Grant Wiedenfeld Update

4 Aug

Grant sent this blog entry just as I was leaving town for the Appalachian Trail. I had no way to get this into the blog until now, so I apologize to Grant and to you all that this is slightly more than a month old…Michael

IMG_4146Dear Friends,

I last wrote to share news of my settling into Houston, Texas, as an Assistant Professor of Mass Communication at Sam Houston State University. I spent a busy year teaching new classes and continuing my research, while meeting people and exploring activities like sand volleyball and the art scene in Houston. I was then fortunate to escape the summer heat and head to Europe, where I am teaching the same French cinema class for the Yale Summer Session that I taught last summer.

Before going to Paris I stopped in London to visit some Yalies who live there now. One does research at the British Library and a Slavic archive on Euston Street. She told me that she and her colleagues often go to lunch at the Quaker Centre Café. I stayed the night in the Bloomsbury area, and was able to visit two interesting places that I want to share with you.

The Friends House or Quaker Centre is both the hub of Quakers in Britain and a conference center that rents its space to a variety of organizations. IMG_4169IMG_4168IMG_4163IMG_4162Its bookshop and café seem to attract a lot of people from the neighborhood. In the café overheard them offering a discount to University College London folks. I had a great meal with three different kinds of salads (one with quinoa) and a quiche; a vegetarian’s delight. In retrospect I wish I had taken a photo of the café, which is like a cafeteria. It’s in the basement of Friends House, which reminds me of the New Haven fellowship area. I did take photos of the building’s exterior, main entrance, courtyard, and café/bookshop.

The second place I visited was the Westminster Quaker Meeting House. The only time I could pop in was first thing in the morning, and the “warden” Lorraine O’Hanlon kindly let me in and showed me around. They have a number of spaces for community group meetings such as AA, and three worship meetings weekly. One of the worship meetings is special—“Drop-in Silence” they call it, which is different from a proper Quaker worship. Entirely non-denominational, it’s simply what the name says: people can drop in, sit in silence, and leave when they please. Lorraine said it was successful in having new people come and in creating a popular space. Their building is located in the heart of London; the library and main hall struck me as calm centers in the storm of the city that I saw as a tourist. In the entryway they had paintings from a Quaker artist, Ron Waddams, hanging on both sides. I quite appreciated one picture called “Unresolved and universal questions of existence” (Acrylic on board, 122×122 cm, 2000). Its four colors and sleek lines show a complex of relations among figures. The texture of the sharply cut borders feels both abstract and tactile to me.IMG_4155

If you visit London I encourage you to see these two places. And if you hear about British Quaker activity or see their trademark Q you can now associate them with the Friends House. After I left London I stopped in Calais, France, to spend a week volunteering around the refugee camp. I will share that experience with you in my next post.

Peace,

Grant

 

Volunteering at a Refugee Camp in Calais, France

Dear Friends,

Europe’s most infamous refugee camp is in Calais, the point where the Eurotunnel plunges under the tunnel before emerging in Dover. Here over 6,000 migrants currently live as they wait to pass into Britain. A lawless place with some inhumane living conditions, the camp is known everywhere as “The Jungle.” I spent ten days there as a volunteer and an assistant on a documentary.

Several non-profits operate a warehouse near the camp that sorts incoming donations and distributes food, clothes, and other gear to the refugees. They have developed systems of distribution that aim to be fair and dignified—you can imagine how just driving into camp with a trunk full of free stuff would create an awful scene. The warehouse operation grew out of the desire to deliver one van of donations from the UK in 2008. A grassroots effort developed and continues to evolve.

These pictures give you an idea of how the sorting operation works, and the sign from the camp lists what items are distributed each day. I would like to describe their operation and my experience in greater detail, but it would be better to do so in person sometime.It suffices to say that I met some wonderful volunteers and residents in the camp, and I was sad to only be able to volunteer for ten days. If you want to read more about non-profit work there go to Calaid-ipedia. Here is a link to the fundraiser site for HelpRefugees, one organization at the warehouse where I worked.

A documentary filmmaker in my department in Texas, Jean Bodon, has an interesting approach to the Jungle. He gave cellphones to some refugees who could film their everyday life and express themselves. This form of collaboration aims to give them a more direct voice. I helped by giving phones to a few refugees I met, and I also helped them film some interviews. I hope to share more about that project later on.

I did find one Quaker who also worked at the warehouse, a Belgian named Renke Meuwese. He has some connections at the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network, who give legal help to asylum seekers inside the UK. From their logo I suspect that they are located at Friends House in London, which is a nice way to round out this blog post.

I wish you all well in New Haven, and I hope to visit you soon.

Peace,

Grant

Lori Martin-Mooney: Food Rescue

23 Mar

Lori Martin Mooney

I was born with a social consciousness. By age five I was writing to save the whales. The house I lived in from age eight to seventeen is the same house where I live now. My parents bought it 43 years ago. My family was Roman Catholic and I went to St. Rose Church. I always liked church things and St. Roses was always pretty progressive and today, is still very progressive. I went to college and was a women’s history major. I learned about Quaker women and the progressiveness of Quakers all through US history.

Then, Bill and I lived in Tucson, before Ben was born, and we were a part of the Sanctuary movement. We hosted a family from Central America. There were a lot of people involved including many Quakers, but we didn’t attend the Meeting, but when Ben was born, I decided I had to go to a Quaker Meeting so he would have the option of being a conscientious objector. When we returned to New Haven from Tucson, we went church-shopping. The New Haven Meeting was at Yale, but it didn’t feel like the right fit. It took a while, but eventually we got here.

Carol, a runner from New Haven

Carol, a runner from New Haven

Food Rescue-Community Plates
Kevin Mullins and Jeff Schacher started Community Plates in Norwalk, CT. in 2011. They made and designed software for restaurants to manage their labor, inventory, and reporting. They were doing well and they knew how much food restaurants wasted, so they designed the Community Plates app to redirect the food to places that might be able to use it. It’s a direct transfer model and it is decentralized as opposed to CT Foodbank. It operates with food runners and food donors and an AMAZING amount of food gets saved.

I’m the site director for New Haven Community Plates. It’s also in Fairfield County, Columbus Ohio, Albuquerque, NM, and New Orleans. New Haven got underway two or three years ago. I signed up as a runner when I first heard about it. Initially, we were rescuing food from the Winter CSA at City Seed. The winter food is not necessarily perishable. So, there wasn’t that much to be rescued. The young woman in charge was transitioning into another full-time job, so New Haven stopped for a while. This fall, I asked Caleb if he wanted to help me do something about it. He had some time in his life and he said yes. So, when we told Kevin and Jeff we wanted to reinvigorate New Haven, they were excited. They told us that Southern CT University, Toni Harp’s office, and Trader Joe’s in Orange had all just called and wanted to be involved.

So we called Trader Joes and they have become our primary donor site right now. We give the food to St. Gabe’s weekly soup kitchen in Milford, Beth El Center (a shelter and daily soup kitchen) in Milford, There’s No Place Like Home in New Haven, United House of Prayer on Dixwell Ave, Loaves and Fishes food pantry, and Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen. Some of these contacts I made and some were already made.

Caleb is my wing guy. He’s great at things that suit young people. He loves talking to groups and he does some of the tech work. I have about a dozen active runners. I wish I had more. We try to get people close to home so they are closer to the donors. I recruit friends to be runners. Sometimes folks hear about it and call us, and some come from the drop off sites.

