Dear Friends Everywhere,
Eighteen Friends of color from Pacific Yearly Meeting, North Pacific Yearly Meeting (Montana Gathering of Friends), Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting gathered at Ben Lomond Quaker Center on the ancestral lands of the Ohlone People on April 5 - 7, 2019. This gathering grew out of our collective need to get to know other Friends of color in our yearly meetings. Many of us have experienced isolation stemming from being the only or one of very few people of color in our monthly meetings. We were blessed by the instigation, accompaniment, guidance, facilitation, and seasoned ministry of Vanessa Julye of Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting (Philadelphia Yearly Meeting), co- author of the book, Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: Quakers, African-Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice.
Gathering together enabled us to deepen connection to Friends of color we may have met previously as well as to begin new friendships with those we met for the first time. We spent time in worship, reflection, and nature, and got to know each other and each other’s struggles more intimately. This brought such joy and laughter! – as well as a few tears. Our time actively listening to one another encouraged our spirits and energized us to continue to work toward dismantling racism and increasing cultural awareness in our monthly meetings.
Over the weekend, we spent time sharing what our Quaker faith means to us, reflecting on the values we would like our community of Friends to embody, and envisioning actions we feel could be part of the process of becoming a more beloved community. Each of us comes from a different place in our spiritual quests and quests for cultural connection. A central theme over the weekend was exploring ways we as Friends of color can support each other, and ways Friends of all races can address the historical legacy and present persistence of racism in Quaker community. We recognize that Friends of color are not a monolithic culture and have many different needs and experiences. Even in the writing of this epistle, some among us felt discomfort using terms such as “racism” in a public letter, while others feel it has not been discussed explicitly enough. Fostering a beloved community of Friends, free of all forms of prejudice (which can be both unconscious and unintentional) requires conscious, Spirit-led work from all Friends, though that work may look different for each Friend and monthly meeting. In many ways, this work is already underway. Through connecting to each other this weekend, we took an action to seek to heal from cycles of racism. Together, we found energy for the work that remains to be done by all members of our monthly and yearly meetings in order to become a more anti-racist and truly inclusive, compassionate community
One of the testimonies we strive to live by – both as individuals and collectively as members of meetings – is the Peace testimony. As Friends, we profess a commitment to “work to correct social injustice,” to “testify against structural violence,” and to speak out “against discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, class, sexual orientation” etc. (Pacific Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice 2001, 43). In the times we are living in, we encourage Friends to examine what living the Peace testimony should look like alongside movements for justice such as Black Lives Matter, among others.
Each of us in attendance this weekend experiences being a racial minority in our meetings. We have also experienced what it is to be invisible to each other as people of color scattered throughout different monthly meetings without structural modes of connecting to one another. We go to meeting to find spiritual nourishment, but have to find extra spaces where we are culturally nourished as well. Our gathering and worship this weekend made it clear to us that we must strengthen our connection to each other as Friends of color, both for our own spiritual health and the health of the wider Quaker community. In moving forward, we are emboldened to request funds and other resources to strengthen connections, outreach, and the spiritual support of people who would otherwise be invisible in Quaker community.
We want the same dignity all members of the human family want: the recognition of that of God in each of us. We write to share this with the wider Religious Society of Friends because when some among us are rendered invisible, the body as a whole suffers an injury and is less able to stand in the Light of Truth. Some of us have witnessed the positive effects on the Religious Society of Friends by nurturing Quaker women and Young Adult Friends over the decades to gather together in a similar manner to provide sustenance, build community, and to identify and address issues in their experiences of Quakerism and their lives that are inconsistent with the Spirit.
We urge our yearly meetings to recognize the benefits of such gatherings as the one we shared this weekend and to support their ongoing occurrence. We also encourage and welcome all Friends of color, particularly those belonging to Pacific Yearly Meeting, North Pacific Yearly Meeting, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting, and Intermountain Yearly Meeting, who may not have attended this gathering, to connect with us as they feel led.
Amanda Beattie, Kat Northup, Alvaro Alvarado, Bertha Pena, Berverly A. Mendheim, Carl Magruder, Diego Navarro, Dove John, Euclid Bautista, Jean Harris, Juanita Mora-Malerva, Mica Estrada, Patricia Portillo, Vanessa Julye, Yamilka Hayes, Lori Patterson, Zae Illo ~~~