Last Thursday, the Village hosted a conversation on racial equity with Tamara Copeland, author of Daughters of the Dream and President of the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, and Laurie Williams, N Street Village Manager of Food Services
I asked them about the role of hope in our present troubled times, and their responses resonated with our whole group.
“Permission has been given,” they said, “for bigotry and bias to show itself in the public square. Whether it is tolerance for police violence against Black men, or dismissal of the impact of sexual violation of women, or voter suppression, or attempts to “cancel” transgender as a recognized identity, we are living in a time when hatred has been invited out of the shadows.”
“The hope in that,” they continued, “is that we can see the truth of what we’re up against more clearly. And perhaps this visibility affords us a new opportunity to take action against the implicit biases and structural racism which have been lurking in dangerous secrecy and reinforcing oppression.”
That same Thursday night, we went home to the news of pipe bombs being sent to national figures targeted for their politics. And yesterday, we watched an anti-Semitic tragedy unfold with the mass shooting at a Synagogue in Pittsburgh, during services which included a baby-naming ceremony.
These events underscore Tamara and Laurie’s point: in our current national climate, permission has been given for open hate and violence. Denigration has been tolerated. Fear of “the other” has been stoked and is boiling over.
So how are we to respond? What role are we to play in realizing the hope about which Laurie and Tamara spoke?
Our N Street Village community is a concentrated version of “the real world.”
Every day we encounter those who are different from us in ways both obvious and invisible: race, age, gender expression, housed/homeless, political beliefs, sexual orientation, mental health/illness, economic status, addiction/recovery, privilege/disadvantage, etc.
Every day we encounter someone who could be seen an “other” to us.
This means that every day we also have multiple invitations to challenge our implicit biases and to seek interpersonal justice. We are invited to acknowledge our well-worn habits of mind which automatically see an “other” — and instead to exercise new habits of heart which see our commonality and which instinctively reach for connection.
Some days our “isms” will get the better of us – that too is a part of our commonality – imperfection. But I believe that on balance our Village strives to be example of courageous community and radical welcome. I believe that most days our Village is a place where good intention is assumed, where safe space is created for difficult conversation, and where we decry division and work to counteract injustice.
So that, I believe, is how we are called to realize “necessary hope for a better future” that we spoke about last Thursday: one person, one conversation, one welcome at a time.
In my 15 years here, I have been proud to watch many moments in which our community members look beyond apparent difference to see instead our shared humanity. We often repeat our shared belief that “we are more alike than we are different.” Though these moments may seem small in the face of mass shootings and hate violence, they are acts of solidarity which can accumulate into a wave of “beloved community” as Dr. King called us to create. And the wave we create in our small corner of the world will carry ripples beyond our boundaries and contribute to taming the waters of division.
As we walk through the Village this week, let us practice finding commonality instead of division and let us stand with and for one another where there is grief, or fear, or discrimination. Let us repair our small corner of the world by holding ourselves accountable to our principles of radical welcome and purposeful unity.
We will not erase our history – Orlando, Charlottesville, Pittsburgh and more – but we WILL write our future.
In our conversation last week, Tamara asked if people knew about the “Negro National Anthem.” It is a beautiful and powerful hymn and carries a special meaning for us at this time. The lyrics of the first stanza are below:
Lift every voice and sing till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.