Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. Matthew 13:24
Racial Justice and Equity
Over the last month, discussions about racial justice and equity in the context of protests and recent events have triggered numerous thoughts and personal reflections. During a Zoom meeting with leaders from the Winchester Network for Social Justice, we were asked to conjure a memory of when we first became aware of race. I immediately flashed back to 1972 when I was ten and living in Hamilton, MA, a relatively small, nearly all white, suburb north of Boston when I met a friend I’ll call Trevor Washington (to respect his privacy). During this time my parents were protesting against the Vietnam war and trying to reconcile with the myriad social justice issues of that time. A few memories that sprang to mind included our rallying to support George McGovern for president, making a bet with my friend that Nixon would be impeached, and remembering a report I wrote in school about Shirley Chisolm, the first black woman elected to the United States Congress.
My parents followed the civil rights movement closely and wanted to help end school segregation in and around Boston. With the hope of making a difference, we welcomed Trevor into our home for three years while he participated in A Better Chance (ABC) program. Founded in 1963, just before Lyndon B. Johnson announced his war on poverty, the ABC program ’s mission was “ to increase substantially the number of well-educated young people of color who are capable of assuming positions of responsibility and leadership in American society. ” Duval Patrick was one of ABC’s alumni. At the time, it was considered a progressive program. Trevor was born in Roxbury, MA and lived there with his mother and brothers. Through the ABC program his mother requested that Trevor live with us on weekdays and attend Hamilton-Wenham public high school. We all enjoyed Trevor very much, particularly his sense of humor. He joked around often, laughed out loud at comedy television with us and played on the varsity basketball team. To my sister and me he was our third protective older brother. Though he was five years older than me when he came to live with us, we attended all his games and spent vacations together.
What I didn’t realize then, but understand better now, is that Trevor likely lived in Roxbury because of systemic racism and unjust redlining policies. While our family was able to easily take out a mortgage to live in an affluent suburb, Trevor’s family didn’t receive any of these benefits. I wonder how scary it must have felt like for him during the ages of 15-18 to be suddenly immersed into an all white high schooler's world, how courageous he was to do so, and how unjust it was that he wasn’t given enough tools to help him navigate that world.
It was Trevor’s mother’s and my parents' hope that providing an opportunity for Trevor to attend a high school in the suburbs would increase his chances of graduating high school, attending college and living a comfortable, successful life. To this day my mother wonders if that opportunity was the right one for him. Though we enjoyed each other immensely, his academic and social emotional experience at Hamilton Wenham public high school was less positive. From my perspective now, there weren’t enough organizations that supported students of color entering new, intimidating and sometimes dangerous environments to help them navigate schools composed of all white students. Trevor persevered without these supports, graduated high school and attended Bridgewater State University for a year, but then dropped out when he was offered a good paying union job laying carpets. Our family attended his wedding in Boston when he married a beautiful Hawaiian woman but then, after many tries, we lost touch with him. I would love to catch up with him now.
Fast forward to 2020 and though there has been progress, not enough has changed. Epiphany parishioners volunteer for organizations such as St Stephens, St. Lukes, Brookview House, and El Hogar to support ministers, youth leaders, mental health experts, teachers, and others in addressing food insecurity, health care, education, and other dire needs of vulnerable populations. We advocate for immigration justice and I am also personally inspired by the teaching and learning happening every day for under resourced students of color at the K-12 public charter school in Cambridge where I work. But systemic racism continues throughout our country allowing police brutality, mass incarceration, among many other injustices, to continue and we must commit to changing this reality.
Our work today is surely imperfect, as it was in 1972. But by reflecting further and digging deeper we can find ways to improve. By understanding how our privilege shields us from the challenges that others, without that privilege, encounter on a daily basis, we can become more aware. Once we have faced that reality we can begin to do the work we need to do, alongside a loving God, and work towards building a better world.
My experience is just the tip of a gigantic iceberg of hundreds of years of built up systemic racism. By reading books by Ta-Nehesi Coates, Robin DiAngelo, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Jesmyn Ward, joining book groups and referencing a google doc of Anti-Racist resources that Betsy Walsh started here I am beginning to work towards broadening my view to inform potential ways forward. By recognizing how my whiteness has contributed to the oppression of black people over the past 400 years, I have come to better understand the necessity and enormity of contributing directly to the work of rectifying so many unfathomable wrongs.
Surely, you’ve seen the colorful hearts draped over the lovely crab apple tree in our front yard. The explosion of color against the flat gray February sky is the perfect anecdote for the longest stretch of New England winter.
These calico, striped and rainbow hearts dot trees and porches throughout town. You might wonder, as I did, how this kind tradition began. It all started with Helene Cabour, an avid quilter looking for a second life for the abundant scraps left over from projects. A friend suggested making hearts and hanging them from the tree in front of her house on Bacon St. She went right to work and began stitching together and stuffing the hearts with excess quilting supplies.
That first year, almost 30 years ago, Helene hung about 70 hearts from the tree in front of her Bacon St. home. It was such a large tree; she didn’t think anyone even noticed. So, the second year, with an arsenal of hearts built up, she and a friend hung 400 hearts. “Then”, she says with the spunk of a less-than-90-year-old, “they paid attention!”. The following year they multiplied to 1500. The current residents of the Bacon St. house still honor the tradition.
In the following years parishioners Nancy and Carl Hagge began hanging hearts anonymously at night at the homes of friends and shut-ins, anyone who might need a boost of cheer on a winter dawn. It’s such a heart-warming gesture and one that has been copied by others.
In 2006 a group of crafty parishioners began making “heart kits” for people to make at home. The hearts are sold at the Christmas Fair and in the office as a fund raiser. An ample supply of hearts is still available for sale in the office each year.
Each year following the Annual Meeting, the tree is “hearted” by parishioners. Fred Benson removes them later in the month and then Alison Taber tackles the monstrous task of untangling them all and then hanging them to dry before packing them up for the next season.
As the Christmas candles fade in the distance these spectacular hearts are just what we need to inspire some happiness mid-winter. As Helene so eloquently put it, “If these hearts can make someone smile, even just for a minute, they are worth hanging.”