Dear Village Friends,
I ended this week in a meeting of Village program leaders. There were nineteen people on our Zoom screen, mostly African American women, talking about their week. The shelter staff described how they responded to white supremacists marching past the shelter yelling racial slurs and angry epithets. They ushered the women inside, turned off the news, and put movies on instead. They ate dinner as a community and remained safely inside. They recalled their determination to project calm and to stay engaged in helping others. And then one staffer shared that her son was one of the officers wounded at the Capitol on Wednesday. His leg is broken, his shoulder hurt, but he will be ok, she said. Everyone listened quietly and offered their prayers for her and for him. They talked about how they felt as their shifts ended that day and they headed home. They recounted the upwelling of anger and fear. A moment of silence followed.
And then they went back to business – there was work to be done to keep the Village going for the women who need us. At the end of the meeting, the generous chorus of caring goodbyes rang out like a long ovation.
Much is being written and said about the racist assault on our country this week and the attempt by a few to tear down the true and universal democracy we intend for all – we intend, but clearly have not yet realized. And here at the Village, we experienced that assault firsthand.
At yesterday’s meeting, the affirmation and empathy for those who directly endured the taunts of Tuesday’s rioters were abundant. One colleague noted that the staff actions were a direct rejection and discreditation of racialized hate – they demonstrated “resistance with integrity.” They kept a building full of frightened people calm. They answered the attack by turning their backs to the rioters and turning their hearts toward one another. “Only light can drive out darkness, only love can drive out hate.”
At N Street Village the core of our mission demands that we resist and reject racism and inequity in all their forms. I often bemoan our designation as a “charity”- a term which is at best incomplete and at worst paternalistic. We know that were it not for our country’s history of slavery and systemic oppression there wouldn’t be the need for N Street Village as we know it. And as my friend, Sister Simone Campbell says, “there is no charity before there is justice.” We must be justice-seekers first and foremost. We must work each day for a world where everyone – everyone, no exceptions – has what they need to live free from aggression in both its’ visible and hidden forms. A world where everyone has a safe place to live, the opportunity to thrive, help for themselves when they need it, and the soulful satisfaction of helping others as well.
Some of us would say that we are responsible not only to speak out about the current racist assault on our country but also to amend for a history’s worth of wrongs. And I am sure that all of us would say that we are responsible for everything that happens next. That is how history is made. We are accountable now to our future and we have a long road before us. As former President Obama said, “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you will make progress.”
We are making history. What we each do next together has the power to create the inclusive and equitable future we envision. No effort is too small and all of our intentions matter. Sign our pledge, talk to your neighbor, share your perspective, say a prayer. Follow the lead of the N Street Village staff at the meeting yesterday – reject and discredit racism and hate. And then get back to work and do it all over again.
That’s what we’re doing here. And we thank you – every one of you – for being on this journey with us.
Chief Executive Officer