One day Caleb and I got a call from Trader Joes. We took off and filled our Prius full to the roof with food. We had things tucked in the sides, Caleb had a case of food on his lap. I had been trying to reach some of the churches on Dixwell, but hadn’t been able to make any headway. That day I told Caleb, we were going to go down Dixwell and we were going to find a church! So coming from town, we turned onto Dixwell and about 500 feet on the left side was a church with a sign out front that said, “Kitchen Is Open”. So, I pulled in and asked two people standing by the door, “Is the Kitchen open?” One man said, no, but if you come back tomorrow, it will be.” I told him I didn’t need food, but that I had food to give and that I had just been to Trader Joes 15 minutes before and had a carload of food to give. He said he could take the food and that they feed their entire congregation on Sunday. So, I pulled around and the man directed me to a side door. He was very nicely dressed and was a charismatic man. His name is Pastor Woodley. When I opened the trunk and he saw the food, he was speechless. He said, “I shop at Trader Joes and this is all organic food.” He motioned over two other pastors and said, “Look at this-they brought us all this rescued food!” Caleb started bringing the food downstairs and of course, Pastor Woodley wanted to help. I was trying to get his contact information. He was turning in circles! Caleb and I had a meeting with him two weeks later and he told us that we can bring all the food we have and he will give it out. He said if they get the food regularly, he would invest in refrigerators and freezers and they’d open the church one day a week. We recruited several runners from that church and they’ve been bringing food across the street to the senior center as well.
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How it works is that Trader Joes calls me and then I start calling runners. The loads can be a car-full or a van-full. The load on New Year’s Day was a van-full, filled all the way to the roof. Thanksgiving, we had two car-loads, Christmas Day, we filled the van again to the roof! The food is frozen or fresh organic meat, prepared foods, dairy, or produce. We get all the perishables that you can’t get at the food pantries.

I want to expand our services, but we’re trying to grow slowly to make sure our relationship is solid with Trader Joes first and that when we say yes, we remove all the food and find places for it. Stores don’t like it when the people picking up food are unreliable or picky. We have done a good job and I know we are in good stead with Trader Joes, so I am thinking about markets, restaurants, and box store like Costco as new donor sites. I want more runners. You can only expand with the amount of runners you have. Without runners, the whole thing can topple. I’ve only been looking just at New Haven, but I have my eye on Madison and Waterbury.

We have a schedule of every night at 7pm and on Saturdays at 11 am and they sometimes give us a run on Wednesdays mornings at 11. Although every other week there is another run somewhere. I brought a case of meat to Friends Center For Children. I’ve also made a contact with Head Start in West Haven and they’re going to accept food. I’m thrilled to be working with the daycares.

A typical pick up takes about 30 minutes. I call just before I arrive, the food is all ready and boxed up, they pull the food out of the freezer, and put it on the dolly. Someone opens the door and we throw it in the car. Beth El Center is 9 minutes, the store in New Haven is 20 minutes. The runs are pretty much 20 minutes. Some days if I have to go back it takes longer.

One time after I had loaded up the car, Trader Joes said they had a couple more boxes of food. I was dropping off in Milford, so I told them I would come back and pick up the extras and take them in to New Haven on my way back. When I got there, they had eight boxes of meat and two boxes of tuna steaks. There were three huge garbage bags of bread and baked goods, which I put in my roof travel rack. Then I started to call around to my sites in New Haven. Most had just gotten orders from CT Foodbank and couldn’t take more, Beth El Center was totally full. Downtown New Haven Food Kitchen was closed for the week. I had nowhere to take the food. So, I went through my list again and decided to call St. Ann’s Soup Kitchen on Dixwell and Arch Sts. They said they would take the food! I got there and ran into a woman. She said, “I’m Lucy, you talked to me!” She told me that as she drove to work today she had prayed to God because she didn’t have enough food to feed her people. She said that someone had just dropped off a stationwagon full of fruit and vegetables from Bishop’s and now I had arrived. She was crying!

Food insecurity exists all around us. It’s not the same as folks needing soup kitchens. Food insecurity is more silent. So a bag of food, even a bag of apples, shifts things for families. It doesn’t have to be just the homeless. There are families that won’t go to the soup kitchens. There’s a tipping point when they will go for help, but before that tipping point, things are hard and then it gets harder and then they don’t have enough. If daycares are being subsidized, there are families on the edge and we know that food insecurity exists.

The kids and I talk about classism in our society and in the Quaker world, in terms of social justice, how people have access and what does it mean to have access. I had a postcard on my wall-I think I got it from Yearly Meeting-it’s a quote from Dorothy Day that says: Peace begins when the hungry are fed. One of the nuns at St. Roses said to me when I was young, that people can’t read the Bible if their stomachs are growling. In terms of daycares, children can’t learn if they are hungry. So, it was easy for me to say yes to this leading because I have been thinking about it for a very long time.

Lori and Caleb are still looking for runners to pick up and drop off food. Community Plates has an app that that is given to volunteers. The app displays the on-going schedule for their community so runners can sign up for a run that suits their availability, location, and car size. 8 million pounds of food is saved from the landfill annually.

Finn: First Contact!

28 Jan
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Finn and his companions at Kroka (he is third from the right-back row)

As many of you know, Finn has gone off to Kroka Expeditions for his second semester of his junior year in high school. A bit about Kroka:

Kroka was started “to change traditional outdoor education: to make it less contrived and more real and to bring a stronger and lasting connection to nature and community. They also saw the need to make traditional environmental education more engaging, inviting, dynamic and meaningful for kids.

Kroka’s founding principle is to bring children into nature using the dynamic modern pursuits of White Water Paddling, Climbing, Caving and Mountaineering. Our curriculum of natural sciences, traditional and indigenous craft skills, arts and music, and the philosophy of simplicity are brought into the experience in measured doses as participants become ready for them. The teaching focus is always on positive change in the world, special human contributions to the society and the wonders of nature.

Through our experiences working with Waldorf schools, Kroka made the decision to become a Waldorf-inspired school. Waldorf pedagogy is now an integral part of our staff training along with the study of singing, eurhythmy and other Waldorf-inspired art and movement forms. Experienced Waldorf educators join Kroka programs each summer to share their teaching experience and learn how we work with children in the outdoors”.

Kroka Base Camp

Kroka Base Camp January 18, 2016

We brought Finn to the Kroka base camp on Jan 18th where he has been getting ready to embark on the first part of his expedition on Feb 11: 300 miles cross-country skiing and camping traversing the state of VT from south to north. In April, they will start the second part of the expedition: white-water canoeing across the upper part of VT to Lake Champlain. They will switch to long boats and row the entire length of Lake Champlain. The final part of the expedition is bicycling back 100 miles to their base camp in New Hampshire, graduating on June 11th. On top of this, the 13 high schoolers will take classes all the while they are traveling and they will receive high school credits in all their regular subjects.

Finn's new axe

Finn receives his ax in the induction ceremony. Lots of laughs!

Each of the kids has to turn all their electronics over when they arrive. This is great on the one hand, but it also makes it hard to find out anything about how they are doing. We received notice of the first blog entry yesterday. You can access it and follow Finn’s entire semester at:

krokavermontsemester2016.blogspot.com

Then, when I got home there were two letters from Finn, one to us and the other to our dog, Jacquie-bear. I took photos and copy them below (I hope you can read them!):

An Update From Houston: Grant Wiedenfeld

22 Sep
​Center stage at the Wortham Theatre in Houston. I am not yet a star. This was an open house before the season.

​Center stage at the Wortham Theatre in Houston. I am not yet a star. This was an open house before the season.

Greetings from Houston to my friends in New Haven! After a summer spent in Paris I moved down here for my new job, assistant professor of mass communication at Sam Houston State University. I am settling into life here and would like to share a description of my journey.

Sam Houston State University campus in Huntsville, Texas

Sam Houston State University campus in Huntsville, Texas

At the end of June I departed New Haven with excitement for the next chapter of my life and sadness over the closing one. A cross-country trek first took me to my parents’ abode in Des Moines, Iowa. While there I had the opportunity to worship with friends at Des Moines Valley, in the same yearly meeting as Scattergood. They are kind and welcoming. Soon I jetted off to Paris where I taught a Yale summer study abroad course on French cinema. Ten Yale students came from California, New York, Florida, Kenya, and Singapore. What they had in common was that this was their first trip or first extended stay in Paris and western Europe. We galloped through a hundred years of French cinema in five weeks. Aside from watching movies I left time to explore Paris, France, and other places nearby.

