I 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?
After 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.
The 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.
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.
Since 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.
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
~by hoody miller~
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.
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
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:
On March 1, Kit Miller, Director of the Gandhi Institute, David Sanchez, Youth Program Coordinator, and Joel Gallegos Greenwich, Nonviolence Educator and doctorate student at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester were thrilled to give a presentation to the Warner School program.
The presentation included an overview of the Gandhi Institute’s Nonviolence Programming being offered at Monroe Middle and High Schools, NorthWest College Academy, and Pittsford-Mendon and Brighton High Schools. It also included an interactive to engage students in a similar exercise done in area schools. Participants were introduced to Gandhi Knowledge Cards and dialogued using prompts on the cards.
The Gandhi Institute values it’s partnership with the University of Rochester and other area universities and educators in Rochester by working in collaboration to create innovative curricula that caters to the needs of each demographic to support youth and adult learners to reach their full human potential.
Emotional Life Support for Middle School Students: Gandhi peace educators work with 80 at-risk middle school students for an hour each day. The curricula incorporates mindfulness and meditation, Nonviolent Communication, Dr. King’s Principles of Nonviolence, Civil Rights Movement history, and Gandhi’s history and philosophy. Topics include:
- understanding violence on the internal, interpersonal, and structural levels
- understanding nonviolence as both a philosophy and practice
- transforming a negative situation into a positive one
- preventing and responding to bullying
- creating healthy lifestyle habits
Nonviolence Clubs: Gandhi staff offer weekly sessions in 4 local schools and a local library incorporating the same ideas as the above programming. Students identify and work on projects focused on improving the climate of their schools while also developing their own tools and leadership skills. In 2015-2016 we want to continue this programming and add a section in the local youth detention facility in nearby Rush, NY at the request of that facility.
Data Collection: Using quantitative survey developed by RIT’s Center for Public Safety that measures attitudes toward violence, perceptions of safety, ability to empathize with others and ability to manage conflict. Students participate in a pre-survey at the start of the program and a post-survey at its completion to measure difference in skills and attitudes. Qualitative data is collected via student reflections and video interviews by Gandhi Institute staff persons.
For a glimpse at what some program framework and photos, click here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1TtlvhTHttubKRfNS_lDZ1C_uNC9o8n8cWRkJK0PzEyA/edit#slide=id.p
While I know that funders often want numbers and data about how the Gandhi Institute’s work is successful and effective, I want to share something that feels hard to quantify: how working at the Gandhi Institute for the past four and a half years has influenced my life.
When I started at the Institute, I was shy to speak in groups and lacked tools to apply nonviolence. I remember attending a class a colleague of mine taught and being afraid to share my opinion on the reading with the other six participants. Over the next couple of years, through the Gandhi Institute, Kit (the Director of the Institute) supported my participation in a number of high quality trainings: in restorative circles, peace circles, community conferencing, anti-racism and racial justice, Nonviolent Communication, trauma resiliency, and grief and empowerment work with Joanna Macy. I began to collect tools and knowledge about what nonviolence was in theory and practice. All along the way, I’ve been challenged to put these skills into action by teaching others. I remember the first time Kit proposed I lead an exercise in her Nonviolent Communication class. “Me?” I asked, with a squeaky voice.
Because of these opportunities and the support to both learn and teach, I’ve grown in my confidence to articulate the ideas and methods of nonviolence. I’ve grown in my facilitation skills to handle increasingly challenging groups with intense emotional dynamics. I am amazed that through the support of the Institute I’ve grown confident enough to give presentations on conflict transformation and communication to a room of strangers as well as facilitate multi-day workshops on nonviolence that I’ve personally designed.
Yet the most meaningful to me is that I’m becoming more of the person I want to be: more space for compassion, love, patience, understanding, generosity, kindness, and truthfulness to address harm and injustice. It is through being at the Institute that I’ve had the opportunity and support to practice all of these qualities–because they are valued here, as much as efficiency and productivity are valued in other work places.
