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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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

Simplicity Ain’t As Easy As It Looks

The alternate title considered for this post was, “What Was I Thinking?”

hand-truck-564242_640I was sort of on a roll for awhile, posting here several times a week, engaging with comments on the QuakerQuaker.org site, and settling in to my spiritual practice of simplicity. However, shortly, my life suddenly became complicated. And I chose it.

You see, I made a major lifestyle decision which was a professional decision as well. It became crystal clear to me, over a matter of a few days, that I was at a crossroads. The time had come to move out of my home office, where I have run my business for the past 12 years, and find a “real” office space. Once I had discerned that it was time, all of the details lined up. I found a place that met all of my criteria  – location, price, handicapped accessibility, and the intangible “IT” factor – in about ten days. The money appeared to make the deposit and pay the rent. I was on the move.

Moving is complex. I had to select those things from my home office that I wanted to take with me to the new space, and which things to leave behind. My new office looked like a picked-over Salvation Army drop-off destination; my home office looked like a post-tornado disaster area. I had to plan what furniture I needed, and how I would decorate the new space so that it was comfortable and welcoming, but not distracting or overwhelming. The myriad details of the little stuff I didn’t know I needed until it became obvious turned into a rather long list. However, the needs were supplied by the gift of a wonderful piece from my daughter and her husband that I use as a standing desk in my reception area, and several surprise gift cards for Amazon and Home Depot from friends, clients, and colleagues. Every need was met, each meeting seeming like a miracle. I was IN BUSINESS. I built it, and the clients are coming. It’s an amazing, exhilarating, joyful, terrifying feeling.

On the home front, I had felt restless and frustrated for some time, without really being able to put my finger on exactly WHY or WHAT it was about. Well, it was about the elusive work-life balance, which was, shall we say, “Off.” I’m amazed that a home office worked for me as well as it did for as long as it did. However, I found that I was squandering the time in between clients. I began to define my work day by when the clients were booked, instead of devoting “non-client time” to business development, study, routine maintenance, and visioning. I could start a load of laundry during the breaks, or chop vegetables for dinner, or play with the cats. I felt less and less effective, and more and more harried. Now, laundry, grocery shopping, housecleaning, cooking, and cat festivals have to be planned and scheduled, rather than emerging organically and spontaneously in the moment, as my artistic personality type much prefers. It has been a big adjustment.

Six weeks later, I can say that, despite the initial chaos, order has evolved. New and improved routines have helped me to be more present when I am home, and more focused while at work. Perhaps the most lovely aspect of the path of simplicity is that one can adapt as one deems best. Even though I embarked upon a major upheaval of old patterns and forms, the decision itself seemed inevitable, what Quakers would call “a leading.” Complication has evolved into something else: the simple, elegant life dance of complexity.

Three Words for 2015

Light Flare by 3BLuke via DeviantArt. Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
Light Flare by 3BLuke via DeviantArt. Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

When I read Robin Mohr’s post about her choice of three words to shape 2015, it got me thinking and writing. Drawing upon a meme referenced by Chris Brogan, the idea is to reflect and then choose three juicy words that will have the power to focus, inspire, and guide one’s actions (and thoughts and words and LIFE) for the coming year. It seemed a little daunting at first. I have many, many words – how to narrow it down to just three? However, when I became still for a few minutes, the words emerged quite easily. They are:

LIGHT. INTEGRATION. ALLOWING.

All righty, then! Those three words are a kind of personal shorthand, but full of richness for the unpacking. Here follows sort of a word salad of free association. I have only the vaguest notion at this moment what each of these words will look like day to day in 2015. Nevertheless, I share in hopes that you’ll be inspired to come up with your own three words.

LIGHT. Quakers are all about The Light. Holding The Light for people, holding them IN The Light, and ourselves as well. Bringing light to darkness or confusion. The Light is also “that of God in every one,” that essence which can be answered, responded to, and engaged, as the highest and best attributes of ourselves can connect, learn from each other, and perhaps even love one another. EnLIGHTenment, akin to awareness, the Light switching on, like a lightbulb flashing, cartoon-like, over one’s head. Aha! Full-spectrum, waves and particles, speed of LIGHT. And LIGHTness: humor, agility, cheerfulness. “His yoke is easy, and his burden is LIGHT.” How might I embody The Light, be guided by The Light, and share more Light with my clients, friends, family, community?

INTEGRATION. When disparate elements of a system are integrated, they function as a harmonious whole. Integration contains within it “Integrity,” perhaps the core Quaker testimony. The notion of harmony – elements (or people) working together in an aesthetically pleasing way – may bring a gracefulness to my relationships and everyday interactions. The elements remain distinct, retaining their own uniqueness, yet a synergy occurs where “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” How might I recognize opportunities to include those who have been excluded? How can I support the integrity of others as I live into my own?

ALLOWING. It has to do with letting things happen, rather than making things happen. Let things unfold naturally, organically, as they will, without interfering or inserting another agenda. Let people and things be exactly as I find them. The I Ching lists among desirable character traits equanimity, acceptance, and non-judgment. See what IS, before reflexively leaping in to “help.” Ask more questions, be open, seek to understand instead of just to learn. How can I be more present in each moment, and accept the gifts contained therein?

I feel excited to have this template. The words are a compass, not a map. I don’t know the territory yet, but I now have a way to orient as the landscape of 2015 is revealed.

Wanna play? Share your Three Words for 2015 in the comments.