Change is Gonna Come

Tulsa OK police dashcam video of Terrence Crutcher, moments before his death at the hands of law enforcement.
Tulsa OK police dashcam video of Terrence Crutcher, moments before his death at the hands of law enforcement.

Last night, another innocent American, Keith Lamont Scott, of Charlotte, N.C., was quietly sitting in his car, reading. He was tased and then shot by police officers. He was disabled, black, and the father of four. When I read the story on my Facebook feed, I thought how, earlier that day, I arrived at an appointment and sat in the car for a few minutes, reading an article on my phone. And yet, I was able to return home safely at the end of my work day.

Just days earlier, another innocent American, Terrence Crutcher, was tased and then shot by a police officer in Tulsa, OK. He was having car trouble, and was inspecting the situation when police arrived. Any one of us in similar circumstances might have had the expectation that the police had arrived to help. He was black, and was shot when his hands were raised above his head in surrender. He made the mistake of reaching into his car, probably to get his license and registration required at all traffic stops. If I were stopped, I feel confident that I could reach for my documents in my glove box, and live to tell about it. As a 61-year-old, white, female, cisgender, grandmother, I have a privileged profile and am unlikely to be perceived as a threat to anyone.

Philando Castile in St. Paul, MN, and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA, were also black, unarmed, and killed by police earlier this summer. We know other names, thrust unwillingly into public consciousness: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland. There are many other names we don’t know. At least 138 black people have been killed by police in 2016.  A study by the Guardian showed that young black men are nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police. NINE TIMES MORE LIKELY. The same study recorded 1,134 deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers in 2015 alone.

We are all aware that the suffering of black people is not new. My own memories and awareness stretch back to the 1960’s, growing up white and privileged in an affluent and largely segregated Chicago suburb. There was exactly one black student in my high school graduating class of 860-something, and perhaps three in my entire school. Oh, and one Japanese guy. My parents were Democrats, like most people in Chicago; liberal, socially-conscious, and yet worried that Bobby Kennedy was “too progressive.” The notorious and crime-ridden Cabrini Green housing project was a mere 25 miles from my comfortable home, but it might as well have been light years. I grew up feeling proud that I was not racist, because my Dad had hired a black woman to be his executive secretary – the first in that major corporation. At the same time, I was completely unaware of systemic racism, and that I was its beneficiary in virtually every aspect of my young life.  Of course, the suffering of black people did not begin suddenly with my awareness of it. Black people have been systematically oppressed since their involuntary arrival in this country, as slaves, over 300 years ago, and it continues today in multiple aspects of our society.

While I have worked for equality have have supported various social justice causes behind-the-scenes for many years, I have not been as vocal as I could have been, or possibly should have been. I will no longer be silent. Despite the soul-crushing despair and disgust and heartbreak I feel over these most recent killings, I also feel strangely encouraged. I’ll tell you why.

I am reminded of the cumulative effect of news reporting during the Vietnam War. It was the first war that people watched on television. While the reporting began in an upbeat manner, I remember the casualty reports on the Huntley-Brinkley Report on NBC. The bodies, the bombings. The villages, the civilians, the children. For years. Although it took far too long, the tide of public opinion began to turn. And once it had turned, there was no turning back.

Today, and almost every day, we are served up images of the violent killings of unarmed black people, captured on amateur video and police dashcams. Raw and wrenching video, unedited, horrifying. Day after day, on television and on your computer or mobile device, as you drink your coffee, eat your meals, take your breaks, you see something that happened. There will be more, you know there will. Even the most reticent citizen must employ basic pattern-recognition skills at some point to come to the realization that SOMETHING IS WRONG.

So while my friends of color ache and carry on bravely every day despite their terror, I listen. Their lived experience is real, and now documented for all the world to see. I despair that these killings will not end soon enough, but at the same time, I have faith. I have faith that, albeit slowly, people are waking up to what is going on around them. I have faith that we can and will do better. I have faith that social media will accelerate the process, with daily, real-time reportage, relentlessly streaming. I have faith that “the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.” I have faith that people of color will tell their stories, and that gradually, people will listen. I have faith that people of privilege will use their voices and their influence, speak out and step up, call out and sit in. When you see something, say something. Educate yourself on how to be an ally. Speak up when it’s hard, when you are with your friends who look like you. Whatever it takes, we must do, and do now.

