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Posts Tagged ‘race relations’


I had an awfully nice lunch yesterday, and I’d like to tell you about it. It involved two nonprofits — the mostly Caucasian conservation group Trustees of Reservations and the mostly African American community-outreach enterprise called Haley House.

The trustees had a really great idea recently to do meaningful art installations on a couple of their properties and chose one next to the Old Manse in Concord. The Old Manse is most often associated with 19th Century novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, but the grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson was also a resident and saw the historic events unfold at the North Bridge on April 19, 1775.

Artist Sam Durant wanted to draw attention to the presence of slaves in the early days of Concord and launch a discussion, so he constructed a kind of big-tent meeting house, with a floor made of the kinds of materials that might have been in slave buildings.

The Trustees conferred with him on a series of “lyceums” that might bring races together at the site. They decided that at the first one, they would encourage races to break bread together and talk about food traditions.

From Haley House in Roxbury, they brought in a chef, a beautiful meal, and singer/educator/retired-nurse Fulani Haynes.

I ate a vegan burger, sweet-potato mash, very spicey collard greens and wonderful corn muffins. Also available were salad and chicken.

Haynes sang a bit and talked about the origins of Haley House, how it helps low-income people and ex-offenders and local children, teaching cooking and nutrition and gardening, among other things. She invited attendees to tell food stories from their early years, and several brave spirits stood up.

That participatory aspect of the activities helped to reduce the impression that African Americans were making entertainments for a mostly white audience (art, food, music entertainments).

I loved the whole thing and learned a lot. (For example, Grandpa Emerson had slaves living upstairs, and “the embattled farmers” who “fired the shot heard ’round the world” were able to go marching off because slaves were working the farms. I really didn’t know.)

African American artifacts are on display next door at the Old Manse. The art installation will be up until the end of October 2016.

More here.

Photos: Artist Sam Durant offers the crowd a new lens on history. The chef from Haley House keeps an eye on the African American cuisine. Fulani Haynes demonstrates how a food can become an instrument.

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In spring 2008, during a sometimes distressing primary season, an African American coworker and I decided to try something under the radar at work.

We decided to invite other colleagues of good will to help create a monthly lunch-hour discussion group on Race in America.

At first it was slow going. Some people we invited were suspicious. Would we be seen as troublemakers? Was it “legal”? Would it be just a gripe fest about our workplace?

My friend was supervising our high school interns at the time, and several of those showed up. One or two white employees came. Black colleagues were more wary. On days that no one came, one of us was bound to say to the other, Maybe this isn’t going to work. At which point, the other would say, Let’s give it another month.

Little by little, attendance grew. We kept the focus on topics in the news and participants’ life experiences. There was no agenda. We’d say, Does anyone have a topic they want to discuss today? There were always topics. We agreed to keep what was said inside our basement meeting room. There was zero hierarchy. What everyone brought to the table was openness and a willingness to listen.

We listened. We asked questions. We argued, with respect. We laughed. We worried. We learned. There were so many gradations of opinions, based on individuals’ experiences. There was never unanimity of one race versus another.

One participant said last year the monthly discussions had really opened his eyes and changed some of his views profoundly.

My friend retired a couple years ago and I left in January, but the group is still going strong under new leaders. I really miss it. I cannot tell you how many times I have wanted to hear what members have to say about something in the news or something I see in my town. I feel like I hardly know my own views without adding the nuances of what my former colleagues are thinking and feeling.

This past week, I’ve read lots of advice about what people of good will can do about race relations and injustice: join demonstrations and meetings, write government representatives, open their hearts to losses on both sides, listen to young activists, stand on their right not to show an I.D. (Fifth Amendment). Maybe some of those ideas are good.

But I still love the idea of creating a group where people of different races and backgrounds listen to one another’s way of seeing things. Over the eight years, Race in America members have come and gone, but participants routinely say that the group works because of the trust that is built.

For getting started, it worked well that we were two friends — one identifying as African American, one as Caucasian. She needed me, and I needed her. I never felt I should go up to a black colleague I didn’t know and pitch a discussion on race. She was a star at that.

Maybe it’s a hopelessly small thing for combating what we see in the news. But I do think people of different races have too few opportunities to listen to one another about matters that touch the heart.

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I live under a waterfall. You can’t get to my back door this time of year without crouching under a waterfall of dogwood. It’s especially true after a rain shower.

Bob has been supportive of my random photos, taken with a Nokia Lumia 1020 phone, so I’m emboldened to post them frequently, even when I don’t have much to say.

Below, you will see what else was going on in the South End yesterday when we attended a well-done play about race relations, Smart People (running through July 6).

You will also note that I got interested in a climbing wisteria vine, typical Boston pedestrians in period dress, sunrise in Rhode island, and house numbers there that caught the spirit of the seashore.

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Boston-pedestrians

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Today I went to Belmont Against Racism’s 18th annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast and heard broadcast journalist Callie Crossley speak.

As a high school student, Crossley participated in the marches of the striking Memphis garbage workers, whom MLK Jr had come to support at the time of his death in 1968.

King was already turning his attention to the challenges of poverty and unequal opportunity that we have been hearing so much about since the recession. Crossley exhorted the large audience to be active, not just nostalgic, speaking specifically to folks who feel they are not leaders or who just feel weary of struggle.

She said, “Leadership comes when no will say and no one is doing.” And she quoted a line from Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund, who visited Boston a while back: “You have no right to be tired when there is still work to be done.”

Later Crossley answered questions, advising one student on getting involved to defeat new measures likely to undercut voting rights.

In response to a question about how she got into journalism, she told a funny story about writing a newspaper at age 8 (like Axel), with all the articles about herself. She laughed that she couldn’t understand why her neighbors didn’t want to pay for it and said that was how she learned that news stories are supposed to be about other people.

Music provided by poet and performer Regie Gibson as well as by Berklee College of Music student Angelina Mbulo was great.

I sat with an Ethiopian family. From time to time we were riveted by the sign language interpreters at a nearby table. It is so like watching theater or dance. Beautiful.

There were activities nationwide today, including service projects like one at Kids4Peace.

Meanwhile in Bellingham, Washington, where Erik’s Aunt Anna reads Suzanne’s Mom’s Blog, the Kulshan chorus was on deck once more to help residents celebrate.

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