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Twenty-One Vignettes from South Africa

Dec 31, 2015   //   by Malik   //   blog  //  No Comments


On May 29, 2015, Hoody, Kit, and I left Rochester for the Gandhi Legacy Tour: South Africa, a two week long excursion to learn about the twenty-one years Mohandas Gandhi spent in South Africa, and the legacy he left. As part of a larger traveling group, we were led across South Africa by Arun Gandhi, Mohandas’ fifth grandson, and Lynnea Bylund, director of the Gandhi Legacy Tours. Hoody, Kit, and I were able to take part in the journey as a result of the generosity of Arun, Lynnea, and so many others who gifted us with funds for the flight.

Below are twenty-one short reflections from those two weeks we spent abroad.. While it is nigh impossible to capture something as rich and fleeting as personal experience, this is an attempt to represent my experience in a series of interrelated fragments.

May my experience move you in some way. 



  • The days leading up to departure were rife with excitement and anxiety. Some mornings, I would waken in near certainty that my heart would stop. I’d never left the boundaries of the United States before, the farthest I had traveled was from one coast to the other. But this was different; this was two weeks in another country. Two weeks on the African continent. A two week sojourn in South Africa.
  • As tempting as it is to refer to Africa as ‘the Motherland’, I will resist that temptation. Growing up in DC taught me enough about tensions within the African diaspora  that, upon setting foot on the continent, I didn’t expected to be embraced by anyone of African descent with broad smiles and warm arms. Being Black simply isn’t enough to bridge the gaping chasms plaguing the diaspora
  • Our plane from New York City to Dubai included an on-flight symphony of languages, dancing from one end of the plane to the other; English, Arabic, languages unidentifiable to my inexperienced ear, whirled from any given direction. Wives speaking in hushed tones to husbands and children, bright-eyed flight attendants offering bites of food and sips of water to fatigued passengers, defiant children babbling to themselves, and each other, to ward off the insipid curse of sleep.
  • What if told you I’d fallen in love with another country? What if I told you I crave the warmth of another sun?
  • We were in Johannesburg for two days before departing for Durban, the city with the largest Indian population of any city outside of India. Durban— Arun Gandhi’s hometown. Arun speaking to our traveling group, upon exiting Durban’s airport, his face shimmering with buoyant light, ‘Welcome home everybody’.
  • Umhlanga. A resort town north of Durban leaning on the Indian Ocean. Throughout the trip, Hoody and I shared rooms. Our room in Durban came with view of the Indian Ocean beautiful enough to question its existence as real or hallucination— how the ocean blushed a deep cerulean; how the waves grasped for the shore so passionately; how the sun in motion transfigured the water into a vast blanket of fire, benign and smoldering.
  • Astounding people were sculpted within the gauntlet of Apartheid-era South Africa; Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Steve Biko, just to name a few. However, have you heard of the man who co-founded the first educational institution opened by Black South Africans, John Dube? The first African and non-European/American to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, Albert Luthuli? Men who, in their own ways, worked against The Powers That Be to carve out their own legacies in history- do you know of them? If not, will you now seek that knowledge out?
  • My 50mm lens perished at Mohandas Gandhi’s former South African home; I was attempting to capture scarlet flowers blooming on a tree branch. Suddenly, the motor that allows the lens to focus on subjects gave out. Instead of rotating around the circumference of the lens with a mechanical steadiness, the focus ring pitifully sputtered and refused to focus on the broad, silken petals. I didn’t want a blurry picture, I didn’t want some half-assed exposure and pass it off as ‘artsy’. I wanted those flowers in full glory.
  • I pushed it. Pushed it beyond its limits. Eventually, the focus ring wouldn’t sputter. It wouldn’t make a sound. The focus ring wouldn’t move, wouldn’t do anything. My 50mm lens was— is, useless.
  • Before my 50mm lens died, I took a photo of Arun standing in front of the room he had been birthed in. Of course, the room looks nothing like it did when Arun was an infant, or a teenager even. Arun’s old Durban home has been renovated into a museum dedicated to helping people understand the elder Gandhi’s path from middle-class lawyer to willingly impoverished justice seeker. The museum is extraordinary; brimming with easily missed influences and nuances of the man’s elaborate life.
  • Eventually, I’d like to return to Durban to trail Ela Gandhi, Arun’s younger sister, with pen and pad in hand. I’d write down nearly anything she says, and archive her brilliance with the attentiveness required of such a task.
  • In my first encounter with Ela, I lodged my foot into my mouth. Our traveling group ventured out to the Phoenix Community Centre to participate in her 75th birthday celebration. Ela met our group at the door. After giving her a hug, I exclaimed ‘Happy Birthday!’. After giving me a confused look, Ela said, with a startling balance of care and austerity, ‘Oh! My birthday is in two days dear.’. …Oops.
  • There were mountains, trees, hills, expanses of lush vegetation for miles. Wind, shadow, and sun were in steadfast competition- which would gain mastery over the climate? Which would freeze, burn, or batter us into submission? We were in an open air vehicle, collectively failing to maintain a prolonged quiet. ‘The animals will not come if you are noisy’ our guide said.
  • Luckily, our noisiness didn’t keep the wildlife away. In the expanse of brown and green before us were zebra loping across the grass; a herd of elephant, one of whom faced our vehicle and raised its trunk, perhaps as a greeting- more likely this was a gesture of warning. Gazelle! An abundance of females and a lone male with stunning facial markings. He approached the side of our vehicle and tilted his neck upward to peer inside, perplexed, perhaps, by the strange machine thundering across the terrain. The gazelle were very thin, seemingly frail, yet capable of surviving alongside leopards and lions.’They’re like French fries to the lions’, I wish our tour guide hadn’t said that…
  • In South Africa, I am not Black. I’m considered ‘Colored’, a category which generally refers to people of mixed race heritage. But I’m neither Colored nor mixed. Both my parents are Black, both born in the United States.
  • I tried explaining how race operates in the United States to two people in South Africa. Both people were Black. Both people were men. ‘…so, in the United States, you’re Black if you’re of African descent’. Both attempts at explanation resulted in my being laughed at, perhaps the mere thought of someone of my complexion being considered Black is cause for hysterics. ‘You’re not Black! You’re Colored!’, a very dark-skinned Ghanaian proclaimed after a scornful laughing fit.
  • I decided to shift our conversation away from race, particularly, my racial identity.
  • Are there etiquette manuals for people of color traveling abroad? I wholeheartedly wanted to feel connected to the people I met in solo ventures in a way that didn’t center my American-ness. I’m assuming that most people I met assumed I was an American with more privilege than I actually have. How would people have reacted if I had confessed, ‘No, I’m only here as a result of a serendipitous amalgam of luck, hard work, and generosity.’. Intuition tells me this confession may have been met with various levels of confusion and scorn.
  • ‘Are you from Brooklyn!?’ ‘No, I’m from DC— Washington D.C! The capitol…’ ‘Oh! have you met Obama?’ ‘No…’
  • There were so many beautiful, warm, welcoming people, especially in Sharpeville. Arun gave a workshop to a group of people in Sharpeville in the 90’s, and they have meticulously tended to those seeds Arun sowed. They now have a group of people dedicated to bolstering the Sharpeville community; the entrepreneurs, the bead-makers, the sculptor, the leather-worker, the theatre director who converted his garage into an acting stage and studio. They were all so dazzling—all so dedicated. I must to go back, eventually.
  • Our traveling companions were wonderful as well! The laughs we shared, some awkward moments, nursing one another as we passed our ailments around. While in recovery from my own bout of illness, which resulted in me vomiting on the bathroom floor in Hoody and I’s Durban hotel room, I was resting constantly. On the bus, I sat beside Sheila, one of the older women taking part in the trip. After a long day of travel, I was unknowingly lulled into the balmy arms of sleep. I woke up on Sheila’s thin shoulder. Embarrassed, I began apologizing profusely. Sheila laughed it off and assured me it was fine. Later, on the tour’s final day, right before Hoody, Kit, and I set off for our departure flight, Sheila told me my sleeping on her shoulder was her favorite moment of the trip.
  • And, here, I will end the reminiscing. So many details left untouched. So many stories, upon stories, to tell…

