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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.”

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Professors Who Were Part of Desegregating UNCA Retire

In the summer and fall of 1984, as part of a statewide mandate that the UNC system hire more black professors, Dr.’s Dolly and Dwight Mullen and Dr.’s Charles and Deborah “Dee” James began teaching at UNC Asheville. This year the four are retiring. Here is a great interview and article sharing about their experiences being part of the small handful of African American professors at that University and the legacy that they have created. I have so much respect and appreciation for the Mullen’s (I have not gotten to know the James’). And I wonder what other ways the efforts of creating a colloquium, a community within a community, might be replicated in Asheville? What can programs and initiatives like My Daddy Taught Me That, My Sistah Taught Me That, and YTL Training Program learn from these initiatives of the past?

From the article:

“James taught a variety of chemistry courses, like molecular spectroscopy, and humanities, and he remembers students writing very comfortably on their teacher evaluation forms that the school needed to “stop hiring just another n-word”.

Mullen taught political science, and he regularly received death threats. Sometimes students would check to make sure he made it home OK.

“I was part of the apartheid movement of ‘88 and there were also klans in Madison County who knew my name,” he said. “I would come in to work and find things plastered on my classroom walls saying ‘go back to Africa’.”

In addition to teaching a couple of classes at UNCA, Dolly Mullen taught night classes at Mars Hill, as the first and only black professor at the school in 1986. She was pregnant at the time. Her husband would never let her go to the school alone, and he would wait in the car for hours while she taught.

The need to address the setbacks and high dropout numbers [for African American students] motivated the four of them as they established the African-American Colloquium in 1991.

‘Black students were failing out at horrifying rates when they shouldn’t have been’

Dolly Mullen felt the real problem was a social one, with many black students repeatedly hearing racist taunts at sporting games and on-campus events, she said.

“If you were acknowledged in class at all you were treated as remedial or pointed out as the representative of all the black students in the school,” Charles James said.

It was a bold idea – to require that all black freshman students take additional classes with them with the hope they would have a better grasp on their identity and what they wanted to accomplish at UNCA.

The colloquium include field trips to historically black cities, like Charleston and New Orleans, and included a mentorship component that often led to students going to the Mullens’ home after hours to keep discussing their future.

“I never had a black male teacher before coming to UNCA,” said Gaipher-Eli, an entrepreneur. “So for me to see a black Ph.D. like Dwight and watch the way he handled the classroom, it was like seeing superman for the first time. He was like a superhero to me.”

The colloquium allowed him to access resources he never knew were available and to stay enrolled in school.

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I Promise School – Thank You Lebron James

May this school be a place where children and their whole families can learn, flourish, inspire and grow into their full potential with the care and support of community.

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May This County Experience Equal Protection for All

150 years ago today the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteed all people born on this soil or naturalized as citizens “equal protection”. May we see a day when this is actually true, when we have a just and compassionate governance system with human rights laws that are enacted in ways that create equal protection for all. And 150 years ago, in 1868 folks were courageous in the pursuit of justice. We must continue bringing their dreams to life. For real. Not just fooling ourselves by stories told to keep us complacent.

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The Horrid History of Convict Leasing

In 1865 the 13th amendment abolished slavery except as punishment for someone convicted of a crime . The crimes that people were convicted of were ridiculous (being recently “freed” from slavery, but arrested and convicted for not yet having found employment). So convict leasing as a form of slavery continued. And basically still exists. If you don’t understand this point in history, I highly recommend educating yourself. It is critical to understanding the present moment and recognizing how much of this country was literally built by enslaved Africans and African Americans. This recent finding in the article below also further illustrates the lengths those with power have gone to in order to hide and obscure the truth of this practice and the treatment of people.

From the article: Bodies believed to be those of 95 black forced-labor prisoners from Jim Crow era unearthed in Sugar Land

” The convict-leasing system proliferated across the south in the late 19th century and into the 20th, overwhelmingly targeting black Americans picked up for offenses such as vagrancy, flirting with white women or petty theft, as historian Douglas A. Blackmon reported in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Slavery by Another Name.” The prisoners were then leased by the state to private businessmen and forced to work on plantations, in coal mines and railroads, or on other state projects — such as building the entire Texas Capitol building from scratch.

When the state leased convicts out to private contractors, they had no financial interest in the health or welfare of the people working for them,” said W. Caleb McDaniel, a history professor at Rice University in Houston. “And so the convict-leasing system saw extremely high levels of mortality and sickness under convict lessees. If the prisoner died, they would simply go back to the state and say, ‘You owe us another prisoner.’ ”

From sunup to sundown, convicts who were leased by the state to plantation owners toiled in the fields chopping sugar cane sometimes until they “dropped dead in their tracks,” as the State Convention of Colored Men of Texas complained in 1883.

Reginald Moore, started researching Sugar Land’s slavery and convict-leasing history after spending time working as a prison guard at one of Texas’s oldest prisons, and his curiosity intensified. He had a hunch. Based on what he learned, he believed that the bodies of former slaves and black prisoners were still buried in Sugar Land’s backyard.

