Greg Williams brings a spiritual presence into activist circles. We talked with him about Black Lives Matter and the Quaker legacy of nonviolent activism.
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Music, Filming and Editing by Jon Watts
Part of our role as Quakers is also to hold the peace, and we have a special link to nonviolence. We need to bring that into the community. Not to sort of say, “Here we arrrrre, the QUA-kers!” But more to do, you know? Here we are out in the street, living this way of being nonviolent. And people will say, “Oh! I’m feeling that power. I’m feeling that sense of movement of Spirit, and I want to walk with you guys.”
Holding the Peace: Quaker Nonviolence in the Time of Black Lives Matter
My name is Greg Williams. I am from Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, by way of New York City, and I am a member of Beacon Hill Friends Meeting in Boston.
I have a ministry called “Stone of Hope.” The line relates to a line out of the “I have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. “With faith, we will hew out of a mountain of despair a stone of hope.” And that ministry is trying to outreach into communities of color. It’s not just going out and saying, “Here we are, the Quakers! We have the answers!” Because we don’t have the answers. But we do have a presence. We do have a history, and we do have a way of dealing with violence that I think we can bring to a larger community.
Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter started out as a group of people that were basically doing demonstrations to say, “We matter as people. So you can’t take our lives, and we’re here to be witness to that.”
I spent a couple of years working with Black Lives Matter groups, and when I went out into the community and met with these groups, I basically said, “I’m a Quaker. And I’m here as an activist, but I’m also here because there’s a Spirit of God that’s within that’s also calling me to be here. So I’m here to do spiritual work. I’m not here to convert anybody to anything, but I’m here to be part of that positive spiritual sense that can empower all of us.”
The Quaker Legacy of Nonviolence
Bayard Rustin certainly was able to teach Martin Luther King Jr. “Martin, you’ve got guns. Um, you really can’t have a nonviolent message and be carrying guns.”
“Yeah but there are people out there who are trying to kill me and shoot my family and you know, I need the gun.…”
And I can envision Bayard Rustin—who was a Quaker—saying, “You can wear your sword as long as you can. You’re out there every day in the street talking about nonviolence. You can’t have a gun.” And Martin gave up the gun.
Over the last several years, with a lot of the police shootings that are happening, there’s been a lot of movement of young black men and women into the circle of nonviolence. But a lot of that is just homegrown, the Spirit leading these young people to go out into the community and be a nonviolent witness to what’s happening.
Offering a Quaker Presence
And we as Quakers have to be aware that we have that presence. And again, it’s not, “I have to do this,” or, “What black people want, I have to follow.” No. We have to follow where the spirit is calling us.
It’s like, if you go to a monastery and you’re blindfolded, when you’re in that monastery, you’re going to feel the Spirit. I’ve had that going to Buddhist monasteries. As a brother in the Catholic order, people would come to our community and they’d be like, “Oh, I feel the Spirit!” It’s because we’re living that spirit.
And I think that Quakers live that Spirit in their meetings and so when people come into Quaker meeting and you sit down for your first meeting, you might feel this power touching you. And we can have that same power just on the street.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.