“Gandhi Institute: It’s ok to be angry” D&C article by Patti Singer

Dec 17, 2015   //   by David Sanchez   //   blog  //  No Comments

“Gandhi Institute: It’s ok to be angry” Democrat & Chronicle article by Patti Singer

The ones who say they can’t be angry, they frighten her.

“I don’t think of anger as a bad thing,” said Miller, director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence on South Plymouth Avenue. “It’s a fantastic emotion. I don’t want to get rid of it. Anger is a flashing light saying that something’s not right.”

To help people understand their own and other people’s anger, the Gandhi Institute is hosting a workshop on how to resolve conflict and manage the intense feeling. The event is free, but donations will be accepted.

Miller said anger can be born from fear, frustration or caring. But people who demonstrate their anger can be isolated because friends or family don’t know how to react.

Miller called anger a beautiful emotion and said there are good reasons to be angry. “I’m worried that if we say it’s not OK to be angry, we walk around being nice dead people. That’s actually not going to help things. I think when people explode, it’s because that’s what they’ve been doing and that’s what they’ve been socialized to do.”

She said the workshop can help people develop the skills to handle conflict in safe ways.

“I’m interested in having a bigger cadre of people in this community who don’t feel upset around someone else’s upset, but are more willing to be interested and relaxed and curious about upset.”

The workshops, scheduled for Oct. 24 and Nov. 21, are open to any age. “A lot of times we’ve got 14-, 15-, 16-year-olds sitting next to people in their 70s,” she said. “That’s part of the benefit of it. We can learn from each other and not be afraid of each other so much.”