As a class we visited the D-Day beaches at Normandy and the Riviera town of Cannes, where the world’s premiere film festival happens each May. I also took the opportunity to visit Amsterdam and London. In Paris I met a handful of Quakers who hold a meeting there. I learned that there are only a hundred or so Quakers in all of France! If they are all as friendly as these, surely that number will grow.

Upon returning stateside I scurried down to Houston by car, with my mother as a co-pilot this time. My first task was to find a dwelling place, and I happened to meet an engineer just moved from Connecticut to work at NASA who needed a roommate. Then I set to preparing my three classes this fall: Film History, Scriptwriting, and Media Theory. I am teaching all three classes online. One benefit is that I can live in central Houston which has a vibrant cultural life. I was surprised to learn that Texans support the arts very much. Teaching online also presents challenges with learning the software, designing activities, and interacting in a Skype-like environment. I am still getting the hang of it. I have been attending Live Oak Friends Meeting in Houston, known for its amazing meetinghouse designed by James Turrell. You would all feel welcome here.

Fellowship at Live Oak Friends

Fellowship at Live Oak Friends

Garden Oaks Meetinghouse

Live Oaks Meetinghouse with open ceiling by James Turrell

I am happy to be here but I do miss New Haven very much. I hope to visit sometime, and I will try to keep in touch.

With peaceful wishes,
Grant

An Open Channel: Bonnie Muller

14 Apr

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Becoming a Quaker

I’ve been a Quaker since I was seven.  My parents were the son and daughter of ministers and sought their own religious home, which they found in Quakerism.  Dad was a conscientious objector during WWII and found good friends amongst Friends.  Being a quiet and pensive kid, I felt right at home in the Quaker Meeting. I used to climb a rope swing up into a Chestnut tree in the back yard and sit for hours looking at the sky and branches and leaves.  My parents were easy-going, hard-working, playful people. My mother played the piano, dad played the guitar, cello and bass fiddle.  Judy, my older sister, played the violin.  My younger sister, Barb, played the flute, and I played the harp.

On special occasions we played altogether.  On ordinary occasions, like riding in the Chevy sedan with no seat belts and three in the front seat to see Quaker friends, we sang and harmonized together.  “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was the family favorite, as well as “Some Enchanted Evening!”  I remember the comfort and happiness I felt with our sort of ‘chamber music’ – the chamber on wheels.  I know that this safe and very physical sense of resonance still serves me as an anchor when I am in groups.  When my sisters and I were all in the back seat, we would play “Quaker meeting has begun. No more laughing, no more fun.  If you show your teeth or tongue, you shall pay a penalty.”  I usually was the last to burst into giggles.

Lansdowne Friends Meeting, near Philadelphia, PA, is a simple room, still lined with benches. In my youth, the elders sat on the facing benches.  The room hummed with silence which was broken occasionally by a strong voice quoting the Bible or providing a story or insight.  I became a convinced Quaker at 8 or 10.  I didn’t know if I was praying or not but I was intently considering some aspect of worldly events.  An elder woman stood up at the other end of the room.  She said something that spoke directly to my condition.  It was clear to me that she was in the same zone, having the same experience (worshipping?) and thinking similar thoughts.  If she and I were in this moment so closely, then, it followed, our thoughts and senses must be part of something bigger than both of us. Something we were immersed in.  That was proof enough to me that God speaks through people and is always present.

My family attended Friends General Conference in Cape May, New Jersey, in 1958. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was invited to preach.  I recall listening raptly to his account of conditions in the south which I knew little about. His clarity about 3 forms of love: Eros, Philia, and Agape, has stayed at my center. The power of his Agape, his unconditional love-even-your-enemy kind of love, was palpable.  The force of his conviction about non-violence resistance was formative for me in terms of living my faith. My commitment to equal access to educational opportunities took root at this time.

Leaving home for Gettysburg College was the beginning of a 17-year lapse in attendance at a local meeting.  Teaching elementary school and working as a research assistant at the Gesell Institute of Child Development led into working as a mental health worker in a child guidance center.  After finishing my social work degree, Lloyd and I married and moved to California. Returning to New Haven in 1980, we both began attending New Haven Friends Meeting at Faculty Hall in the old campus at Yale.  My experience of being a Quaker changed significantly when I began to serve on committees and to understand the value and expansiveness of being part of the collective life of Quakers.

Lloyd and I adopted Julia as an infant (now 33) and Clint as a ten-year old (now 41). Julia and Clint have each grown to experience parenthood too. I treasure my grandchildren Aubrey, Emma, and Harmony. I know that parenting, co-parenting, (Lloyd and I divorced and have remained friends) and grandparenting have been mighty big challenges and also the source of my greatest joys.

I retired after 30 years as a school social worker in 2010. Now, I’m working full time at my healing practice and at the Friends Center for Children.
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Friends Center for Children

I feel called to working at Friends Center. At the very beginning of FC, Judith Shea called and asked me to serve as the consulting social worker on call. The vision of a thriving diverse community included having a social worker on staff in order to be address stress in families and in the setting before it becomes toxic. As the Center has developed, my role has become more and more involved in developing the culture.   Each time I enter the building, I feel nourished personally and professionally. To be able to be employed in an intentional community is rare and it is new for me. A public school is a community and I always treated it like that, but this is more. It comes from being grounded in faith. Spirit has room to be acknowledged in whatever variety of ways people want to acknowledge it.

Michael: It seems like you have done a lot to create and strengthen that kind of community.

BONNIE: I do think that all of my previous skills are called on: being professionally child-like, understanding child development, working with families in crisis, working in a school setting, working as a collaborator with teachers, and interfacing with community agencies. And, I am a Quaker in an institution that wants to live in the spirit of Quakerism. It just happens that I am able to be myself doing all this in a place that wants it done. Everybody there is trying to make it happen and I’m there doing what I do. The administrators, Allyx and Susan, are over-the-top committed to all aspects of the community. At Friends Center, there is the root concept of equity: equal access to quality education. That’s what I’ve believed in my whole life – that I must give back so that everyone can one day have the quality of education I was blessed to have. Friends Center is a practice of my faith. It’s a presence that is home. Families come here for that and the founders had this in mind. So, it feels like I’m just part of the furniture.

Michael: I was astonished when I interviewed Michelle (Lopez) and she talked to me about putting up a different Quaker value on their bulletin boards every month and adding to them as part of the community. I didn’t realize the bulletin boards were on-going and so interactive. That’s a powerful part of making the school a Quaker entity.

BONNIE: It’s in all the classes on all the levels. The teachers are becoming experts at articulating what it looks like or what it sounds like to do peace, for instance. They struggled with it initially, but they’re getting really clear. Truth is the next one coming up and there have been questions: Truth, how do we do that? The bulletin boards that you see on the walls are documentation of what has transpired to figure things out. They aren’t just put up to be looked at or to inform people, they have grown organically out of the activities with the kids and the staff together. They speak. It’s the program and curriculum speaking.

Michael: And Allyx is actively supporting this. She makes sure that the Quaker dialog continues. It’s SO satisfying to see that. It’s our dream for the school to have racial, economic, and cultural diversity and to have the Quaker presence within it. It was a dream to engage all people together in the care and love of our children. We hoped to break down barriers and join together with whatever we had to love those kids and to help them grow. That was the dream and it really seems like it is happening. It’s not lip service. It looks like something very special is happening there.

BONNIE: We have babies being born now. There is a little girl in the lower preschool who just had a baby sister born. They are first generation American. When there is a baby born, I try to find time to take a dish like lasagna to the family and say hello to the baby. This is the note that I got from making a home visit:

“Hi Bonnie, Thank you so much for coming out to me and my baby. We really appreciated you people, us so love and care.”

BONNIE:  That’s the whole purpose, expressed. We so love and care you. That’s the feeling families are having.


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Bonnie’s Contributions to the Friends Center Community

Bonnie created a document about how children develop the skills to play in a friendly way. She takes minimal credit for this because she feels like it developed organically out of conversations she had with teachers and with parents and then parent groups and staff meetings. She distilled these conversations into what is now something Beth Collea from New England Yearly meeting describes as a great and succinct message. Beth wants to make documents such as this available to parents, teachers, and Quakers throughout the New England Yearly Meeting. She feels that documents like this underline her assertion that “the Friends Center for Children set out to be a bold, best practice case study whose vision is a manifestation of Quaker hope and faith.”    

friendly play doc

Michael: Tell me about the song: Presence now. . .and then.

