Category Archives: Racial Equality

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WHY I MARCHED (SINCE YOU ASKED)

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“When the sun came shining, then I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving, and the dust clouds rolling,
A voice was chanting as the fog was lifting,
This land was made for you and me.”

— “This Land is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie

I marched in the Women’s March in Los Angeles on January 21, 2017, the day after the inauguration, because it was the most patriotic thing I could think of doing in response to the election of Donald Trump.

Flag-waving and excessive displays of nationalism are not my thing. I feel, like millions of other people in the world, that this is a time for global cooperation, and creative alliances. It’s a time for a change of consciousness. It’s a time to see ourselves as brothers and sisters, as Jesus called us to do (and every other sane and thoughtful person who ever lived on this planet).

Donald Trump’s America First campaign, which, notes Susan Dunn, “echoes the name of a 1940s anti-Semitic national organization that wanted to appease Hitler,” makes me cringe.

Still, I marched — for our democratic values; to protect our hard-won rights, including reproductive rights and voting rights; and to show my solidarity with the most vulnerable among us.

In the beginning, the Women’s March on Washington was criticized for being a white woman’s march. It was heartening, therefore, to hear the speeches by Tamara Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour that morning, three women of color who were brought in by the original organizers (as Mallory explained in a Breakfast Club interview), to lead the historic March, when the numbers reached 100,000.

Before leaving to catch the train going to downtown LA that morning, I wrote Carmen Perez’s words in my notebook:

“Injury to one is injury to all. We are not helpless. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are who we need.”

It was a sunny day. It was the only sunny day, in fact, we’d had for weeks. For one day, in the middle of weeks of rain, the sun came out, as if to wink at us, to let us know that Mother Nature was on our side.

The Metro Station at Universal City, where I went to catch the train, was jammed, with hundreds of people waiting in line to get tickets. However, moments after arriving, I heard a Metro employee shouting, “It’s free now! You can all ride the train for free!”

We took the unexpected gift, and moved together through the green turnstiles, and down the stairs, where we waited on the platform for the train going to Pershing Square.

We crowded as many of us as we could into the Metro, packing ourselves in like bits of styrofoam in a giant cardboard box, until not one more would fit, and we let the doors close.

A mother with an infant in a stroller, a six-year-old daughter, and an eleven -year-old son, stood next to me.

She told me she was taking all of her children to the March because she wanted them to know that during a dark time, she stood up for herself and her rights, and for them. “This is big,” I told the girl, “you’ll be able to say, ‘I was there!'” and she grinned.

It was touching to see how supportive the boy was of his mother. When she told him they should get off at the stop before Pershing Square because of the crowds there, he insisted, “No! Let’s go to Pershing Square. That’s what you wanted to do.”

“This is an adventure!” he shouted.

He was my new hero.

I opted to get off at the 7th Street Station, and walk to Pershing Square. Although I was too late to meet up with friends, I enjoyed talking to people there, marching, and taking pictures of the signs.

There were many men at the March, and I met several fathers who brought their daughters. “They feel empowered,” one of them told me.

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It was a festive atmosphere. The signs were great fun.

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It was an historic moment, “likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history” reported The Washington Post.

In her article for the Nation, Joan Walsh noted that more bus tickets were sold for the Women’s March on Washington than for the inauguration.

According to recent estimates, as many as four-and-a-half million people marched in over 600 cities around the world. 700,00 to 1,000,000 marched in Washington.

People in Belgium, Ireland, and Antarctica made their presence known.

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Large numbers of the disabled community participated virtually.

On the train going home, I couldn’t help but notice the smiles on the faces,  the upbeat conversations, and how everyone’s mood, including my own, had brightened from a day of being together.

“So, you marched. What’s next?” a friend asked me the following day.

“I’m writing thank you postcards to the congressmen and women who are resisting Trump’s policies —  people like Maxine Waters, and John Lewis,” I told her, and sent her the link to the Women’s March list of 100 actions.

