Tag Archives: Not in Our Town

Might We Be Someone Else’s Weeds?

duke chapel space
Duke University Chapel entrance, without the statue of a Confederate general

Today at PrincetonUMC, 7-19-2020, Pastor Jenny Smith Walz addressed the conflict I have been holding in my heart — how to condemn the evil of white supremacy and still love those (in my family and elsewhere) who perpetrated it, those (including me) who benefit from it, and those (in the #endracism movement) who — as they try to eliminate symbols of injustice from public places — find it hard if not impossible to acknowledge that someone who did evil may also have done good.

Let’s admit that we ignore 98 percent of the information that we see or hear. Of the remaining two percent, we put half into a bucket, labeled “I like this,” and the other half into a bucket labeled “I dislike this.”

Don’t believe that the human race is so cruel and blind? Here’s what Pastor Jenny cited as historic examples.

Let’s send the convicts to Australia.
Let’s create an Aryan society.
Let’s eliminate the Tutsis.
Let’s create different sets of privileges for those with black and brown bodies.
Let’s block whatever the opposing party in Congress wants.
Let’s leave our church because someone I don’t approve of can belong.
Let’s put this person’s name in stone on the bad list, so no longer can I see them as a whole person.

It’s the last one that twangs my heart. 

Woodrow Wilson was a terrible racist and I support removing his name from a school that represents public policy. He was a president, but he was more racist than others of his time.

At my alma mater, Duke University, a Confederate general’s figure was removed from the entrance to the chapel. Robert E. Lee, a West Point graduate, was more loyal to his roots in the South than to his nation.

Some want to rename the middle school named after John Witherspoon, a Scottish preacher, sixth president of Princeton University. He trained  three justices of the U.S. Supreme Court); 10 Cabinet officers; 12 members of the Continental Congress, 28 U.S. senators, and 49 United States congressmen. But he also owned slaves and lectured against the abolition of slavery.

Can we no longer see Witherspoon — or any of our political and spiritual leaders — or anyone in our community — as whole persons? Must those in the #BlackLivesMatter movement condemn people who are at different places on the spectrum of learning about and accepting the concept of white supremacy? 

Yes, I want to work against white supremacy,  a system which manipulates and pits all races and ethnicities against each other. That is the mission of Not in Our Town Princeton.  Nevertheless, I admit to being empathetic to those who struggle with emotions of ‘white fragility,’ as described by Robin DiAngelo. I DO empathize, because I’m struggling too.

It’s not only that I am ‘feeling fragile while white.’ I understand why these symbols need to be removed, but I also have a firm commitment to the Christian teaching that there is good in everybody. And evil in everybody. Can we condemn the evil and still acknowledge the good? 

Preaching on the Parable of the Weeds, Matthew 13:24-30, Pastor Jenny says:

Let’s try to imagine that we might be someone else’s weeds.
Let’s acknowledge that it doesn’t have to be either one or the other.

Is it possible to acknowledge that evil does exist and not seek to destroy those who enact evil while you destroy the evil itself?

Pastor Jenny says that Jesus is describing the Kingdom of God and a gardener, knowing  that weeds will inevitably crop up, advises — wait to pull out the weeds until the good crop is ready to harvest. “This gardener is so immensely patient that it scandalizes and terrifies us. Jesus shows us a picture of the Kingdom, the mysterious realm that is the 98 percent that is hard for us to perceive, hard for us to even know that we aren’t perceiving.

This patient gardener can hold ambiguity in a holy, purposeful way. We “good people” are beautiful but weeds are growing up in us and around us. Jesus invites us to sit with the silence, the patience, the challenge, the ambiguity – to try get in relationship with God. Our job is not to create a pristine landscape for the world to see, but to imagine that there is a place there for every one of us. And that it is God’s job to sort out the weeds.

In this sermon I think Pastor Jenny is trying to open a safe space for everyone, no matter where they are in their opinions.  She closed with this poem, ending… 

May my peace and acceptance
be the seeds I sow
for the next harvest. 

from Weeds and Wheat, by Steve Garnaas-Holmes

Suspension? or Restorative Justice

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Guest post by Eileen Sinett for the website Not in Our Town Princeton. 

On April 12, 2018, at John Witherspoon Middle School, Dr. Anne Gregory of Rutgers University shared her research on restorative justice.  Restorative justice is an alternative method of treating students who are perceived to be defiant, disrespectful, and insubordinate. Instead of punishment in the form of suspension, restorative justice focuses on social and emotional learning as an attempt to improve and correct student behavior.  Rather than “exiling” a student through suspension, restorative justice helps students understand their thoughts and behavior, the harm it may cost others, and the healing that’s necessary to remain in school and to learn. The students confront their mistakes, are held accountable and are more likely to remain in school to graduate.

