Rev. Diane Berke, Founder, and Spiritual Director
Ilene Sameth, Chief Executive Officer
Rev. Brad Learmonth, President Of The Board
We have watched in horror this week the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer and recoiled at the brutality of it. We have seen thousands of our fellow citizens across the country, led by our African American sisters and brothers, rise up and say NO!; and be willing to put themselves in harm's way in order to claim their rightful humanity in a world that repeatedly sees and treats them as less than human. We decry the racism within individuals, institutions, and social structures that perpetuate this, and we will raise our voices and act to demand that the world we live in change. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of Mr. Floyd, to all who have experienced racialized violence and injustice, and to all who live in fear that they or their loved ones may be next. We stand with them at this time.
But it is not enough. It is not enough for us as white people and leaders of One Spirit to say we feel the pain of this latest event. We can NEVER feel that pain. The pain we do feel in witnessing the horrors that occur with devastating regularity within communities of color is in no way equivalent to the pain of those living daily with those horrors. Their pain must become as real to us as if we ourselves - our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers - were the ones being victimized, attacked, degraded, murdered, tortured, and more. It must become absolutely real to us, and not simply a concept or words, that when anyone in a marginalized community is attacked or brutalized, our own souls are deformed by that viciousness and brutality.
When members of the African American community and people of color more broadly defined, are subjected to the kind of systemic racism that permeates every aspect of our society, we must understand that it literally runs through every institution - including One Spirit - and has from the inception of our nation. Thus, it runs through each and every one of us who is afforded privilege as a result. Only when we have done the difficult, painful, and searing work of acknowledging and dismantling our own internalized racism can we truly stand together in solidarity with those who have lived every day of their lives within this oppressive system. We should and must know that NO ONE should ever have to feel those things and that we bear the responsibility to do what is necessary to dismantle the systems of inequality and oppression.
We at One Spirit have not yet done that. As an organization, we, in part, reflect the larger culture and we have not done enough as an organization to speak out, not only when these things happen but before they do. We have not done enough to ensure that our African American and other students and graduates of color feel heard, understood, and supported by us. We have not done enough to require and ensure that our white students, teachers, and staff do the work of dismantling racism in themselves and, through their ministries and teachings, the people they touch. We have not created the most powerful and effective space for them to hear the voices of pain in the room and know how to go about making a real difference.
What we have done is to create an organization with a powerful mission, vision, and set of values, a rigorous and brilliant set of programs and curricula; and we have taught many amazing people to go forth with a calling to activate change in the world. But what is aspirational is not always actually accomplished. As an educational organization, we have not taught or learned all that we need to teach and learn. We have not looked like the honoring of diversity that we teach. And as leaders, we have not done enough of our own work to gain the partnership of others. We have aspired to it, languaged it, attempted this fix and that, but we must ask ourselves: “have we truly done the necessary inner and outer work?” The answer is no and the time to do it must be now.
As we know, the confession of failing alone is not enough. Like the Viddui in Judaism, Tabwa in Islam, and confession in Catholicism, just saying the words is not enough. We must do the acts of repentance, which in our case must be through education. We cannot settle for our teachings of love and peace, our calls for justice and unity, to be simply platitudes. We must do more. And we will. Our country is burning and we must be part of the active solution or nothing will truly change.
In 2018, we re-started a conversation within the organization in order to look honestly at our gaps in diversity, equity, and inclusion. We convened a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force in 2019 to chart a path for evaluation and implementation of a strategy to have One Spirit Learning Alliance live its values, primarily the core value that states:
Inclusivity – With the respect and open-mindedness of the interspiritual perspective, we honor individuality, diversity, the wholeness of the human experience (both darkness and light) and the universal expressed through all authentic wisdom paths and traditions.
We regret that it has taken the crises of the last months and weeks to call us to much deeper listening and action, but here we are. And we can make this promise to you: we will be open and transparent and committed to doing both our inner and outer work for personal and organizational change and transformation. This is the only way we can truly live up to our name: One Spirit.