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Intersectionality of Racial Justice and the Contemplative – Part 4

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

Editor’s note: This post is the conclusion of a four part series. Read part 1 herepart 2 here, and part 3 here

By Lerita Coleman Brown and Jacquelyn Smith-Crooks

Making the Thurman Connections

Thurman had the uncanny and prophetic ability to make a connection between the silence and scrutiny of one’s inner life with the work for social justice. He encouraged Dr. King and other organizers of the Movement to utilize contemplative practices. In particular, Thurman stressed the importance for marchers to examine their inward journeys and to use nonviolent responses to what was often very violent confrontation.

In light of this, Lerita and Jacquelyn designed a workshop to share with participants the social advocacy of Howard Thurman through group reading and reflections of excerpts from lectures, sermons, or meditations by Thurman. Participants engaged in reflections on their own ways of using the contemplative to prepare themselves spiritually for their call to engage in the work of non-violent and transformative responses to racial oppression.

The focus on Howard Thurman in this workshop was no coincidence. Clearly, his social justice gospel continues to serve as both an unofficial spiritual director for the Civil Rights Movement of those who were and continue to be marginalized or disinherited. Thurman was on the fringe even in doing what he felt called to do; yet, his “voice” was heard and continues to be heard throughout the world.


 

Lerita Coleman BrownLerita Coleman Brown, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of psychology and a spiritual director. Brown is a graduate of the Shalem Institute. She lives in Georgia, USA, and writes and promotes contemplative spirituality in everyday life.

Jacquelyn Smith-CrooksJacquelyn Smith-Crooks, Ed.D, is an associate minister at Alden Baptist Church in Massachusetts, USA. A spiritual life coach and researcher, Smith-Crooks works with individuals, and leads workshops and retreats with faith-based and other organizations.

Intersectionality of Racial Justice and the Contemplative – Part 2

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

Editor’s note: This post is the second in a four part series. Read part 1 here!

By Lerita Coleman Brown

Lerita:  “Social Injustices Revealed”

I grew up in Pasadena, California, in the 1950’s and 1960’s with the vestiges of social injustice not quite as visible as they were in the South. I remember our father setting us down as young children to have the “race conversation” as we prepared for a family visit to Arkansas. He explained that things were different “down there,” and we would see signs for “Colored” and “White Only” at restrooms, restaurants, and neighborhood pools. Racism in California more subtly reared its ugly head with neighborhood covenants barring Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and sometimes Jews from purchasing homes. I had not yet learned about the loss of homes and livelihoods as Japanese “citizens” were carted off and sent to internment camps during World War II.

My first clear taste of racial injustice occurred as a Black college student entering as a member of the first wave of Black students desegregating University of California campuses in the early 1970’s. Although I attended a legally mandated desegregated high school with Whites, Blacks, Asians, and Latinos, the result of Brown vs. Board of Education decision and subsequent suit, the White students and professors at UC Santa Cruz appeared different than the ones I encountered at John Muir High School. They frequently acted as if I were an alien from another planet and many believed that I was “let in” as an Equal Opportunity Program (EOP) student at University of California, Santa Cruz. I was very aware that I entered through the regular admissions process and with a California State Scholarship.

The university setting, however, provided an opportunity for me to cross paths with Jan Willis, a then young assistant professor of religion and also African American. A budding Tibetan Buddhist scholar, she taught my roommate and me how to meditate. This simple act of learning about cultivating a divine inner connection altered my life forever.

Since that time, I have allowed messages emerging from my contemplative practices of silence and stillness to guide me as I choose to engage the inner and the outer, or contemplative responses (the inner) with necessary external action (the outer), to address social injustice.

I have been most intrigued with Howard Thurman’s notion of “inner authority,” the idea that each individual has some power over what he or she allows into one’s inner sanctum. Thurman was reminded in his many contemplative moments, and communicates in his sermons and writings, the same truth as Jesus did—that each of us is created by God, is a child of God, and that is what we must always carry in our hearts.

In the next blog, your will read Jacquelyn’s story….


Lerita Coleman Brown

Lerita Coleman Brown, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of psychology and a spiritual director. Brown is a graduate of the Shalem Institute. She lives in Georgia, USA, and writes and promotes contemplative spirituality in everyday life.

Intersectionality of Racial Justice and the Contemplative Part 1

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During June, Therese Taylor-Stinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring Contemplation and Social Justice, featuring posts by member os the Spiritual Directors of Color Network, Ltd. Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Lerita Coleman Brown and Jacquelyn Smith-Crooks

Behold the miracle!  … Love loves; this is its nature.  But this does not mean love is blind, naive, or pretentious.  It does mean that love holds its object securely in its grasp, calling all that it sees by is true name but surrounding all with a wisdom born both of its passion and its understanding.  …  Such an experience is so fundamental in quality that an individual knows that what is happening to him [or her] can outlast all things without itself being dissipated or lost.

~Howard Thurman

Introduction

We came together, two African American women who are also members of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network (International), to bring to the conversation about the contemplative and emerging wisdom a discussion on Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman. He was an African American theologian and mystic. Reared in an African American Baptist Church, he was co-founder of the first interfaith, racially and economically integrated church in the U.S. Moreover, he was spiritual advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and he played a critical role as a “behind the scenes” leader in the development of an alternative to violence in the dismantling of racial injustice in America—through the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s.

In coming together to develop this workshop, Lerita Coleman Brown and Jacquelyn Smith-Crooks found a way to continue a journey of the Spiritual Directors of Color Network’s recently published book of essays, Embodied Spirits: Stories of Spiritual Directors of Color (March 2014).

All too often, in mainstream secular and sacred education experiences, where implicit and explicit racism may not always be recognized for what they are, there is a conspicuous absence and/or underrepresentation of the presence of African American people in the stories that are used as images, tell the stories, highlight the roles and contributions almost exclusively of those representing the dominant culture to present the teachings. There is, thus, little likelihood that there will be at the intersection evidence of matters of race, racism, or racial justice, and this includes the contemplative experience.

With that in mind, conference facilitators Brown and Smith-Crooks made a conscious decision to both create space for conversation about the intersection of racial justice and the contemplative, and to also focus on a less familiar spiritual leader, who played a pivotal role in a movement that was felt around the world. This was first done in the workshop entitled, “Howard Thurman: Contemplative Spiritual Advisor and Prophet for Civil Rights.”

In doing so, it was deemed necessary to heed an African proverb, “Beware of the naked man/woman who comes bringing you clothes.” By reflecting on our own personal journeys of the socio-cultural, racial, and spiritual experiences at the intersection, we shared a glimpse the ties (of stories of race, racism, and the contemplative) that bind us even as we grew up hundreds of miles apart.

In the next blog post, you will read Lerita’s story….


 

Lerita Coleman BrownLerita Coleman Brown, Ph.D., is a professor emerita of psychology and a spiritual director. Brown is a graduate of the Shalem Institute. She lives in Georgia, USA, and writes and promotes contemplative spirituality in everyday life.

Jacquelyn Smith-CrooksJacquelyn Smith-Crooks, Ed.D, is an associate minister at Alden Baptist Church in Massachusetts, USA. A spiritual life coach and researcher, Smith-Crooks works with individuals, and leads workshops and retreats with faith-based and other organizations.