This a guest blog post by Gabriela Flora, AFSC Regional Project Voice Organizer - Lucy
Often the first step to becoming an ally is hearing and really listening to another person’s story. I went to Intermountain Yearly Meeting (IMYM) at Ghost Ranch in the mountains of New Mexico this year for the first time since I’ve been on staff and told and heard moving stories there.
I co-led an interest group with Lucy Duncan titled “Friends and AFSC: Partners in Spirit-Led Activism.” We had a small, powerful group where the participants shared and listened deeply and challenged each other in being conscious witnesses and allies. We began the workshop by having participants share the testimony they feel most connected to in their lives right now. This elicited stories of equality among our children and stories of community in unexpected places, as well as a deep commitment to peacemaking.
Lucy shared the storytelling technique she uses, which is based in deep listening and positive feedback. Lucy told a story of accompanying AFSC staff member Domnique Stevenson to the Maryland Correctional Training Center men’s group in which the men talked about their experiences with love. In the story she quoted one of the incarcerated men, who said, “How do we define family? If your brother's been oppressed, help him. If your brother's been an oppressor, help him by helping him to stop the oppression."
In response participants shared their own stories. One woman told stories of encountering the human in the criminal justice system during her tenure as a judge. She told of brief encounters in a system that so often strips people of their humanity. I was deeply moved by the honesty and integrity that was expressed. Lucy invited participants to partner with AFSC in its work through the meeting liaison program and by inviting meetings to take on specific tasks to support AFSC programs.
I told a story about our latest vigil in front of the for-profit immigrant detention center in Colorado. Five DREAMers, immigrant youth advocating for immigration reform and equal access to education, who are walking from California to DC spoke at the vigil, along with Hugo, a humble teenager from Estes Park, Colorado who is fighting his deportation. Tears streamed down Jonathan’s face as he shared how important it was that the hundred people gathered around him where there. “I know how lonely and scary it is being on the inside and your presence gives strength to those inside who have been torn from their families.” Jonathan told us how he turned his fear into strength and joined the caravan of DREAMers.
Symbolizing a challenge to our racist system and society, members of color of Comunidad Liberacion* shared stories of liberation and breaking down barriers while the white members washed the feet of the DREAMers. The power and courage of these young immigrants reached us all as chants of “Undocumented and Unafraid” reverberated in front of the entrance to the detention center. Hearing this story about the importance of allies in AFSC’s immigrant rights work led the group to telling stories about times we’d needed support and how folks were effective allies for us. We also told of times when people had fallen short and how grace helps us accept others’ and our own shortcomings and work towards being the ally for others that we have needed in our own lives.
After a wonderful discussion, we shifted into viewing some of the stories that came out of Borders Lifted Voices Raised, a digital storytelling workshop for immigrants and allies hosted by AFSC in Colorado. In one of the videos an immigrant woman tells of being denied a college education, becoming a ‘poster child’ for the DREAM Act and her realization that the struggle was much bigger. “It was slowly killing me having faith in people that were denying me the basic things a human needs to be a human, to beg them for scraps from their fruitful plate, the very same plate that was filled by raping, enslaving, and killing my ancestors and brothers and sisters around the world. I came to see that this was not just about me, not just about going to college, but about fighting the injustice experienced by all immigrants and all people suffering.” We discussed the power of story in challenging us to be good allies, that through stories we can better see the world through another’s eyes.
On Friday the yearly meeting held a listening session focused on the needs and concerns of young Friends. Young Friends and some older responded to queries like, “What do we, the young Friends, want the older adult Friends of the yearly meeting to know, nurture, or let go of?” Responses included, “We need knowledge, understanding, and love.” and “Nurturing is not something done to us, it’s something we participate in.” The stories shared served as another example of how we need to hear the stories of those we hope to support in order to be fully present for them. We also need to be willing to take the risk of telling our own.
I enjoyed receiving and sharing stories of transformation among Friends. Taking time to listen and tell these stories helps us to remember the reason for our work as allies.
***Communidad Liberacion (Liberation Community) is a diverse, bilingual, multi-cultural community of faith in Aurora, Colorado.