The following post was written by Zenaida Peterson, QVS Director of Equity and Empowerment.
Bayard Rustin was a gay, Black, Quaker civil rights activist who organized the March on Washington and taught Martin Luther King Jr. about non violent direct action. This Black History Month QVS celebrates the faithful life of Bayard Rustin who has forever left an imprint on the world. We wonder: What does it mean to be faithful in 2021? What sacrifices are we willing to make?
The narrative that we often hear about justice and liberation is that it’s a zero-sum game — one person’s gain is another’s loss. Sacrifice, in this scenario, is seen as a giving up of freedom and liberation for some in order that others can gain it. However, sacrifice comes from two latin terms: sacer, meaning to ‘set apart from the secular’ and facere, meaning ‘to make.’ Sacrifice, then, is to make something set apart from the secular, to make something sacred.
What are we willing to make sacred?
If Friends understand that all are fundamentally equal, that the Light, Spirit and/or God lives in all of us, and we know that in this country the lived reality involves police violence toward Black people, the school to prison pipeline, and systemic discrimination — what, then, are we called to do? When Bayard Rustin was imprisoned for two years as a conscientious objector, he protested segregation there, too. He embodied his Quaker values everywhere he went. When Bayard Rustin lived and organized, cultural violence was the norm. Rustin and the world’s most vulnerable people worked to change this reality. What is normal now, in 2021, that shouldn’t be?
This year, Rachel Logan-Wood (PDX City Coordinator) and Zenaida Peterson (Director of Equity and Inclusion) have been talking about how white people in Portland, and specifically our Fellows, can keep up the momentum from this past summer’s uprisings for the movement of Black lives. We arrived at the question: what do we need to do to take care of ourselves in order to live our values in the streets?
White supremacy culture prioritizes urgency, individualism, and perfectionism, leading to burnout. QVS aims to find sustainable ways for young people to be doing this work. We believe burn out is avoided through spiritual connection and community.
White culture embraces the body as a tool for labor rather than a vessel for accessing Spirit.
As individuals trying to dismantle white supremacy we often rely on its characteristics and metrics for success. White supremacy culture wants problems to be over quickly, believes change only comes through data, and is impatient for the persistent, consistent work required for us to be free.
If we do this justice and liberation work from a place of groundedness in our bodies, taking the time it takes, what would be different? We know that we are better to our communities when we are better to ourselves. Quaker Voluntary Service invites you to dream different futures for us. The end of racism in this country will not come in a presidency or diverse classroom; we have deep internal and interpersonal work to do. What are we willing to make sacred?
Black History Month should not be the only time that we acknowledge the ways anti Blackness is a toxin in our world and it should not only be a time where we celebrate Black joy and Black wellness either. This month, when we hear about Martin Luther King Jr., let’s remember Bayard Rustin, who was often besides him and was advised not to take a more public role because of his sexuality. This month, let’s support Black-led communities and organizations. Let’s eat from Black owned restaurants and buy art from Black artists. Let’s listen to Black musicians and watch Black media. Can we facilitate Black wellness and engage in Black joy? As we lean into these practices, we can also see how this is a year-long, life-long set of practices and priorities. Angelic troublemaking requires taking risks, asking hard questions, building community and living with integrity.
We hope you’ll share in our commitment this month. Use the comments section below to respond to any of the queries offered in this post.
Compelled to contribute to the work of building an equitable world? Pledge your support and help us equip young adults for whole lives rooted in Spirit-led social change.