The Work of Seeking Racial Justice: Interrupting Racism

Community Conversations on Race
By Mary Lynn Ellis
Think of a time when you didn’t know how to respond to an issue of race or racism. That was the prompt posed by Dr. Ali Michael, a well-respected white anti-racist educator and activist, at June’s Community Conversation on Race, whose topic was “Widening the Path: White People Helping Other White People to Walk an Anti-Racist Path.” 
Thinking about those kinds of moments and wanting to build both the courage and the skills to dismantle racism is precisely what brings both white participants and participants of color from all over the country (currently via Zoom) to what started four years ago as a local suburban Philadelphia conversation about race. Meeting monthly, led by Friends Select’s Director of Equity and Inclusion, Toni Graves Williamson, former AFS teacher Mary Lynn Ellis, and Friends Council on Education’s Associate Director, Deborra Sines Pancoe, participants “consider difficult questions and share vulnerabilities with others who are brave enough to listen, support and share their own experiences,” in the words of one participant. 
Dr. Michael spoke powerfully about her own journey of learning to balance love and compassion with effective skills for confronting racism. She suggested asking ourselves the question, “What am I doing today to dismantle racism?” as opposed to measuring only long-term gains in this ongoing work. 
This group works to meet every participant wherever they are in their own journeys as anti-racists. One participant, fairly new to this work, said, “The June meeting was important to me because Ali was so brutally honest about how she (still) messes up.  Also, I really appreciated that she said (more than once) that calling someone out in a confrontational way is not the way to win them over. This helps me feel more able to speak up in my own, not-so-confrontational way.” 
The Zoom platform has opened the conversation to wider participation this year. Sessions begin with race-alike groups (affinity groups) for check-ins about recent experiences, then present some content—from articles and videos to guest speakers—followed by small group conversations and then sharing the learnings from those groups back out to the full group.  So each meeting is full of opportunities to learn from one another. About the chance to wrestle in small groups with one another’s experiences, another participant said that “the fact that I usually don't know my fellow ‘seekers’ very well has given me great hope, seeing that there are so many of us out there striving to understand, to evolve, to make the world a better, more inclusive place.”

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