Many Voices, One Community Sponsors Conference on Poverty, Race and Social Justice November 1
The Second Annual Poverty, Race and Social Justice Conference, hosted by Many Voices, One Community (MVOC), was held November 1 at Randolph College. At the opening of the conference, Leslie King, a member of MVOC's Advisory Board, welcomed participants. In her remarks she said the purpose of the conference was to bring together community members and speakers doing similar work in the area of poverty, race and justice issues to facilitate making change in the city. She recalled the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. with the quote: "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice."
The keynote speaker for the morning was Allison Brown, a Harvard Law School graduate and program officer for racial justice with the U.S. Programs’ Equality Fund, focusing on racial justice. She has worked as a trial attorney for the United States Department of Justice in the educational opportunities section of the civil rights division and helped coordinate efforts to combat the school-to-prison pipeline.
Brown began her talk with a reference to George Carter, a 15 year-old New Orleans boy who was killed by gunfire last week. An active community member since the age of 7, he was a member of the Rethinkers organization in his city, a group that works to combat systemic barriers to full equality and justice. Brown stated that young black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than white men, and went on to offer examples of institutionalized racism with sobering statistics that show disparities for black and Latino students regarding access to advanced placement courses, and studies showing preschools with 18% black students who accounted for 48% of multiple suspensions.
She continued with an overview of inequities between black/low income schools and white schools, but concluded with a hopeful note, citing promising programs that help to close the gap caused by racism, including "What Works for Sure" (such as music programs, early childhood education, parental engagement, etc.) and "What We Suspect Works" (for example mentoring, entrepreneurial education, history & cultural heritage programs).
In the breakout session, "The Hunger-Poverty Nexus and Local Food Solutions: A Case Study of Lynchburg, VA", Dr. John Abell, Professor of Economics at Randolph College, gave some history on research done at RC by students under his supervision investigating food deserts in the city. Disturbing statistics were gained from the study:
* In 2010 18,000 children did not have enough to eat
* In six years (2006-2012), demand on the Lynchburg Food Bank doubled from 10,000 to 20,000 meals
* 62% of children in city schools are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches
* The poverty rate in Lynchburg was 23.8% (as of 2012), higher than all surrounding counties
Dr. Abell reported that at the time of the study, the closing of the Food Lion on Bedford Avenue was a foremost concern of low-income families that area. Losing this store meant traveling a longer distance to shop for many who may not have transportation, and prices at corner stores in Lynchburg were found to be about 80-90% higher than grocery stores, with very limited choices for fresh, healthy foods. To illustrate another finding from the study, Dr. Abell presented a map of downtown circa 1965 that showed 6 pharmacies/groceries in the area, while currently there are none.
Another session, "Domestic Violence in Underserved Communities," presented by Linda Ellis-Williams, YWCA Director of the Central Virginia Domestic Violence Program, highlighted issues and programs providing prevention and intervention programs dealing with domestic violence. Ellis-Williams stated that in our community 1 in 3 women, and 1 in 8 men, will be victims of domestic violence. She pointed out that for many ethnic groups, violence is even more under-reported than other populations since families are worried about deportation if they call authorities, and police responding to such cases are often more interested in addressing the legal status of parties involved than providing necessary intervention. Much of the work done by the program is providing training for police officers that is oriented to the specific circumstances of domestic violence situations.
Peace Leader Paul Chappell
Visits Central Virginia
In observing the International Day of Peace (9/21), the Lynchburg Peace Education Center partnered with The Peace Practice to host two community events promoting ideas for cultivating a culture of peace in our community and beyond. A community Peace Fair (see Program Activities) was held on 9/21 and on September 18 a public talk was presented by West Point graduate and Iraq War veteran Captain Paul Chappell.
In his talk for an audience of sixty at a local church, Chappell spoke eloquently on "Why World Peace is Possible", making a convincing case based on the military history he learned at West Point and studies of human behavior. While growing up, Chappell also experienced violent abuse at the hands of his father--a veteran of two wars who suffered from PTSD--and endured bullying and prejudice as a mixed-race child growing up in Alabama. Drawing on these experiences, from the time he was a small child Chappell has sought understanding to unravel the riddle of war and peace and the underlying causes of rage and violence. To date, he has written four volumes of The Road to Peace, a seven-book series detailing new answers to these big questions, and is gaining a world-wide audience of people hungry to learn new perspectives and strategies for creating peace. Use the link at left to hear Chappell's talk in Lynchburg,
For more information on Chappell's work, visit his website.
