Announcing the 2020-2021 Student Voices Project
The eighth annual Friends Journal Student Voices Project is calling all middle school (grades 6–8) and high school (grades 9–12) students to add their voices to the Friends Journal community of readers. This year we’re asking students to reflect on what they have learned about themselves and their communities over the past challenging year.
We welcome submissions from all students (Quaker and non-Quaker) at Friends schools and Quaker students in other educational venues. Select pieces will be published in the May 2021 issue, and honorees will be recognized by Friends Council on Education. The submission deadline is February 15, 2021. Instructions and details can be found at Friendsjournal.org/studentvoices.
Karie Firoozmand’s piece (“Anger in the Time of a Total Freaking Mess,” FJ Sept.) well expresses what many of us feel. Lives have been lost. Lives have been disrupted. Careers and jobs have been lost and disrupted. Relationships have been damaged. Many of the losses and disruptions and the damage should have been avoided, and would have been avoided, if the United States and certain other countries had competent, instead of chaotic, leadership to deal with the pandemic. While we love, we are also angry about the needless suffering and deaths.
I like that, in addition to the anger displays we see today, there are people who are moved to take a look at anger itself. Thank you, Karie Firoozmand, for your helpful letter about your own anger and your willingness to accept anger in others. “We are all just walking each other home,” says Richard Rohr.
I believe the path to love is always through forgiveness. “Some things are unforgivable!” says a friend. I don’t agree, but I understand her. She has felt hurt. I would say that only a little willingness is required to forgive. I think that God does the heavy lifting.
“I don’t really mean it, but I am willing to forgive that jerk.” I’ve said that before, and it has been enough to open a door.
Anything and everything is a potential path toward greater love. It’s been instructive for me to look at some of my assumptions about God. When things are going well, it is easy for me to believe wholeheartedly that Love (God) is the highest power, and that God is always benevolent, loves everyone equally, is always present, always a trustworthy guide.
When things are rough, when I feel anger or fear, what are some of my assumptions? Sometimes they are really strange. God is irrelevant. God is not interested. God is a fuddy-duddy. God is not that smart. God is more interested in doing a crossword puzzle. God is tricky and mean. God is getting dementia.
I don’t believe any of that is true, but it seems I haven’t completely let go of those beliefs yet. They pass through my mind. I am quite willing to let them go, and to ask for God’s help in doing so. That, I believe, is the purpose of time.
It might just be a matter of semantics, but I don’t think anger is an emotion to embrace. Don’t get me wrong: I get angry, too often for my liking, but it almost never ends up being productive. When it does bring change, usually in retrospect, there were better ways to accomplish it. That said, I too am angry—and frustrated and dissatisfied and impatient—about these things. I’m trying to use my anger, frustration, etc., to motivate myself, but I don’t think it’s the best way to motivate others.
Looking at reparations
I held my breath as I read the first few paragraphs of Zona Douthit’s “Okay, Boomer, It’s Time to Fund Reparations” (FJ Sept.). And then, when I arrived at what she described as her radical proposal, I found myself exhaling a deep breath of relief. I felt awash in an unlikely blend of surprise, gratitude, and apprehension. It felt much like moments in meeting for worship when I knew I was being called to speak.
I have inherited money more than once in recent years—after having already settled into a comfortable White, middle-class existence. Significant advantages had already accrued to me as a result of racist structures and policies that dramatically expanded the white middle class of my parents in the 1950s and 1960s. And then, the inheritances. I am living proof of what Douthit references when she quotes Hamilton and Darity:
[I]nheritance, bequest, and in vivo transfer account for more of the racial wealth gap than any other behavioral, demographic, or socioeconomic indicator. Access to this non-merit-based seed money is not based on some action or inaction on the part of the individual, but rather the familial position into which they are born.
I started on my own journey toward direct reparations when my striving to become antiracist (supported in no small part by Friends attending the White Privilege Conference together) joined with a deeper understanding of wealth connected to my race. One of the most meaningful expressions of this new path—a project called Stolen Wealth Returns—came to me through a Friend.
Press on, Quakers. We are each, and all, called to bold and prophetic shifts.
How can we be antiracist when we continue to define humans by the color of their skin? I agree with the notion of leaving a legacy to those who need it most. I’m wondering whether God would see a difference in paying tuition for a child of a poor immigrant from Iraq or for a poor American citizen. The goal is noble. How is suggesting that we leave “excess wealth” to a person of a particular skin color or an organization that only supports those people not racist?
Deconstructing “race” can only be done after we level the playing field because to deconstruct it right now means we won’t have a measure for what we still need to correct. We would lose the language to continue to ferret out where racism is actively occurring.
If we really want to undo the damage here, we should work from a perspective of who has been marginalized the longest and work our way back. You’ll never go wrong by putting your focus squarely on the most marginalized.