 

Bonnie: I opened an email from Allyx late one Friday night. One of the teachers was leaving abruptly. Allyx was going to be away the following week so she asked me to write something to be given to the families on Monday morning. She also felt we should have something to give the staff about what we were going to do to support the kids during the transition. I had just finished a fun evening with Aubrey and I came home late and tired and now there was something else to do before Monday morning. OY!

I didn’t want more work, I prayed for self-care: “Please, let this task be easeful.” I wanted to find a valuable message to convey. (I think of Ilana Rubenfeld when I think of the song, because I know her healing method came out her ability to resonate with people. It’s about being sensitized to people’s rhythms and the music in their soul.) The way the song came to me was from the inside out, not something I thought about. I just started to sing as I walked along.

As I walked, I felt waves of wisdom coming up through the phrases. A phrase would come out and I would sing it. Then, I would have a visual image with it. Then, another phrase that made sense, until there was a song, complete in 8 phrases, finished in the first iteration. It was truly a gift of the Spirit through me.   I felt opened when what I’ve learned about child development, families, tone and emotions became expressed in a song. It’s knowledge, but not just mental “notes.” It’s more like life notes. And it’s physical too. Somatic is a better word than physical. Soma is the ancient (Greek) word for body, meaning the entire body. For me, that includes the soul.

The song was created and I sang it to the First Day School on Sunday morning. That Monday morning I began singing it at the school. The children liked it-they still really like it! Jenn started singing the song and her kids know the song and other pods know the song now. These are the wee ones, infant/toddlers, 1 and 2 years old. Now, the preschoolers are singing it. I’m amazed by the reverberations it has fostered, for people of all ages. Oh, this is what it’s about: The sense of Presence, fully felt, keeps us in touch when we’re apart. You can hear and see an illustrated version of the song at:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUUIVfgnmXw

Rubenfeld Synergy Work

At one point when I was working as a school social worker, Lloyd and I were full-tilt working parents having adopted Julia and Clint. Suddenly, a tragic accident took the lives of 2 friends who had asked me 21 years earlier to be godmother for their daughter who was neurologically impaired and now had a 6 month old baby. I was doing a lot of care-giving and knew I needed to take care of myself better. I’d heard that Millie Grenough had learned a new form of therapy that included the body. That made sense to me. I had a couple of sessions with her and became grounded really fast! After enjoying several of Millie’s groups, I began to imagine that this would be a wonderful way to develop a practice of healing. I was certified as a Rubenfeld Synergist in 2000.

We live in our bodies while we are here on earth and they are containers of the soul. They are temporary containers for the eternal Soulness, Embodied Spirit. Our emotions are sensations; they’re energy. The movement of energy in the body produces sensations that we label as emotions. If people are fearful, ask them how they know they are scared. They have to stop and think because they don’t know how they know they are scared. They might say: “It’s up here in my head. I’m thinking scary thoughts.” Fear and other emotions originate in the biochemical responses that we have in our bodies – our nervous system and organs – to either pleasure or danger. Sensations are somatic cues. We label them mentally as “feelings” and this pairing of sensation and thought is what is meant by “bodymind.”

What Ilana Rubenfeld and other healers through time have known intuitively (that bodymind is one word) – the scientific psychological community has come to understand. Yale has developed a program for teaching emotional intelligence which has been introduced in many schools. Friends Center is a pilot program for emotional intelligence being taught in preschools. We’re teaching parents and babies how to read these sensory signals. We’re helping children locate the sensations which are telling them how they are feeling. It is the RULER© approach. (Recognize, Understand, Label, Express, and Regulate). Recognize means recognizing that my body is tense. My shoulders are creeping up towards my ears. I’m not breathing fully. I’m really contracting. Those are all physical cues. Understand: She looked at me harshly, her words hurt, my shoulders are up. Label: tension. . .I know this version, it’s called “anxiety.” Express: Perhaps I pull my shoulders way way up and then let them go. Regulate: I breathe in long and then out. With less tension I’m less anxious and I can choose to ask a question about what she meant.

Rubenfeld Synergy is a healing method which says: Let’s be fully present to someone else. Let’s talk about one’s life story. Let’s support this person in recognizing labeling and expressing his or her state of being, without judgment. AND let’s include gentle listening touch. This creates a whole other dimension of emotional and social connection beyond the effect of talking or touching alone.

A man was referred to me by a physical therapy group. The physical therapists were becoming concerned because he was losing hope. A stroke 20 years ago, when he was in his 30’s, had left him “lifeless.” He was pronounced dead for 17 minutes when life registered again. He was told that he would never walk or talk again. For 20 years he had been rebuilding himself through sweat and tears, reclaiming his capacities by hard, hard work. He lives now with a very vivid memory of his experience in another dimension. He feels strongly that he was sent back because his work wasn’t finished, though he didn’t know what that meant. He knew, better than the doctors had, that he could heal.

Just three years ago he was still in a wheelchair in a place where people seldom became able again. By this time he was walking with a cane. He had persisted in his healing, but he was getting tired. I found him to have a keen mind and to be terrifically curious, observant and mentally alert. He loves the process of trying to describe what he’s feeling, what he’s experiencing, what he’s thinking, the images that he has. He is so articulate. His brain is just bursting with life. And his body is causing him difficulties. He had a left side paralysis and that was the thing that was starting to drive him crazy because he had done so much to gain full use of his right hand, but his left hand and arm weren’t responding.

When he called me to make an appointment, he said, “I hate my body. I’m really angry at my body. I don’t know if I can take it anymore. I already know what’s on the other side. I’d be perfectly happy to go there. I’m just tired. I’m not making plans to go there, but I am thinking about it.” I agreed to see him. At first meeting, I introduced how I was going to touch him. I’d touch his head and neck. Then I’d go to his feet. I’d say, “Hello, feet. I’m here and I’m listening.” An integrative thing goes on with the listening. You listen with your hands as well as your heart and mind. It’s a “full-on” kind of listening. Towards the end of the session, I was just getting to know his story. I’d been getting to know him and how he connected things up in his mind. So I came to his left shoulder and the upper part of his arm. It felt like steel or wood. It was really, really tight and hard. I asked him what does he call the way his arm is and he said, “The physical therapists call it tone. My arm is tone.” And I asked, “Tone?” and he said, “Yes, totally tone.” It seemed like a terrible description because tone is such a beautiful word for something that was a problem like this. I was cupping his arm with my hands on either side of his bicep, listening to his story, listening to his tone.

I had heard about people who had nearly died who came back to life with all their capacities. I had heard this about drowning: the body shuts down. The periphery shuts down, then the organs shut down, and then there’s this little spark of life holding on. If oxygen comes back soon enough, a person can come back to life, fully. Gently, I said to him, “What I know about the human body is that if you nearly die your body has contracted. . . everything has contracted until there is only a little spark of life. Perhaps your arm is a residual of what your body had to do to save your life.” I remember the sensation I had in my hands at that moment, which was electrifying. There was a surge of warmth and movement. In this moment, his arm changed as I held it between my hands. His arm changed: the nature and texture, the temperature of it. I noticed this and said to him, “Tell me what’s happening right now.” There was a pause. He said, “Well, you won’t believe this, but I am feeling tingling in my fingers which I haven’t felt for twenty years.” And tears came. He was very excited because he felt like his arm was coming back to life. It sure did feel that way to me. There was something about simply listening to the inertness of it and accepting that as real. Accepting what was real, without judgment, and then the AHA: maybe it had gotten this way for a really good reason. A residual of what his body had to do to save his life. It was a total flip. Instead of feeling hatred towards his right arm for being inert, his tears bathed him in gratitude.

