New Haven to Charlottesville: Why We All Need to Tell a New Story
By Delma Thomas-Jackson
I’m sitting at home just outside Flint, Michigan, watching the violence unfold in Charlottesville, Virginia, while thinking about the work Center for Whole Communities conducted in New Haven, Connecticut less than a week ago. I’m trying to write and track the latest news at the same time.
I JUST watched footage of someone plow through a group of protestors and then drive away. One has been confirmed dead. I just watched the POTUS respond by practically refusing to respond. His brief statement was flaccid—rendered hollow by his obvious reticence to condemn his base—an ode to neutrality. In not choosing he yet again affirmed his previous choices. Read more
Center for Whole Communities hosted our annual Whole Thinking in Practice retreat in northern California last year. Though currently based between Western Mass and NYC, Dr. Kofi-Charu Nat Turner – one of last year’s retreat participants – grew up in Southern California and went to school in the Bay Area. So as Kofi reminisced about his days in California, he shared stories about crossing cultural boundaries growing up in LA, and campus organizing around issues of social justice and a more expansive curriculum at Berkeley.
Kofi brought a joyful and buoyant energy to the retreat. He shared his yoga practice with us one morning, the inspiring story of his grandmother (Caffie Greene) a pioneering community organizer and public health educator and activist in LA, and – in the most modest and caring of ways – Kofi shared generously of his wisdom and strength. Here are Kofi’s reflections on his experience of Whole Thinking in Practice last year:
If emotions and intellect were currency, I may soon be going broke. As a person of color from a working class background, I feel like I often pay an emotional or intellectual tax when I am engaged in social change work with those that claim to want change but show up half-heartedly, especially in predominantly white institutions. This tax is a result of the contradictions of trying to enact change within the existing system and leaving the hard work to folks from marginalized backgrounds. The tax increases as I am asked to be involved but never given any real power to create structural change. The most recent example I have is dealing with the unintended consequences of organizational white culture at a previous job.
For 15 years, Center for Whole Communities has been convening visionaries who are looking to deepen their understanding of themselves, their peers, and place, in service to their work in the world. Whole Thinking in Practice grounds participants in CWC’s unique practice-based approach to transformative leadership, while lifting up the wisdom and stories of the group – all in a gorgeous natural setting.
“At this time in our history we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment we do so, our spiritual growth comes to a halt. The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves. Banish the word ‘struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred way and in celebration. We are the ones we have been waiting for.” – Hopi Elder
A sea of pink knit hats erupting in song, laughter, and cheers. Record-breaking demonstrations across the nation and around the world. Women holding space for each other across difference, moved by the deafening roar of our own voices. Our collective power has been awakened – unapologetic, uncensored, and unbowed.
“Can I Help You With That?” An Invitation to Hold Each Other Under the Crushing Weight of the Universe’s Moral Arc
By Delma Thomas-Jackson
“We have fought hard and long for integration…But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house…. Let us not stand by and let the house burn.” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“[I]f the Masters house caught on fire, the House Negro would try to put the fire out. On the other hand…the Field Negro would pray for a strong wind to come along.” -Malcolm X
Exactly one year ago, I gave an MLK address titled, “Make America Great Again for Whom?” The title, obviously a play on Trump’s campaign slogan, begs questions as old as the country itself—namely: which America do you experience? Is your America a meritocracy, wherein hard work alone shapes the destiny of citizens? Or, is your America a kleptocracy, wherein the elite grow wealthy by gorging on the productivity of the proletariat? Is America a “city upon a hill,” protecting freedom and democracy all over the world? Or, is America a global police force, simply promoting its political interests?
I’ve been reading a 17th century Muslim prayer-poem from Morocco entitled ‘The Prayer of the Oppressed.’ In his introduction to the English translation, Hamza Yusuf, a prominent American Muslim teacher and scholar, asks his readers to consider whether they could possibly be ready to wield social power if they’re not ready to accept that there will always be matters over which they are powerless. That gave me pause.
There is so much that I would like to see change in the world, even as I have to admit that there’s also so much of my vision for progressive social and environmental change that I am painfully powerless
From the killings this week in Aleppo, to reports of Russians hacking the US election, to the water protectors at Standing Rock, to the Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, to the President-Elect’s unfathomable Cabinet nominees, reality has become difficult to stay fully present to. Grief and overwhelm arrive on the daily. I am generally oriented towards hope, but it’s taking deeper and deeper work to source it. I have been turning to love and prayer, not as passive or sentimental acts, but as practices that root me in true power. The reverence I have for the earth and the resiliency of life help me find hope.
The Buddhist strategy of liberation finds its foundation, on one level, in the strategic tension between concentration and mindfulness, which is to say the relationship between suppression and investigation, control and exploration—dynamics that are equally fundamental to our work for social change.
The darkness of winter has arrived in Vermont. This is the season of turning inward, reflecting and gathering ourselves in preparation for the year to come. For those of us in the nonprofit world, this is also the time we extend ourselves outward, seeking the support of our community. At CWC we are taking this time to reflect on the theme “there are no shortcuts” as we invite your partnership and generosity in making our work possible.