” There was a sense that “we were going to be different, just as Richmond was in the process of being different. (The city elected its first black majority city council in 1977.) We are not going to have white flight.”  He said the creation of John B. Cary elementary school as a model integrated school, where Dennis served as PTA president, and the growth of HOME, as well as the work of the CCA, made him feel "this is my home.” It was “a community in action.”

Integration did not come without its challenges. Mrs. King, a somewhat eccentric elderly white woman, asked Dennis soon after he arrived, “Who bought your house for you?” But, says Dennis, “we became good friends.” White neighbors across the street used to run inside whenever he came outside. “Sometimes I would come outside just to see them run inside!” He recalled with special affection his next-door neighbors with whom he had daily conversations. “The wife gave me advice on how to weed and take care of my yard.”

In 1971, Governor Linwood Holton praised the community for its “extraordinary efforts” in race relations: “It is my sincere belief that what happens in a small Richmond neighborhood with less population than a Manhattan apartment complex, can be of enduring importance to America.” In 2016 the Carillon neighborhood was designated as a national historic district. In making this designation, the Department of Historic Resources was particularly interested in the human story of the neighborhood in working to encourage integration.

My family has lived here since 1980. Our three sons attended John B. Cary elementary school. We know all our neighbors. Crime is virtually unknown. But as Richmond becomes increasingly attractive, house prices in many communities are rising steeply. This may pose a challenge to the economic diversity of which the CCA is rightly proud. We should take to heart Rutledge Dennis's closing words to the annual meeting: "It was a grand experiment; but we have to work to make it work."

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Quiet Time: rediscovering two way prayer

When I first met Rev. Bill Wigmore he was running the largest recovery center in Texas based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.  In recent years, Wigmore, who is an Episcopal priest, has been researching the movement’s early methodology to rediscover the lost or forgotten process followed by Dr. Bob and the A.A. pioneers. Foremost among these is what Wigmore describes as two-way prayer – regular quiet times which he says were regarded as even more important than group meetings.

Dr Bob wrote that the alcoholic “must have devotions every morning,” a ‘Quiet Time,’ which includes prayer and some reading from spiritual literature. “Unless this is faithfully followed there is grave danger of backsliding.”

The Oxford Group (later Moral Re-Armament and now Initiatives of Change) provided the founding principles for A.A. Wigmore says that in the late 1930s, when A.A. separated from the Oxford Group, it left behind a number of ideas and a few of the Group’s most effective spiritual practices. Letting go of some of these was deemed necessary at the time, but Bill Wilson later lamented “…something was lost from A.A. when we stopped emphasizing morning meditation.”

Today, various forms of meditation and mindfulness are practiced widely by people of all faith backgrounds as well as those who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. Brain science is showing the health benefits of such practices. Business schools now incorporate it into their courses, and school teachers are finding that a short period of meditation can improve behavior and learning readiness of children who often come into the classroom distracted or stressed.

However, while many contemporary forms of meditation focus exclusively on the self, the Quiet Time as practiced in many IofC circles, connects us both with our true inner compass, or God, depending on our faith  or cultural tradition, and with other people and practical life.

This may be important in a society which is becoming increasingly self-preoccupied. Ruth Whippman has spent the last few years researching and writing a book about happiness and anxiety in America. In a New York Times commentary she writes, “I’ve noticed that this particular strain of happiness advice – the kind that pitches the search for contentment and an internal personal quest, divorced from other people – has become increasingly common.”  

She notes that spiritual and religious practice is “slowly shifting from a community based endeavor to a private one with silent meditation retreats, mindfulness apps and yoga classes…. ‘self-care’ has become the new going out.” Paradoxically, while we put more and more emphasis on seeking happiness within, Americans are spending less time actually connecting with each other. Yet contrary to popular belief, research shows that happiness comes not so much from within but from our interaction with other people. A healthy introspection is an important part of life, but we have got things out of balance.

Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal church recently told our congregation at St Paul’s Church that “self-centeredness is the most destructive force in the universe.” Richard Rohr writes that prophets and wisdom teachers like Jesus “have passed through a major death to their ego. This is the core meaning of transformation.”  Marcus Borg says that this kind of transformation “leads from a life of anxiety to a life of peace and trust. It leads us from bondage of self-preoccupation to the freedom of self-forgetfulness. It leads from life centered in culture to life centered in God.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am a strong proponent of the right kind of self-care. I work all the time with community activists and we know that burn-out is an occupational hazard. The challenge is to practice disciplined self-care that does not fall into self-absorption. 

I once heard Dr. Paul Campbell, a Canadian physician, describe the Quiet Time as “the highest use of the brain.” Writing down the thoughts that come in silence and sharing them with a trusted friend or sometimes with a circle of friends is another helpful step in discerning what the Spirit may be trying to communicate and in holding ourselves accountable.

In my experience the Quiet Time enables us to accept our true selves and to allow the power of love to permeate our minds and hearts to see ourselves and others in a new light – and then to act. The power of this practice is seen in the practical steps taken by shantytown leaders in Rio de Janeiro and village farmers in India, a politician in Australia, or a business executive in Britain.* For them, and for thousands of others, the Quiet Time not only made them better and happier people but connected them with their neighbors and colleagues, or overcame rivalries and bitter feuds, and led to creative approaches to everyday challenges. 

