BLACK LIVES MATTER
This page offers a space for GTU community members to offer reflections, poems, pictures, and other expressions related to the institutional racism in the United States which has been laid bare by the murders of Riah Milton, Dominique "Rem'mie" Fells, David McAtee, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, at the hands of the police.
Please note: some content on this page, for example images of police violence, may be distressing to some viewers.
POEM & QUOTE
From Rita Sherma, Director, Center for Dharma Studies, GTU
by Rachelle Syed
While many of us have been safe at home and weathering this crisis, shelter-in-place mandates have demonstrated how broken our health care and economic system is. It has been like a cold-turkey cut off from that which allows us to ignore or downgrade the destruction of our planet and the oppression of people of color, the poor, and indigenous peoples. Because of COVID-19, we have a chance to see this system far more clearly, and because of shelter in place, we can't simply turn away, even if our hearts care. The healing of our communities and world cannot be a hobby or volunteer project. It must be the goal of all of us in an intentional, consistent, and sustainable way. Even more painfully demonstrating this are the recent deaths of Amhaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, whose last words fill this painting. George's last words included a prayer to his late mother. Deep in my heart, those words ring with the full humanity of all of us, and we cannot hide from the inherent connection they remind us of. I painted his words alongside a line from the Bhavaniashtakam, a song of suffering and hope to the Divine Mother, as an expression of profound connection not just with George, but with all those the system I have benefited from seeks to oppress and eliminate. We are a human family, and we will suffer until we remember it.
Near the bottom, my handprint sadly dragged away, is an offering to George - a moment that can translate into efficacious change, right here, and right now. We all can. Will we rise to the challenge this opportunity allows us?
Line from the Bhavaniashtakam:
गतिस्त्वं गतिस्त्वं त्वमेका भवानि
You are my Refuge, You Alone are my Refuge, Oh Mother Bhavani.
RELIGION & RESISTANCE
CARe Spring 2018 Exhibition
Come Let us Build a New World Together
by Danny Lyon, 1962
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
from the Albert G. Cohen Campus Ministry, Social Justice and the Environment Collection. Graduate Theological Union Archives
“I had my camera, and I ran along as this brave little group marched through the sunlit and mostly empty streets of a very small American town. With the exception of a few young black men, everyone else who was watching seemed to hate and deride the demonstrators, many of whom were children. At Cairo's only, and segregated, swimming pool, the group stopped to pray. Then they stood in the street singing, and when a blue pickup truck drove down the center of the street straight at them, a game of chicken ensued as the truck slowed and the demonstrators moved out of the way, except for one defiant thirteen- year-old girl, who stood her ground until the truck knocked her down.”
Michael Brown Murder Protest, 1AM, Oakland, California
by Ken Light, 2014
CARe Spring 2020 Exhibition
The Choking Kind
Mark Mitchell (2015)
Silk, reed, wool, cotton
The Choking Kind is named after the 1969 song by Joe Simon, referring to a choking, killing love. The window, covered with cascading silk flowers, represents the window of a prison, where two teenage black men--the sons of Mitchell’s friend--ended up incarcerated. Mitchell worked for months, mournfully, to make the garlands of silk peonies and wisteria, which in the Victorian language of flowers represent shame and wistfulness, respectively. Wisteria, a fast-growing vine, tends to choke anything that grows around it.
REV. DR. ROLAND STRINGFELLOW
CLGS African American Roundtable Issues Statement on Murder of George Floyd
16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.”
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.
So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.
An excerpt from The Rev. Dr. Martin L. King, A Letter from A Birmingham Jail
1 June 2020
Many of us were already tired of being tired – tired of staying indoors – tired of being disconnected – and tired of hearing conflicting messages of what is safe and what isn’t … and now, America now has the makings of violent summer that easily could surpass the Summer of ’67 in Detroit and many other urban cities. We need to take all of these factors into account – a pandemic mixed with high unemployment mixed with images of violence perpetrated on Black folks losing breath … and losing life.
We are tired of being tired. And when we get tired, we have the tendency to want to give up. Rather than catching coronavirus, we need to be careful not to catch a case of “Why Bother?” Dr. King addressed the Christian church for its “weak, ineffectual voice” in the face of police brutality and the conditions that lead to the oppression of Black folks in America. How eerie it is that his words read as if they were written for today. It goes to show the more things change, the more they stay the same.
As Coordinator of the CLGS African-American Roundtable, I bring Dr. King’s words back to us for consideration as spiritual people who believe in and work for justice. We do not know what the next few days, weeks, or months will bring, but I want us, as community caregivers, to play an important part in providing spiritual leadership during these uncertain times. Organizing spaces for prayer and meditation (that are safe with proper social distancing), offering our buildings for rally or demonstration planning, joining in those public demonstrations wearing clerical garments or other identifiable shirts or pins from your spiritual community are some of the ways you can show you solidarity with Black and Brown people who are constant targets for violence.
My prayer is for the victims and perpetrators of violence. My prayer is also for those of us who can and should respond to the needs of our community.
