May 19, 2009: Lynchburg’s Community Dialogue on Race and Racism

[OOPS! This SHOULD have been posted last week. So sorry]

Here’s a description of the Community Dialogue written by Leslie King, who coordinates this important project. The people who’d participated in the program—and, BTW, read Way Opens—are invited, nay URGED, to write comments.

The Community Dialogue on Race and Racism began in response to some  racially charged incidence in our community:Real and perceived gang activity in the City, the death of an African-American man, Clarence Beard while in the custody of White police officers, public reaction to low-income housing proposal (Pedcor) and conversations with community leaders/others.   As a result of these events, the City Manager and Mayor decided it was time to address the issues of race and racism in Lynchburg. With the assistance of two-community based groups, Lynchburg Community Council and the Neighborhood Executive Advisory Committee, the study circle model was chosen as the method for engaging the community in the conversation. Everyday Democracy( out of Hartford, CT have advised and provided the necessary resources in order begin the Community Dialogue on Race and Racism. We have engaged over a 1000 people in our work and intend to continue the discussion. As of today, we currently have 8 Action Groups actively working toward racial equity in the following areas: 1) Police 2) Education Youth & Family Support 3) Faith-Based 4) Citizen Advocacy/Strengthening Community 5) Diversity Events 6) Ward Forums 7) Workforce Development 8) Communications and Media. In an effort to shift the leadership of the Dialogue from a City lead initiative to a more community based one, we have made the transition from a Working Group to our current Advisory Board. The board realizes that it must continue learning about the issues and about our community, which are some of the reasons why your book was very helpful in beginning the discussion on white privilege and relevance of Lynchburg’s history to our work.

May 4, 2009: Yesterday’s Panel Discussion, Jamaicaway Books

This morning, when I saw a woman wearing a surgical mask walk past my house, I added another reason to the list of why yesterday’s panel discussion was so special. Reason # 5: People braved swine flu/”enclosed places” to come to the (extraordinary) Jamaicaway Books to talk about race.

Here were the first four reasons:

1. Roslyn, the co-owner of Jamaicaway Books, is a very special woman. She’s created an attractive and inviting bookstore which, because of her commitment to JP, is also community center.

2. Roslyn had invited Clara Silverstein, author of White Girl, to be the other panelist. And as anyone who’s read her book knows, Clara is awesome!

3. Although competing with the Walk for Hunger, May Fair in Harvard Square, Open Studios in Somerville, a very special reading by some very special poets, etc., etc., a nice-sized crowd attended. Thank you!

4. People, including Roslyn, were open, honest, forthcoming, insightful and, gratifyingly, stayed WAY past the time the discussion was supposed to end.

I want to do this more.

May 3, 2009: Progress report

Way Opens: Year I has just ended and, on the whole, I’d give it a B+/A-: good readings, good response, good connections (connecting/reconnecting with two E. C. Glass classmates has been an unexpected bonus!). The highlight? That’s easy: The trip to Lynchburg in October. Low point? Not a low point, exactly, but I have to say the review in the April , 2009 Friends Journal was a little BESIDE THE POINT! (If you agree, tell them!) Ongoing concern? Another easy one: Too few comments on this blog.

Year II began auspiciously: a meeting at Cambridge Friends School re that school’s 7th and 8th grade Social Studies classes and possible ways Way Opens might be woven into CFS’s lively, right-on curricula. AAARRIIGGHHT! I am excited to work in “my” Quaker school and, down the road, excited to be working in other Quaker schools.

Why lie? My ultimate goal is for the Obama daughters to read Way Opens! (Maybe their awesome parents will invite me to the White House for a little one-on-one chat. I’ll even volunteer to weed their garden.)

January 29, 2009: Happy anniversary, Owen and Lynda!

This past Sunday during meeting for worship, Katie Cullinan, a member of Friends Meeting at Cambridge, led all of us in a rousing “Rosa sat.” [“Rosa sat/ so Martin could walk. Martin walked/So Obama could run. Obama ran/He ran and he won/So all our children could fly.”]

Now although I am prone, as my daughters would tell you, to blithely burst out in song, I am usually not a big fan of singing during worship. In my experience, it is extremely rare when whatever song is put forth feels like an organic and natural expression of however Spirit is moving among us that morning. “Amazing Grace” sung like a dirge almost never speaks to my condition!