I’m also being more conscious about supporting efforts to link movements so that we’re not divided between white and black, and gay and straight. As Tamiki Mallory said, “we need to respect each others’ justices. We can march for reproductive rights, and for racial justice.”

Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, wrote in a recent op-ed piece that, in spite of her initial cynicism, she decided to  participate in the March. “Cynicism will not build a movement,” she wrote,  “collaboration will.”

On the evening of the March in LA, I was inspired as I listened to the speeches from the March on Washington, including a speech by Gloria Steinem, who is as amazing at eighty-two as she was at twenty-two.

“This is a day that will change us forever,” she said, “because we are together. Each of us individually and collectively will never be the same again. When we elect a possible President, we too often go home.

We’ve elected an impossible President. We’re never going home. We’re staying together, and we’re taking over…and we’re never turning back.” .

Most definitely, we are never turning back.

I confess I had to laugh this week when Donald Trump told Fox News reporter, Bill O’Reilly, “California in many ways is out of control.”

As if that were a bad thing.

As if this were not a land that was made for you and me.

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Resist!

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VOCAL AND VISIBLE: FROM GUILT TO SOLIDARITY

 

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“The guilt remains, more deeply rooted, more securely lodged, than the oldest of old trees; and it can be unutterably exhausting to deal with people who, with a really dazzling ingenuity, a tireless agility, are perpetually defending themselves against charges which one has not made. One does not have to make them. The record is there for all to read. It resounds all over the world. It might as well be written in the sky.”

— James Baldwin
Unnameable Objects, Unspeakable Crimes 

Several months ago, I was asked to deliver the closing remarks at a Racial Justice Ministry event at All Saints Church in Pasadena.

Tim Wise, an anti-racist educator and author, spoke a few weeks earlier.

After his talk, the Racial Justice Ministry I work with decided to follow up with a screening of Tim Wise’s film, “White Like Me,” and afterwards, have a dialogue about white privilege.

White privilege, as Wise defines it, is as much a psychological matter as a material one.

In his essay, “explainingwhiteprivelege,” he writes:

“Whites have the luxury of not having to worry that our race is going to mark us negatively when looking for work, going to school, shopping, looking for a place to live, or driving for that matter: things that folks of color can’t take for granted.”

Privilege is obliviousness.

As I sat on my patio on a sunny day, thinking it would take no more than an hour to come up with some closing remarks, I saw it was taking longer.

Was I stuck in “white guilt?”

I definitely felt ashamed of what my people, white people, did to black people in this country — not only in the days of slavery, but in the days of Jim Crow.

There’s a book, “Without Sanctuary,” that includes images of postcards white people sent to their friends after lynchings. The postcards showed them posing next to the corpse, along with body parts they’d taken for souvenirs.

It wasn’t that long ago.

I have a history of activism; still, I felt baffled, impaled, as James Baldwin put it, like a butterfly on a pin, unable to move forward.

I’d faced the history of systemic racism in this country, and the ways I’d benefitted from it, but I didn’t know what to do about it.

Then I remembered Tim suggesting we study the history of the white allies who were active in the Civil Rights Movement.

He mentioned Anne Braden.

Anne Braden was a newspaper reporter who lived in the South, in Alabama, in the 50s and 60s.

She became involved in the Civil Rights Movement after covering the events at the Alabama Courthouse (which were horrific).

Initially, she joined the movement, not to help black people, but to help white people who, as a result of racism, and a belief in white supremacy, were turning themselves into monsters — her own father, included.

Besides writing about the movement, she and her husband, Carl Braden, went to jail numerous times on behalf of the cause. ANNE-BRADEN-SOUTHERN-PATRIOT                                     Anne Braden with Rosa Parks

In his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King mentioned her as one of the few white people he could count on.

