Kwanzaa day of Nia: Purpose

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As I prepare for birth, I haven’t been blogging much. Which is ironic, since this blog is called “blog from the belly.” My ‘belly’, a euphemism for my womb, has been expanding over the last 9 months. I’ve kept a private journal, but haven’t published about it. Perhaps that will change.

One thing that has happened is that I’ve cried every time I’ve had to set aside something that I LOVE doing in order to make room in my life for the baby. Overall I am happy that I will bring a child earthside. However, it has been a necessary practice to take time to grieve the loss of the rhythm and life that I know well at this time. For example, I was so crunched for time in early November that I could not present at the Rich Earth Institute‘s awesome annual conference. I really wanted to, the panel invitation was around meaning-making in the relationship of people to their excreta, and how to promote nutrient cycling and safe reuse of excreta. Really it was the heart of what I work on–and I couldn’t meet the growing demands of (pre)motherhood, finish up my speaking engagements, complete my teaching assignment, and prepare a presentation + attend the conference. So I opted out.

Right before I sent the email stating my regrets I was really cranky… I realized what I needed was a good cry. I had so much sadness and shame built up around letting my amazing colleagues down, as well as feeling the loss of not being in those life-giving conversations for the next while. So I sat by one of my home altars and just let loose. I let myself feel it all directly. And afterwards I was able to do what I needed to do, and release in peace. Since that time, with everything else that I’ve had to lay down, I’ve felt the build-up of the angst, made room for it, and then took a deep breath, and moved on.

One of the beloved activities from which I am taking a maternity break is Buddhist Peace Fellowship. I have deeply enjoyed learning and growing together with members of that organization. Our shared intention is to serve collective liberation through “connecting Dharma to the current moment through convening spiritually and politically engaged individuals from Buddhist and other lineages. Our programs are led by and lift up the voices and priorities of our QTBIPOC and Heritage Buddhist community who share commitments to ecological anti-capitalism, queer feminism, and racial justice within the USA.”

It was an organization started by white western Buddhists, who were visionary and committed. They saw that the NIA (purpose) of Buddhism was not (only) individual enlightenment, but deep enlightenment of the whole, since none of us are truly individuals but completely interdependently with one another in the web of entangled life/death/suffering/non-suffering cycles. One of my colleagues has written about one of the co-founders, Robert Aiken. I invite you to click here to learn about him and other amazing teachers who are so committed to the purpose of their life earthside this time around. I’m excited for our child to learn from leaders such as these!

May your purpose become and remain clear for you as you live out your days.

Feast of the Holy Innocents: Protesting Drone Warfare

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Today was the Feast of the Holy Innocents. It is a day that is part of the Christmas arc and remembers the young children of Bethlehem slaughtered by Herod soon after Jesus’ birth because Herod felt threatened that another king would arise to challenge him.

Being 39.5 weeks pregnant helps me feel with all the mothers who have lost children to drone attacks.

To observe this day, our entire household went to remember the Holy Innocents that have died from US drone attacks. NY Times and Fox News NY reported on the coordinated actions from yesterday, as well as the Pentagon info has just come out about the patterns of immense failure in the US drone program. Whistleblower Daniel Hale made documents public about the huge numbers of innocent people (including many children) slaughtered in their homes or yards. https://www.wicz.com/…/veterans-for-peace-protests…

More on Daniel Hale’s courageous choice to bring the truth to light, and the years of jail time he faces because of his witness: https://theintercept.com/…/daniel-hale-whistleblower…/

More on why we need a ban on drones: https://bankillerdrones.org/why-a-ban/

We stood across from the base, as the shift changed. We stood, and held the faces and names of the victims in the sightlines of the engineers, pilots, janitors, and managers as they departed from work at Hancock Air Force Base.
This vigil has gone on consistently since 2001 and the advent of the drone program. Elders have, and continue to lead the way. We were blessed to join them, and bring up the next generation to follow their example.

Find out what you can do, so that what is done in YOUR name does not continue to create violence and harm. https://bankillerdrones.org/action/

Values Change for Survival: A Work That Reconnects Retreat

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Onondaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons has long uttered these four words as a clarion call for re-orientation.