Change is gonna come. Be the change.

 

 

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Three Words for 2016

blackeyedHave you chosen words to guide your intentions for the year to come? I’ve been thinking about mine.

CHANGE. RESOURCE. BENEFIT.

There they are, for those of you keeping score at home. If you care to know how I arrived at them and how I feel about implementing them, read on. I hope you’ll spend some time reflecting on three words for yourself, and will share them (along with a link to your reflections) in the comments below.

CHANGE

I did one of those Facebook quizzes a few days ago, and their crapshoot algorhythm generated the word “Change.” NOOOOO! I quickly departed from that page, and did not share the results publicly. However, their suggestion has stayed with me. Last year, 2015, I served on my Meeting’s Peace and Social Action Committee, and also worked and supported political change in Houston. I was seen as an activist, and began to see myself in that light, as well. The current social and political climate, locally, nationally, and worldwide, is volatile. I have always taken to heart the famous words of Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Add to that the words of Moshe Feldenkrais: “Change happens whether you want it to or not.”

The I Ching is subtitled, “The Book of Changes.” It counsels that we observe change without being perturbed by it. That we do not force change, but rather allow it to happen on its own. And, that we can adapt and continue, whether the conditions are obviously favorable or not. As a Feldenkrais teacher,  I create the conditions for change, not the change itself. This is an important and humbling distinction. I already see new focus, new understanding, and new possibilities for navigating change for myself and for my students in the coming year.

RESOURCE.

Maybe you’re like me:  I continually underestimate the resources at my disposal, both internal and external. I have a long history of life experiences where, seemingly at my depths, exhausted and tapped-out, I still was able to find within myself a resource I didn’t know I had. “Resource” is also a funny punny little shorthand for a profound spiritual concept: “Reconnect to the Source of All There Is.” I always have what I need when I can remember to re-source. Then, I am always resource-full.

Most of my clients come because they are in pain or difficulty. Others simply are propelled by the desire to be “better,” in some way that is meaningful to them. They view me as a valuable resource, and I am so grateful for that. This word-of-the-year RESOURCE reminds me that I can help them to discover or create their own resources for problem solving and for living more fully. We can know that abundant resources are always available, even if we have to search for them.

BENEFIT

Benefit is related to “beneficial,” which means “good for you, in the best possible way;” and shares a root with “Benediction,” which means “Blessing.” How do I make the world a better place? How do I bless others? How does my work benefit others? How does it benefit me? Benefit also implies a bit of a two-way street, as in “mutually beneficial.” Benefits that go only one way are unsustainable.

At its worst, the word “benefit” can be reduced to a crass attitude of “What’s in it for me?” At its best, however, “benefit” guides me to ask and discover – what is the highest and best intention for all concerned? Are all parties better off than before? Perhaps the benefit is not obvious. Sometimes, we need to discover the benefit of the benefit, and illuminate it.

I believe the word “benefit” will be a touchstone for health for me. In the choices of the relationships I sustain, the foods I eat, the projects I pursue, the idea of benefit – and mutual benefit – will protect me from burnout and resentment. I want to be actively engaged, appreciative, and moving as an agent of change, a resourceful resource, and a blessing for all concerned.

The conscious awareness of the words CHANGE | RESOURCE | BENEFIT is transformative.

Happy New Year. Bring it, 2016.

[“My Three Words” is an annual exercise created by Chris Brogan. You can read more about it at http://chrisbrogan.com/3-words-2016/

You can also read My Three Words for 2015 here.]

 

 

 

 

Standing By, or Standing Up?

Houston people of faith speak out For Prop 1.
Houston people of faith speak out For Prop 1.

My life is full of interesting people.