Dr. Gregory shared data showing that students with repeated suspensions are 20% less likely to graduate from high school or go to college and 3 times more likely to get in trouble with the police. Traditional disciplinary methods involving suspension and other punitive measures tend to support the “school to prison pipeline.”

The two groups most at risk for repeated school suspension are Black males and students with disabilities, both male and female.  In one study, teachers were asked to observe a video of a preschool class and determine which children were more likely become troublemakers.  The teachers wore glasses with eye-tracking software, allowing researchers to track eye movements.  The study showed that the observers tracked Black children more than White children, even though no disruptive behavior was demonstrated by any of the children. The experiment revealed implicit racial bias on the part of the teacher/observers.

There is evidence that restorative justice programs are helping students stay in school and become more active and engaged learners.  Developing social awareness, relationship skills, responsible decision-making, self-awareness (including implicit bias), and self-management (regulating emotions) for both staff and students are keys to the success of restorative justice.

Interventions involve Community Building Circles, where students and staff share vulnerabilities and have their voice heard. More intensive interventions involve restorative dialogue and re-entry circles. The goals are similar, to build trust and community, be supported emotionally and socially, make informed decisions, stay in the school system, and become better students.

Like all new initiatives, restorative justice programs have their problems. However, having committed leadership, staff training and prioritizing relationships over rules, and self-management over suspension are critical to success.

Reported by Eileen Sinett for the website Not in Our Town Princeton. 

Social Justice Calendar

It’s been a busy week, highlighted by events surrounding the exhibit Freedom Summer, starting with the lecture by civil rights organizer Bob Moses (at left and reported here)bob moses library 15627635898_42dccf5699_z
And more to come —
Garden Theatre hosts a free screening of the documentary on Freedom Summer on Sunday, November 23, 1 p.m. There may be some tickets left at Eventbrite, or just show up and hope.
The Freedom Summer exhibit continues at the Carl A. Fields Center from Tuesday, November 25 to Friday, December 5. 
NIOT hosts its monthly Continuing Conversations on Race at the Princeton Public Library on Monday, December 1, at 7 p.m
Lawrence Graham, an attorney who writes about race, class, and privilege, speaks at Princeton University on Tuesday, December 2. 
A screening of the documentary “15 to Life” will be at the library on Wednesday, December 3, co-sponsored by The Campaign to End the New Jim Crow, Princeton & Trenton chapter.
There is much to be thankful for, and much to improve…

Freedom Summer: November 16 @ 2

three in freedom summer

Michael Schwerner, James Cheney, and Andrew Goodman,  young men murdered in 1964 during Freedom Summer, have just received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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A wonderful exhibit on Freedom Summer opens at the John Witherspoon Middle School in Princeton on Sunday, November 16, at 2 p.m. with a talk by civil rights activist Bob Moses.

Try to come and bring your teenage- children. To appreciate the rights we enjoy, we need to remember how they were earned.

Ann Yasuhara

 

Yasuhara June 1 2014

Ann Harris Yasuhara, 82, died at her home in Princeton, New Jersey, on Wednesday, June 11. A logician and computer scientist, she was known for combining her Quaker faith with action focused on peace, social justice, racial equality, and the environment. Her life balanced her love for the sacredness of all life, the compassionate concerns of a Quaker activist for the world and the local community, her delight in music, gardening, and art, and her generosity to friends and family.

Born on March 8, 1932 in Madison, Wisconsin, her parents were Julian Earle Harris (a French language educator at the University of Wisconsin who received the Legion of Honor) and Elizabeth Marshall Harris, a sculptor. She studied cooking and fashion design in Paris, attended Swarthmore College. and earned bachelors, masters, and PhD degrees in mathematics from the University of Illinois.

In 1970 she and her husband, Mitsuru, settled in a cozy little house and garden in Princeton and pursued their vibrant interests in mathematics, music, and art. Ever adventurous, they traveled widely, including regular trips to visit his family in Japan. Perhaps her favorite place was her garden.

In 1972 she joined the new department of computer science at Rutgers University, where she was an associate professor; she supervised the PhD theses of Frank Hawrusik, Venkataraman Natarajan, and Elaine Weyuker. Ileana Streinu, now the Charles N. Clark Professor of Computer Science and Mathematics at Smith College, remembers Ann’s classes on Recursive Function Theory and Logic and her textbook. “It was an exquisite topic, beautiful mathematics that Ann was conveying to generations of graduate students. In a department with only a few women on the faculty, she was a model to look up to. With grace and generosity, she touched my life and the lives of many students like me.”

Ann Yasuhara belonged to the living tradition of Quaker spirit-led peace and justice activists. Unflagging in her resistance to war and violence, she studied the philosophy and  methods of non-violent resolution of conflict with George Lakey, the noted Quaker peace activist. In turn, she led many training groups and action activities.

Within the Society of Friends (Quakers) she served terms at Princeton Friends Meeting as Clerk of the Meeting and clerk of the committee on peace and social concerns. She also served on committees in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, an association of 103 Quaker meetings.