The Gandhi Institute, which receives funding from the University of Rochester, had shifted its focus from holding public events to working with groups who have requested specific programs.

But the violence nationally and locally has the leadership looking again at programs to give people confidence when dealing with conflict.

“I know a lot of people are hungry for this kind of support if they only knew how to get it,” she said.

On Self-Empathy & Social Equity

Dec 17, 2015   //   by Meghan Kearns   //   blog  //  No Comments

The other week I had the privilege of sitting across the table from author and collaborative facilitation consultant Miki Kashtan. Despite her revolutionary presence in the realm of collaborative decision-making, I hesitated when Kit invited me to join a few guests downstairs to discuss Miki’s work over coffee and burritos. I was interested in the unique opportunity, but did I really deserve to take a break and engage in the conversation? How many sent emails and updated website pages earned me the physical and intellectual nourishment of the luncheon?  Remembering the handful of extra hours I had worked the week before, I calculated that I could afford to wander down and listen in on Miki’s collaboration advice.

I was soon immersed in a rich discussion of everything from the downfalls of compromise to the distant possibility of a post-privilege society. Miki made one comment in particular that nestled into my mind for the rest of the afternoon. “Many people talk about equal access to opportunity,” she remarked, “but few talk about equal access to resources.” In other words, even the most level of proverbial playing fields is still a space of competition. Given that most media and educational curricula contextualize far-left economics within the dystopian experiments of Mao’s China and Stalin’s USSR, the topic of equal resource distribution in mainstream America runs on a scale from utterly taboo to moderately contentious. But in the context of our highly competitive society, I realized that every time I had advocated for “equal access to opportunity,” I had really been saying, “all people should have a fair shot at winning what they need.” There was some part of me that wanted others to prove that they were worthy of resources necessary to thrive, instead of simply wanting the best for them as fellow human beings. I left the discussion acutely aware of my own deeply internalized “survival of the fittest” mentality. Why was it so radical to believe that all people equally and unequivocally deserve to have their needs met?

The political scientist in me had an answer regarding scarcity, but as I went about my day post-Miki, another line of reasoning began to surface in the quiet moments of mulling between tasks on my to-do list. I had long been aware of the pressure I put on myself to “earn” my space in the world. I was even pressuring myself to earn the right to have lunch and learn from Miki. Originally, I thought of it as a common but personal issue. However, if I didn’t truly believe that I was inherently worthy of having my own needs met, how could I advocate effectively for the needs of others? If I assumed I had to fight for the validation of my own humanity, why wouldn’t I drag others into the ring with me?

In my experience, one reason many people are afraid of dismantling the systems that bestow their privilege is that they view themselves in competition with others and fear that sharing their resource pool will threaten their stability. This anxiety indicates that people crave external, systemic recognition of their own competitive prowess because they have been socialized to believe that they wouldn’t be entitled to live in dignity otherwise.

But what if those in power understood their own humanity as truly inherent, instead of something to be won? What if they perceived their self-worth as stable and independent of the social and economic growing pains that will accompany the creation of a more just and sustainable society? I’m willing to bet that if more people were genuinely connected with their own intrinsic worthiness, they could more easily connect with the intrinsic worthiness of all. Such an understanding would move more people to create socially and economically equitable systems that honor the truth of universal human value.

It will probably take a lifetime for me to stop equating my productivity with my level of worthiness. But as a professor of mine used to say, “We’re human beings, not human doings.”  While there is plenty to be done in the world, our very existence entitles us to our humanity (whether current power structures recognize it or not). If I spent less time criticizing myself for how I am earning my space in the world, I would have more energy to advocate for equitable systems that recognize inherent human dignity and worth and respond by supporting people to meet their needs. So I’m challenging myself to trust that no matter what I do or do not accomplish in a given day, I am a person with inherent value. And no matter how your day is going or how much you’ve accomplished, so are you.

Becoming Consciously White

Oct 26, 2015   //   by Shannon Richmond   //   blog  //  No Comments

by staff member Shannon Richmond.

“When did you first become aware of race?” the facilitator asked. My mind was blank. When was it? How old was I? Why don’t I remember?  Growing up white in this country and being raised in nearly-completely-white suburbia, my story of lack of awareness around race is not unique. Not having to think about race and believing I was “normal” have been results of my white privilege from the earliest parts of my life. I did not need to question if I was welcome at the majority white church my family attended when I was young. My private school experience only separated me further from spending any significant time in racially diverse groups while growing up. The few students of color who attended my school were exotic to me—from far off places such as Egypt and Africa (yes, the whole continent was sufficient to reference, according to white supremacy). No one talked about race or racism to me when I was young. I was insulated. I was systemically protected. I belonged, so why question it?

