The family group that I spend so much time with, my Y family, has recently purposefully participated in some conversations of graceful listening and sharing. When our Executive Director approached me, he was concerned that our younger staff, who are away from home, might not have a platform for discussion. He simply wanted to ask our staff how they were doing in the midst of all that’s happening.
First, we decided to have a management Family Meeting. It lasted almost three hours. The national display of anger and pain caused us to be introspective about ourselves, our staff, our processes and our Y community. I was hired in 2004 and I have never been in a conversation like that one. We explored, whether within our mission of serving all, were there things that we were doing to create hurt or harm for anyone. By the end, we decided to have voluntary Family Meetings with all our staff, in small groups, to see what they were thinking. We have had three of four scheduled conversations, and the interactions have been remarkable.
Those conversations started with “How are you doing?” Later, “How are we doing?” And then, “What is your vision?” Such honesty – words like “confused,” “sad,” “hopeful” were used. Later, “I love the Y – the members love the Y,” “Everyone in my department looks like me,” “Why don’t we know the names of our young black men?”, and “We set the tone…I just want everyone to love unconditionally. How do you teach someone that?” Oh, let me help you with that!
Love flowed; tears, upsetness, encouragement followed. We discussed race and integration and we ended with some Y specific action steps, but the sharing was the most impactful part. The frankness of things that were said - “It’s just the norm.” “It shouldn’t be the norm.” “We need to proactively work toward diversity.” Someone quoted Abraham, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” Someone quoted a speaker that they had heard, “If I draw my circle and everybody looks like me, I need to draw a bigger circle.” “I am not fully accepted by blacks or by whites.” “Whose feet are under your table?” “When did we stop being friends? – When did we start?” “Lead with love.” Facilitating those discussions at those picnic tables, I saw furrowed brows and open hearts.
In portions of a letter to express her awe and thanks, one of our staff family members summarized it like this: “I can’t begin to tell you all that it meant to me, or not in an email anyway. I did not speak up that day, because 1. I am a bit quiet. And 2. I had a lump in my throat almost the entire meeting and knew I would get emotional! I wasn’t sure if I would even be able to find the right words…or if they would even come out audibly if I had all the waterworks going! So I chose to just listen to the others, and process the thoughts and wisdom that was shared that day by all of you…To be honest, that was one of the first things that I have been a part of during all this that I thought could actually make a positive difference and bring about a real change. I came home from the meeting that day and talked to my husband, in tears, just grateful for the hour and a half or so that we had had under the pavilion...I was impressed that the comments expressed that day were about things WE can do and changes WE can make on a personal level that will bring about peace, unity and love…I want to learn more names, extend my circle, listen more, serve more, and love more, ultimately to share God’s love and glorify Him.”
Yes, let’s work to change policies, procedures and systems to correct injustice, corruption and inequity. But I must keep teaching God’s love and God’s freedom.
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