The Rubenfeld Synergy Method supports people to recognize what the body had to do in order to survive. We sometimes have to contort ourselves and sacrifice parts of ourselves in order to endure the pain of trauma. Compassionate Touch simply helps a person to feel real. With unconditionally respectful touch, one stays in the here-and-now while visiting events that shaped life’s trajectory. The familiar and habitual way of looking at things can be transformed.

This courageous man has regained some use of his whole arm. He can move from his shoulder quite well. His hand has progressed from being clenched to being looser and more flexible. He went back to see a physical therapist who was shocked by his progress. Because of the renewed movement of his body, he is re-entering life. His re-entry is through doors of perception that are both scary and blissful – as life is by nature. He has learned to befriend his innate ability to contract and use it when it’s necessary to protect himself from insults. His faith in his higher purpose is nourished by the flow of newness – oxygen, blood, lymph, energy, spirit – the movement of life he senses now. I’m mightily inspired by the experience of witnessing his journey.

When Ilana Rubenfeld developed this combination of talk and touch in the 60’s, the body was scantly regarded in the field of the mental health. Ilana and others began to engage the body in healing in this innovative way and many practitioners thought they were wacko! and not scientific at all. Within the last 5-10 years, the body has been a central focus in many conferences about health and mental health. The field has come to appreciate how the body is the locus of healing and the home of the soul. I’m blessed and continually amazed by the transformations I’ve witnessed using Rubenfeld Synergy, combining listening touch and responsive talk.

[Bonnie became the president of the International Association of Rubenfeld Synergists in July of last year.]

Dwight Lopes: Racial Healing-Reaching Hearts

23 Jan

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How did you come to be politicized by anti-racism work. It was an activism on your part that was visible within the Meeting.

I grew up in Framingham, MA. My recollection is that there were very few people of color in my school. However, when I checked my yearbook recently there were more than I remembered. As far as I know, Framingham was not segregated per se, although there were Portuguese, Italian, and other ethnic neighborhoods. There was at least one small section of Framingham where African Americans lived.

I was not raised in an overtly racist family. I was raised to treat people as equals. The only time I realized how easy it is not to be racist was when we moved to Philadelphia where there were a lot of people of color-of all sorts. And I realized that I wasn’t challenged at all living in Massachusetts with mostly European-Americans.

Soon after Maureen and I first started attending at New Haven Friends, the community mediation group in the city was organizing an interracial dialogue. The mediation group facilitated it and some of us from our Meeting went to “dialogue” with people from Immanuel Missionary Baptist Church on Church Street in New Haven. I was pretty inexperienced in talking to people of color and it was a bit awkward. At one point I suggested that we have a meeting up at our church or that we have a party. I said to the Baptists something like, “I don’t really know how you people feel about alcohol.” One of the Baptist women confronted me about saying “you people”. I didn’t mean African American, I meant Baptists, but it sensitized me to how the things I say might be heard. “You people” is one of those phrases that are highly charged, especially if you are used to hearing it used to castigate you. Another thing I remember is that one of the women said, “Why are white people afraid of us. We never did anything to them! They’re the ones that enslaved us.” “But, like them, when I walk down the street and I see a bunch of young black men up to no good, I too, cross the street!”

I went to my first New England Yearly Meeting gathering in 2003, held at Stonehill College, and I signed up for a workshop called “What Color is Your God?” led by Jean Marie Barch and Bruce Birchard. There was a small group of us including Hal Weaver, an African American Quaker. We had an interesting discussion for a couple of days, and I began to want to know more about racism. As I left the workshop, I ran into James Varner, another African American Quaker, who was wearing a Recovering Racist button. I said to him, James, why are YOU wearing that? He replied that he grew up in the same racist society that I did and was educated in the same racist system. He gave me a button. I like it because racism is like alcoholism. Alcoholics face their addiction and recovery a day-at-a-time. Thinking about racism like that really spoke to me. I then, got a bunch of the buttons and gave them to others. I use it as a conversation starter.

So, at that same Yearly Meeting, they passed the Minute on Racism. I inadvertently attended one of the first meetings of the Working Party on Racism, which is a working party of NEYM Ministry and Council. I didn’t really know what I was going to; I just picked it as something to do one evening. After that I became a member and started working with them. James Varner had been instrumental in bringing the attention of Yearly Meeting to the issue of racism. James stood up [in a meeting for business at which I wasn’t present] and said that he had been subjected to some discrimination within NEYM. He was invited to talk to Ministry and Council, and the Working Party was formed at that time.

That Fall I took a workshop, Beyond Diversity 101, held on a weekend at the Powell House in New York. Maureen and I decided that we should get more interested in this subject because we didn’t know much about it. Neither of us had grown up where we were exposed to it, so we decided to educate ourselves. Niyonu Spann was the leader. I had already met Niyonu when I took a singing workshop she led at the Friends General Conference Gathering. She’s a wonderful singer, a fantastic musician. I got to know her there and then a little bit better at the Powell House.

The following spring, Niyonu ran a full-week Beyond Diversity 101 (BD101) training at Kirkridge retreat center. Maureen and I, Judith Shea, and Bill Graustein all agreed to go. It was challenging and opened our eyes to some of our own blind spots. This was a mixed group of whites and people of color, which made it even better because you get called on things and you remember those kinds of comments. At the beginning we were each asked what we personally needed to be able to do the work that week. White attendees typically said they wanted to feel comfortable or that they wanted to feel safe. Niyonu assured us we would have a safe environment, but it didn’t mean we would feel comfortable all the time. I was challenged by the workshop. It opened my eyes and changed me. From that experience, we all became enthusiastic about doing anti-racism work.

At the workshop at Powell House, I met a Friend from Wilton, Jerry Leapheart. He is an African American Friend who grew up in Detroit. We got to talking and I found out he was working on reparations. This was after 911. It must have been 2003-2004. It was educational for me. I learned a lot about the issue by reading some of the books that had been written on it. I think it sensitized me to knowing just how uneven the playing field is for people of color in our country. There is this one passage I recall about a young black man who went to Washington DC with his younger brother. They looked at the monuments of dead white men and saw buildings built by slaves. I imagined what it must have felt like and what it said about one’s place in America by not seeing anyone that looked like them. I thought that was a pretty powerful statement. I even went on a local public TV program with Jerry to talk about reparations.

All the while, I continued to be a member of the Working Party on Racism. One of the first things we decided to do was to give framed copies of the Minute on Racism to all the Meetings in the Yearly Meeting. We got them finished in time to distribute them at Sessions the following year. It was eye-opening that some of the Meetings refused to put the framed minute on their meetinghouse walls. I heard comments such as, “We don’t need this,” or “We didn’t agree to this,” even though the minute had been passed at Sessions. So, I learned a lot about the Yearly Meeting and about process. In retrospect, that minute probably should have been seasoned throughout the Monthly Meetings first and then brought back to Yearly Meeting for approval. As it was, people didn’t buy into it as though it was theirs.

Maureen and I were involved in the Working Party for years trying various ways to move forward education on the issue of racism and white privilege. During that time a racially charged incident occurred on Cape Cod. When some Friends from a local meeting felt called to protest the incident it caused serious discord within their meeting. (An account of it can be found in Friends Journal October 2014 ). The Working Party was involved in it for at least a year. We were not very effective, I would say, and Ministry and Council did little to give the Working Party direction. Over time, Maureen and I and a couple of other people got frustrated. We set up a meeting with M&C, aired our concerns, and ultimately decided to step down from the Working Party.

Out of this experience I realized that you can’t change people’s behavior by appealing only to their minds; you have to affect their hearts. In Healing the Heart of Democracy Parker Palmer says, “Heart comes from Latin cor, and points not merely to our emotions but to the core of the self, that center place where all of our ways of knowing converge – intellectual, emotional, sensory, intuitive, imaginative, experiential, relational, and boldly, among others.” I began to think about using art, theater, and poetry to affect the hearts of people. I had met Amanda Kemp, the playwright of Show Me the Franklins, in BD101. In an effort to change some people’s hearts through the arts, I worked with the New Haven Friends Meeting to bring the play, to New Haven. We partnered with First and Summerfield Methodist Church and held the performance at their church on Elm Street. Our organizing group consisted of people from our Meeting, First and Summerfield, and several leaders in the African American community. We would have liked a larger audience but I think it was a success.