*See Lean, Bread, Bricks, Belief: Communities in Charge of their Future (Kumarian Press,1995); Father of the House: The Memoirs of Kim. E. Beazley (Freemantle Press/Penguin Books, 2009); Corcoran, Trustbuilding: An Honest Conversation on Race, Reconciliation, and Responsibility (University of Virginia Press 2010)   

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Remembrance and repentance at former church of the Confederacy

Over the past two years I have been part of a History and Reconciliation Initiative at St Paul’s Episcopal Church. A deep dive into the archives reveals the extent of the congregation’s involvement in Richmond’s slave economy, its promotion of the Lost Cause mythology and racial hierarchy, as well as significant work in recent decades to promote dialogue and to address needs in education and housing.

On Saturday, March 10, we welcomed the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael Curry at a public forum, “Bending toward truth: a forum on race and religion in Richmond.” Curry, who is the first African American primate of the Episcopal Church, came to affirm the work of St Paul’s. Up to 500 people from across the region heard panels of historians, clergy of various denominations, the leader of a foundation focused on health, and the CEO of a museum. As part of the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation enterprise, Initiatives of Change-Hope in the Cities partnered with St Paul's. 

Historians Chris Graham and Elizabeth O’Leary told the forum that the resources that made the church came directly from the profits of factories and businesses built on the backs of enslaved African Americans. One of the benefactors, Joseph Reid Anderson, owned 75 slaves who worked at his Tredegar Iron Works. Graham said that little is known of the people who built the church, “but this story is less about how slavery built the church and more about how the church built race.”

St Paul’s supported a widely-held theology that claimed God ordained racial inequality and that it was the moral duty of whites to govern blacks. “They defined the enslavement of humans not as an act of violence, but as benevolence, which they justified by their Christian faith,” said Graham. People at St Paul’s were “fully invested emotionally, financially, spiritually in the Civil War.” Confederate leaders worshipped in our pews, and after the war the congregation installed an iconography of the Lost Cause and used magnificent stained-glass windows to tell a false narrative of former glory which denied slavery as the primary cause of the war – an early example of fake news. The land for the Lee monument was donated by a member of the congregation. Members of St Paul’s were delegates to the 1902 Virginia Constitutional Convention which disenfranchised huge numbers of African Americans though poll taxes and literacy tests to re-assert white supremacy; this led to 86 years of rule by the Democratic party.

In the first part of the 20th century, the church was eager to improve “race relations” and promoted charitable causes but only within the context of Jim Crow segregation. St Paul’s members were involved on redlining that prevented blacks from purchasing homes in white neighborhoods, and in the decision to construct a highway though the heart of the thriving African American business district.

However, in recent decades St Paul’s has incubated important efforts such as the Micah Initiative which inspired scores of area congregations to support elementary school children and teachers, particularly in high poverty areas, and the Richmond Hill ecumenical retreat center which has become a vital place of spiritual renewal and racial reconciliation. Members of the congregation were also instrumental in the development and support of Hope in the Cities. Indeed, Rev. Ben Campbell, the founder of Richmond Hill, was my closest ally in the early development of Hope in the Cities as it launched its campaign for honest conversation on race, reconciliation and responsibility, including Richmond’s first walk through its racial history.

Disrupting the narrative

The forum featured panels of historians and scholars including Edward Ayers, president emeritus at the University of Richmond, Corey Walker, dean of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University, as well as clergy of different denominations, and Mark Constantine, president and CEO of Richmond Memorial Health Foundation and Christy Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum.  

Among the insights I noted:
  • It is irrelevant to focus on the personal qualities or motivations however noble of Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, or Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, because if they had won the result would have been a vast nation built on perpetual bondage.  
  • What happens to a people who forget their holocaust? America as a whole does not believe that it had a holocaust, but African Americans know. The Germans have done deep work in remembering their history. We built monuments to losers.
  • The African American community is not a problem or pathology to be solved by public policy. The critical question is how do we understand what it is to be human?
  • The individualizing of faith divorces it from social consequences especially among white evangelicals.
  • White fragility is very strong. We need to say we are not afraid to repent not just for our personal sin but for the historic and institutional sin.
  • The consequences of our history include a 20-year difference in life expectancy in different parts of the city; lack of affordable housing; an ongoing segregation in our schools; and lack of access to employment because of inadequate public transportation.  
  • We must “disrupt the narrative.” This is a day of reckoning. It is an opportunity to take our history and build a new narrative that grapples directly with white supremacy.

In a call to action, Bishop Curry told the forum, “This is important not only for Richmond but for the nation and the world. We must find a better way; you are modeling a better way.”

A statement printed as the introduction for a service of remembrance and repentance on Sunday summarized the key findings of the historical research. It concluded: “While our church is rooted in great injustice, our story reveals great transformation and courage among our members who we have not remembered as we do our famous war heroes. Taken together this whole story provokes us to think about repentance. To repent is to turn around. We are turning. There is more turning yet to do… We humbly acknowledge that this service of remembrance and repentance is but a step along a journey.”

Curry’s sermon focused on the power of love which is the antitheses of selfishness. He called self-centeredness “the most destructive force in the universe.” He left us with the affirmation that “St Paul’s has the capacity to speak hard words that are saturated with hope.”