CENTER FOR LGBTQ & GENDER STUDIES
Statement on the Murder of George Floyd
“The plague of racism is insidious, entering into our minds as smoothly and quietly and invisibly as floating airborne microbes enter into our bodies to find lifelong purchase in our bloodstreams.”
– Maya Angelou
The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS) condemns the brutal murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on 25 May 2020 and we, the staff members of CLGS, extend our heartfelt condolences to the surviving family and friends of Mr. Floyd.
To say that the killing of George Floyd is a result of the twofold plague of systemic racism and white supremacy that infects and affects our country is to state what should now be obvious to everyone: that the sin of white racism and the oppression and murder of countless Black and Brown people must come to an end and that we must commit to do the hard work of bringing an end to the evils of white racism in this nation.
In order to fight the insidious pandemic of racism in the United States, which began well before this country was founded, we name this plague for what it is: a poison that is destroying the very foundations and fabric of our society. Moreover, we understand that it is white people who must do the work of dismantling the privilege that white people enjoy at the expense – and lives – of Black and Brown people. For this dismantling to happen, however, so much needs to be transformed: from individual hearts and minds to the political, civic, religious, economic, educational, and cultural institutions – including queer institutions – that feed and perpetuate this racist and death-dealing mentality.
We pledge today to continue – and intensify – our commitment to the anti-racist, justice-seeking, and intersectional work that motivates us as staff members of CLGS, an LGBTQ organization dedicated “to advancing the well-being of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and transforming faith communities and the wider society by taking a leading role in shaping a new public discourse on religion and sexuality.”
This new public discourse that we seek to shape and promote is a discourse that is not only rooted in anti-racism but that moves us from talk to action and real change for our Black and Brown siblings, many of whom live daily with the realities of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia.
We ask you to join us in this work.
Rev. Dr. Carla Roland Guzmán, Coordinator of the CLGS Latinx Roundtable
Rev. Jakob Hero-Shaw, Coordinator of the CLGS Transgender Roundtable
Rabbi Jane Litman, Coordinator of the CLGS Jewish Roundtable
Dr. Bernard Schlager, Executive Director
Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow, Coordinator of the CLGS African American Roundtable
BREATHING | BEING | PRAYING
by Yohana Junker
As you know, I have been making these breathing | Being | Praying exercises for the last months to center, to be in touch with our breath, to excavate sensations on my body that often go unnoticed, to enflesh feelings. To have feelings that think and thoughts that feel, as Claudio Carvalhaes has taught me. Coke Tani invited me to think about the shape and movement of body prayer. Years of work with the healing arts through the teachings of Caroline Vigery, Veronica Iglesias, Mae Sandra, @anaeloisas, Eliad Santos, Débora A Junker, Divane Agra, aunties, grandmas, and cousins have taught me to let the body breathe, be, and pray. I transferred these knowing into to this drawing practice. And here is how it typically goes:
Take a deep breath. Take a moment to center yourself. Maybe create sacred space. Maybe meditate for a few minutes. When you feel grounded, identify a phrase that crystalizes a thought or sensation that wants to come to the surface of your skin. Write that in the center of the page. Breathe into this deeply and slowly. Trust your hand and the movement it wants to make, where it wants to take you, what it wants to reveal to you, as Elaine Panagos reminded me once. Draw one line as you breathe in and one line as you breathe out. After about 20 minutes of this exercise, do a bit of noting and writing based on the insights from the drawings.
The insights that accompanied this particular drawing today developed for me as a series of questions:
What am I committing to doing today? Within the next week? Next month? Next semester? Next year? Next decade? What will be my commitment as I do my life’s work?
I will continue to call for justice and gather resources. For Breonna Taylor. I will continue to breathe; continue to care for myself and communities. I will financially support the work of Oluwatomisin Oredein (venmo @Oluwatomisin_Oredein) one of the most brilliant educators and scholars I know. The work of Tamisha Tyler (Venmo: @Tamisha_Tyler), another badass scholar. Check her #WhyIsSheSoDope Series. I will continue to redistribute income. Donate to bail funds. I will give up white power and privilege.
Continue to undo and give up the power proximity to whiteness has afforded me. I will carry Cheryl Harris’s words with me and share it widely, every day: the Americanization project is fundamentally anti-black—the LAW has afforded holders of whiteness the same privileges afforded to other types of properties, as it’s an aspect of identity and a property interest used to exercise power.
I will continue to question:
After the performance is over when the streets are empty when our throats can’t chant words anymore, our eyes can’t cry, our arms can’t hold up signs any longer, what is left? Who am I? How will we show up?
Ericka Hart (venmo: @ericka-hart)—non-binary Sex educator, Racial, Social, Gender justice disruptor—asks us with white privilege what are we going to do? Will we give up power? Authority? Visibility? Will we understand that our whiteness and commitment to it is lethal? Will we admit our complicity in anti-blackness and racism? Are we willing to lose friends, have difficult conversations, put bodies on the line, lose our jobs? Be rendered as the dissenting voices wherever we go?
