None of us has what it takes to make all the change we know the world needs. What is in our grasp, though, is to acknowledge and name what we see, to know ourselves well enough to understand what we have to give, and to recognize the wisdom in asking the right questions: Who can help? What is missing? Whose leadership can I be vigilant about making room for?
This issue of Friends Journal includes coverage from the Friends General Conference Gathering held in July in the mountains of western North Carolina. Scott Holmes’s piece is adapted from his plenary address to Friends there, where he shared the stage with Daryl Atkinson. Like Scott, Daryl is a North Carolinian and an attorney working for justice within a system that is often not just. Unlike Scott, Daryl is a black man who was incarcerated at a young age—as too many are—for a nonviolent drug offense. Scott’s “Waking up in the White Garden” (p. 6) built on Daryl’s rigorously documented exposure of the systematic discrimination against and legalized disempowerment of black men, women, and children in North Carolina through regulations that for all practical purposes close off a vast array of professions and occupations to people who have been imprisoned and have ostensibly served their “debt to society.” The situation is similar in many other states. Criminal procedure—from legislation to policing to prosecution, sentencing, and imprisonment—disproportionately ensnares nonwhites, and then the rest of society uses the imprimatur of the justice system to deny legitimate employment, voting rights, and other basic human dignities to those who have already been punished, consigning these humans to a marginalization that is all but impossible to fully escape. As humans, we should find this not just sad but unacceptable. As Friends, we should see it as morally inconsistent with our dearly held testimonies of equality and peace.
The team of Daryl Atkinson and Scott Holmes illustrates perfectly why we don’t just need Quakers, we need to enlarge the “us.” Let’s see ourselves not only as owners and inheritors of a beautiful faith, but also as humans whose faith, integrity, and leadings give us a role to play in growing a better world for a bigger “us.” To watch Daryl and Scott’s presentations, courtesy of FGC, visit us at friendsjournal.org/daryl-and-scott.
As I write these words, it appears as though a deal to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons will take effect, a deal which will also put an end to a sanctions regime that has trapped millions of innocent Iranian people in poverty and isolation. I was born in 1978, a year before the Iran hostage crisis, and I have never known a time in which the governments of the United States and Iran did not proclaim each other to be irreconcilable enemies. Friends can and should be proud of the critical lobbying campaign in support of this diplomatic triumph that was staffed and coordinated by the Friends Committee on National Legislation. FCNL harnessed the grassroots and volunteer efforts of Quakers young and old, building the kind of trust and concern for humanity that will, I believe, make the world a demonstrably safer and more peaceful place, opening the door to even further opportunities for mutual understanding among Earth’s people.