As I read Anne Braden’s story, I was struck by what she said about white guilt, and how unproductive it was:

“I never knew anybody who really got active because of guilt…I’ve never seen it move anybody. I think everybody white that I know who’s gotten involved in the struggle got into it because they glimpsed a different world to live in….Human beings have always been able to envision something better…All through history there’ve been people who’ve envisioned something better in the most dire of situations, and that’s what you want to be a part of.”

Anne Braden’s story spoke to everyone, white and black.

From that day on, I took Sincere Kirabo’s advice, dropped the white guilt, and focused on imagining a better church, a better community, and a different world to live in.

Now I could hear what people of color were actually asking of white people in the movement — not to feel guilty or ashamed, but to educate ourselves, speak up, and use our privilege for the good.

After the event, I talked to an African American friend who told me about a party she went to a few weeks earlier where she was the only person of color in attendance. When someone at the party said something derogatory against African Americans, she felt compelled to speak up.

“Why didn’t anyone else speak up?” she asked. “If you want to be an ally, you need to speak up.”

Nancy Fuosto, an Episcopalian priest, told a similar story at a Martin Luther King event I participated in last week. At a gathering where she was the only person of color, someone made a racist comment about Latinos.  “It hurt,” she said, “but I spoke up.”

We don’t have to go out and get all bloody to be allies in the movement for racial justice — we can speak up, and make a difference.

Anne Braden lost friends because of the work she did on behalf of racial justice. She and her husband, like many white allies at the time, became social pariahs in their own communities. However, she was mentioned in “Letters from the Birmingham Jail” as one of the few white people Martin Luther King could count on.

That’s something!

Whenever I feel uncomfortable speaking out against racism, it helps me to remember that it’s far more uncomfortable to have to live with racism on a daily basis. And if I speak up, next time someone else might do the same, and then another.

I believe our cause is noble, and I can let go of any temporary discomfort I feel, because the cause is right.

I also feel, like Anne Braden, that the struggle for racial justice is related to my own humanity, and integrity.

At Martin Luther King said, “All /human beings/ are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

As I move away from guilt, and toward solidarity, I discover that the actions I take on behalf of the most vulnerable among us are liberatory for me, as well.

It’s wonderful, and a joyous thing, to work with people who, in spite of dark times, and dire circumstances, and unspeakable crimes, have the ability to imagine a different world.

As Anne Braden reminded us, we may not see the fruits of our actions, but “that’s what you  want to be a part of.”

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PRAYERS FOR RESISTANCE

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These are the  comments I made at our COLORS (Racial Justice Ministry) open house on Sunday, November 20, 2016, on the first year anniversary of my involvement in COLORS at All Saints Church in Pasadena:

About a year ago, I went to the exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. One of the exhibits in particular fascinated me, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. The exhibit was about the different resistance movements that existed in the first century, around the time of the Jesus movement.

There were many resistance movements in the first century that were against what  Jesus scholars Marcus Borg and Dom Crossan call “the domination system of the Roman Empire.” However, according  to the exhibit, all of these movements, with the exception of the Jesus movement, were exclusionary. The  Jesus movement was the only resistance movement that welcomed everyone. (Martin Luther King noted that Christianity was a blend of many myths and influences, but what was unique in it was the social element.)

I’ve been thinking about this in light of my experience this last year working with the COLORS ministry.

On the Sunday after the election, I felt traumatized. However, after hearing Mike Kinman’s powerful and comforting sermon, and attending a COLORS meeting afterwards,  it occurred to me that possibly the greatest gift God has given to us is each other.

Jesus didn’t divide us. He didn’t leave instructions on who should be left out. He didn’t make anyone register before dinner.

I believe our strength is in each other. Our strength is in our diversity.

On my first year anniversary with COLORS, I am most grateful for this ministry, and will keep this gratitude in my heart as we move forward in the days ahead.

A PRAYER FOR RESISTANCE 

Gracious God,

We thank you for your liberating presence here.

We thank you for the gift of this community, for Mike Kinman, and Eric Law, and the leadership of COLORS. 