Most recently she enthusiastically supported — and went on protests with — the nonviolent direct action group, Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT), which works to end mountaintop removal coal mining.  On her 79th birthday she protested on a strenuous mountain climb in West Virginia mining country. In January, just before she was diagnosed with cancer, the Philadelphia-based group honored her as one of its outstanding “wise elders.”

“Ann was a leader in the Quaker faith and an inspiration to all of us. She set the bar very high and gave us confidence to fight for a better world,” says Janet Gardner, a documentary film maker with the Gardner Group and a member of Princeton Friends Meeting .

Within the Princeton community, she helped found Silent Prayers for Peace, which keeps silent vigil every Wednesday in Palmer Square. She was a founding member of the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF) . As a founding member of Princeton’s Not in Our Town (NIOT), an interracial, interfaith social action group committed to racial justice, she was instrumental in creating programs that honor and support youth of diverse backgrounds. She also teamed with the Princeton Public Library to develop, through NIOT, thought-provoking community discussions on race, white privilege, bullying, and the environment. Her work withstudents was notable. She was a volunteer tutor, supported Committed Princetonians (a mentoring group), and served on the Minority Education Board of Princeton Regional Schools.

In 2010 Ann was featured in a U.S. 1 article about retirees who are making a difference.

She is survived by Mitsuru Yasuhara, her husband of 49 years; her godchildren Josue Rivera-Olds, Grecia N. Rivera, and Julio R. Rivera; cousins including ​Sarah Rogers Pyle Sener (Pikesville, Maryland), Jan Marshall Fox, J. Laird Marshall, Nancy Marshall  Bauer (Madison, Wisconsin), Jane Marshall (Birmingham, Alabama), Richard H. Marshall (Toronto, Canada), James R. Marshall (Gardnerville, Nevada), and Barbara Figge Fox (Princeton, New Jersey) and their families.

Interment was at Forest Hills cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, July 5, at 2 p.m. at Princeton Friends Meeting. Donations in her memory may be made to any of the many charities she supported and/or to Princeton Friends Meeting, 470 Quaker Road, Princeton NJ 08540. For a list of the charities she supported, click here.

(This post is based on the obituary that appears at Kimble Funeral Home. Also it is on the Town Topics website. Photo by John Kelly was taken on June 1, 2014).

 

 

 

Ponder on the N-Word: May 23 and 24

“Our dysfunction around race, racism and the N-word not only reflects our inability to collectively deal with nuance, it also shows how our creative energies are diminished because of this fiction called race.”  DSCF7019  poster cropped

So says Rhinold L2014 ponder posteramar Ponder, who has a two-day exhibition of art, poetry, rap, and music, The Rise and Fall of the N-word: Beyond Black and White, at the Carl Fields Center next weekend, Friday and Saturday, May 23 and 24. In addition to Ponder’s paintings, the show includes poetry, rap, a DJ — and logos he commissioned from artists around the world, pictured above.

For details click here.

Ponder says this world needs a public language and environment to honestly and productively discuss the issues of race.

Such an environment does exist in Princeton, I believe. Cosponsored by Not In Out Town and the Princeton Public Library, a forum called Continuing Conversations on Race and White Privilege is held on first Mondays at 7 p.m. at the library, October through June. These forums offer a friendly and confidential place to talk about important but often controversial subjects. The next Continuing Conversation is June 2.

“I don’t think most whites understand what it is to be black in the United States today,” said Douglas Massey, a Princeton University sociology professor in the Office of Population Research. “They don’t even have a clue. They blame the blacks to a large degree for their own problems.  . . . As a white, I can tell you that whites have a lot to do to make it a fair game.”

White privilege is not an easy concept for many of us whites to understand.  Massey investigates the academic side of it. Tim Wise explains it to the general population with books like “White Like Me.”  Wise speaks on Monday, February 10, at 6 p.m. at the Carl Fields Center. Not in Our Town holds “Continuing Conversations on Race and White Privilege” on first Mondays at 7 p.m. (February 3 and March 3) at the Princeton Public Library

The Massey quote came from “And don’t call me a racist! A treasury of quotes on the past, present, and future of the color line in America,” selected and arranged by Ella Mazel, Argonaut Press, available free for download here.

I’m delighted to say that my Not in Our Town colleague, Larry Spruill, will be honored with Princeton University’s Journey Award on Martin Luther King day, Monday, January 20, at 1:30 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium. Larry represents Nassau Christian Center on the board of Not in Our Town Princeton.

The program includes music by the Princeton High School Studio Band and a keynote from Omar Wasow. a politics professor at Princeton who founded the social networking site for African Americans (BlackPlanet) and who is known as Oprah Winfrey’s social media tutor. It will be an exciting afternoon and a tribute that Larry richly deserves.

For details, click here.