One way of creating this necessary values change is practicing re-orientation. Individual practice done together with others in a group is a great way that I have seen the capacity to change strengthened, and networks of relationships nourished to shift away from market and state and extraction and toward reciprocal exchange and collective governance and regeneration.

A methodology that has deep roots here, in the traditional region of the Haudenosaunee, is called the Work That Reconnects. Sourced via Joanna Macy (a 1978 graduate of the same PhD program I am in) it draws from engaged Buddhism, the anti-nuclear and anti-war movements, and human potential experiments of the 1970s. If you are in need of self-expression, grief, expanded imagination, social justice, spiritual ecology, and fun in a group context, check it out! (There are a number of offerings around the world noted on the website above).


This particular retreat has been crafted in honor of indigenous peoples day, and features Lyons’ framework as a guiding principle regarding the need for a values change for survival. It is hosted in partnership with Garden’s Edge, an international solidarity organization that works with the Amaranth plant and the peoples all over Turtle Island and Abya Yala that grow it.


Economically, it will be offered on a sliding scale (aka pay what you can and feel called to give). One needs to be present for the whole two days to support container building. A portion of the proceeds will go toward local indigenous justice efforts. As you wish to do so, please distribute among folks you know in the broader area who might benefit from such an offering.

Trees: a song by young Sarah

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I am going through my archives, and I found a water-stained poster I made in May 1993 (3rd grade) with a song I wrote about trees. I still halfway remember the dirge-like tune. I was in love with trees thanks to my older cousin who loved them too and the early childhood environmental education we each received. I know I can’t keep everything in my archives, so I’m copying the song here for posterity. Reading the lyrics now I can see that felt some connection to them and my ancestors as a wrote. I used the word comfort a lot, and trees do still comfort me. You can decide how profound the song is. 🙂

Refrain:
Full of laughter, full of sorrow,
trees, trees.
Got to save them, got to love them,
trees, trees.
Without their comfort, without their life,
trees, trees
Where’s the world, where’s the feeling?
Trees, trees.

The world so bright and beautiful,
with trees, yes, with trees.
Their shade, their comfort,
their tender loving care.
Where would the world be, child,
just where?

Refrain

Their wise old souls, their long trunks;
just got to believe them,
yes, just got to believe them.

Refrain

Air, yes, fresh smelling air.
Without trees, without trees–
no air, no air.
Got to have air, yes got to have air.

Refrain

Trees, trees, trees, trees,
what would we do without trees?
No knowledge no air,
no shade, no comfort.
Trees, trees.

Here I am with some of the trees that were a part of an ecosystem that nurtured me in middle and high school. I returned for a visit this summer, 18 years after writing the song.

My first email address was treehugger18@juno.com. I was never ashamed to be an environmentalist, or to outright hug trees in public! Randomly I was assigned the number 18 by the email company, and it ended up becoming a number that is a big part of my life and carries special meaning.

I know even more now about the plight of the world’s trees. If you are so inclined, donate to one of these tree-planting orgs. http://www.greenbeltmovement.org/ and https://www1.plant-for-the-planet.org/. A Chinese proverb is attributed with the multilayered saying, “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” This more recent quote sums up one aspect of the attitudes of many enthralled with the electronic technology available today and hints at the dangers associated with disregard for the natural and fundamental aspects of life (basically what I was writing about in my song!

Image descriptions: First, the author stands smiling in a cowry-shell tank top in front of a wetland river with trees in the background. Second, a green graphic featuring the words “Imagine if trees gave off wifi signals, we would be planting so many trees and we’d probably save the planet too. Too bad they only produce the oxygen we breathe.”

It is still Asian American awareness month

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Though the news about the spike in violence against Asian, Asian diasporic, and Asian American people has faded from the front page, the structural violence against them still happens. I want to highlight two friends who wrote amazing articles this month. This post features excerpts from them, and links to the originals as well as resources.

Tony Butterfly Pham and Tomi Nagai-Rothe wrote pieces a couple weeks after eight people, including six Asian women, were shot and killed near Atlanta. Butterfly asked, “Why do the most vulnerable among us have to die before we see them?”

Say their names: Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Soon Chung Park, Xiaojie Tan, and Young Ae Yue.