I was confronted with all of this anew when I attended Metro Justice’s Racial Justice workshop[1] on October 17th. I was reminded that I have a choice whether or not I’ll do the work of examining how race and racism have shaped my life; my choice exists because of my white privilege. I could remain comfortable and rationalize away why there weren’t families of color in my neighborhood growing up or more students of color at my school. Or I can choose the journey of educating myself: learning about the exclusion laws which prevented people of color from moving into the state of Oregon (in the 1840s), understanding the connection between race and poverty which no doubt was part of the reason more children of color didn’t attend my school.

While at the workshop, hearing about the legacy of slavery and the multiple structural barriers which followed (Jim Crow laws, immigration quotas, redlining, predatory lending, to name a few), I felt familiar guilt creep up. How do we as white people deal with these feelings of guilt? It’s painful to look at this history of oppression. How do we not become silent and frozen in shame? The Metro Justice facilitators spoke about understanding racism as something white people inherited from our parents and grandparents which does not fit us anymore. We can understand how everyone starts to acquire biases from the moment we are born: from what was seen and said and what was unseen and unsaid. As a white person, I internalized the idea that black people are either dangerous or exotic. I internalized the idea that Asians are smart and Latinos are drug-dealers. Did you internalize similar stereotypes or other ones? Whatever they are, these ideas live unquestioned within us as the platform upon which our brains build mental associations. Our unconscious is running the show, whether we admit it or not.

If it’s unconscious, what can we do about it? We can start right now by challenging biases whenever they arise. Just a few weeks ago I had an opportunity to do this: I went to go see a new doctor, and I was surprised when a black woman walked in to treat me. I felt shame about my surprise; I recognized it to be connected to a hidden bias that a black doctor could not be as qualified to take care of me as a white doctor. I felt appalled uncovering this, and yet I also saw the opportunity to challenge this old story I internalized at some point in time I do not remember. Instead of spending time trying to feel better about myself and convince myself or others that I’m not racist, I want to use my energy to notice when these biases arise and challenge them. That’s what we all can do, starting in this moment.

What else can we do for racial justice as white people? First, we need to educate ourselves, rather than falling into the common white person trap of asking or expecting a person of color to inform us about their suffering so we can learn. Other things that have supported me in my journey: attending the Conversations on Race[2], reading books by bell hooks[3], checking out the website Black Girl Dangerous. As one participant in the workshop mentioned, let’s use the term white supremacy rather than racism when we speak about these issues. So many times racism is narrowed to only mean personal exceptional acts of hate, whether burning crosses or drawing a swastika. White supremacy recognizes the systemic way people of color in this country have been oppressed and treated unjustly throughout American history.

Doing this work requires that you tolerate discomfort, one of the facilitators said. As white people, we can work with our white fragility by not expecting this examination to be easy. Yet it is our work to do. I didn’t put the system of slavery into place, and yet my ancestors benefited from it. I have the opportunity to step into my power to change the course of history for white people by working for racial equity and justice. How can I be a part of a generation that changes our trajectory around racism? How can you?

We, as white people, need to acknowledge ourselves as racial beings. The only part of racism I can truly understand is my own experience as a white person in this country. So how can I become more aware each day of how I may glide through the world on the privilege of my whiteness? How often do I not get pulled over, even as I may be speeding or run a yellow light? How often am I in spaces which are majority white and I can relax, knowing these spaces were created with me in mind? Asking these questions is a part of my education around race.

Wherever you are in your journey of understanding race and racism, I invite you to see the daily steps you can take to living toward racial equity. It starts within us. It starts with our implicit biases when we walk past a young black man on the street. We move the world toward racial equity by questioning our biases as we become aware of them. We move the world toward racial equity by examining how our whiteness protects or helps us on a daily basis. We move the world toward racial equity by educating ourselves about historic and systemic white supremacy. We move the world toward racial equity by learning from our mistakes and staying on the journey, even when it may be easier to rationalize and escape uncomfortable feelings. If we are going to transform our systems, we must not neglect the transformation of our own hearts; for our systems are built from that which is within us.


[1] I highly recommend Metro Justice’s Racial Justice workshop. Here is more info about Metro Justice:

If you’d like to find out when the date is for the next Racial Justice workshop and register, please contact Pat:

[2] The Conversations on Race are free, facilitated conversations about race and its impact on all of us. Dates and times can be found on the web calendar at The next conversations are November 18th at Fairport Public Library and November 23 at Winton Branch Library.

[3] The Gandhi Institute staff is about to read bell hooks’ killing rage: ending racism together. Gather friends, neighbors, or coworkers and start your own book group!

Restoring What Is Broken

Oct 20, 2015   //   by Maria Engels   //   blog  //  No Comments

Last Wednesday, I tagged along with two members of the Gandhi Institute as they presented a workshop on Restorative Justice for forty Rochester AmeriCorps volunteers. As a volunteer at the Gandhi Institute, I was excited to learn more about Restorative Justice and the everyday use of this practice. This was also part of a healing process for me.

