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Participants at the 2018 Gathering of the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent in Philadelphia, Pa. Photo courtesy of the author.

Are We Ready to Make the Necessary Changes?

Participants at the 2018 Gathering of the Fellowship of Friends of African Descent in Philadelphia, Pa. Photo courtesy of the author.

“We are seekers but we are also the holders of a precious heritage of discoveries. We, like every generation, must find the Light and Life again for ourselves. Only what we have valued and truly made our own, not by assertion but by lives of faithful commitment, can we hand on to the future. Even then we must humbly acknowledge that our vision of truth will again and again be amended.” —Quaker Faith and Practice, Britain Yearly Meeting, 1994

At an international level, the Religious Society of Friends is racially diverse. According to the map that Friends World Committee for Consultation published in 2017, of the 377,557 Quakers in the world, 181,405 live in Africa; 58,673 live in the Caribbean and Latin America; and 21,096 live in Asia‐West Pacific (with Aotearoa/New Zealand and Australia not counted). I would consider the majority of the Friends in those regions to be people of color. We know that there are Friends of color in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Europe, and the United States, but I cannot include their numbers because of our color‐blind practice of not recording the race and ethnicity of our membership. It’s important for us to be able to document the number of people of color in our meetings. When people ask me how many people of color are members of the Religious Society of Friends in the United States, I have to say, “I honestly do not know because we do not acquire that information.” I encourage our monthly and yearly meetings to change that practice and begin keeping track of how many people of color are members and attenders of our meetings.

The lack of racial diversity within the Religious Society of Friends in the United States of America is not a new concern. The Friends Review published an article in their July 20, 1850, issue that said:

It is a remarkable circumstance, that although the members of our religious society have been so long and so extensively known as the advocates of the coloured race, and the discipline established among us presents no impediment to their reception into membership … still the number of coloured persons found within the society has always been exceedingly small. This circumstance may justly raise the enquiry whether the cause lies with them or with us. Is the religion of Friends unsuited to the coloured race? Or are they kept at a distance by our neglect or repulsive conduct?

My answer to the author’s question is that we are kept at a distance by the