LPEC Screens "World Peace and Other Fourth-Grade Achievements" in Lynchburg May 8
On May 8, LPEC and The Peace Practice co-hosted a screening of the fascinating film, "World Peace and Other Fourth-Grade Achievements" at the Community Meeting Room of the Lynchburg Library on Memorial Ave. An audience of two dozen viewed the Lynchburg premiere of the film and listened to the panel discussion that followed the showing.
The film interweaves the story of John Hunter, a Charlottesville teacher, with his students' participation in the World Peace Game, which triggers an eight-week transformation of the children from students of a neighborhood public school to citizens of the world. Hunter teaches the concept of peace not as a utopian dream but as an attainable goal to strive for, and he provides his students with the tools for this effort. The children learn to collaborate and communicate with each other as they work to resolve the Game's conflicts. They learn how to compromise while accommodating different perspectives and interests. Most importantly, the students discover that they share a deep and abiding interest in taking care of each other.
Throughout the Game, the young pupils must learn skills in negotiation, problem-solving, listening, and empathy as they work their way through the Game's challenge. Mr. Hunter has designed the Game to give the students enough information to tackle simulated world problems while stimulating them to think creatively as they solve each crisis situation. Hunter's approach was honed by the influence of his mother, also a teacher, who afforded the young Hunter the space to imagine many possibilities without giving him answers.
Two striking impressions from the film were the impact of seeing young children assuming these roles as important world leaders. Seeing how seriously the students are while engaged in playing the Game, it is easy to imagine the impact it might have on them as they grow older and possibly consider future careers in international studies. What a valuable experience they gain! It is also striking to see how the students recognize the importance of world relationships in gaining peace--they seem to recognize on a deep level the interconnectedness of the world's people.
In the discussion that followed, the panelists included Sabita Manian of Lynchburg College, Jen Lewis of the Richmond Peace and Justice Center, Jennifer Dugan from Randolph College and Virgil Moore of Sustaining Peace, LLC. Among the important points brought out by the discussion included the importance of the Game requiring students to adopt a multi-disciplinary approach to its challenges, letting the children exercise their own judgment to learn from their success and failure, and giving young students the space to access their innate wisdom and creativity.
NOTE: LPEC has purchased a copy of the film to have available to educators, churches, schools, etc. for other local showings. For more information about borrowing the film, use the email form on our Home page to send a message.
Marriage Equality Supporters
Rally on Monument Terrace
On Wednesday, April 16, a group of twenty supporters gathered for a rally on Monument Terrace to show their support for equal marriage rights. (The event was originally scheduled for Valentine's Day as part of a slate of statewide events that had to be rescheduled due to snow.) Speakers were Rev. Paul Boothby of First Unitarian Church, the sole minister from the local area, and Robin Gorsline, a retired gay pastor who is now serving as president for the People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, an advocacy group working to overturn the state's ban on gay marriage.
In his comments, Boothby stated his belief that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of marriage equality within two years, but also noted that because "the Court doesn't like to get too far ahead of public opinion" he urged those at the rally to be active in talking with others to build momentum and change hearts and minds toward support of marriage equality. He also stated that when equality is gained, "our work will not end" and expressed his commitment to welcoming gay couples for marriage ceremonies. "When gays are able to enter that door to receive a marriage license, they will be welcome to enter this door for their marriage ceremony," he stated, with a gesture first toward the city clerk's office entry on Monument Terrace, and then toward the door to the Unitarian Church.
Noting that public sentiment is turning in favor of gay marriage across the country, Gorsline stated in his comments to the group that even in the traditionally conservative area of Lynchburg, "it's turning, it's turning, it's turning." He concluded by saying that in respect to marriage equality, "humans keep trying to make God's love small, but it's big--big enough for everyone."
An Appeal to Repeal
The following Letter to the Editor, written by Lynchburg resident Pat Bower, was published in the News and Advance on Monday, April 14.
Repeal the ‘Use of Force’ act
Not many of us remember the details of the AUMF, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force. It was drawn up very quickly by President George W. Bush and Congressional leaders and was passed almost unanimously by both houses of Congress three days after Sept. 11, 2001. S.J. Res. 23 is only 60 words long and gives sweeping powers to the president, authorizing him to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.” This resolution has had enormous consequences, many unintended, since that awful week.
The AUMF has been used to justify the invasions and extended wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus more than a dozen smaller military actions including Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and Mali. President Obama authorized five times as many drone strikes in his first four years as President Bush did in eight years. Drone attacks ignore national borders and make us uneasy because they are not subject to any effective oversight or public debate. The indefinite detentions of prisoners at Guantanamo for all these years also goes against our country’s previous reputation for fairness and due process for all. And the warrantless wiretaps that we now know about have shocked our allies as well as our own citizens. All these things became possible because of the AUMF.