In mid-August, my grandmother and her sister were rear ended by an eighteen-year-old who pulled out of a driveway without looking to see who was ahead of him. Apparently, he only had his license for three days. While my grandmother has now made a full recovery, my great-aunt remained in the hospital for roughly three weeks before passing away. I held her hand while she took her last breath.

I feel a bit hopeless about this situation. An eighteen-year-old made a stupid decision that ended up costing my family in a serious manner. I also feel a sense of loss for this young man, who must live with the fact that his reckless driving resulted in death. Originally charged with failure to yield, I am unsure whether or not this will be reassessed as vehicular manslaughter. The potential charge could be up to a year in jail, which is not a sentence I would want to inflict on this young adult.  Our current justice system does not try to rehabilitate offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large. Instead, it further divides one another from mutual understanding. I would like for my grandmother and this young man to meet, to discuss why he was distracted and rushing that day, and the emotional toll it has had…on both of them. Unfortunately, the court system has not provided this as an option. How much more suffering must occur? So, this opportunity to learn more about Restorative Justice was one that I was eager to engage with and could approach with a curious mindset.

Attending the presentation was very informative, not only to understand Restorative Justice Practices but also how we can use these methods in daily situations. A few key principles of Restorative Justice include a holistic approach, where participants voluntarily engage with one another to create mutual understanding, and this transforms the negative experience into deeper healing. Even those who are deemed ‘at fault’ have a voice and are heard. From my understanding, there is also an intersection between Restorative Justice and Nonviolent Communication. This approach is crucial because it defuses potential hostility when people are open with one another. It brings people together and furthers mutual understanding rather than continue to tear our communities apart.

The AmeriCorps volunteers are assigned to schools within the Rochester City School District and are facing challenges of how to engage students who are disruptive in their classes. What are the needs of these students that are causing them to act out? How can we, as adults, demonstrate our humanity and give them a voice? Are we capable of feeling vulnerable, to take the risk and advocate in ‘radical’ ways for our students? I say ‘radical’ because our current institutions – schools, court systems, etc. – are unwilling to engage one another in this manner. Instead, we throw the disruptive student out of class; we write off the eighteen-year-old as a horrible person and when we do this, we cut off a piece of ourselves: our humanity, our ability to communicate and understand one another. And the outcome is that we are unable to truly heal. For me, this workshop was a beginning step of restoring hope and balance to broken systems by shifting the manner in which we operate and interact with one another.

Staff Reflections on Gandhi

Oct 1, 2015   //   by Meghan Kearns   //   blog  //  1 Comment
Gandhi the Racist?
Kit Miller

Kit Miller DirectorI often receive questions and comments from people who have heard something about Gandhi being a racist and asked for my thoughts. It’s easy for me to see why that perception exists. When I typed “Gandhi Racism” in Google, 493,000 hits came up (for comparison: 110 million hits come up when I entered the word Gandhi only).

And yet… from visiting S Africa, I learned of Gandhi’s connection with his closest neighbor, African National Congress (ANC) founder John Dube, who established the ANC as a nonviolent organization after being influenced by conversations with Gandhi. I have spoken directly with civil rights hero Dr. Bernard Lafayette, who during his days of activism and 26 arrests proudly wore the nickname “Little Gandhi” for his depth of knowledge about Gandhi and his approach.  These are the affects of Gandhi’s life on two black leaders, among many others. And while travelling in S Africa, learning about nonviolence, I heard a popular sentiment several times: ‘India gave us Mohandas, and we returned him as Mahatma’. South African leaders, most notably Nelson Mandela, have lauded him as being part of the epic battle to defeat the white regime and prepare the way for a non-racial country.

Like so many leaders, Gandhi’s history is complex. For myself, I’ve decided that I don’t need my teachers and heroes to be perfect.  Nor do I blindly emulate them. I pick and choose. MLK’s systemic understanding of the ways that race, poverty and war intersect offers me, for example, a far more relevant model of understanding current social forces than Gandhi’s thinking. And still there are ways in which Gandhi’s life and thinking move me still, from his thinking on sustainability to the important of local economies to interfaith.  Finally I wonder…what is it that makes us want/need our leaders to be perfect?

Unveiling Gandhi’s Humanity, Embracing Our Own
Malik Thompson

MalikselfieAfter venturing to South Africa with Arun Gandhi, to learn about his grandfather’s life and legacy, the veils I placed upon the elder Gandhi’s humanity fell before my feet and the image I held of him became more vivid and clear- like watching wildflowers blossoming in Spring.Ela Gandhi, Arun’s younger sister, spoke with our traveling group about her grandfather’s disparaging sentiments toward the Black South African, which he held during his early years in South Africa. Her serene voice still rings in my head when I reminisce upon that sojourn, a voice I associate with crisp, cool water.