For 19 years, he searched for their bodies, stopping just short of sticking a shovel in the dirt himself.

At the former Imperial State Prison Farm site, archaeologists have unearthed an entire plot of precise rectangular graves for 95 souls, each buried two to five feet beneath the soil in nearly disintegrated pinewood caskets. The 19th-century cemetery was unmarked, with no vestige of its existence visible from the surface.

But more crucially, he said, it vindicates the prisoners whose backbreaking work helped rebuild the state of Texas in the ruins of the post-Civil War era without so much as a proper burial to acknowledge their contributions.

“This is a completely rare site. It’s going to change how we think about Texas history and how we think about ourselves and how we built this state, how all of us built this state.”

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Processing: Who Does the Heavy Lifting

We sit in the chairs to get educated.

Attentive. Being a good student. Listening for what we can learn.
Giving up a whole day of our busy lives — because we know this is important.

Truths revealed. Layers of our privilege glaring before us, for us to see.
Asked again and again — where is your empathy?
Perhaps some words land in a particular way,
And we allow our hearts to break.
Shame, sorrow, rage, confusion.
We feel the tremble in our own bodies.
How can this be? This is not right.

And then what?
We go back to our homes. Back to our lives.
Perhaps we think about — What can I do? What will I do?
Perhaps we make commitments, tell others to hold us accountable.
We process what we’ve heard.
Perhaps the intensity of listening and actually hearing is too much and we run away,
escape into the comfort of our familiar, into the ease of our peace.

Meanwhile. For those for whom these realities are their every breathing moment reality —
Where is the rest? Where is the escape? Where is the return to “my life”? Who fills in when they need a pause?

The hustle continues. Trying to provide safe spaces for youth continues. Alternatives to the streets, the guns, the violence. Alternatives to the classrooms and the spaces for leisure, where adult and peer eyes look at these teenagers and young people and believe they are lesser, up to no good, not as smart, not on a path to a bright future, believe that their parents don’t care. Hustling to create alternatives to narrow views of what their future could be. Alternatives to always having to live in the hustle.

These leaders are providing opportunities for young people to experience the joys and pleasures that life can offer. The youth have an opportunity to feel someone who is glowing with pride and appreciation for their existence, for the unique humans that they are. The youth feel the hearts of those who believe in them, who sacrifice everything they have towards the hope of their brighter future. Youth get to experience opportunities to learn relevant life skills, to grow networks of people who want to lift one another up. They provide space for laughing. Dancing. Playing. Smiling.

And then the late night hours, morning news… 12-year-old killed, 18-year-old suffering from gunshot wounds. Futures pierced with the bullets of a moment’s reality. Hope for tomorrow disrupted by the corruption of today.

And again — who is present to deal with the trauma as it is unfolding. Who feels the response-ability, the obligation to be part of the solution. And who sits civilly. In our chairs. Listening. Emotion-filled, but paralyzed in our bodies. How long have we been sitting in our chairs, at our desk, running errands, staying busy… and yet…

Today, July 1st, 2018, in Asheville, North Carolina — People of Color are absolutely disproportionately carrying the weight of leading actual change in this city. They are absolutely doing the majority of the heavy lifting to bring about more safety, fairness, justice and morality in our city. They are doing the physical and emotional labor of caring for one another in a city that is ready and willing to leave people to suffer and even die rather than actually change. They are creating spaces where we — liberal white women, progressive white men, social change oriented white folks — sit civilly, listen, and perhaps even feel. Sometimes we see that we are needed and we step in with them. Usually, if we get involved, we hang around the edges or yell loudly in inappropriate places. There are too few of us who get our hands dirty, follow their lead, and use our own deep listening and discernment to recognize what is helpful and what is more harmful.

Is today the day that one more person sees that our own life and freedom and peace and comfort is actually bound to the life and freedom and peace and comfort of others? Is today the day that more of us feel the obligation to be a part of the solutions instead of sitting by silently, or only speaking up on facebook or twitter or showing up at a rally once every few months?

It is summer time. Violent crime is on the rise in this city. Police officers can harass and beat residents on camera and still be found as innocent. Community leaders are busting their asses to try and create different realities, to try and find solutions, while being the ones leading the efforts to implement those solutions AND educate the rest of us about why what they are doing is essential and necessary. Meanwhile, they work fulltime jobs and care for their own immediate and extended families.

Are we ready to get organized as a city and make significant changes that cultivate greater care and support for one another and assertively address the oppressive and discriminatory systems that are in place?

Those who are vulnerable because of the racist, classist, and oppressive systems that this country is built up need all of us to be involved. Those of us that are privileged, detached from our capacities to empathize and connect with a greater whole and humanity, our well-being requires our involvement too.

The local is the regional is the national is the global. We can build strong networks of mutual support, resilience, and evolutionary action. There is a unique role that we each have to play. This is a massive puzzle, a huge ecosystem, and each of us have something different to contribute — what’s yours to do? What’s yours to contribute?

