In the summer of 2020, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, Friends at Green Street Meeting in Philadelphia, Pa., were collectively considering whether and how to take unprecedented action on reparations for the evils of slavery and Jim Crow. Gabbreell James shares about our journey from her perspective in “The Road We Walked.” I commend to you Gabbreell’s story, as well as fellow Green Street member Lola Georg’s 2018 Friends Journal article, “Money as a Mutual Blessing,” which outlines a way of thinking about money and our relationship to it as individuals and as a faith community that Gabbreell rightly identifies as a key component of our collective understanding at Green Street.
I was in my second year as clerk of the meeting when we came to unity in 2021 to commit $500,000 of the meeting’s accumulated wealth. It may forever be one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. Having been in the room where it happened (and in the room many times when it didn’t happen), I want to offer some reflections about our meeting’s journey that may be helpful as you, dear reader, consider whether and how you and your faith community may be led to join us.
Founded in 1816, Green Street Meeting accumulated its wealth by bequests from members over the span of generations. During that time, slavery economics, Jim Crow, and myriad varieties of systemic racism denied and plundered wealth and opportunities from Black people, while White families and institutions enjoyed stability and the chance to build an economic legacy. Our meeting’s shared recognition of this fact helped make it clear that letting go of some of that wealth was rightly ordered.
We found unity as a meeting in the big picture rather than in the nitty-gritty. It is difficult for a group as large as a meeting to unite on details, yet meetings often try, and end up getting bogged down, which can delay or foreclose taking action. In my view, details are why we have committees, why we delegate work to committees, and why we need to trust and honor committees and the volunteers who serve on them. For a monthly meeting to micromanage details delegated to a committee devalues committee work and can be demoralizing to volunteers who are both emotionally invested and spread quite thin. I believe we failed to take action earlier on smaller-scale requests from our Reparations Committee because we meeting members fell into the trap of uncertainty and the temptation of micromanagement. It is to the lasting credit of the Reparations Committee and its members that they persisted despite this disappointment.
There is a sad history of Quaker decision-making process being used to perpetuate a structurally racist status quo, as EppChez Yes laid out in a moving presentation at Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s 2022 annual sessions (watch it at fdsj.nl/eppchez). One could imagine an alternate path where Green Street Meeting allowed this to delegitimize or delay our consideration, or even derail us from the path toward justice entirely. Yet as we sat in discernment and worship, it became clear that it was through the voices of the Reparations Committee that Spirit called us to act boldly. We listened. And we leapt.
The work of undoing racism and making reparations is difficult and far from complete. But no other work in my memory has so energized and inspired us as a faith community.