Ela spoke with us about her grandfather’s transformation: from a man who believed Black South Africans were of little use beyond menial labor, to a man who came to understand that, to obtain true peace, justice must be waged for everyone.To be transparent, Gandhi’s sentiments toward the Black South Africans were a great source of pain and anger for me prior to my journey to South Africa. And, to a lesser extent, it still is.

However, what is more hurtful and rage-inducing is our collective unwillingness to engage with Gandhi as he was; a human, another one of us heartbreakingly beautiful and tragically flawed beings. Enmeshing Gandhi in the chains of a romanticized sainthood, as though he left the womb with such an immense dedication to the world and all beings in it, we devalue Gandhi.

Challenging one’s worldview to consider and work to alleviate the suffering of others is difficult; doing the same for a person, or group of people, one once believed less than human is excruciating.Placing Gandhi on pedestal of absolute piety is a disservice to him, as well as ourselves.

On the eve of Gandhi’s birthday, let us all take a firm look at our flaws, our prejudices, our actions that inflict violence upon ourselves and others.

As Gandhi did multiple times during his lifetime, let us all walk the arduous path of peace, justice, and transformation.

What’s Better Than Pieces of Gold and Silver?
Veronica Howard

veronicaThe older I get the more I realize how short, precious and fragile life can be. Environment, genetics and lifestyle choices impact my overall health and well-being. As an African American woman parenting a growing daughter, I’m all too aware of the lack of healthcare in my community and how it leads to chronic illness and premature death in my own family and community. Illnesses related to high-blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, breast and cervical cancer, high cholesterol, and obesity to name a few are often preventable, if detected early and lifestyle adjustments are made.

This isn’t easy and sadly I’ve attended too many funerals and made too many hospital visits to strong, black women who took care of everyone else except their own health. All the money in the world can’t buy health and once it’s gone people take extraordinary measures to get it back. Prevention is key.  Proper nutrition through a healthy diet with regular exercise are choices most people can tweak every day to not only extend their lives but improve their quality of life.

Although M.K. Gandhi was a non-violent activist who at times used fasting as a political strategy, throughout his life he also experimented with diet to find the healthiest and simplest ways to eat. It doesn’t sound like he consumed processed foods but consumed a diet filled with vegetables and fruits. He once said, “it is health that is the real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” No matter how busy his schedule was, he chose walking as his mode of transportation. This resonates with me because I live in a super-sized, microwave culture.

Yet, I can’t blame my culture for my lifestyle choices. For instance, when I make fresh vegetable and fruit juices, I know I’m infusing my body with the micro-nutrients it needs that may prevent illnesses later in life. Plus, I feel better so my quality of life is improved. The community garden at the Gandhi Institute serves as a wonderful resource for fresh produce within a community with healthcare disparities. I’m still working on being empowered not to allow the pursuit of anything, including material wealth, to overshadow my making healthier lifestyle choices. I want to live a long, healthy life. Audre Lorde said, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”. As a mother and as an African American woman, this is the legacy that I choose to pass on to my daughter and those in my circle of influence.

Diversity in Oneness
Meghan Kearns

FullSizeRender (1)The older I get, the less I am able to identify where I end and the rest of the world begins. Thanks to advancements in science, I now know that my body is composed of more microbial cells than cells with my own DNA. I am aware that I am always mixing with and molding against my surroundings, and that every interaction with another person changes me in some way. For better or worse, it seems we are constantly leaking into one another. Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence utilizes this sense of oneness to push back against powerful and deeply rooted systems of oppression. His life and work spread the notion that violence against another is violence against oneself. This understanding remains imperative to enacting social change in a way that does not implicitly reproduce current systems of hierarchy and domination, but rather deconstructs the perceived “other” into a valued embodiment of shared humanity.

Despite its capacity to promote nonviolence, “oneness” can be dangerous if not tempered with an understanding of humanity as a collective entity composed of distinct individuals with unique experiences. Given the deep interconnectedness of human life, it can be easy for me to assume that I understand the experiences of others and therefore have the authority to judge or control their actions. Gandhi acknowledged that the novelty of each individual experience renders it incommunicable, and therefore unknowable by other people. He harbored a deep respect for each person’s viewpoint, boldly stating that “relative truth is all we know.”

By using empathetic and nonviolent means to reclaim India from British colonial powers, Gandhi proved that effective social, political, and economic change can arise from a simultaneous reverence for unity and diversity. Ultimately, Gandhi has taught me that to value diversity is to have faith in oneness. When I view people as beautiful, autonomous, and ultimately unknowable parts of myself, I can release the fear of the “other” that society has so powerfully ingrained in my thinking and truly embrace their unique and invaluable presence.