But this past Sunday, five days before the forty-seventh anniversary (!!) of Lynda Woodruff and Owen Cardwell desegregating E.C. Glass High School, to celebrate the Rosas and the Martins and the Lyndas and the Owens and the Virgils with my faith community felt just right. Virgil, by the way, is Dr. Virgil Wood, Lynchburg’s leading civil rights activist. “We stand on their shoulders,” he noted once, in reference to other Lynchburg civil rights movement notables.

Yes, we do.

My trip to Lynchburg: October 7 – 11, 2008

How’s this for a writing prompt: It’s October 9, 2008; you’re 63 years old. You have been given the opportunity to address the students of the segregated high school you graduated from in 1962. What would you say?

Can you imagine what a thrill it was to look out into E.C. Glass’s capacious auditorium last week, to see an almost 50-50, racially-mixed audience, to sit on the stage listening to the stories that Lynda and Owen told, to hear 1,500 students say “AHHH,” when I told them that Owen sat alone in the school cafeteria his first day, and to see those students give the 3 of us —and fellow speaker Patrick Lumbumba from Kenya—a standing ovation?

Check out the link page for more info.


June 30th: A New-Style Reading

As fans of the Porter Square Bookstore readings know, often what’s billed as a “reading” ain’t necessarily so. The old-style reading, when an author droned from his or her  latest work, rarely gave those attending a sense of that author or offered something a little special (a notable exception was when ninety-something Stan Goldman recently read from The Caregiver. That was special.). A new-style reading might actually be a lecture, as was delivered by the awesome Frances Moore Lappe, or a slide show of the author’s landscape – like Howard Frank Mosher’s pics of the Northern Kingdom.

As readers of this blog know, I’ve given a couple of Way Opens readings; although the Q&A sessions were pretty lively, these readings were pretty old-style. Former teacher that I am and, believe it or not, actually not all that comfortable being in the spotlight (Really!), I’ve been wondering if there weren’t a more interactive way to talk about my book.

On Monday, June 30th, that interactive way just sort of happened. The incomparable Bob David had invited me to give a reading at the Side By Side meals and sharing program in Jamaica Plain. After a delicious meal (thank you, Kevin!) and the announcements, Bob invited me to begin. I’d noticed that the sharing circle rug, chairs, candles centerpiece, etc. had already been set up, so on the spur of the moment, suggested we sit in the circle. (For more about sharing circles, both JP’s and FMC’s, see the last chapter of Way Opens) The candles were lit, the sage/cleansing ceremony began, and then I read two passages, having offered the group a couple of things to listen for (which I don’t think I’ll do again). After each passage, using the talking piece, the multiracial group talked about race, White privilege, “showing up,” their own experiences, gratitude, forgiveness; quite a rich array!

Looking back on Monday night, there are things I wish I’d done better. But  the sharing-circle format is definitely a safe, intentional, all-opinions-matter way for people to talk about some really hard stuff.

Do I dare to bring sage to my August 12th reading at Porter Square Bookstore ?



The books arrived

The books arrived three days ago, cartons and cartons and cartons of Way Opens, and I almost didn’t panic.

Backstory: When, about a year ago, I decided to self-publish, that decision seemed completely in line with the whole “leading” idea, i.e., trying to be faithful to what Spirit seemed to be asking of me. If I believed in what I was doing, why should I wait for some publishing company to fall in love with Way Opens? Why not actually invest in this project? (Maybe I’ll say more about this decision some other time.)

Happily, luckily, fortuitously, Warwick House Publishers, a self-publishing company, is located right in Lynchburg, Virginia, where much of Way Opens takes place. So for the past year, working closely with Warwick’s incomparable Joyce Maddox, I’ve been focused on getting this book into shape: seemingly-endless copy editing (I think Joyce combed the manuscript five times!), securing permissions from poets, making decisions about layout, getting the cover designed, etc., etc. Engrossing and endless details, thousands of them.

And, I have to say, for the most part it’s been an enormously satisfying process. Like getting to decide that the chapter notes immediately follow their respective chapter. Joyce, who is strictly Chicago Manual of Style, tried to talk me out of it. But I felt that this book is telling the story of a long, long (yet absolutely fascinating, of course) process and that readers need to be able to follow along. 

And how many authors get to have a say about their book cover? How many authors are actually thrilled with their book cover? I did; I am. Totally. Continue reading “The books arrived”