Maureen and I became trained facilitators to give workshops generated by the book, Fit For Freedom Not For Friendship, promoting a belief that understanding the truth of Quaker past was vital to achieving a diverse, inclusive community in the future.

I was also was a support person for Abraham’s tent, the overflow homeless shelter for men in New Haven. Again we partnered with First and Summerfield and provided meals and stayed overnight with the cohort of homeless men chosen to be in the program. It was yet another way for us to be exposed to and learn from a more diverse group of individuals

 

And were you clerk of our Meeting at that time?

I became clerk soon after, around 2005. I was clerk ten years ago when we had the retreat at the Incarnation Center where we tried to discern our Meeting’s leadings about Friends Center. We had that BIG circle, I remember that there we decided Friends Center for Children (FCfC) could start their program in the basement of the meetinghouse. I felt then, and I still do, that FCfC is one of Meeting’s best ways of being engaged in diversity work. It was Friends Center’s intention from the start to have the center be open to everybody across economic and racial barriers. I felt good participating how I could and clerking the unofficial Meeting for Business at the retreat and then the official Meeting for Business in our meetinghouse.

Then, Yearly Meeting nominating committee asked if I would join the Racial, Social, and Economic Justice committee, which writes the Freedom and Justice Crier. It is an official standing committee of the Yearly Meeting with its own budget. I became clerk of that for a while, but after several years, I felt I had done what I could do there and went off it. Other good people came onto the committee and have taken on the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, which takes on a different aspect of racism.

How were you led to be involved in this issue. Did you just think this was something you should pay attention to?

Yes, it was really no big deal. It’s like putting your toe in the water and the next thing you know, you are up to your waist, and then you are swimming along. It’s a typical kind of Quaker leading in a way.

 

What about the fear? When I first went down to the soup kitchen, I must say, I was a little afraid to go. I had to walk through some fear and discomfort. Of course it all turned out fine. And beyond the discomfort kind of fear, there is a fear that it might lead me further to other scary things that I don’t feel equipped to handle.

I think I can relate to that. My friend Carl Puleo and I would go into the downtown evening soup kitchen in the basement of First and Summerfield. Later they shifted over to the parish house on Temple. There were homeless guys of every stripe. And I had conversations with them and I realized they were just people. It wore away my apprehension about being in those circumstances. And then I’d run into some of them on the Green and I’d ask how’re they doing. So, I agree, those kinds of little steps are important.

With our work with Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven, where all our builds are in the city, it’s the same thing. We work with families who tend to be people of color, though not all are African American or black. We work side-by-side with them in some pretty rough neighborhoods. We worked in Newhallville on one of the first builds. They don’t build houses there anymore, at least right now, because people don’t want to live there. It’s a really violent part of the city. We know people in Madison and other shoreline towns, who won’t drive into New Haven, so some of the work we have done with Habitat is to have these activities on the Madison Green. We build walls in Madison to be trucked into New Haven-all in an effort to get shoreline people interested in going into New Haven.

 

I think these barriers are real for white people. I think it is important to label them and identify them as such because I think the recent events of Ferguson and Staten Island are calling to the nation and calling to white people to make a stand, to do something about it, but there’s a lot of baggage and a lot of stuff that gets in the way.    

I don’t feel like I’m an authority on this nor do I have any answers, but I think it’s important that we try to become aware of the world that the Other lives in. When something like Ferguson happens, too often, European-Americans say, “He must have been doing something wrong or illegal.” So, how do you make white people more cognizant of what really happens. Henry Lewis Gates, an African American Harvard professor, got arrested for trying to get into his own house in Cambridge. He got arrested because someone thought his house was being broken into and they called the police. He was breaking into his own house because he had locked himself out! You can understand why people who get questioned like that respond with rage, not necessarily physical violence, but they are insulted, outraged by being assumed guilty before being found innocent.

Again, one of the thoughts I had while working on the Working Party and the Racial, Social, and Economic Justice committee was that you can explain things to people logically and you can tell them these stories, but it only affects their head and not their heart. Unless you can do something to affect someone’s heart, nothing is going to change. So, that is how I think about it now-what would it take to get white people to change? This is one of the reasons we had George Lakey come up to do the workshop on Class. I found that workshop really changed my outlook about things and helped me to relate to people differently. So I am trying to find things that can affect people without bludgeoning them with facts or what they should do and why they should do it.

I was most affected personally by an article, The Seed Cracked Open written by Vanessa Julye, a Quaker of color who works for FGC. It is based on the keynote address given to the New York Yearly Meeting in July 2005. In it she shares stories about Quakers and racism, hoping to give the reader a chance to identify the seed, crack it open, and grow beyond racism.

In another article, she wrote about how, as a person of color, she had to teach her son that he couldn’t pursue a white girlfriend that wasn’t that interested in him the way he would like to or the way white boys could because he was going to get in trouble. She also had to teach him to keep his hands on the wheel when he got stopped by the cops because he was going to get stopped by the cops at some point for DWB-“driving while Black”, especially if he was in a nice car in a nice neighborhood. It will be assumed he doesn’t belong there. I really felt moved and felt, “What if that was my son and I had to raise a child in an environment that was so hostile and where they got confronted for no reason at all. Trayvon Martin comes to mind as a young black man killed for having a hoodie on. I changed my photograph on Facebook for a while to one with me in a hoodie in solidarity with Martin. I try to think of ways to get white people to be aware of these things. I try to notice things that maybe we European Americans don’t realize. If you are in a store and a person of color is not getting waited on, step in and say, “That person was here first.” Simple stuff. Quakers could get involved by being witnesses, to attend something like a trial, to be in the audience and just be a presence while letting it be known that we are there watching.

 

I recently saw some surprising survey statistics about how white people felt about both policemen not being indicted for the Ferguson and Staten Island shootings. 70% felt it was the correct decision in Ferguson, but only 23% thought it was correct in the Staten Island case. The difference appears to be the video that captures the details of the arrest and chokehold placed on Eric Garner, but the researchers also suggest that, even so, the majority of whites believe the justice system still works and that it is mostly fair while only a small proportion of blacks would agree with this. The reaction of African Americans to the OJ Simpson decision was a strong illustration of this point.

I remember where I was when that decision was announced. I got the feeling that many African Americans were happy that OJ got off, not because he was innocent, but because he (and they vicariously) had finally gotten the system.

And whites were outraged!

You can tell people until you are blue in the face that the US incarcerates more people than any country in the world even though we don’t have the biggest population. And of those incarcerated, it’s disproportionally people of color. That should say something about the justice system, but that is something that doesn’t get to people’s hearts. Imagine raising a family where sons don’t have expectations to live beyond 29 and where it’s very likely that they will end up in prison for something small. No, I don’t think the justice system works. It’s a system of laws, but not of justice.

There has been an interesting intersection in my life with my ancestors coming from Portugal. I told my friend Jerry, the man pursuing reparations, that my relatives didn’t own slaves, they came from Portugal. Jerry laughed and said, “Oh, really?” And he didn’t try to educate me, but subsequently I learned more about the discovery of Brazil in 1500 and then how quickly because of sugar, the transatlantic slave trade started in Brazil. They started first by enslaving the indigenous people, but that didn’t work out very well. So, the “colonists” brought enslaved Africans into Brazil and South America. There were more slaves there than were brought into North America. By studying Brazilian history this year in a class at Southern, I finally became aware that slavery was about sugar, not about cotton. Sugar was gold. Britain, Portugal, and Spain’s economies were totally enmeshed in the sugar industry and that involved slavery. So, my ancestors did come from Portugal. I don’t think they owned slaves. I can only go as far back as my great-great grandparents who lived in the north and were poor. Excuses that I tell myself that they weren’t involved (laughing).

This path of becoming more and more aware of things begins to build upon itself. More connections are made and affects how we live our lives. Young African American men live in a different world than you or I do and most white people are unaware of it. How can we can be there as witnesses or stand side-by-side.