The EVolution of a Restorative RCSD
Evan Burnett

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAKsAAAAJDE4MGM1NDQxLWYwZDktNDdmNi04YzMyLTQ5M2M2NjQ4MmY4ZQSince Arriving at the M.K. Gandhi Institute in late August, I have been able to further understand the importance of Mahatma Gandhi and all the good he did for those he came in contact with during his life. My work at Wilson enables me to put into practice the philosophies and concepts that Gandhi preached about, such as nonviolent communication, as well as conflict resolution. There are a number of outside influences that students at Wilson have to face and it can be difficult not to bring some of those hardships with them into the school building. Being a Restorative youth educator has allowed me to reach students on a deeper level after a conflict, and ask some of the questions that their immediate teachers may not necessarily have the time to ask or deal with it. Once students settle down and highlight who has been affected by their actions, it is amazing to see how much they open up.

Gandhi believed that violence oftentimes begets violence, unless another voice of reason can intervene and present ways in which others can better handle conflict so everyone involved can coexist with one another. I take pride in being that person who young people feel comfortable coming to whenever conflict arises, and offering solutions as to how they can have more peaceful days whether it is with other students or staff members.

As the year progresses, I will continue to be inspired by Gandhi’s work and search for different ways that I can implement his practices by doing Restorative Justice. It is amazing to think that I have already been at the Institute for over a month but with the help of dedicated colleagues and support from the Rochester City School District, we are able to participate in Wilson High School’s pre-established restorative processes.


Reflection from August 21 Prison Dialogue

Aug 25, 2015   //   by Meghan Kearns   //   blog  //  No Comments

Responding to requests from Groveland prison staff to extend programming beyond our annual Season for Nonviolence efforts, we have just begun an occasional series of dialogues between community people and men incarcerated at Groveland.  More than 20 community members spent the day in conversation with men who are about to be released from prison.  This initial dialogue was planned and moderated by Shannon Richmond and by our Institute’s founder, Arun Gandhi.

Friday was my first exposure to our prison system here in New York State.  Thank you to Arun Gandhi, Gandhi Institute associate director Shannon Richmond and Groveland Warden Cronin for organizing this opportunity.   It was a very interesting experience, one that I still am processing.  The most important reflection I have at this time is the pure fact that inmates are human just like the rest of us on the outside of the prison walls.  They eat, sleep, smile, frown, laugh, cry and all the above.  The one difference is they made a mistake and got caught. 

Too often I find that I put up a mental wall and don’t ever really think about inmates.  I cast them aside mentally and pretty much forget about them.  After this experience, I no longer want to continue with that mind set.  I am concerned about the transition support we have in place for inmates upon release.  How can we as a community do a better job of supporting our newly released brothers and sisters?  What can we do to empower and support them in their effort to acclimate back into our community?  Is there a better way?  What resources are there currently?  Is their a funding shortfall for transition services?  What are other communities doing?

These are all questions that I hope we can address within the Rochester community in the near term!-Justin Sansone

One With the Land

Aug 10, 2015   //   by Hoody   //   blog  //  1 Comment

~by hoody miller~

photo (4)

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. My experience in South Africa has brought me back home with so much more appreciation than when I left. Did you know in South Africa they drive on the opposite side of the street than they do here? And that 86 % of people over age 15 can read and write?  In My life changing perspective as a tourist I learned a lot about life and what it means to be peaceful. Along with my Gandhi legacy tour group, I visited a nursing home in Johannesburg which displayed what a nonviolent household looks like. They gave us a tour of the house and a lesson on what child abuse was and all forms of abuse, and how it can affect your natural thought process. There are many people working in child development and there is a lot of focus surrounding agriculture. The cultivation of food is very popular in most parts of South Africa we visited. There is an non-profit farmer down there who uses what is on the street to make beds for the gardens, using things like tires and boards.

The voices of the people make my heart sing with joy. I went to a church service where the pastor spoke on loving one another in order to live forever. As I thought about that sermon it made me realize that they put more thought in loving one another than I do.  Now I feel that we need to spread the message of peace to one another if we are to thrive. My knowledge on what I thought Africa was has totally changed.The people there are civilized and just like America they have parts that are rough and some that aren’t.  In Cape Town I got to sit and have tea with arch bishop Desmond tutu and meet his youngest daughter Mpho. Just like arch bishop tutu, we are activists Him telling his stories of social activism inspired me to do more for my people as he did his. I do Spoken word poetry and I got to perform two of my best pieces for Ela Gandhi’s birthday, the granddaughter of Gandhi. There I also had a blast enjoying delicious Indian style food with many peppers and spices. I learned that there is a language for the county of South Africa and I also learned that S.A is home of some of the first discovered humans. There are different types of animals that make up South Africa like elephants, jackass penguins, baboons and giraffes, but the most outrageous up close sight for me was the ostrich. I always thought of them as a joke, but they are very shy animals who don’t like to be seen. My biggest fear of South Africa was to leave without bringing back something natural but I guess I did leave with something natural and that is the thought of bettering my surroundings, knowing it could be a better place with just a little of what it means to be one with the land.

