Category Archives: Activism

Journeys in Anti-Racism Work

Tascosa High School Yearbook

One of the most interesting aspects of doing anti-racism work is finding out from my fellow white friends what brought them to this seemingly Quixotic endeavor. Rarely is the story linear; usually it is complicated.

I grew up in a family where I heard the “n” word used constantly by my maternal grandparents. My great, great grandparents enslaved people – they bought and sold men, women and children and likely worked them from sun up to sundown and whipped them because that was acceptable if the help got uppity.

In recent years when I’ve raised questions about this heritage, I’ve been assured by my mother and others in the family that my great, great grandfather, who fought in the Civil War to maintain the right to own people, was “one of the good slaveowners.”

I cannot reconcile how owning another human being and controlling every aspect of his/her life can be “good.”

In addition to that background, I attended Tascosa High School in Amarillo, Texas in the mid 1970s. When I entered Tascosa and when desegregation was beginning in that Panhandle city, the school mascot was Johnny Reb, the school song was “Dixie” and the Stars and Bars flew on a flagpole outside the school and was waved by cheerleaders during sporting events. The image you see above is from our yearbook.

The parents of black students who were bused across Amarillo objected to their kids having to walk past the ROTC kids raising a Confederate flag as their children disembarked from buses. They also didn’t think it right that their children had to walk into the school commons where a mural of Johnny Reb greeted them. They also found the school song and mascot offensive.

Because I was fortunate enough to serve as a page at the Texas Capitol the second semester of my sophomore year, I missed a great deal of the tension and anxiety that occurred in my high school that spring. Letters from my friends detailed friction and fights between those who wanted to change and those who preferred to maintain the status quo.

After all, they were just celebrating southern heritage. What is the harm in that?

During my junior year, thanks to leadership from the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), the mascot was changed to the Rebel Kid, which sort of looks like a cowboy. The school song was a revised version of the University of Texas’ fight song to the dismay of parents who were Aggies.

School board and school officials were forced to “allow” African American students who would have been leaders in their then-shuttered high school to serve on student council and as cheerleaders.

All that contributed to festering tensions and invisible lines drawn down the hallways where black students walked on one side and white students on the other. While classrooms were desegregated; the cafeteria and social activities were not.

At our 40th high school reunion last year, I was not surprised that only one African American graduate showed up, And, he didn’t stay long.

High school years are rarely fondly remembered. To have been a black student at Tascosa during that time must have been extraordinarily difficult.

Those memories faded over the years as I went off to college and started a career and family. We lived in the Houston area for 11 years before moving to Georgetown in 1995. The lack of diversity when we first moved here was quite stark after working in an international and cosmopolitan city during the oil boom.

Then the trainings I received at Texas CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), the state association of programs that advocate for children in the foster care system,  made me realize that racism wasn’t a bygone problem.

The more I learned, the more I realized how insidious and invasive the problem is. As a CASA volunteer, I saw how families of color and their children were treated differently by the Child Protection System, the educational and medical systems.

After nearly 60 years, the scales finally fell from my eyes. I cannot unsee what I have seen or unknow what I now know.

As a person of faith, I am called to follow the teachings of my faith, which is to love, care for and treat every person as children of our creator regardless of faith, gender, race, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation

And, I feel compelled to work to call out and dismantle systems of institutionalized racism whenever and wherever I see it. I may have limited impact on what happens at the national or state levels. But, I can work to transform Georgetown and Williamson County so they are more inclusive communities, welcoming to all who come.

I invite you to get actively  involved in this movement known as Courageous Conversations of Georgetown.

Katherine Kerr
Communications Chair, CCGTX

Can You and I Have a Courageous Conversation?

Amid the racial turmoil and violence following the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, a group of individuals from various faith communities in Georgetown began meeting to explore the possibilities of engaging in civil, respectful dialogue about the difficult issue of race.

Over several months of meetings and research, we landed on what we call Courageous Conversations about race.  We studied several dialogue methods and community building strategies.

One dialogue method that captured our attention is The Red Bench, a program of Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT).  “The Red Bench is an on-going dialogue program designed to address the most pressing needs of our time: improving interfaith understanding and civil discourse in our society. “

iACT granted our Courageous Conversations group permission to use The Red Bench method, including their dialogue script, the talking stone and their Conversations Agreement. Let me share the ‘Guidelines for a Great Conversation’ from the Conversations Agreement:

Open-mindedness:  listen to and respect all points of view
Acceptance: suspend judgment as best you can
Curiosity: seek to understand rather than persuade; we are not here to “fix one another”
Discovery: question old assumptions, look for new insights
Sincerity: speak your truth, from your heart, about what has personal meaning to you
Brevity: go for honesty and depth but don’s go on and on

On May 30, 2017, I joined a group at the Unity Church of the Hills in Austin for a Red Bench conversation on the topic: Courage.

What a wonderful experience!  I was greeted in the parking lot by a trustee of the Unity Church who at one time lived in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina, where Chrystle and I lived most of our married life.

