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Holding the Peace: Quaker Nonviolence in the Time of Black Lives Matter



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

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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.

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The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.

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Written by lena

Foodie, Performer, Water Protector, Avid Baker, Syndicate Aggregator. I probably still live in my mom's basement.

3 Comments

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  1. There are only
    three ways to protect yourselves from the evil one

    Tuesday, September 25th, 2012 @ 12:50

    My dearly beloved daughter you
    must never become complacent and feel that this work, when it seems to be going
    well, will for one moment escape the scourge of the evil one. He is furious. He
    picks at every task you undertake, creates problems and obstacles, which leave
    you frustrated and helpless.

    So many people are blind to the
    scourge he inflicts on humanity. Because they cannot see him they do not
    believe that he exists. Those who open the way to him, through sin, and allow
    him into their souls will find it impossible to rid themselves of the terrible
    hurt and discontent he will bring into their lives.

    There are only three ways to
    protect yourselves from the evil one.

    The first is, the Sacrament of
    Confession cleanses your soul, if you are genuine in your remorse. For
    non-Catholics please accept the Gift of the Plenary Indulgence in Crusade
    Prayer (24), given to the world through this Mission.

    The second way is through the
    daily devotion to My Mother who has been given the power to crush Satan. Her
    Holy Rosary is an important shield, which will cover you and your family away
    from his evil eye.

    The last is through the State of
    Grace, which you can achieve through regular communication with Me by receiving
    Me in the Holy Eucharist.

    So many people who want to escape
    from the clutches of Satan, and who in their hearts know they have been sucked
    into a vortex of evil, must turn to Me and ask Me to help them through this
    special Crusade
    Prayer (78) Save me from Evil.

    O Jesus protect me from the power
    of Satan.

    Take me into Your Heart as I
    release all my allegiance to him and his wicked ways.

    I surrender my will and come
    before You on my knees with a humble and contrite heart.

    I leave my life in Your Holy Arms.

    Save me from evil. Release me and
    take me to Your safe haven of protection now and forever.

    Amen.

    Your Jesus

  2. Thank you for this beautiful testimony linking the Quaker legacy of nonviolence to one of today's biggest social challenges.

  3. Quaker support for Ideological causes may be the end of our little brand of "peculiar people." Watch your next steps Quaker Speak.

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