I’ve been a vocal coach for many years. That part of my professional biography has brought me into contact with hundreds of students over several decades, many of whom are now teachers in public school systems and universities around the country, performers at every level in opera, musical theatre, television, and film. I also work with actors, dancers, broadcasters, and garden-variety regular folks who want to “find their voices,” at all the rich levels that phrase implies.

My definition of “performance” expanded about fifteen years ago, when I also became a movement educator, specifically, a teacher of the Feldenkrais Method. This work has opened my world and filled my days with people who are on a quest for personal excellence. Each person comes because they want to learn how to do something that is important to them, and to discover and fulfill their untapped potential. Not only does this work intersect beautifully with my tribe from the performing arts; it includes families devoted to their child with special needs, folks dealing with the aftermath of a stroke, or the progress of a dire disease process, or recovery from an injury. Each one wants more out of life, and better quality of the life they have.

On an otherwise unremarkable day in May of 2008, the phone rang. After greetings and a few pleasantries were exchanged, we got down to business. “I’m looking for a voice teacher, and something about your website just made me think you might be able to help me. I don’t know if you’ve ever worked with somebody like me before. I am transgender. I am in the early stages of transitioning from male to female, and I really need my voice to sound more feminine. I’ve discovered a few things on my own, but I need to work with somebody. Would you be willing to meet with me?”

I said yes immediately. Why? Because this was a person who needed help that I could give.

During and after our association, I continued to learn about helping transgender people with movement and voice. She introduced me to a world that I did not know anything about. I was ignorant, but I was curious and I wanted to learn. As I heard her story, and the stories of others on their incredible journeys of self-discovery, authenticity, and transformation, I was changed.

I was filled with sorrow and compassion when I learned that all of these people, now my friends, had considered suicide and/or had attenpted it. I learned of the losses of family, jobs, housing, and relationships, and began to glimpse the heartwrenching sacrifices made because of the human need to be honest and authentic about who one is. When I learned that they have NO PROTECTION under the law, I could not be a bystander anymore. I was already involved, but from the sidelines. I had to get into it.

Several years later, a different trans client and I went out to dinner and to the opera. Our Girls Night On The Town was wonderful, and thankfully, it was uneventful. As I look back on it, the reality sets in. We could easily have been harrassed or refused service at the restaurant. I imagined being unable to use the restroom while at the Wortham Center for over four hours. Our evening out could have been a nightmare, simply because there are no local protections from discrimination.

I got involved with the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance because my friend asked me to stand with her. I could no longer stand by when the possibility existed that someone I care about would not be protected by the same laws that protect me.

But wait a minute. I am protected by HERO, as well, and it’s likely that you are, too. I am 60 years old, and hope to get a lot older. Under HERO, I will have a local remedy if I experience discrimination based on my age. So will you, or your parents. I am a member of a religious minority, the Quakers. We are pacifists, not a popular or easy position to advocate for anywhere, but perhaps particularly in Texas. I will have a local remedy if I am discriminated against because of my religious practices or beliefs, and so will you. I think of the families who have included me on the team of caring for their special needs children, and helping them to lead as full a life as possible. They will have a local remedy if they are discriminated against while out in public with their child, since both disability and family status are also protected classes. Look in the mirror. Certainly you, or someone you care about,  fall into at least one protected class under the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance: race, age, pregnancy, sex, color, disability, military status, national origin, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, marital status, family status.

Equality is a core testimony of Quakers. We believe that there is “that of God in everyone.” Quakers tend to wait in silence, to listen and to discern, and then to be spirit-led into action. We vote our consciences. We don’t often say much, but we  know how to advocate for and be Friends to those in need. Our friends need us now.

Will you find your voice? Will you stand up and speak out with me?

Friendship

Invitation.
Afternoon tea
for two.
A welcome.
The hospitality afforded
By a beautiful home
And space and Light Within.
Sharing experiences,
Points of connection.
Conversation, cozy by the fire,
Bright sparks of new friendship
Comforting contrast
To the dreary day