 

So I have one last question and to put it bluntly, what’s in it for white people? It looks to me like this is about giving up privilege, which is uncomfortable and not easy to do. What are the gains for us as a culture or as a group? In one of the workshops I took, we talked about how any monoculture is narrowed by the sameness of the constituents. White culture has limited definitions about what is acceptable in a neighborhood, what your house looks like, how your lawn is clipped, are your Christmas decorations tasteful?, do you have a clean-looking car? what do you and your family look like? are your kids in college? what do you wear? Opening White culture up is one of the benefits of this work. To have people of color as friends/Friends, you have to open your culture up, that invisible (to us) “whites only” look and feel.

I would agree with that. And the benefits could actually be backed up by statistics, not necessarily about race, but about economic diversity. Societies where there is less of a gap between rich and poor can be shown to be healthier on a number of parameters for ALL the people, not just the one percent, not just the people down below. Life expectancy is greater in those countries. Those with the mentality to say, “Well, I got mine” might be better off if they didn’t have theirs so much, I don’t know how you convince people of that. Certainly showing them graphs won’t do it.

Thinking about benefits for whites: The fear of another group of people doesn’t do one any good. It closes off avenues and physically takes a toll. Think of the art we get exposed to. Think of the spoken word poetry slams that many people of color participate in. They open you up to ideas you wouldn’t have had otherwise and they are certainly creative. In the Bible, Corinthians 12:14-26 it says, “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part is honored with it.”

John McWhorter, a linguistics professor at Columbia, and an African American, spoke at Southern about language. Any language can be thought of as a legitimate language. There isn’t a bad language. You can’t say Standard English is good but Black English is bad. Black English is not defective in some way but white people won’t buy that. When Black English is described it is often done by saying what it doesn’t have, Like it doesn’t use as many tenses as Standard English does or it drops the plurals. So it makes it look defective. Whereas, in fact, it has its own grammar. There are things that people who speak Black English would never say. It doesn’t make sense to them. There are things in Black English that aren’t in Standard English. McWhorter’s message was that Black English needs to be portrayed as having expressions our Standard English lacks. This is similar to Spanish having things that we don’t have. There’s something to be appreciated there. Our Standard English that we speak now would look as incorrect to people in Chaucer’s time as we think Black English is now. Languages evolve. This is one way of addressing “What’s in it for us”.

This is hard work and it is a long haul. Sometimes I think of where I want to live next because I get so discouraged. Though, I saw a cartoon that made me think twice. It showed a cliff and there is a plank with a large group of people standing on one end. Out on the other end of the plank, over the edge of a cliff is standing a “one-percenter” a.k.a. rich white guy. If the people in the group step off, he goes over. They don’t know how much power they have. It is true; there are so many more of us than them. When the Supreme Court picked George Bush to be president, I couldn’t believe it. In any other country and there would have been a revolution. We are so complacent.

 

I don’t know what the next thing is going to be. I want to feel effective. Though, you can’t have that mindset. To be engaged is what’s important. It’s the path not the destination. But it’s hard, at least for me, to have that mindset. I want to see some change to be able to stay involved. I’m going to read Parker Palmer’s book Healing the Heart of Democracy; the Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit to see if I can become clear on what is next.

Note: Dwight sent this link to a blog by Quaker, Marcelle Martin responding to the recent deaths of black men at Ferguson, MO and Staten Island. I include it as further reading:
http://awholeheart.com/2015/01/19/listen-to-your-children-praying/

“Beyond Grateful” for Friends Center-Michelle Bonaparte

9 Dec

Michelle has this way of keeping her focus on the children when it might be very tempting to engage in an adult-to-adult conversation. For example: “I’d like to talk with you more about this, perhaps at my lunch break.” She says this kindly and simply, then follows up later to see how we can collaborate, but not at the expense of attention on the children. I love to hear her tell a story, with sheer delight, about how her coaching showed up in a spontaneous conversation among children: “. . .and then he said, ‘well I wasn’t thinking about it when I did it. I didn’t mean to hurt you.’” (4 year old) Michelle really “gets” how to bring a child into her or his own voice.

Bonnie Muller

MIchelle Bonaparte Preschool teacher Second floor classroom Friends Center for Children

Michelle Bonaparte
Preschool teacher
Second floor classroom
Friends Center for Children

Nov 25, 2014

I’d like to know about you, your family. Did you grow up here?

I grew up here, but I didn’t really know Quarry park. This wasn’t always the best area, so I stayed in my house. I used to go outside a lot, but it was usually in my grandmother’s back yard, which is also filled with trees and a garden. So, it was either her back yard or in the complexes my parents lived in where it was more child-friendly. We moved a lot in this area, so I probably lived in six or seven different locations around Fair Haven and a couple of locations in New Haven, and a couple in West Haven. My mother is a residential counselor in women’s homeless shelters.

I started going to school in New Haven-Hill Central School. I was there K-2nd grade, but it wasn’t the best school. At the time the CMT scores were low and it wasn’t doing too well as a school. My mother was concerned. She talked with my 1st and 2nd grade teacher who agreed that my older sister and I would be better off in another school district altogether. This same teacher had me in a TAG (Talented and Gifted) program in 1st and 2nd grade even though it was for 3rd and 4th graders. She recognized that I was advanced and she wanted to get me out of the class to experience other things. That same year when I was in 2nd grade a new program started called Project Choice. This program allows children to go to out of district schools and still live in a different district. My mother applied and I got in the following year. So I started going to Shepard Glen in Hamden and I was there from 3rd to 6th grade. That really started a better educational life for me. I was already doing well, but that really opened doors for me. I was able to experience so much more. The school was more advanced, there was more diversity, and I learned so much more. They had TAG and advanced classes available for bright children. It was perfect! It got me right on track where I should have been. Had it not been for my mother striving to always provide better for my family, I wouldn’t have made it to where I’m at today! [Michelle later admitted that there was one down side to going to Hamden schools-she had to take a 2 ½ hour bus ride each way to the school]

So I continued at Hamden Middle School and then went to Hamden High. Hamden High is what got me started on early childhood education. In my sophomore year, I took a child wellness class just for fun. The high school has an NAEYC accredited center with twenty children. As part of the class, I was able to go into the preschool and do some hands-on work. I loved it right away and the teachers and the kids both loved me. It was such a natural thing. In my junior year, I tried to get an internship at the children’s center. I asked the teacher, Mrs. Smith, if I could do the internship, but was told that usually the internship was only open to seniors or to those who had taken more than one child development class. I was saddened by this news, but then Mrs. Smith said, “I really like you and I’m going to put your name on the list and OK it.” The counselor, Mrs. K, and Mrs. Smith worked it out so I could do the internship as a junior. I didn’t have to take a class, I just worked in the center itself every single day for a semester. I actually did so well in the preschool that Mrs K and Mrs Smith awarded me a scholarship my senior year for doing so well in the classroom. I became the leader out of all the teachers and was the example to all the other teachers that were just entering the preschool classroom. The next year, I had a double class in child development. In the first class, students developed lesson plans for what to do with the kids and in the second class you work in the center and put your lesson plan into action. It’s very unusual to have a fully accredited daycare within the school building that students could work in while taking child education classes.

In my junior year I was introduced to Friends Center for Children. I came in right in the very beginning, during the summer of 2008. It all began because I was babysitting for Erin at FCFC. Erin’s mother, Kameo was friends with my mother. Kameo loved the school, but couldn’t do the co-op hours. She asked me if I would do her co-op hours if she got permission to do so. It was approved and I started working for Kameo six hours a week. This carried right through my senior year. Friends Center was just starting out. Gay was there and it was very small. I loved the homey feel of it, I loved that everyone went outside every day. But then Gay transitioned out and Judith transitioned in. There were a lot of changes going on. Still, all the teachers were so nice. I was just doing co-op hours, but then I got hired to work during parent/teacher meetings. We would meet down by the Quinnipiac River down the street and I would just have a fun time hanging out with the kids. Then I got hired temporarily, here and there, but in September or October, Judith approached me. She said to me that the Friends Center was getting bigger and I was doing great, the kids knew me, the parents knew me, and she asked how I would feel if they hired me. I was really happy and said, “Where do I sign? I was still going to high school, taking my long bus ride home, and then working from 3-5:30 or whenever they needed me. Little by little the school continued to grow and after finishing my senior year, I started working 20 hours, then 25, and then 35, until I was full time.