After dinner, the four rounds of the conversation began.  First, we introduced ourselves and told what motivated us to attend. Next, we shared definitions of courage. A list of quotations about courage prompted intense personal stories of courage displayed and of courage avoided.  It became quite clear and was a major ‘takeaway’ for me, that courage is a matter of self-awareness, but perhaps more importantly, a willingness to take action in light of that awareness.

The Courageous Conversations movement in Georgetown has a vision of creating “A beloved community of compassion characterized by cross-cultural communication, collaboration, celebration and courage.”

Yes, we aim to raise personal and community awareness of the racism and its impact on all of us. More importantly, we aim to take action in light of that awareness. Our actions are based on the philosophy and principles of non-violence, which is grounded in agape (compassionate love for humankind) as described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

According to Dr. King, “Principle One: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil.  It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally.”

In the ‘Beloved Community’ racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.  If this ‘beloved community’ is to become a reality in Georgetown, can we begin by having a courageous conversation?

I invite you to join us for our next assembly on July 15 when we talk about Working on Race and Privilege.”

Ron Swain
Courageous Conversations Convener

Thoughts on Principle Three of Nonviolence

“What are evil, injustice and oppression?”

These questions were raised in a recent Courageous Conversation gathering.

If one defines racism as the attitudes, practices and policies that subject a group of people, based on their race, to be deemed inferior to another race, then racism is evil, unjust and oppressive.

Racism is contrary to the Great Commandment, which calls God’s beloved children to “love God with all their heart, mind, body and soul; and to love their neighbor as they love themselves.” These two commandments are cited by Jesus in Matthew 22:35-40 and Mark 12:28-34.

According to Wikipedia, “These two commandments are paraphrases taken from the Old Testament and are commonly seen as important to Jewish and Christian ethics.” Love in this context is agape, which embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends and serves regardless of circumstances―love that values, respects and seeks the well being of the other. Perhaps one of the clearest examples of agape is the story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37.

Per Wikipedia,  “Agape is considered to be the love originating from God for humankind. Cf. Matt 3:17, Mark 10:21. In the New Testament, it refers to the covenant love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God; the term necessarily extends to the love of one’s fellow man. The word is not limited for religious use; agape can extend to sub-divine beings. The notion of agape has been examined as to traditions, whether Christian or other world religions, religious ethics and science.”

Another standard of this attitude and practice is called the “golden rule”―do to others as you want them to do to you (considered a summary of the Torah and an ethical code in Islam).  Both in thought and in deed, racism seems contradictory to these two standards of human behavior and interaction.

So this brings me to Principle Three of Nonviolence: “Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people. Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people. The nonviolent resister seeks to defeat evil not people.”

Practicing Principle Three is one of the true challenges for members of the “Beloved Community.” It is not easy to separate “evil thoughts” and “evil actions” from the “evil doer.” But we MUST!

Thank you for your commitment and efforts to create the “beloved community” in Georgetown.

Ron Swain
Courageous Conversations Convener

Walking Through, Not Away

We often talk about how much our work in building Beloved Community is based on relationship, and how a willingness to do anti-racism work requires a commitment to proximity, to “getting close” to problems, situations and people.

Many of us feel blessed by the bonds developed in the course of learning hard truths, sharing terrible burdens, and forging plans of action. But we also have encountered the challenges that are part of all human relationships, at times feeling as frustrated with our companions in this work as we do with the opposition to our efforts.

It is tempting to feel our movement is faltering, that we cannot waste time and effort in working through differences when there is so much work to be done in dealing with those who do not yet share our conviction to “undo” racism.

But we cannot tackle racism, one of the most intractable of human problems, without stirring up deeply-held feelings. Managing our frustration with one another and our despair with the steepness of the hill we are trying to climb is not a small part of our work.

All of us actively involved in CCGTX walked through the door with hearts already convinced of the moral wrongness of racism. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Six Steps of Nonviolent Social Change have been held up repeatedly as the road map we are following, and most of us have plunged into Steps One and Two of Dr. King’s Six Steps with some eagerness.

Now we are engaged with the tasks of Steps Three and Four, having come far enough into the process to have encountered the emotional toll and spiritual challenges that accompany this work. This is where we need to put our hearts and minds to considering the nuts and bolts of the task of living out the principles we espouse.

And we find that our work can be as much with ourselves and with each other as it is with those who oppose us.

Just repeating the steps on the road map will not suffice, and we find we need concrete instruction on walking through conflicts with our integrity and love remaining intact.

Perhaps the whites among us, unaccustomed to not getting our own way, struggle with this more than people of color as we have come to expect the world to yield to our wishes.

In any case, we all need help in learning HOW to do what we know we need to do.

To that end, our Core Group is exploring concrete steps we can take. A conflict-resolution model will be examined within the group and we look forward to reporting outcomes and lessons learned to our wider community.

Susan Wukasch
Chair, Cultural and Historical Accuracy Learning/Action Group