Gabby Hammons is an attender at Atlanta (Ga.) Meeting and is part of Quakers for Racial Equality, a group of Atlanta Friends that formed to support those with leadings to work for racial equality on personal, institutional, and societal levels. She was raised in Atlanta and lived briefly in London and Tuskegee, Ala. She is currently starting her own consulting company using her background in data to do work around environmental and social justice, as well as economic disruption. Her goal is to help companies and organizations synthesize information in order to run campaigns. She is also on the board of 9to5, a women’s rights and justice organization.
What were you previous experiences of faith? How did you come to Quakerism?
I grew up in a Methodist church. I was baptized in a Baptist church, and I studied with the Jehovah’s witnesses for about six months. I have always been interested in religion. During the 2014 midterm elections in Atlanta, I was working with an organization called Rise Up and we met in American Friends Service Committee’s office building. There were all of these Quaker signs. I asked my mentor what Quakers were. She said, “They serve God through community service.” I immediately said, “I think I’m a Quaker.” I just so happened to move into the neighborhood in Atlanta where the meetinghouse was and while I was exploring, I saw it, I went, I stayed. So that’s my introduction to Quakerism.
How do you see your previous faith influencing your experience of Quakerism?
I was always searching for something. Since I was a little girl, I’ve always questioned things. I would question the Bible. I was going to different churches and learning about different religions, not that I necessarily didn’t want to be a Methodist or a Baptist. When I lived in London, I attended a non-denominational church called Hillsong Church and weekly Camden Bible studies. I found that while I was visiting these other places, I wanted to find a home. When I found Quakers, I just knew. Maybe I was just waiting for my heart to smile. I don’t know. I can’t really describe my relationship to Quakerism. It was all just a path of enlightenment. Learning about all of the other religions, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, was a part of that. When I visited the Mormons, it was unique to see members giving sermons. Being Quaker, all that I liked from other religions, I find with my Friends.
What was your first meeting for worship like?
I came in a little late, so I thought it was an extended prayer. I kept looking up, wondering when somebody would lead the church. I had read about Quakers maybe six months before, and I knew that everybody was a priest. Sometimes you read something, but you don’t really know what it means. This was like that. I was looking around waiting for someone to talk. It was funny. I also really liked the coffee time afterward. The people were very friendly, and came up to me and introduced themselves. It was a great opportunity to meet people.
What keeps you coming back to meeting?
It’s a family now. I have two nephews whose love challenged me to use my background in science for social justice and to appreciate diversity. When they come to church, it’s a different environment for them but they love it, asking often to come back to “Ga-Ga church.” There’s a quality to the relationships at Atlanta Meeting. For me, I’m a very shy person and I’m very shy to speak in meeting, but I was able to speak with passion and conviction. What keeps me coming back is that Quakers are speaking truth to power. On any Sunday, when I see how we communicate and how we respect each other’s ideas and truths, that’s what keeps me coming back. Fighting for other people can be really draining so having a nurturing community gives me strength when I am weak. I know that at anytime I can ask to be held in the Light. I feel like it is done with so much sincerity that Friends are actually talking to God and that when we are in worship, God is there.
How do you center yourself in meeting?
Centering for me is hearing God tell me, “Gabby, focus on me. Focus on me as it relates to your life, as it relates to others in your life, but focus on me.” When I speak in meeting, the focus of centering before I speak is knowing when to speak—knowing that urge, that deep down you have to say something. It’s the conviction. It’s feeling like it’s almost hurtful to not speak what’s on my mind. It is that type of centering that helps me to understand when to speak, when to share joys. That’s what centering is to me.
There was one meeting for business where we were working on writing a simple statement about Israel–Palestine, which is a very complicated issue. In that conversation, one Friend said that we must say something. She said that while we meditate in silence and listen for God in silence, people look for our truth. We must speak our truth; we can’t cover it up. There are times in my life when I speak and I feel like I’m not being heard. Now I have this church member saying that I have to say something, even in those situations.
How do you see Quakerism working in your life?
Quakerism most definitely does influence what I do. A lot of my work is collaborative, and being able to do that work is about understanding individuals. Quakerism allows me to do that by helping me see the God in everybody. Everybody might worship a different God, but the basis is love, compassion, and empathy. There are a lot of issues that I work on that are very intense, like economic disruption. We live in some scary times right now. I feel that because people know that I am a Quaker, they know that even if my truth is painful, it is out of love. I also know that anywhere in the world I meet a Quaker, we can have that bond, and I want to pass this Light on to others.
Have you been involved in Quakerism outside of attending meeting?
I’m with Quakers for Racial Equality. We’re working on new policies, like police body cameras and justice reform. Recently we taught a kindergarten through fifth-grade group of students on how to respond to racist remarks. I’ve helped in the facilitation design for candidates in town hall meetings addressing innovative reforms such as pre-arrest and pre-diversion programs. Working with new concepts in criminal justice and understanding the emotions brought on from certain groups being disproportionately affected in the past, I must be adamant to develop meaningful conversations to implement solutions. Last year, when the announcement was made for the legality of same-sex marriage, I helped coordinate a celebration for that. I have also been lobbying with Friends Committee on National Legislation for the last two years on bipartisan bills for climate change and mass incarceration.
How would you like to see Quakerism change in the coming years?
I would love for Quakerism to become more visible—mostly through an online presence and social media. I think Quakers have so much humility that we don’t share our gifts, and we could be so educational. There are a lot of things that we stand for and that we fight for, and people are looking for that. People are looking for answers and people are looking for love at the same time. It’s not about waiting to be visible; it’s not about preparing so much. I know that we will become more visible, but it’s a matter of adapting to the innovations in communication.