Butterfly reflects on his upbringing: “Don’t rock the boat” is an English cultural warning against saying something that may upset people…I can feel the force of intergenerational trauma and cultural conditioning of “politeness” pressuring me towards silence, not wanting to “rock the boat.” I feel my own woundings getting triggered, and to the six Asian women who were gunned down, I see you. And as part of seeing you, my intention is to practice right speech and right view to honor your lives, even if it causes discomfort to myself and others. Discomfort is not much to ask of those of us that can still breathe. The six Asian women who are dead can no longer speak.

In the remainder of the article Butterfly speaks to the broader system of patriarchy and racism that enabled a 21-year-old white Evangelical to commit murder. He connects it to the governmental history of violence against Asian people (Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the colonialist wars in East and Southeast Asia, the harassment of citizens descended from the Middle East and South Asia after 9/11, and the former president racializing the COVID-19 virus with names like “kung flu.”) Throughout dealing with these abuses, many in the various targeted communities kept quiet out of fear and passed on the tradition of not speaking out to their children. Butterfly concludes by sharing his experience, and reason for breaking with that tradition to speak out:

My experience of getting raised in an Asian household meant being socialized to “save face,”
which often meant not “making trouble.” As I feel the anger, despair, frustration, rage, and
sadness in my body at the murder of six Asian women,
I cannot ethically keep quiet.
While white supremacy has exploited certain Asian social norms
by “rewarding” silence with assimilation,
I believe that Asian Americans can apply our location at the crossroads of multiple cultures as a tool for social justice.
Being Asian and being American are not exclusive to one another.
We can take pride in weaving our heritage into identity, and exercise
a fundamental right of the United States: freedom of speech.
May we use it wisely.

Please read the full article here on Lion’s Roar.

(Graphic from Tomi’s blog, a small sample from her illustrious career in visual strategic planning and design)

Tomi’s Articles

Tomi shares memories of racism from childhood and carries questions about the silence of other baby boomer white folks in the face of increasing vulnerability that she faces as she heads into elderhood.

“All the news of the past month and the past year – being killed for being Black, Latino, Asian or Indigenous – has been going on for centuries and is, in fact, the norm in this country. It is what this country was founded upon and what continues to fuel our economy.” And so when our blood, sweat, and tears are the fuel, no wonder it’s hard for people accustomed to using the fuel for decades to truly be bewildered as to the recent violence. In her next paragraphs, Tomi invites us to act, even if we are bewildered.

“I hope that what I have written is profoundly disturbing – especially if you have been upset by recent acts of racial violence. You should not be surprised at all because our economic, military, workforce, policing and incarceration, and land “ownership” systems are all working precisely as designed: to extract as much money and control as possible from communities of color and the natural environment at whatever cost. This includes making food, medicine and clean water difficult or impossible to access – and outright killing people.

The panorama of visible and invisible violence in this country hurts me, hurts my family and hurts millions upon millions of people who are survivors of racist violence spawned by the society that we live and breathe.”

I join Tomi in her hope is that even if you have not experienced racist violence yourself, you will be moved to action. It’s urgent, as she says pointedly “I have heard from White friends that they don’t have enough time to become informed or get involved. So my question is, What is the threshold at which this crisis of racist violence becomes both urgent and important enough to take action?

She continues” This is not a rhetorical question. This is a real question aimed at saving lives. When does inaction stop and outrage and engagement begin? For people of faith the bar is higher because every major wisdom tradition centers the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would have others treat you.”

Part 1 and Part 2 are here in full, and they have links to resources where you can learn more and take action, from a 5 minute action to a deep dive!! It’s an amazing list ranging from addressing the Doctrine of Discovery to doing trauma-informed care.

I continue to be so grateful for Tomi and Butterfly’s words and inspirational presence in my life and the world. Even as we change months, let us deepen our commitment to protecting, truly appreciating, and building together with Asian folx.

Earth Day Altar Call

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In the midst of an extremely tough season for me mentally, Goddexx gave me the strength to preach the gospel, on Earth Day!

