A few posts ago I focused on The City/Suburban Divide in Living Color. I ended the post by challenging my suburban subscribers to engage with their community leaders – to call for action on the various facets of structural and institutional racism in these towns, to challenge the systems. One subscriber, Bill Wynne of Fairport, who had already been involved in action, took that challenge to heart. His story:
Frank has honored me by asking me to share my story of racial justice advocacy, especially my latest front: direct challenge to suburban power structures.
My journey was not intentionally charted out. After I retired, I let the currents take me. I was led initially to Roc/ACTS, at the time a new racial and social justice advocacy organization. I became a parish delegate.
This then led to scores of meetings, programs, conferences, and discussions with many organizations and people. I learned a great deal and began to build many close relationships in what I discovered is a very varied Black community. I was becoming increasingly aware of issues within the City and the ongoing Black experience of racial injustice.
I was in the first class of what is now called the Movement for Anti-Racist Ministry and Action (MAMA). This is an intensive 25-hour program on American Black history which also forced me to think more deeply about what “action” really means. Important clue: it does NOT mean simply going to meetings or movies, reading, or otherwise getting educated about racism.
Over time, I kept coming back to two thoughts: “grow where you’re rooted” and the power of personal relationships.
Then early last year there was an awakening moment when I was challenged by a very good friend to take the “next step” with what I’ve learned and experienced …. whatever that next step might be. Here is some of what has evolved:
- I advocated for more involvement from the Rochester Chamber of Commerce to address the dire situation in the Rochester City School District (RCSD). I also became involved in advocacy with NY State for assistance for RCSD.
- About the same time, I also became familiar with the United States Catholic Bishops’ 2018 letter against racism. I initiated a 7-session educational program for the Catholic parishes in Fairport, designed to move participants to commitment and action. (See “Sacred Conversations: An Invitation to be an Anti-Racist” in Resources below)
- Then came Frank’s challenge in a November blog encouraging direct engagement with public officials. That coincided with two D&C articles alleging that suburban districts are “dumping” vulnerable students into the Rochester City School District. I researched the facts: Over 3 years the Fairport Central School District (FCSD) moved 62 students to the Rochester City School District, two-thirds of whom were minorities. I brought these facts along with comments, questions, and suggestions to the Fairport Central School District’s November and December Board meetings which included the articles on the agenda. I am pursuing this issue with FCSD and with the Perinton Village Board. (See the questions I posed to these Boards in the Resource section)
I’ve often heard the question, “What can one person do?” Here are my suggestions for moving from that passive question to an active demonstration of “What one person CAN do!:”
- Be alert to the markers on your journey; e.g. my (White) friend’s encouragement that I was prepared to harness and act upon what I’ve already learned and experienced.
- Listen carefully to what your Black friends are telling you; in fact, do more listening than talking but don’t depend on them for your own “stepping out.”
- Let the “flow” of your experiences lead you naturally.
- Don’t get bogged down by the quest for perfect information; if you do, consider that an excuse not to act!
- TAKE ACTION and don’t worry about making a mistake; you won’t get whipped like Blacks did!
- Be intentional and accountable; I repeat: BE INTENTIONAL AND ACCOUNTABLE!
- Do not be afraid to be called a racist; I have had that experience, and I believe that, as Whites, we are all racist, to one degree or another.
- Remember this quote: “Few are guilty, but all are responsible.” (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)
- Read How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi—- this is a VERY important book.
- This is a spiritual journey. I have found much guidance in the prophetic words of Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, this reflection particularly: Ours to Do.
- A cautionary note: As Frank will tell you, this work has personal cost associated with it. Be prepared that some of those close to you may react in ways that might be surprising.
So go forward with courage; my model for this is the incredible Black resilience of over 400 years in the face of the oppression, violence, and injustice they continue to endure.
Lastly, a shout out to Judy, Gaynelle, Wanda, Betty, Judith, Howard, Sandy, Bob, John, Steve, Frank…. Mentors, teachers, and most importantly friends…who have been key contributors to my continuing story of “What one person CAN do!”
A note to subscribers: I am away for a time and have invited a couple of guest bloggers to contribute here. I’ll also have a limited listing of Resources and Action for the next few posts. Thanks for reading – and please contribute by leaving a Reply below!
Saturday, Feb. 29, 12:00 to 2:00 p.m.: A fundraiser for Rochester’s first Civil Rights site. The event, “A Rochester Civil Rights Heritage Site Fundraiser: A Past That Informs,” is sponsored by the Spiritus Anti-Racism Coalition and other churches, civic organizations, and individual donors. Held at First Unitarian Church, 220 Winton Rd. S. in Rochester. Tickets are available on Eventbrite. Details here.
See Movement for Anti-Racist Ministry and Action, the group that offers the intensive course referred to above. Ask to be alerted when the next course will be scheduled. Read about other ways of engaging in action.