On September 21, 2020 Jean Shinoda Bolen and five other world leaders, opened The General Congress of Women, created and hosted by SARAH, one of the oldest and largest Interfaith women’s organizations. The vision is to grow the collective power of grassroots women through collaboration and action. Our chant is Women Uniting To Change The World.
Every Month On the 21st Ann Smith, Millionth Circle Convener, Sande Hart, President of SARAH, and LauraSa Pele Lafoia Ava, One Global Family Alliance, will host Sacred Circle Zoom calls where every voice is heard and all participate in learning how to hold a Congress.
Millionth Circle Principles and Guidelines, Nature’s way of Organizing, Sacred Economy and Care and Caregiving are the four elements that are available to help women, women’s organizations and coalitions organize a General Congress of women. For more information and to become involved go to https://www.sarah4hope.org/general-congress-of-women.
On May 25th, I along with the world and the women of the Millionth Circle (MC), witnessed the life drain from the body of George Floyd for 8 minutes, 53 seconds. I am a founding member, and the only Black women among a sea of 16-20 white women, with only one other women of Japanese descent. For 19 years, it has often been a very lonely journey, and many times in self talk, I have told myself ‘leave.’ I am grateful now that I stayed, perhaps for this very moment, perhaps for this very invitation that was clear and straightforward.
The invitation came as a sense of urgency, immediately after our regular monthly call on June 9th. I waited patiently for my heart to settle, as the words poured out, as the tears flowed. I had listened to the outrage and dismay from all the women present, and felt a stirring. Aware of the privilege of the women, including my own, I spoke of race and racism in our country, and briefly again, of my own journey within our circle. Several years before at one of our annual face-to-face Deepenings, I had offered an abbreviated workshop on RACE. I had found it revealing in that most of the women present had never thought deeply about their socialization process. White people often don’t have to reveal this background information to themselves; it's not at all a requirement for success in our white dominated society.
Although I wished that ping in my heart to fade, as race and racism work has been a predominate factor of service in my retirement years, it wouldn’t go away. And so I sent an invitation: “My work is very clear. I will spend every ounce of my energy and spirit trying to dismantle racism in any form that I can. Right now, that feels like showing up for circle gatherings, panels, workshops and writing articles, to be part of the conversation and dialogue. I hope you will and can roll with me, because I need you, my people need you…Roll with me, not from a place of embarrassment or shame. Roll with me and with us, from a place of conscious choice for justice, fairness, and reform that transforms a world that works equally, regardless of the color of our skin.”
I didn’t know if I would get any traction, as commitments are full with more activities in these days of COVID and ZOOM. But slowly, I heard from 11 of the women with a YES. I suspect it is not easy to say YES to such an invitation, as the focus sinks down in the dirt of our history, the dirt of complicity, silence, and oppression from freedom for my people. Not easy as a white woman, for fear of what might be uncovered about one’s self, one’s upbringing, and one’s lack of confrontation around issues of racism that haunt our nation.
Our first circle convened two weeks later, with an invitation for all to start at the beginning. Watch 13th Amendment. That documentary movie set the context for the next 5 weeks, where we came together every Wednesday for several hours. At the time, our country was populated with conversations, podcast, webinars, articles, and major network bulletins, shaken and alarmed with fury, as if racism was new news. It wasn’t for me or my people, but Floyd’s death lit a fire! And watching 13th Amendment for our newly formed circle, not only proved educational, but fueled that fire. I breathed noticeably, as each women spoke her words without fear of retribution…honest, truthful, sometimes angry words, shared with bellies on fire about the need for change and the end of this systemic ideology.
As we enter our fifth month, we have settled into a monthly practice of listening, sharing, and inquiring with curiosity, and a focus on learning, while admitting ignorance across broad arenas of contemplation. The white women have been surprised and humbled by the blindness of their white privilege, and the segregated socialization of their educational indoctrination. No more was this aware, than as they read articles from The 1619 Project. The women from southern backgrounds got particularly alarmed by the wedge created from lies, laws and accepted practices that kept relationship between Black and white people nearly impossible.
One of the most noticeable impacts of segregation in today’s living for the white women is the lack of people of color in their lives. Only a very few know a Black person, other than the relationship with me. Most currently live in segregated neighborhoods, consequently, friendship is a challenge. And, I admit Black people are not hanging out on the corner waiting to make a white friend. A theme that continues to arise is “What is the role of white people to become conscious?”, “What does it mean to be an ally?”, and “How to turn up the fire around the need for systemic change?”
I don’t believe we would be able to have this conversation without the guiding principles of circle. Even though we are meeting on ZOOM, we are honoring the sacred center of the circle, while engaged in deep listening, being present, confidentiality, sharing our truth without shame or blame, and speaking one at a time, while honoring all voices. At the core of our coming together is opening our hearts and minds with compassion and understanding, with a willingness to be influenced. Sometimes tensions arise, and we hold them with respect and dignity. Plus, I keep saying, ‘this is a safe circle, but that doesn’t mean you won’t feel uncomfortable.’
If you are interested in starting a circle for this conversation with Black and white women or women of color, you may use the resources of how to host a circle that we practice in our Millionth Circle, and the suggested books and other references we are using. They include the following: James Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro; Robin Di-Angelo, White Fragility; Reesma Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands; Ibram Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist; John Lewis, Walking With The Wind, and Isabel Wilkerson, Caste. And if you are wanting more references, these days, there is much contemporary and historical information right at your fingertips on the internet.
I don’t know how long we will gather, and for now, we are committed to peel this onion, one layer at a time. We are committed to tackle this GIANT, in terms of how it shows up in our lives, armed with a willingness to fall down and get up, over and over again, as we sift through to truth. WHY? Because we realize our democracy is teetering and we need each other, so we all have liberation and can flourish. Yes, I don’t know how long we will gather, but I will continue to show up with these white women, as long as they and I are willing to choose vulnerability, and staying woke to ending racism of all people, as the only option.