I believe the Institute is unique because the organization is dedicated to more than just providing programs; we are dedicated to how we work together when in conflict, how we share power at staff meetings, how we greet visitors, how we take care of the house, how we collaborate with other organizations, and how we interact with distressed neighbors. All of these things can be invisible. Yet the how makes up our lives. As Gandhi taught, the means are as important as the ends, because the end result will reveal all the parts that came together to make it.
I cannot say how many youth we’ve touched through the Gandhi Institute’s programming, nor the particulars of how their lives have changed. I can say how my life has been nourished and reshaped over the past four and a half years of being here.
As the Institute currently struggles for funding, please consider what you may financially give to the Gandhi Institute, so that we can touch more lives.
I know that I was able to come here because financial resources were available to hire me, first as a Mennonite Service Volunteer, and then in 2012 as full-time staff. I sincerely hope that what I’ve experienced can be made available to those who come after me, whether through a nonviolence club, social justice class, community workshop, or by working at the Institute. Please donate for these people to come, who have beautiful qualities waiting to be watered and tended.
Please use this link to donate now.
For those who have donated already, I give my sincere thanks. I hope sharing my story may bring you joy and meaning, knowing you’ve invested in something precious and worthwhile.
In deep gratitude,
Shannon Richmond currently serves as
the Associate Director at the Gandhi Institute.
By Matthew Townsend
When I arrived in Rochester two and a half years ago, I felt elated to find so many beautiful hiking opportunities nearby. I’d lived for the previous three years in Central Illinois, where a few isolated woods dot the expanse of corn and soy monocultures. One of the nearest large forests – Hoosier National in Bloomington, Indiana – was roughly as far from Champaign as the Adirondacks from Rochester. Here, in Western New York, I’d finally feel at home. I wanted to hike all the time – planning to enter the woods almost every week.
These plans have never come to pass, but I have visited many parks in our region. I took joy in finding anew park for each hike – a huge change from the scarcity of places to explore in the Midwestern plains. After a time, though, I came to miss one aspect of hiking the same parks over and over again: you see them in all seasons.
In the spring of 2013, I decided to explore the eastern side of Letchworth State Park, south of Mount Morris, New York. The western side of the park is highly developed, allowing sightseers easy access to the massive cataracts that run through the park. Comparatively speaking, the eastern park is quiet, unpeopled, and rugged. Looking at an aerial map, I decided to hike down Dishmill Creek – which runs a winding course through woods and fields before emptying in the Genesee River below.
I was stunned by the beauty of the hike – the creek poured over dozens of small waterfalls and ran through shady gorges. As I trudged through the waters, crayfish and minnows darted away from my feet. Mesmerized, I decided I would return to Dishmill Creek. Later in the season, the creekbed fed me – wild red and black raspberries grow through the creek’s clearings, along with mustard and other wild edibles. I decided this would be the park I would hike in all seasons. I returned with a friend in the late summer and returned with more friends next spring. Mark, Deborah and I shared a lunch of vegetarian sushi next to the largest waterfall on the creek, which was sublime. I came alone in the fall, perhaps the most captivating season at Dishmill Creek, with auburn leaves drifting down the creek through golds and greens and blues and whites and blacks and browns and grays.
After my autumnal hike, I committed to revisiting Dishmill this winter. I would then know the park in all four seasons, and the idea excited me. I grew up in Florida, so the winter of my inner thoughts is magical and beautiful and comforting. On the morning of March 8, 2015 – the final morning before significant melts of the year – I decided to head to the creek and capture my Narnia-like visions of the place on digital film. Temperatures were just above freezing, so I layered myself appropriately, found my snowshoes and drove down to the park.
No more than 20 minutes of hiking had passed before it occurred to me that this hike – which I’d anticipated for more than a year – wouldn’t be as thrilling as I’d hoped. The reality of the forest in late winter differed from the imaginings born of my sun-baked Floridian brain: it was sterile, stark and somewhat dangerous. With about two feet of snow on the ground, the whole forest held a blazing white sameness, completely swallowing the creekbed.
If I didn’t know the hike so well, I would have taken it as unremarkable. I stood still for a moment and looked down at my snowshoes as I angrily realized several of my needs would likely be unmet by this hike: beauty, comfort, creativity, ease, and safety. The hike would be hard going but would present few opportunities to use my camera. It would be cold, wet and laborious.