An altar call was traditionally a moment to invite sinners to repent, give their life to Jesus, and transform their way of living. The event of Earth Day is a global invitation for us to examine sinful racial capitalism, experience Jesus’ incarnation anew, and make (re)commitments to transform how we live.

In this video, I invite people to be converted back to their humanity through these questions:

  • How do you see, feel, experience the earth being crucified? If you were to make a station of the cross, what would be included?
  • How can your community better prioritize the saving of soil in addition to the saving of souls?
  • “What do you need to break free from the clutches of [industrial growth society, corporate petro chemical capitalism – the structure of sin that is holding us all hostage]?” How can your community support you in breaking free from this system? (We are in this together!)

My speech was part of a series. All of the sessions about climate justice and racial justice can be found here!!!

Standing on the shores of sacred Onondaga Lake, in whose watershed I am blessed to study.

Many thanks to Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions for the invitation, and your work guiding this conversation among Anabaptists.

Guest post by Azmera Hammouri-Davis

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Sarah’s note: I am grateful for the chance to have met Azmera, a poet who dreams and schemes with verses biblical and lyrical. We work together in the building of a political home for Black Christians for justice in Israel and Palestine, birthed out of the Black Church Call to End Israeli Apartheid (Haftara) that was conceived in the long legacy of solidarity currently. This nascent political home being nurtured in the organizational embrace of Friends of Sabeel North America. I was so focused on a reparations project and PhD coursework when all of this was happening, I could only get around to signing the petition and writing a quick personal email to Dr. West. Thank goodness there are others — Azmera specifically — who could and did the labor to give voice to our hearts as young scholar-activists of African descent whose future in the academy was already precarious before this happened.

What follows is her piece in its entirety. Shukran and mahalo, camarada. ❤

Dr. Cornel West, A Black Christian 4 Palestine

When I traveled to Palestine for the first time my heart was cracked open and shattered into a million pieces. I listened to Palestinians tell me about their homes being demolished, about military night raids, about neighborhoods being bombed for target practice. I listened to former Israeli Defense Soldiers confess to the inhumane evils they were asked to commit upon innocent civilians and I couldn’t help but to wonder what our Black Christian tradition had to say about this. When I heard Dr. West describe Jesus as a Palestinian Jew of Nazareth my curiosity spiked. What did he mean by that? I thought to myself. I met Dr. Cornel West in his course on the Philosophy of W.E.B. Dubois during my first semester of graduate school at Harvard. As a Masters of Theological Studies student focused on African/American religions I knew I’d gain so much wisdom from the class, but I couldn’t have known how many questions it’d open up for me moving forward. Years earlier, in my Popular Culture of the Middle East course while in undergrad at USC someone mentioned that there was no such thing as an Arab Jew, and that perplexed me further. Why would someone think that? And who benefitted from such a conception? I thought again.

July 2019. Outside of Qalandia Checkpoint, separating the city of Ramallah from Jerusalem.

In al-Khalil, the city where my grandfather was from, I saw dusty doors of buildings that made up a once vibrant marketplace on al-Shuhada street spray painted with the words “Death to Arabs” as young seven year old boys beckoned me for coins. The look in their eyes screamed “help me, please” but what could little old me possibly do? As I reached inside my pocket for some change I felt helpless knowing my efforts would be dismal. The boys reminded me of the beggars I’d frequently see on the bus ride to Bonoco station in Salvador Bahia, Brasil whenever I entered the community at Cosme de Farias for Capoeira class. Even there, I wondered what the Black prophetic tradition had to say about the pressures of poverty, war and racism. I saw white evangelicalism justify the anti-Black practices that attacked the marginal and religion weaponized to maintain the status quo. When I met Christians at Sabeel, a Palestinian Liberation Theology center in Jerusalem, I began to see a proverbial light, but the tunnel to freedom still seemed so dim and slim. I kept recalling Harvard’s motto, Veritas (Truth in Greek), and Dr. West’s words:

“The condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak.”

