Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Another chance to talk about who we are, race, and identity in rural PA

Shiloh Church, in Danville, invited me back to lead their Sunday School program this past Sunday. Shiloh has been working on open and affirming messages, and teachings. I think their hard conversations around that theme made the discussion rich, and ripe for tackling issues of racism.

I want to thank The Sunset Rotary, Sam Pearson, Carmen Henne-Ochoa, and Pastor Mary for giving me feedback on my original talk, and message.

John Kador, and the Rotary encouraged me to make my message more personal. Sam and Carmen encouraged me to focus more on white privilege. Pastor Mary requested I include definitions, and Pastor Mary and John suggested making the talk more interactive, including open ended questions about racism. I also want to mention Dave Young, of the ACLU, and John Kador, for originally suggesting that I use open-ended questions, and an interactive format. 

I took all of these suggestions, and I think all this feedback made a much better talk. 

My Reflection on the Talk
What strikes me repeatedly, is the ability of humans to not see what is painful, and the strength of denial in humans, when we want to avoid something. The denial of problems of racism, and discrimination in our area is very strong.

To start addressing this, I think there is a basic standard of community we can all agree on: we should respect other people's space and human dignity.

If we can reflect on our discomfort, or anger at other people in our community, and relate it to this standard, I think we will make progress in understanding our own fears, and discover ways we can change our own behavior to bring comfort to ourselves, and our fellow citizens.

One interesting point in the conversation was reflecting on how we might feel threatened by a group of all non-white people hanging out, or forming homogeneous communities within our area- how rural communities might expect others to conform to their standards of 'normal,' excluding, or victimizing many 'others.'

The ideal of equality does not require us to like each other, but for us all to respect each other, and have equality under that law, and in our community systems.

Good relationships cannot be forced through integration, but must be developed authentically, and organically. If we do not have respect and equality in our communities, then positive, authentic relationships will continue to be illusive, and we will continue to miss out on the benefits of diversity, and contribute to negative social outcomes in our region.

I myself was not accepted into the community when my family moved here in 1987, not so much by the kids, but by adults- parents, teacher, administrators. I was not welcomed. This had many negative effects- one was that I did not respect the unique culture here, because it discriminated against me. It has taken me a long time to respect the unique culture of Central PA, and there is much to be explored, liked, and respected about it-- but if we can't amicably share it with 'others,' they may never find out. Conversely, if we don't welcome people, not only do they feel excluded, but we might never know what they have to offer.

Thanks again to everyone who is supporting and encouraging the path toward Undoing Racism® in Central PA.

If you would like to schedule a talk with your group or organization, please contact me through the contact form on the right of this page.

October Events

Lewisburg Founder's Donation Event

September's Founder's Donation Event was in Lewisburg.
We raised: $0
Number of participants: 1 Police Officer (All Events are free for Police, and elected officials!)
Total average donation per person:  $0

One person, Chief Yost, came out the the Lewisburg Founder's Donation Event.  I was appreciative of Chief Yost's attendance, and the time he spent at the event discussing the issue of racism from his position.

One thing that rang true for me, when I interviewed Diana Dunn, a co-founder Undoing RacismⓇ, was her quote: 
"Police deal with the failure of community institutions." 
By the time our officers are policing community members, there have already been failures in families, neighbors, schools, service organizations, the economy, elected leadership, community planning etc.

"Law officers can't 'fix' our communities," Chief Yost offered, "We police them."

At 4:39 in the following PBS News Hour clip, you can see an officer talk about the disproportionate pressure on Police to serve in too many social service roles, (and also, the disproportionate rates at which black citizens are victimized) The entire segment is really great. It starts with police talking about inadequate gun control laws:

Officer Yost expressed interest in Undoing RacismⓇ training, as have other police, and social service workers in our area. A main challenge for everyone is cost. A few organizations are willing to contribute financially to Undoing RacismⓇ in the Valley, but we will need buy-in from every community to raise the $18,000 we need. 

Raising funds, and having discussions in the community is an integral part of bringing this training to the area. When I first started talking with Diana Dunn about Undoing RacismⓇ in the Valley, she said we should till the soil and plant the seeds, to make sure our area wants to have this discussion, to get the community on the same page about what racism is, and to get buy in from the community. I am realizing, as well, that the process of organizing is a practice of the training itself- giving citizens a meaningful role in directing their communities. 

Bloomsburg Meet up

0 attended. 

Not a good week for attendance, but I find, everywhere I engage people in conversations about race, and what Undoing RacismⓇ is, I find sincere interest. The Bloomsburg Meet up was at Phillips Emporium, and the owner talked with me for quite a while about many issues in the region. This was another great chance to speak with an iconic figure in the community. Many initiatives have been spawned and developed in the space Phillips Emporium provides to the community. One common theme is the challenge of engaging citizens in community work. It certainly is a challenge-- for everyone.

The Sunny Side
I am committed to bringing this program to our area, and a few organizations have expressed willingness to raise funds. I am optimistic that interest will be sustained, and grow.

I have confidence that given the right information and tools, community leaders in the Valley will make a difference, and lead us toward healthy and diverse community structures. If we are deliberate, we can set an example for other areas that are grappling with the same challenges. 

Since last January, police, non profits, individual citizens, churches, and civic groups have been incredibly supportive an open to Undoing Racism in the Valley, and I am optimistic that we will reach our fundraising goals. 

If you have extra time to lend- I can use a few dedicated volunteers to spread information, and organize fundraisers. Just use the contact form on this blog, or email klbcopy@gmail.com.

Stay tuned for events in your community!
November's Founder's Event will be in: Sunbury 
November's Meet up will be in: Northumberland