Facing Reality… Reflections from a White, Jewish man

I’m grateful for my father’s willingness to learn, to allow other perspectives into his world view, for having the courage to face shame and pain and being implicated in torture and violence while also keeping his eyes and heart towards healing and connection. He recently visited Montgomery, Alabama with Carolina Jews for Justice and below are his initial reflections. May we as white folks continue to do the work within ourselves, to save ourselves from white supremacy and the destructive habits of whiteness so that we can join with others around this globe to bring about liberation for all.

From my dad:
I just returned from Montgomery, Alabama where I spent two days visiting the Equal Justice Initiative ( The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice). I also toured The Rosa Parks Library and Museum, Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, Freedom Rider Museum and the Civil Rights Memorial Center sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

I have not yet had enough time to process all that I viewed or the impact on me. It was a powerful and overwhelming experience that has filled me with awe, disgust, shame, empathy and a brooding quest to understand how we humans can deliver, accept and view such cruelty over and over again throughout our existence. As much of my time was spent in silence the sounds of screams, torture and fear were everywhere. Yet throughout all this horror, in every site I visited there was also a message of hope. As white man, I cannot help but feel shame for the role my race has played in all the acts of brutal enslavement and terrorism. As a Jewish man, I understand these venues must exist and be viewed by as many people as possible so current and future generations will understand the atrocities we created through slavery and more importantly never forget. This being the same reasons, as Jews, that we have worked hard to sustain the memories of the horrors of the holocaust through museums, memorials and documentation.

I am not sure where all of this will take me, but I am sure that my trip has made an indelible stamp on my mind and soul that will never be removed. I need to find a way to ensure the message of that stamp does not fade away. These were acts of violence and inhumanity that have extended over a century past the Emancipation Proclamation and is still ever present in our country today. Again, as a white individual, I need to personally commit to reach inside and confront the impact of ‘white privilege” on my life and how it has fostered my views of this world. I also would like to discover ways to encourage other members of the “white silent majority” to realize that our racial privilege is real, even if unrecognized, and confronting it may be painful but ultimately it can create the beginnings of a long term healing.

Nonprofits Doing the Work

20 ways majority-white nonprofits can build authentic partnerships with organizations led by communities of color by Nonprofit AF

These are the 4 broad topics. Click on the article to read the 20 ways.

Increase your knowledge and self-awareness: Do not go into a community without doing some research on the community and self-reflection on the potential dynamics you may be contributing to. It is actually extremely irritating and not helpful when busy leaders of color have to stop their work to explain basic concepts to potential partners. You don’t go to a job interview without doing some research on the organization you’re applying to, and you don’t call up a foundation to ask questions about a grant without at least perusing their website. Apply the same principle here.

Provide resources, don’t ask people to do stuff for free: One of the most irritating things we face as organizations led by communities of color face is getting asked to do people’s work for free, under the well-intentioned but misguided idea of partnership. We get asked to provide outreach, translation, interpretation, and expertise, and people are shocked when we ask for compensation. If you want authentic partnership though, awareness is not enough; funding distribution must be equitable:

Use your privilege to help partner orgs fulfill their missions: One thing that white allies and majority-white organizations have that many POC and POC-led organizations do not have are connections to funders and donors, as well as a higher level of trust among the public. Use your privilege and influence to help communities-of-color-led organizations:

Know when to step back: Just as actions are important, so is knowing when to step back and allow partner organizations the space to breathe, as well as the opportunity for resources and influence that would otherwise go to you and your organization.

10 years in WNC

This weekend marked 10 years that I’ve been back in Western North Carolina. When I first moved to Black Mountain in 2000, I felt a sense of at-home that I’d never experienced before. The land felt like my heart-home, embraced me and told my cells — you belong here. Being in a small town matched my personality. When I left to attend graduate school, I always imagined I would return. And I did. It felt so resonant when I landed back on this soil, eager to learn and see how I could serve…

It feels like so much has happened during these 10 years and not much has happened at the same time. The land is still wise and nourishing. There are so many incredible people here, so many folks investing their heart, sweat and soul. Many still here and many that have left. Dear humans have touched my life, and hopefully I theirs. And… I have such a complex relationship with this place… I pray for what’s possible to come to life here, in regards to healing and justice and a thriving existence for more than just wealthy white people. I pray for our creativity and compassion to be applied to how we do community and live as a society. I pray for the destructive and dehumanizing cycles of systemic treatment on those most vulnerable to stop. I pray that I am contributing in positive and meaningful ways… and not just contributing to the whitening and gentrifying that continues to swallow this place up.

Thank you western North Carolina for sharing your life and soul with me.

Rise in Peace. With our gratitude.

This week I’ve been reflecting on how grateful I am that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. saw so clearly a world that didn’t exist yet but that he knew deep in his body and soul was possible. I am feeling profoundly grateful for those who have the stamina and ability to see a vision and give their lives towards it coming true. He modeled that to bring a vision to life, we have to see the truth of what is happening in the world around us. He gave us powerful and moving words to help others see as well. He showed that we have to strategize action that has an impact and ripples to create change. He continuously calls our hearts and souls and bodies to the mat to do better, to be better…

So today, I am feeling a blend of courage, truth-telling, facing the horrors of history and this present moment, the potential and pull of beloved community, along with the soft, tender, fierce and wise wisdom of the earth and the unique calling of each of us as individuals to live our purpose. I’m feeling animated by Holy and spiritual impulses. I’m feeling reverence, gratitude, and the heavy hands of ancestors at my back, both letting me know that I am supported, they are with me, and also firmly pushing me forward, there is no turning back.

I feel called to share these words below from Kai Coggin written about Mary Oliver, as they moved me and I also feel how we could shift this same sentiment to be focused on Dr. King’s legacy that he has left us… that still lives in us…

May we strive to be more like these people who have walked a path so that we may be walking our paths today.

“Look how much we all love her. Look how we mourn her here on our cyber altars. Let’s all strive to be more like her, to live the wisdom we all garnered from her words. Let’s learn the lessons she taught us in her poetry. Let’s love what we love, each of us announcing our place “in the family of things.” Let’s walk softly through the world “married to amazement.” Let’s be OF the earth, not on the earth. Let’s fly, let’s swim, let’s sit in silence, lets walk through grass wet with morning dew, let’s name each morning new, let’s kiss sunrises, let’s shake our wild wings open and soar in reverence to all the beauty that pulses around us.

Rest in Poetry. Rise in Peace.

Thank you, Mary Oliver. Thank you.”