Empower us in the days head to take bold and liberating actions on your behalf. 

If there is anyone here who is discouraged, may we bring them to hopefulness. 

If there is anyone here who is traumatized or afraid, let them know they are safe with us, and always welcome. 

You have shown us that beyond the cross, the lynching tree, the internment camp, the man-made walls, the unspeakable cruelties so many of us have suffered, there is nothing that can separate us from your love.

Keep us mindful of your will for us so that, ending divisions here, we might be a true witness of the spirit and teachings of Christ, who extended a radical welcome to everyone, and taught us that we are all precious in your sight.

 Guide us in the days ahead so that our attitudes and actions will be aligned with your divine will. Empower us to resist all forces that would divide us, oppress us, or deprive us of the freedom we need to grow and flourish. 

Keep our hearts cheerful, confident that you are with us, as you promised, even unto the end of the age. 

Amen.

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A trio of anti-racist speakers  who shared their life challenges and wisdom at a COLORS open house in 2015: Regina Moses, the first black female school principal in Pasadena; Shizzi Akazaki, who survived life in a Japanese internment camp; and Lydia Lopez, who worked with Cesar Chavez and continues to fight for the rights of Latinos.

I love you all. You are beautiful.

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A SMALL WORLD MOMENT


We’re gathered around a large table in Marty Coleman’s backyard.

Marty Coleman, a long-time peace and justice activist at All Saints Church, now in her 80s, offered to let us use her backyard for our Racial Justice Ministry (COLORS) retreat. 

It’s early morning, the sky is overcast, and there’s a chill in the air.  But, after a  string of hot days, no one’s complaining. 

It’s been five weeks since my father died, and the first time life feels back to normal. 

It’s peaceful here in Marty’s backyard, and I’m grateful to be sitting here around this table with people I’ve come to love and admire this last year. 

We were instructed to come prepared to share our personal goals for the year, and when it’s my turn, I talk about my goal to educate through writing and storytelling. 

Claudia Owens Shields, one of the African American members of COLORS, a  psychologist who specializes in healing race- related trauma, is the next person to share. 

She says that her goal is to understand how segregation happens in the church. 

“Martin Luther King said that 11 a.m. on Sunday morning was the most segregated hour in America,” she says. “How does this happen? I want to find out.”

It’s an intriguing question. I  watched the video of Martin Luther King talking about this a week ago — when I was preparing to deliver my father’s eulogy. 

 

When we’re on our lunch break, Claudia approaches me. 

“What are you writing?” she asks. 

I tell her I’ve been working on a memoir about race in America for a couple of years. “Both of my parents were antiracists. My father integrated a church in Chicago in the 50s, and I’m telling that story,” I say.

“Where did you live in Chicago?” she asks.

“On the South Side,” I tell her. 

“At what intersection?” 

“82nd and Rhodes.”  

“I lived at 96th and Langley.”

“Oh, wow, my Grandmother lived on Langley!” I say.

It’s a small world moment. 

It turns out that Claudia went to the church, Crerar Memorial Presbyterian Church, where my dad was pastor. And not only that — she knew Lois Fluss, one of my Mom’s closest friends. Lois was the adult I was closest to as a child. 

Lois brought us Beaman Gum and other items when we were sick. 

She and her husband, unlike my teatotaling parents, were unapologetic about their love for martinis, and “martini,” thanks to Lois, was one of the first words my sister learned to say.

Lois was one of the few white people who stayed in the neighborhood when the “restricted covenants” that kept African Americans out of the neighborhood were no longer enforceable, and the familiar “white flight” followed. 

Claudia told me, “I once asked Lois, ’Are you white?’ She said she was blue and green or something.” 

Integration didn’t last. Chicago is still one of the most segregated cities in the United States — and the church is all African American, but for one white woman who stayed.

I feel lucky, though, for those few brief years when white people and black people worked together for the common good, and from a common faith. 