The structural violence was all too familiar; from the tear gas, to the community surveillance, to the corrupt court hearings and hired infiltrators, the same form of racist policing that plagued our Black community in the U.S. fiercely sucked the life and dignity away from precious Palestinians. Accustomed to what Dr. West may call the “sanitized and deodorized” western eurocentric portrayal of Jesus as a white man with blonde hair and blue eyes, it was the first time I’d heard anyone associate Jesus with Palestine in the academy. When whiteness constantly approximates itself to the Divine, not only does it reinforce false depictions, it also distances people of color from the possibility of carrying any sense of inherent worth and goodness. In other words, how we view ourselves in relation to God matters and those messages are constantly being communicated within our culture.

After learning that Howard Thurman, the first Black Chaplain of Religious and Spiritual Life at Boston University, a minister and spiritual counselor to Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, is who etched such understanding, I sought Thurman’s writing. By centering Jesus as a God of the oppressed Thurman’s work strengthened the Black community’s spiritual resolve, providing hope and vision as they navigated horrific conditions of living with their backs up against the treacherous wall of economic exploitation and racism in America. That Dr. West so openly called into question these inaccurate portrayals of God, deepened my respect for him, and also broadened my scope for what the Black Christian tradition could teach us about the quest for Truth, Beauty and Justice.

Dec. 2019. Harvard Business School — Professor Stephen Rogers course “Black Business Leaders and Entrepreneurs” Dr. West supported his college roommate, the Black protagonist in the case study for the week.

Calling upon the wisdom of the best in the Jewish, Christian, Muslim traditions to lovingly critique the violence that U.S. Imperialism imposes on innocent citizens, Dr. West’s commitment to the pursuit of justice is not only deeply rooted in the Black prophetic tradition but it is concerned with moral consistency. Whether referring to Edward Said, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Howard Zinn, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Anna Julia Cooper among many others in his praxis, each of these figures remained unwavering in charting a path toward freedom courageous enough to critique race and empire. When I returned from my trip, I noticed that Palestine was a taboo topic on campus, yet Dr. West continued to speak up in student organizations and events. After Michelle Alexander released her call to “Break The Silence on Palestine” in the New York Times, outside of her receiving the usual harassment and character assassinations that comes with such a stance, not surprisingly, nothing much changed in regard to campus climate. The disproportionate and undeniable misrepresentation of Palestinian voices within North American higher education became glaringly apparent.

If Dr. West is not able to obtain tenure, based on his principled stance that Palestinians deserve equal rights, what might that mean for the rest of us?

When I was asked to serve in a leadership role for Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) to facilitate the newly formed Black Christians for Palestine Network I was heartened to see that Dr. West was one of the organization’s advisors. Standing on the backs of work done by Rev. Nyle Fort, Taurean Webb, Sarah Nahar, Rev. Erica Williams, Rev. Graylan Hagler, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Rev. Leslie Callahan, Rev. Karlene Griffiths Sekou and so many others the Black Christian tradition teaches us so much about speaking truth to power, cultivating our spiritual sustenance amid senseless oppression, safeguarding truth and allowing suffering to speak. Could non-violent resistance and interfaith coalition building indeed be a bedrock for change and liberation in today’s increasingly plural world? In my role as Africana Spirituality advisor at the multi-faith chaplaincy on Tufts University campus I continue to ponder these questions. In the spirit of Howard Thurman, when our backs are against the wall, may we stand courageous and choose to answer the call.

Dr. West has demonstrated what an honest public intellectual looks like, inspiring generations to nourish, nurture and replenish the life of the mind. He’s unabashedly illustrated what Living and Loving Outloud means, honoring the least of these even while walking the ranks of those in the highest echelons of society. The joy he elicits, the change he sparks, the paideia — critical self-examination — he implores ensures that any person lucky enough to cross paths with him, learn from him, maybe even laugh with him are all the better for it.

May we continue to fight the good fight and uplift our dear brother Cornel West in the struggle for liberation, someone who represents and upholds the best in our Black prophetic tradition. Current Harvard Students penned a letter calling on the administration to rectify such a discriminatory decision, one that repeats an unpleasant history between the University and West that resulted in a no-confidence vote of then President Summer by faculty. I invite you to support Dr. West in continuing to exercise his right to academic freedom by taking action here today.