Startling Similarities: Susan B Anthony and Mohandas Gandhi

Aug 6, 2015   //   by David Sanchez   //   blog  //  No Comments


by Kit Miller

Rochester’s  hometown hero, Susan B Anthony, died 99 years ago this year.  She’s been a hero of mine for a long, long time, particularly for her stated commitment to spend her life to work on a problem that she might not live to see solved.  At the end, friends pleaded with Anthony to soften her position and support partial voting rights for women, to have an opportunities to experience a ‘win’.  She declined.

That kind of vision and backbone, even at the end of a long, difficult life of activism, inspires me deeply.  I was also intrigued by the similarities I have found between her and Gandhi, from reading their letters.  Below is a reflection I wrote for the Gandhi Institute newsletter in 2010, reflecting on their shared qualities:

I am reading a collection of Susan B Anthony’s letters and became bemused at how often her words and actions reminded me of Gandhi, so much so that I started a list!

  • Like him, she edited a newspaper and believed that the media was a force for social change.
  • Like him, she never touched alcohol, ate sparingly, walked daily, and was vigorous and sharp into a late old age.
  • There are other similarities-both were penny pinchers, very careful with money and detailed with budgets for their projects.
  • Neither of them ever collected or cared about personal wealth.
  • Both of them were born into families with strong religious beliefs and were so tolerant of other faith traditions that they were at times chastised for their tolerance by friend and foe alike.
  • Each became famous and didn’t let it turn their head, they retained a sense of humility and very sharp senses of humor, able to laugh especially at themselves and their own foibles.
  • Both were canny political strategists who were consumed by their sense of mission in life.
  • Both travelled extensively and often at a pace that exhausted younger people, speaking at hundreds if not thousands of events to educate and inform over decades of public service.
  • Both wore trademark garb-Gandhi in his dhoti, Susan in her formal black dress and alligator bag.
  • Last – each of them believed fervently in supporting women to be recognized and accorded the same rights as men.

Recently I read a reflection that said, in essence, we don’t need another Gandhi, we just need many, many people trying to become more like him. Perhaps the similarities between these two passionate human rights heroes helps to point the way

Tax Day Reflections

Apr 15, 2015   //   by David Sanchez   //   blog  //  No Comments


~Kit Miller~

Last night I had the good fortune of attending a play called The Moutaintop at Rochester’s GEVA Theater, with students from three of our nonviolence clubs and my hardworking colleague David Sanchez.  The play focuses on Martin Luther King Jr ‘s last night on earth. I found it very powerful, especially as much of it focuses on the exhaustion and isolation he experienced as his focus widened beyond civil rights to include poverty and militarism. In the year before he died, Dr. King called racism, poverty and militarism a triple evil, pointing out that the use of resources for war impoverishes us at home as well as harming countless innocents abroad.  As the years pass, King’s systemic awareness of the interplay between these forces has been called prophetic.

Fast forward to today: April 15, 2015.  According to the Nobel-prize nominated nonprofit, the National Priorities Project, 55.2% of US federal tax dollars goes to funding past and present military expenses.  We are starving our communities at home through this focus, while maintaining and growing a military that is larger than that of twenty other countries combined.  If we were prosperous at home, and had the money we need for education, healthcare and the environment, perhaps this focus could be justified.  If we were doing even a fair job caring for veterans, perhaps this focus could be justified. Rising rates of poverty, illness, environmental problems and weaker academic performance says different.  The agonizing suicide rate of one veteran every day says different.

If you are reading this blog, you are likely interested in nonviolence.  If that is true, become informed about tax resistance as a venerable and effective form of nonviolent protest.  To learn more, please check out the websites below or contact me.  The Gandhi Institute has hosted two workshops on tax resistance with NWTRCC (below) and we will gladly find ways to support your interest.

I invite you to make use of whatever frustration or irritation you feel today, when giving up your hard-earned cash.  There must be leaders who would shift resources away from military expansion and toward communities at home if they felt supported to do so.  The U.S. two party system is essentially a one party system in terms of its inability to resist militarism.  Imagine freeing up billions of dollars to take care of people here at home, from the very young to the very old.  Imagine using resources to shift away from fossil fuel dependence entirely.  Leaders need support and a mandate to resist militarism and to end poverty and racism.  Tax resistance may be what it takes to help make Dr. King’s vision a reality.

Check out these websites for more information:

National Priorities Project
National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee


blog Categories


  • February 11, 2016 6:30 pmConversation on Race with Poverty
  • February 18, 2016 6:30 pmConversation on Race with Poverty
  • February 22, 2016 6:00 pmConversation on Race with Poverty
  • February 26, 2016 5:00 pmAlternatives to Violence Project Basic (Level 1) Workshop
  • March 3, 2016 6:30 pmConversation on Race with Poverty
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