Will we redistribute income? Will we pass on job opportunities? Will we demand our Black siblings are properly compensated? Will we work toward reparation? Will we continue to confront whiteness in our board of directors, the board of trustees, our institutions? Will we work toward reimagining and recreating community strategies for life beyond capitalism, for safety, emergency response, collective care that does not require police presence? Will we continue to fight for abolition? Will we advocate for Black presence? Will we reach for our pockets? Will we follow Black leadership? Will we check on Black friends? Will we protect Black lives? Will we not rest until our families friends and communities are educated about the implications of anti-blackness?
You have the right to be, and to be free, and to be safe, and to be feeling, and to be creating, and to be dreaming, and to be healed, and to be resting. I will not stop fighting for these rights. I continue to offer reiki sessions. Hit me up if you need one. #healersforblacklives #whitenessislethal
LIVING OUT LOUD
from Ellen Peterson
I was struck by how this speaks to our current environment; the essay is on homelessness, but the concept is far greater. It points to the need for us to first see the other as a human being with fears, hopes, love and pain and then to connect.
“This is a difficult problem, and some wise and compassionate people are working hard at it. But in the main I think we work around it, just as we walk around it when it is lying on the sidewalk or sitting in the bus terminal—the problem, that is. It has been customary to take people’s pain and lessen our own participation in it by turning it into an issue, not a collection of human beings. We turn an adjective into a noun: the poor, not poor people; the homeless, not Ann or the man who lives in the box or the woman who sleeps on the subway grate.”
Quindlen, Anna, Living Out Loud (New York: Ballantine Books, 1988), 181.
I NEED TO BREATHE
by GM.M'Imwonyo Mbui
I can't breathe!
"Why so"—you ask?
But how could I?
With your knee
Firmly on my neck,
Hard pressed to the ground!
I need to Breathe!
I want to live!
“Then why don't you"—you spout?
But how can I?
With my entire bein'
Hopelessly pinned down
With no space to move
Nor to Breathe!
I want to thrive!
"Then go for it!" you taunt?
Yet how could I?
With the System's Knee
So strategically pinned
To rob me of life
As I can't Breathe!
"What System"—you retort?
How could you tell?
Even if I re-tell
Since the System
Are one and the same thing
That curtails my Breath
So I can't Breathe!
O the System?
It is that intricate web
Of incessant policing
That stems from
Endemic suspicion, and
Fear of those cloaked in
The accursed garment of
Which makes it so
Very hard to Breathe!
And the agents of
The bullish System?
Are you. And you. And you
Who stiffen up whenever
I happen in so ungodly
A proximity that threatens
To dismantle the Walls
That keep us asunder
Lest we mix and mingle
And in some way discover
Though Black ‘n dark I be
That I am as human too
Hence deserve to Breathe!
O and then the Knee?
It is that weird smirk
You don on yo' pale face
That says so clearly
Albeit without a word
"You are not welcome here!"
Or if turns out I am
Then my presence becomes
So unbearable a torture
For both you and I
Making it all too hard
For us both to Breathe!
“Is that all for de' Knee?”
How I wish it was!
Except that it is
So much more
The instructor's pen too;
All so angry and raving
With red ink aplenty
'Dat so menacingly surveys
My essay for blights
And if there be not many
Then follow the Praise,
Tempered in guise
"How do you write so well?"
Or its close relative
"How you so articulate?"
As if 'tis a crime to dare
Master the manners of
The Palace in which
Only the Elect dwell
With my kinfolk and I
Locked out and down
Makin' it real hard to Breathe!
So get yo' Knee off
Of my life-givin' throb!
For while the System
Serves you well
I dream not to partake
Lest I be mistaken
For some lurking imposter
In my humble lot so I abide
My only plea I live to make
Get off my neck NOW!
For I Need to Breathe!!
May 31, 2020.
The Encounter (Virtual Community)
by Galen Cortes
Through the pathways of our dreams
Passing through the bright colors and shades of green
Our hearts beat in affection
Our minds leap into action
We can touch what we feel
We can smell what is in the air
Then we decided
And together we come out from this isolation
(When two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name in virtual reality, He is online.)
by Galen Cortes
dedicated to everyone who struggles for justice, peace and communion
I have ascended peaks of mountains
while listening to the howls of the wind of change
I have crossed the fastest lane
Searching for direction but nowhere it brings,
Will this remain the same?
I have scaled walls of freedom
Knowing when to run and learning how to jump over a fence
I am afraid, and I am panting
Would this be my end?
If only I can share my heart
You will feel what is burning inside
A strong desire for living and sharing
Where shades or colors flow into the same veins
I have approached legion of angels
Made acquaintances with the devil
Born in the dark, but warm by the light
And called to be strong
Once you said, “There are no enemies, only friends who forget to love.”
By saying that, you remind me of your ever-tender presence
And for many years you sheltered me under your wings
Nothing can separate us now from your reassuring embrace.
My Mother, to be with you, is to rest.
DR. ALISON M. BENDERS
Quilting as Spiritual Practice and the Possibility of Redemption