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To Friends Everywhere: an Epistle to Quaker Yearly Meetings
To Friends Everywhere,
"Power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love." – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Week after week AFSC staff member Domnique Stevenson visits four prisons in Maryland and invites the incarcerated men with whom she works to consider how they can change their lives from within the walls of their confinement. The men have worked with Domnique to design the program she runs and some weeks they learn about effectively mediating conflict, some weeks they learn about parenting, and one week in the past few months they talked about love, which Domnique described as the foundation for their work together. The men didn’t hesitate. One man said, “Love can be defined as a noun or a verb. When you're in love, that feeling can fade, then what? Mature love is about what you do, how you act, the sacrifices you're willing to make.”
Another man responded, “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.”
From across the room, a man said, “We have a government that doesn't advocate love. I don't expect the government to offer love. Humans make it up, but don't behave in human ways. We've come from communities that were denied love.”
They continued their conversation until a man concluded, “One issue is we lack understanding, and love is the highest degree of understanding. You can hate someone's actions, but love the person. If you hate someone, you hate the creator. We need to hate the action. We hate others because we lack understanding.”
In a concrete classroom in a prison in Maryland, these men vulnerably explored their experience with love. All over the world, in thirteen countries and in more than thirty-five United States towns and cities, the American Friends Service Committee invites people to explore “what love can do” from within the walls of their confinement, however that manifests. And through that act they also explore how to become free and overcome the constrictions of injustice.
Our work, drawn from Quaker faith and the testimonies, can be seen as a constellation of optimistic experiments with truth and love, with human vulnerability underlying both. As we work for a world where all people can live in peace, we operate from the belief that the answers lie within those with whom we work and that when we listen, and respond compassionately, this process releases the power to work for justice that is already present. Through this work for justice we begin to address the seeds of war and violence, thereby creating the social and economic conditions necessary for lasting peace.
We are deeply appreciative of the role of Quaker meetings and individuals in supporting this work, in making it possible. In the coming years, we hope to deepen our connection and partnership with Quakers. As one part of that effort, we have hired Lucy Duncan as Friends Liaison. This year she is establishing a new Quaker Meeting/Church Liaison program to strengthen ties to monthly meetings/churches. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friends, please challenge us, hold us in your prayers, and continue to help us. Together we can do so much.
In the Light,
Shan Cretin Arlene Kelly
General Secretary Clerk of the AFSC Board