In the United States, that would put our efforts squarely on Black folks—who were treated, and in many cases continue to be treated, as less than fully human—and Indigenous populations, who experienced genocide and continue to suffer cultural genocide by the practices of this nation. We need to then measure the impact—figure out if we have leveled the playing field and not just paid lip service to it. Then we’ll know when to redirect our focus and/or dismantle “race” as a construct.
While many of these ideas are very good, I have a problem with any discussion of reparations that does not include our First Nations people. I’m not sure why the United Negro College Fund was not mentioned, but the American Indian College Fund is equally deserving. Our Jamaican/American, Haitian/American, Dominican/American, Brazilian/American, Cuban/American brothers and sisters deserve our support as well as their enslaved ancestors who enriched this country in the evil triangle trade. People might consider a donation to a school like CUNY–Medgar Evers College with 53.4 percent students who are Black or African American Female, 21.8 percent Black or African American Male, and 11.8 percent Hispanic or Latino Female. The most common majors are biological sciences, psychology, and business. That’s truly reparations in action.
My meeting is poor financially. We also have a long way to go toward being antiracist. Some will have money to leave to others when they die, but many will not have much. For years, I have needed to live partially on money left to me by relatives who died. But my heart swelled at our last business meeting when we chose a kind of reparations as the bulk of what we spent our money on. It was not reparations for slavery, but rather for the land taken from Indigenous people. Thank you for your proposal. We all need to search our hearts for ways to live and die according to the best we know, rather than just what is popular or the path of least resistance.
Eau Claire, Wis.
This is a very powerful challenge. I like the idea of giving each of us individually the opportunity and responsibility to address this inequity. We cannot depend upon our elected officials to do the right thing. That should not stop us.
Reading “On the Road to Hominy” by Ruth Brelsford (FJ Sept.) made me want to share the life-changing ministry I also received at Hominy Friends Church.
As a Lutheran engineering student at Purdue University, I joined a workcamp with Purdue’s Quaker campus minister to reroof the Osage Friends church in Hominy, Okla. Little did I know how powerfully I was about to be ministered to.
As we labored to reroof the church, the feeling of community I experienced with those Friends changed the direction of my life. These words of the Osage elder, “God speaks to your conscience,” have resonated with me ever since.
I decided I wanted to become a minister to continue to live in that spirit.
My Lutheran campus minister suggested I finish my engineering degree, assuring me that the seminary would accept me with an engineering degree, and that it just might come in handy someday.
I did go on to become a minister, working to achieve the Nuclear Freeze with the Mobilization for Survival and continuing my ministry for nuclear disarmament and social justice with the Coalition for Peace Action in Princeton, N.J., for almost 39 years now.
My engineering degree has indeed been helpful in my work of interpreting the risks and dangers of nuclear weapons to the public, but my private source of hope, which has sustained me all these years, springs from the experience of community and the spiritual wisdom shared by those Osage Friends so many years ago.
Membership and Friends
On June 6, I had my Zoom clearness committee for membership in Madison (Wis.) Meeting. A few days later, the June/July issue of Friends Journal arrived in my mailbox with its theme of “Membership and Friends.” How timely was that! My committee came to consensus that clearness committees on Zoom can actually work, and that by becoming a Quaker, I am coming home. My heartfelt and humble thanks to all the Friends on the committee and to Winnebago Worship Group, where I’ve attended for the last year and a half. To the insights of the writers in that issue of Friends Journal, let me add that, for me, becoming a Friend is an invitation to live the deepest truth I know and a welcome challenge to cultivate integrity in community at a time when there’s nothing more important. Let the journey begin.
Thanks so much for Nicole Freeman’s challenging article (“The Spiritual Injustice of Poverty,” FJ Sept.). Although things are a bit better economically in Europe (at least healthcare is available to all “legal” residents—another matter for undocumented refugees), the same issues of poverty, racism, and exclusion (homelessness, etc.) exist, although possibly not as obviously linked to race. But clearly there are the same injustices that challenge us as Friends. We often cite early Friends as examples, but without really intending to follow suit, perhaps because we secretly feel they were a bit extreme. But why? What’s the point of quoting someone if we have no intention of doing likewise?
I am one of those who is sorely disappointed and filled with despair that the efforts of hundreds of clear-sighted and righteous leaders throughout the centuries fighting for economic equity and justice have been resisted and willfully unattended by cultures and their leadership throughout the world. Among others, most recently I count William Barber in this line that also includes Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and, of course, Jesus of Nazareth. All of these leaders tie the message of equality to the underlying problem of poverty.
This problem is a fundamental spiritual issue worldwide, as human beings who have wealth and comfort continue to fend off radical change that would achieve wealth equity. My perhaps unrealistic hope continues to be that such political and cultural change may yet happen as we humans slowly learn how to heal our unrecognized trauma and fears and finally move away from our epigenetic history that still produces cultures based on alpha male dominance and violence.