And I’m amazed that only a week after my father’s memorial service, we are here: two women from the same church, sitting around a common table, breaking bread together, working together to dismantle the racism and privilege that exists in our church and community. And stopping with the others at the table — black, white, and latino — to watch a scarab fly up and through the spaces between the leaves of the wisteria that covers the awning above us ——excited, if overwhelmed, by the work ahead of us.

 

 

Standing with Charleston: 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion

 

STANDING WITH CHARLESTON

“Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born.”
 —  Margaret Walker

For me, it was an idyllic childhood. I was aware of extreme prejudice — the hate newsletter circulating in the neighborhood where I lived on Chicago’s south side, and the white people moving out when “restricted covenants” were declared unconstitutional, and blacks moved in — but I was protected from the worst of it.

One day,  a white businessman called and told my mother he was going to blow up our whole family, along with the church where my “integrationist” father was the pastor — but I was not told about the phone call.

When a mob of angry white people showed up at the home a black family had purchased a few blocks away, I was not informed.

Mahalia Jackson lived in my neighborhood. Her windows were shot out.

Recently an article appeared in Chicago’s wbez news about Crerar Memorial Presbyterian Church, where my father was the pastor in the 1950s. The article mentions my father, and how he welcomed black people into the church at a time when this just wasn’t being done.

I think it shows how bad it was back then  — and still is — when the kindness of one white man is considered newsworthy.

For me, though, it was a joyful time.

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My 5th grade class was the best.

All of the white people moved off our block, but we got Ernie Banks. Who could complain?

In the 1950s, Chicago was the most segregated city in the North. Everything, it seemed, was against integration. Racism (as it was elsewhere in the country), was written in the code and protected by the laws. As Beryl Satter notes in his book, Family Properties, the prevailing attitude of whites was that the mixing of the races “would cause the decline of both the human race and property values.” Many people, especially real estate people, benefitted economically from segregation.

My father accepted a call to start a church in Costa Mesa, California when it was obvious that Crerar, which was almost all black by then, needed a black pastor.

So we took off for California, where I adjusted (quite poorly, at first) to all white Orange County.

Both of my parents, though, continued to speak out for civil rights, and maintained the friendships they started at Crerar.

My father spoke from the pulpit against housing laws that discriminated against blacks.

My mother took me to hear Martin Luther King, Jr. when he spoke at the L..A. Coliseum.

After the Watts riots in 1965, our youth group spent a week in Watts helping a Baptist Church in Watts paint their church building. At night, we stayed in the homes of the kind and gracious church members, and at the end of the week, the church treated us to a potluck, and a concert by the Baptist church gospel choir. Imagine!

Some years later, when I was in seminary in Marin County, California, I joined St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, which is half black. During that time I was the grateful beneficiary of the wisdom of people, both black and white, who’d long been committed to the struggle for justice.

For a long time I thought things were better than they were back then. However, after Ferguson, I began to question this. I felt frustrated enough to connect with the Black Lives Matter movement started by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, and marched in L.A. in protest against the killing of unarmed black men and women by the police.

I joined SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice),  an organization of white people who are acting as allies in the Black Lives Matter Movement.

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I’ve learned that to be a white ally is to share in constant state of grief.

Dara Silverman, the coordinator of SURJ, told us in a conference call after the massacre in Charleston that there’s a backlash right now due to the significant organizing efforts across the country and in Charleston. One organizer said that most white people in Charleston were in denial that the killings were racially motivated.

Clearly we have a long ways to go after 400 years of systemic racism, first slavery, and then 100 years of Jim Crow laws, but today, in spite of the grief, I see many reasons for hope. One reason for hope is the black church; the other is the Black Lives Matter movement.

I’m proud of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and my brothers and sisters in the faith for their attitude of forgiveness, which does not include condoning, excusing, or forgetting what’s just happened there.