After cursing the forest aloud, I decided to press forward. I accepted that some of my particularly life-giving needs would not be met by this hike. I reflected that while most of us don’t volunteer for situations in which our needs cannot be met easily, such situations are unavoidable in life. Not every disease is cured. Not every relationship works out. Not every test is passed. Under these circumstances, the application of nonviolence is especially urgent. It’s easy enough to approach someone nonviolently when we think our needs can be met. Yet, in hopeless situations, when our grief and loss become overwhelming and we can find no way out, violence can so easily re-enter the picture. Violence is our last resort, but it is our favorite last resort.
Ninety minutes passed before I arrived at my most beloved waterfall on Dishmill, little more than a mile from the road. I removed my snowshoes and carefully slid down the gorge to the falls’ plungepool, where I’d taken several stunning photos in previous seasons. As I expected, the view was unremarkable. The bright greens and deep browns of the small gorge’s moist microclimate were completely absent. The waterfall wasn’t large enough to properly freeze midair, so it just looked like a snowy wall. Dull ice stood around its edges, having lost its luster in the above-freezing temperatures.
What I expected to be the most visually compelling portion of my hike was nearly featureless. I closed my eyes in defeat and then heard the creek bubbling under the snow as it ran along the south wall of the gorge. I stood for several minutes and enjoyed the soft sound before climbing back up to my snowshoes.
As I trekked back to my car and out of the forest, I gave thanks for the hike. I realized quickly that it wouldn’t be what I wanted, but I had committed to seeing my photographic muse in every season. On that day, it meant continuing a hike I knew would be difficult – out of respect to the forest and to the promise I had made myself. In the end, my needs for beauty and peace were well met – and they would not have been if I had turned back early. What seemed hopeless was not.
All of this makes me wonder about our commitments to our companions, our communities and ourselves. Too often, I find myself in a place in life where my needs aren’t being met and I fear they cannot be met. I find myself with questions I cannot answer and pain I cannot ease. In the past, I’ve turned away from these questions and this pain – anger quickly morphs into some subtle form of violence against self or the other. These days, I try to sit with that anger, find quiet and wait. I pray and I listen and I try to accept that months or years may pass without answers to certain questions. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by this – fear sparks and then demands kindling. I do my best to maintain my silent vigil.
I think Dishmill Creek offers some lessons about this vigil. Within a few weeks, that bare basin will be visually arresting yet again. The snow will melt and the waterfalls will flow. The moss will grow green, and the brambles will once again offer fruit. Life comes at us in seasons, and some of those can be harsh and indefinite. At times, we wait without knowing what we’re even waiting for. The beauty of nonviolent practices is that we can wait peacefully. We can turn away from life-destroying alternatives and towards patience. In patience, we give the universe a chance to catch up with our needs inventory – or to help us redefine our needs. While I often find cultivating that patience frustrating, it becomes more exciting every day.
by Kit Miller
Five days ago I got the call from my friend Dominic about Marshall’s death. Some section of my mind has been turning over the significance of his death, life and our relationship in the time since.
It’s been many years since I could imagine what my life would have been like without learning Nonviolent Communication and knowing Marshall as I did. Since the late ’90s I was privileged to know him, briefly as a student but with far more time spent as an organizer in Rochester as well as in Oakland during my time at BayNVC, as a fellow Center for Nonviolent Communication board member for five years and perhaps a little as a friend.
Like countless others, I’ve got hundreds of memories of Marshall. Some were infuriating, many hilarious. There were few small moments in his company for me (good, now the tears are finally flowing a little) from an exchange with a parking attendant as we left a Berkeley, CA lot to one of our first conversations during a Wisconsin IIT about bodhisattvas to bookstore visits in whatever part of the world we were in to seeing him calmly walk past heavily armed teens, guarding the boundaries of a favela in Rio.
In the days I spent time with him, I was elbow deep in raising and being raised by my kids. It was inspiration from him and especially from my first Nonviolent Communication teacher Rita Herzog that helped me in my early attempts to change my personality from impatient over-achiever to something more present and hopefully more loving. It was their influence that helped me to find a new way of relating to our son Alec who the world would view as my step-son when I wanted us to see each other outside those static labels.