But there is hope that this difficult period could be coming to an end. The U.S. is substantially leaving Afghanistan at the end of 2014, and there are bills in Congress to repeal the AUMF. Repeal efforts are gaining strength both for moral and financial reasons. There is a realization that the AUMF distorts the constitutional balance between the President and Congress and thus should not be permanent. As our communities suffer from ever worsening budget cuts, the public and many members of Congress are asking new questions about the size of our military budget, its allocations, and whether endless war is the best way to solve global problems.
After more than a decade of costly wars, it is logical that military spending should be going down substantially, not just modestly as currently proposed. Even after the “drastic” upcoming cuts you may have heard about, military spending is projected to be comparable to that at the height of the Vietnam War and the Cold War.
The military budget — now larger than the total of the next 10 biggest defense spenders in the world — accounted for 40 cents of every tax dollar we spent in 2013. Only 2 cents went to diplomacy, development and war prevention. If we cannot reevaluate our national security and defense spending priorities now, when will it ever happen?
Our congressional representatives really do want and need to hear from us on this issue. Contact your representative, Rep. Bob Goodlatte or Rep. Robert Hurt, and ask them to co-sponsor House Bill 2324 (HR2324-Schiff) that would allow the AUMF to expire at the end of 2014.
Editor’s note: Bower is the retired Registrar of Voters for the City of Lynchburg and is currently chairwoman of the Electoral Board.
Roanoke Plowshares Hosts
Library Airs "The Loving Story", Pt. 4 of Film Series
On March 20, a balmy first day of spring, more than fifty community members gathered at the Lynchburg Public Library Meeting Room to see the documentary film, "The Loving Story," screened as part of the series, Created Equal: America's Civil Rights Struggle. The series is sponsored by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Lynchburg Community Council (which also hosts the annual MLK, Jr. Breakfast each winter), one of 500 groups in the U.S. presenting the series of five films documenting important stories from the struggle for civil rights.
The film tells the story of Richard (a white man) and Mildred Loving (part African-American and part Native American), who married June 2 in 1958 in Washington, D.C. but afterwards were arrested for breaking the law against interracial marriage (or miscegenation) when the local sheriff burst into their Virginia home at 2 a.m. What followed was a trial and sentence to leave the state if they chose to stay married, a fugitive lifestyle and 9-year exile from their home state, an appeal for help to Robert Kennedy and the ACLU, and finally a trial that led to a unanimous Supreme Court decision in their favor.
Those viewing the film were interested to learn details of the Supreme Court case, and in the audience discussion that followed there was a consensus in testimony to the obvious strength, loyalty, and devotion of this husband and wife in their "loving story." (When asked by the lawyers who argued their case what he would like the Supreme Court to know, Richard Loving simply said: "Just tell them I love my wife.") In the years after the decision in their case, 16 of 24 states repealed their miscegenation laws; however it was not until 2000 that the law was struck from the books in the last state, Alabama. In the words of the gospel song that closed the film, justice is "a slow train...but it's movin' on."
(The fifth, and final film in the series will be "Freedom Riders", to air Tuesday, April 8, at 6 p.m.)
Exploring Competition and Cooperation
On Sunday, March 16, facilitator Kim Kristensen led a peace-building workshop, “Competition and Cooperation” at the Yoga Center in Roanoke. Sharing information, games, and discussion, Kristensen guided participants through an afternoon of activities designed to make them think about the dynamics of cooperation and competition and how and why we unconsciously compete, or cooperate, with others and ourselves.
The afternoon followed an interesting format—games were introduced with intentionally ambiguous instructions, so to a certain degree participants responded according to individual interpretation and the inclination of their individual personalities. The discussions that followed the games brought out some very interesting viewpoints as players explored some of their conscious strategies as well as subconscious assumptions, based on personal history, family dynamics, gender expectations, etc. It was illuminating for participants to see their inclinations toward cooperation or competition based on such factors.
From the design of the early games, played in teams, most players adopted a more competitive approach as the workshop began. Yet by the end of the afternoon the activities moved to other simple exercises that focused more on developing empathy and compassion for others, offering participants a dual view of human tendencies, and a bounty of interesting information and insights as the “take away” from the event—and also some new tools for sharing with their family or groups!
In addition to working as a manager for the Dept. of Transportation, Kim Kristensen teaches Leadership and Managing Conflict, Applied Psychology, Human Relations, Critical Thinking, Sociology, and Management at several colleges and universities. He is a certified mediator with a Master’s degree in Social Sciences and a Bachelors degree in Management and Human Resources.