In solidarity and love,

Azmera

Global Militarization of Police: Black Freedom and International Solidarity

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For the Black Religion, Spirituality, and Culture Conference I joined Marc Lamont Hill, Douglas Kivoi, and Oluwole Ojewale on a panel moderated by Lesedi Graveline about the the struggle for Black Freedom and building international solidarity in the face of the global militarization of police forces. I focused on the profit mechanism pushing forward police-military tactics and weapons exchanges and how a practice of abolition (even starting from the small scale of the household can actually reduce our reliance on lethal force.

Here is the video of the panel. Click here for the entire conference video playlist!

Without a Whisper / Konnon:kwe

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I wanted to write at least one post about the centennial of the women’s suffrage movement, since I live in central New York where many of the early political organizing conversations happened regarding it here. But then all of the intensity of 2020 happened and now it’s December. So, since I just attended this event this evening and the film is freshly available for the next little while, I’d like to shout-out the film “Without a Whisper” because it says most of what I want to say in order to complexify the usual narrative about women’s suffrage in the United States.

White women learned a lot from Haundenosaunee women about what freedom looked like, smelled like, tasted like, and felt like. As they took up their fight for suffrage in the mid-1800s, some of them went for “piece of the pie feminism” and singularly sought the vote at the expense of intersectional politics of race and class (e.g. Susan B. Anthony). Others, like Matilda Jocelyn Gage went for “radical feminism” that truly examined the root of patriarchy in society, how the Christian church was reinforcing subjugation, and how the colonial state was doing damage to the original peoples of the land and their life ways.

Tonight the filmmaker and two main characters, Mohawk Clan Mother Louise and Women’s Studies visionary Sally Roesch Wagner spoke about the film in connection with the amazing Ska-nonh Center.

Two quotes from tonight that stick with me are when Louise talked about the need to continue to tell the truth to upend the falsehood and false narratives that this country (and some of its activist movements such as the suffragette movement) is based upon. She also mentioned just how much support is available for any one leader within the Mohawk system (5 people to 1).

Furthermore, Sally so meaningfully shared her own self-examination by saying “the day you say ‘I’m not a racist’ all you’ve done is admit you’ve hit a wall. White people who are willing to grapple with just how deep white supremacy goes will be recovering racists until the day we die.”

The film is 27 minutes long. The award-winning filmmaker is Katsitsionni Fox (Akwesasne). Please check it out here: https://www.wmm.com/film/without-a-whisper/

Solidarity Statement from Menno Grassroots

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We live in a system that requires the police to use violence and validates their enacting of it.

              -Communities United Against Police Brutality

The brutal deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and thousands whose names we will never know, are vivid expressions of the racism — and its strategic objective, white supremacy — that has shaped and defined the history of and current realities in both the United States and the denominations we represent. They remind us of the important role that state-sponsored violence plays in scrutinizing, policing, and controlling Black lives.

As Anabaptists, we have stood against the power of the state to use us in its enactment of war, understanding ourselves as a people called to “follow the Prince of Peace and his ways.” At the same time, however, we have often resisted understanding and dismantling the systems of supremacy that legitimize the scrutiny and policing of particular bodies and justify violence that is directed towards them. As stated in the MC USA statement, “violence is complex, and Jesus’ response was complex. We should not simply side with institutional violence because order feels like peace.”

We represent communities whose bodies have historically been singled out for scrutiny and judgement by both the church and society. We recognize that justice demands in this moment that all of us actively commit to dismantling the white supremacy that has been so devastating to communities of color, other marginalized populations, and to our nation and the church as well.

We invite others to join us as we: 

a) Center the voices and experiences of people of color.

b) Work for freedom and justice for Black people, and by extension, all people.

c) Follow the leadership of people of color.

d) Reimagine community safety and scrutinize our relationship with the police. This includes actively engaging in community efforts to replace police functions and structures with appropriately trained, well-funded social service structures.

e) Raise conversations about how our church buildings, organizational facilities and community spaces can become “no police zones.” 

f) Commit to develop skills in de-escalation in order that tense situations can be handled peacefully without police involvement. 

g) Make use in our communities of the police abolition curriculum forthcoming from Mennonite Church USA. 

Seeking just and equitable relationships –

Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBTQ Interests
Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition
Mennonite Jewish Relations 
MennoPIN (the Mennonite Palestine Israel Network)
Pink Menno