Nicky Finney, one of my favorite writers, black or white, wrote an article recently about how conflicted she was after the massacre. She had plans to go to a wedding that week, although she really wanted to be in Charleston. Finally, she said, “Love won out.”

In her article, Finney quoted one of the witnesses who spoke at the wedding she attended that week:

“What has always kept us going as a people is our fierce commitment to love and loving and being loved in the face of evil. Black love has always been our weapon,” the witness said. Finney wrote at the end of the article, “This is what I fiercely believe.”

This is also what I fiercely believe.

We are with you, Charleston, in friendship and in love.

 

 

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BLACK LIVES MATTER: 1,000 Voices Speak for Compassion


“It is my belief that in the Presence of God there is neither male nor female, white nor black, Gentile nor Jew, Protestant nor Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, nor Moslem, but a human spirit stripped to the literal substance of itself before God.”

     — Howard Thurman

Two months ago, on December 27, 2014, I went on a march in LA to protest the killing of unarmed black men and women by the police.

I felt frustrated after the Ferguson Grand Jury refused to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, in Ferguson, Missouri, in August of 2014, and could find no words to respond to the disappointment I was hearing from black friends with whom I’d been discussing his case.

I was moved reading articles written by black parents who were forced to have painful conversations with their children about the police and racial profiling — policies that I doubted would be tolerated for five minutes by white parents.

Many people, myself included, see these killings as modern day lynchings.

When a friend told me about an upcoming Black Lives Matter march in  LA (one of many taking place across the United States), I decided to go.

On a chilly morning (for LA), I took the bus to the LA Farmer’s Market, which is close to Pan Pacific Park, where thousands of protestors were gathered.

Some of the people on the bus were angry when the bus driver told them she had to go a different route because of the protestors.

“Protestors!” one man yelled, “I didn’t fight in Vietnam for this!”

“Well, I’m going,” I said, and asked the bus driver if she would let me off at the next stop, and point me in the direction of the March.

It was a pretty day, and in spite of the chill in the air, the sun shone, and the skies were blue.

I enjoyed the half mile walk to the park, and soon I was with the others — mostly black people, but there were white people there, too — marching and chanting, “No justice, no peace!” and “Hands up, don’t shoot!”

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After an hour or so, we turned a corner onto Wilshire Blvd., chanting “this is what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”  20141227_144345We were in the sun again, so I took off my sweatshirt. As I was tying it around my waist, I tripped over one of the orange cones the police had put on the street to keep the marchers on one side of the wide Boulevard.

“This is what stupidity looks like,” I said to the two young black women who were marching next to me, as I struggled to regain my balance. They laughed, and then we all burst out laughing.

Then the woman who was standing next to me said, “Thank you for coming out.”

I nodded.

“It’s for a purpose,” she said.

“I think it is, I told her.

I was touched by her warmth, her grace, and her fire.

“Off the sidewalk and into the street!” she yelled when she saw the hundreds of people on the sidewalk along Wilshire Blvd., some staring at us, some cheering us on.

The march was peaceful. There was no tear gas, and no arrests. The police were there, but they were using a light touch. Many of the officers were hanging out on bicycles along the route, and appeared to be enjoying themselves (quite a contrast to what was happening in other parts of the country).

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Toward the end of the march, someone started playing a drum, and there was lots of singing and dancing, neighbors greeting neighbors, friendliness, and the joy that comes from being together.

After the Black Lives Matter march, as I pondered what to do next, I read an article by Parker Palmer that spoke to me:

“Imparting hope to others has nothing to do with exhorting or cheering them on. It has everything to do with relationships that honor the soul, encourage the heart, inspire the mind, quicken the step, and heal the wounds we suffer along the way.”

Compassion has less to do with charity and cheerleading, I realized, and more to do with solidarity and kinship.

The Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, wrote that compassion involves deep listening — the ability to hear the suffering of our neighbor — and it also involves deep looking.

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As James Baldwin wrote, “you cannot fix, what you will not face.”