It’s hard to believe we did what we did down in the lower level of the Meetinghouse. It was amazing how we divided the space for two classrooms. We grew finally to have 18 kids. It was crowded, but like other centers, we made it work, we had our signs, we had our blocks, we had our dramatic play. We added nooks and shelves here and there and hammered this and added a sink, and made storage space in the bathroom.

I was so impressed watching this center grow and especially how you all won over and got the approvals of the state health department inspectors. They aren’t easy to please!

It took a lot of hard work and we had a great, great administrative team. First, Rebecca and Judith worked together and Rebecca was very knowledgeable about the state regulations. She would start something and follow the regulations as best as she could. Later, Allyx came in and she was able to figure out ways to make our space work so we could get the approvals. With Rebecca and Allyx together, their teamwork really started to get this place up to speed as far as compliance to the regulations. Then Allyx took over as director and shouldered the big, giant moves. Allyx expressed how it was her dream to open up a school one day. Watching her work towards this dream has been truly inspirational!

You went through some really tough times. In fact, in the beginning after we lost Gay, then Rebecca, those of us on the board didn’t know if the center was going to make it.

Here and there we had some transitions and staffing things because we were growing, but I never once felt like this school wasn’t going to make it. No Never! I felt just the opposite that this school was getting bigger and better. I always felt like it was working out. Everyone worked so hard and I got to watch it grow. And now you see the payoff, which is the best part. Now you see this center. I think it is just remarkable to go from this small amazing center with ten kids then 12, 14, 16, 18 and then to have this new building. It’s like this “Dream School” as we call it. While it was being built, teachers got to add their input: what does this school need, what do we want it to have, what do we want it to look like, how do we want shelving and cabinets to be, what are the problems we have with this space, how do we fix it in the new building. We were able to work it out with the architects. In the end, we were able to see this thing come together. And even then we were able to decide how we wanted our playgrounds to look. What do we think of this? What about this theme? And it really became our “Dream School”. It incorporates everything we wanted it to have. We love nature, we love the woods, we have this environment behind us and we have these giant windows, it’s like we’re always outside! It’s a dream come true for everyone. I think even for people who walk in for their first time, they are amazed at the school. They love how the school looks. They love the simplicity around them; everything in the classrooms is made of natural wood.

Michelle in her classroom

Michelle in her classroom

So when you got hired, what was your title?

Gee, we really didn’t do titles. We always had the head teacher and the director, but everyone else was a teacher or a support. Allyx didn’t want to name a certain position over another because she always treated us like we were equal and you all have something to learn from one another. So, if you aren’t a head teacher or a director, you are a support teacher and that is what we are. And now that we are bigger we do have more clear titles to help us out with knowing what we are, but I still think of myself as a support teacher. Some people would call us aides, but you are always learning, we don’t just do aide things. Some people are aides and they come in and wash dishes and set up for lunch and leave, but here everyone is involved, everyone works together and is part of the team. We are always growing and striving to be better.

Do parents come in and work in the classroom?

Yes, but it changes all the time because parent’s schedules change. We have parents who come in and work in the classroom, some in the morning, some in the evening, we have parents who work in the front office, parents come in and tell us what they’re good at and those are the jobs they pick up, parents take toys home for the weekend to wash, we had a family that sewed aprons for us. We feel very grateful to have the families because each time we need something new, we ask the parents first. A lot of parents come in and hang out with the kids. They will do reading or art or they will sit at the meeting and guide kids. We’ve had some parents dance with the kids.

Every class is so cohesive, even though we are so different. Everyone has the same things, just different set ups. We are like a big melting pot. We are all different, yet we all come together. Every child has the same experience in every classroom. It’s hard to do that in any school. You have good teachers here and there, which means you are going to have different art projects and one class won’t be learning as well as another. In this school it’s not like that. All the teachers are different. Everyone brings something different to the table. We have a diverse staff, but it’s welcomed, it’s accepted, it’s wonderful, and it’s the best thing ever. Everyone loves it. We have families who come from all different backgrounds and we are able to pair them up with a teacher or with families similar to them, but also we can teach them something new. We have people speaking different languages teaching the children these languages.

Do you speak Spanish a lot?

I do use a lot of Spanish. We actually have a lot of dual-language learners, Spanish-speaking children here. There are some kids I speak to entirely in Spanish all day. There are some who I switch back and forth, and then there are children who want to learn either English or Spanish. There’s a little girl whose best friend only speaks Spanish and she only speaks English, so they connect with signs, but they are both trying to learn to communicate with each other. Sometimes I ask what she wants to say and I will tell her how to say it in Spanish and she will tell her friend in Spanish! It’s really sweet to see that. We do our numbers every day in both Spanish and English. And if I ever forget to do the counting, they will let me know! We had a Polish family who came in and taught us how to say and write numbers in Polish. We had a family do the same thing in Mandarin. I even learned some Italian from a little boy who only spoke Italian here. I’ve learned so much here.

I think it’s one of the best things about the Friends Center is that you can come and speak an entirely different language and be accepted here. Everyone feels accepted.

Is your class a bilingual class?

It isn’t formally considered a bilingual class. We don’t send any papers or reports home in another language, but we have a lot of Spanish speakers in the class and I am speaking Spanish all throughout the day. Some children are learning Spanish. The children are always around it and hearing it. We do have an infant/toddler pod that has become the first fully bilingual pod in Spanish and English. Kathy is the teacher and she is teaching her kids Spanish all the time. Friends Center has developed a Spanish team to help us to teach Spanish to the kids. We are always trying new ways to introduce Spanish into our classes.

Are you getting a certification in early childhood education?

I am working on getting my accreditation, but I’m ultimately going to go into nursing. In my senior year in high school, I took a medical class and I really liked it. I love both fields, but I want to go into a field where I can take my love of children and where I can expand into some other discipline, maybe I can be a traveling nurse or a pediatric nurse. I love any field where you can grow. I’ve grown so much here, but I’m going to go down the medical road. I’ve been going part-time at Gateway Community College since I graduated from high school and working here full time. And I’m almost done, so now I will be applying for nursing schools. I still plan to work here because it’s a great place and it’s hard to let it go. I love both, so I definitely feel conflicted. My elective classes at school were all child development classes, so even my counselor is confused.

Well, it appears that Friends Center is somewhat different than other daycares, like in how the kids are talked to, a gentler form of conflict resolution?

Yes, we talk to children in kinder and gentler ways. We have our Quaker values that we follow. Just that piece alone is enough to make us unique. We introduce a new Quaker value every two months.

You are still doing that?

Yes, we’re still are doing it. If you look around the building, outside every classroom, there is a bulletin board that is our Quaker value board. Every two months we change to another Quaker value and throughout the month we use that as our theme. We do activities based around it. Right now we are doing simplicity, so on our board, you’ll see displayed what simplicity means to us. We used the leaves falling around us. We looked at leaves under magnifying glasses. We collected leaves and glued leaves. We looked closely at rocks. We’ll give parents a write up about what simplicity is and what it looks like here at the Center. We take pictures and put it on the board to show what we did with it. We include these ideas in the monthly newsletter as well.

I’m truly blessed to have found this job that’s like a home to me. The early childhood field as a whole is an amazing, rewarding field. At Friend’s Center I feel comfortable being myself and exploring creative ways to teach the children. The staff is amazing! The hard work that the teachers, front desk program support, and director put into this job each and every day is beyond inspiring and admirable! Not many jobs are as unique as Friend’s Center. I love it here and I will remain at FCfC as long as I can. I am beyond grateful to be a part of this team! Friends Center has been a great stepping stone for me and I look forward to carrying my love for this field into the medical field in the future.

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