For me, in this moment, I had to write. The urgency to want to act and yet not clear what will best serve finds an outlet in words. And with these words is prayer, my own effort to extend my hand in a gesture of “please join me”, a prayer that perhaps one person reading will feel a new spark in their heart that says  — “Yes. I’m ready now. Let’s get to work. I will be part of the change.” And prayers for peace to those that are suffering, courage and protection for those that are leading towards different realities, and prayers for the web of our connections to strengthen so that we may be collectively more effective.

And to keep it vulnerable and transparent, today I also sit with my own personal conflict — my emotions are swept by this reality and so I’m not as available to loved ones today in the ways that I had planned to be. I’m preparing for 6 days away with family, and yet I feel that organizing and activation is so needed right now. I’m nervous about the time away when I’ll feel this need to pretend to enjoy this particular holiday season that makes me cringe… and yet the loved ones gathering mean the world to me. And I’m sitting with my white woman tendencies that feel an urgency to act — like I should be doing more now.

Breathing. Prayer. One step at a time. And LISTENING DEEPLY — to the spiritual guidance that I receive and to the guidance from those I am in community with. This is why I invest in growing strong and trusting relationships.

Thank you for reading.

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It’s Time to Genuinely Protect ALL Children

On this Father’s Day, I am thinking about the societal role of father’s as protectors. I’m profoundly grateful for all the men who show up to protect, love and nurture young people and I’m grateful to all the mothers, grandmothers, sisters, brothers, and aunties who fill that role when the fathers aren’t able. I’m also feeling how self-centered and self-absorbed many white families are, how often the parenting of children is mostly just one’s own children and how easy it has been, across history in this country, to protect one’s own children and be silent and inactive as other people’s children are given no protection from hatred, violence, and injustice.

Today… like so many other days… my heart is with all the children who are being harmed, violated, tortured, and traumatized, those who have no real protection. Feeling this is hard.

When I saw the video of inside the Walmart detention center and they spoke about how the children are being taught lessons about America, underneath the large mural of Trump, I kept thinking about the many indigenous youth that were stripped from their families and abusively forced to assimilate to white society. Here we are in 2018. Doing the EXACT SAME THING. When I hear about the tent cities being constructed to warehouse these children without their families, I feel the Japanese internment camps. Here we are again, 2018. This is America.

As I hear that 2000 children have been forcibly removed from their families in 6 weeks, I also feel the 10,000 children that are in ADULT prisons in the United States RIGHT NOW and the 3000 youth that have LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE sentences. We have 13 states that have no minimum age for trying a child as an adult. This is America. All children are not valued. They never have been.

On this day, June 17th, 47 years ago in 1971, President Nixon declared the “war on drugs” which increased the prison population by 700%. The millions of children that have been and continue to be terrorized and traumatized by the incarceration of people of color, the incarceration of their family members, is inhumane. This is America. These children’s lives were never valued.

So I continue to wonder and strategize, to feel so many feelings and stay in the pain and motivation — What will it take for us as Americans, and particularly us white women, to finally see the horrors that are imposed upon children of color, families of color, white children living in poverty, and say “no more”? We have opted for hundreds of years to perhaps feel in our hearts that something isn’t right, but to choose to “keep things safe for our own children and families” which means — pretending that lynching is okay, pretending that we don’t see the diffrent quality of education being offered to children of color than to white children, convincing ourselves that there is nothing that we can do or believing that we are too busy and too tired trying to raise our own families to do anything, pretending that the juvinal justice system and the criminal justice system is actually serving justice and protecting people of color, pretending or avoiding the fact that immigrant children have been abducted from their parents, or their parents forcefully removed from them, for years. Pretending or avoiding the realities that Native young girls are being raped and violated. And not being concerned that many white boys are suffering from a fierce complex that causes them to brutalize and terrorize other people, feeling superior to other people.

I know that I have not personally done anything harmful to these millions of children that are being tortured and abused around the world, actions inspired by Capitalistic, White Supremacy, Patriarchical motives that are often justified by Christian beliefs. However, I do feel that the blood is on my hands. I wake up with this feeling daily. If I am not actively working to face the cruelty that has been present since the beginning of my country and doing what I can to change the reality here, my conscience does not rest.

It will take us coming together and acting in many different ways to address once and for all the horror of who we are as a country. All of us are required, those of humane conscience, the hearts of gold, the people who are genuinely all about freedom, equality, and LOVE. No one can opt out if we genuinely want to create a more humane world. And there are as many ways to participate as there are people, there is no one right strategy. If you’re still reading this, PLEASE don’t hear my words as saying — “you have to act in the ways I act.” That’s not it. But you do have to act — and find the ways that are right for you, for your family, for your abilities, for your current emotional state.

This is not an easy journey. May as many people as possible find the courage to step in, for real. May we be supported by one another as we do so. May we be motivated by, accountable to, and guided by love. May we truly feel our interconnectedness.

And if you feel inspired to do something and you don’t know what to do — one key step is to educate yourself about history. Use google. Understand the patterns that are repeating themselves right now.

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