Our oldest daughter Molly especially loved Marshall. She refused to go to school when he was in town. He would of course take her side, once memorably inquiring how it felt for me to be my daughter’s jailer!
I remember Marshall in Oakland very un-characteristically looking chagrined when I mentioned that my then 11 year old daughter Audrey liked how much he swore (at the time she was experimenting using swear words like an artist would try working in water colors or oils).
It was also due to my work with Marshall and CNVC that I traveled and was away a lot during what turned out to be the last years of Molly’s life. I still struggle with my choices then. And, it was due to the tremendous influence of the work in my life, marriage and relationships that my family survived as well as it did after her terrible sudden loss.
Marshall’s and Valentina’s home was one of the places where I spent time during those early months after Moll died, learning to accept the unacceptable. I will never forget how kind they were to Audrey and me. I won’t forget sitting in their dry Albuquerque backyard, reading Pema Chodron out loud to Moll as I did every day that year, to offer her spiritual food, the only contribution I had left to make to this beloved child.
Just last month while visiting Oakland, I walked past the church with my friend Annie where I helped to organize Marshall and Valentina’s 2005 wedding and where we held the West Coast memorial service for Moll less than two years later. At the time, I mentally marveled how our lives twined together in such unexpectedly wonderful and sad ways.
Today much of what I do as a leader relates to what I saw Marshall do, and not do. I saw him struggle with knowing how to become liberated from old structures, and I have never stopped studying systems as a result. I became a devotee of celebration and appreciation because of the struggles he had at times with offering appreciation, due to a fear he expressed to me, that people would interpret his gratitude as approval. I have become passionate about understanding how to use rank and privilege in the world as medicine, partly in reaction to Marshall’s struggles in that realm. Regardless of what he did or didn’t do, he never stopped teaching me.
Travel well, Marshall, and please continue your blessed trouble-making on the other side.
By Erin Thompson
We kicked off our Season for Nonviolence film series at the Gandhi Institute on Wednesday night, with Malik hosting a viewing and discussion of The Black Power Mixtape. In a succinct 1.5 hours, the film chronicles the birth, rise and dismantlement of the Black Power Movement between the mid-1960s and ‘70s. While the Black Panthers, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Congress of Racial Equality and similar organizations pursued justice and equality via political and economic channels, the Black Arts Movement (BAM) developed as a spiritual, creative branch of the struggle. Through poetry and prose, visual arts, music and other creative mediums, artists probed Black America’s consciousness by expressing their unfiltered emotions and rawest experiences in their quest to survive and thrive in America. The sheer intensity and volume of creative output during this period was remarkable. Themes of self-determination, solidarity and the celebration of Black culture were prominently represented.
As a Generation X born, bebop/soul/funk/Golden Era Hip Hop loving, child born to socially aware and involved parents, I yearn for a return to the honest, restless, urgent aesthetic that characterized so much of the BAM. Without getting into an extended comparison of today’s mainstream “Black” music and urban arts institutions with those of the BAM era, let it suffice to say that an enormous opportunity exists to turn on our urban youth to the potential power in their words, music, and art. Indeed, the delivery of spiritual, and emotional sustenance still undergirds any lasting grassroots movement for social change. Therefore, while song and dance are not a solution to the challenges posed by intergenerational poverty, political manipulation and educational malpractice, the ability to affirmatively frame the struggle to overcome those impediments to human dignity in uplifting, visceral, artistic expression is a tactic that we as a society cannot afford to lose to history.
I am making it my business to orient myself within the current paradigm of urban artistic expression, to identify the redemptive elements and to trace and emphasize the connections to the art that serves as my (artistic) frame of reference and informs my worldview. The motto “each one teach one” resonates with me, and I aim to do exactly that as my awareness expands. To that end, I welcome feedback and suggestions about contemporary art that empowers and stimulates activism.
- October 6, 2015 7:00 pmGrief & Empowerment Circle + Introduction***
- October 8, 2015Work Party
- October 15, 2015 6:00 pmConversations on Race with Poverty
- October 20, 2015 5:00 pmConversations on Race with Poverty
- October 22, 2015Work Party