Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Beloved Community Cville

For the last 10 months I have been building the framework for an initiative that I've named "Beloved Community Cville". (Cville is a nickname for Charlottesville, VA for those of us who live here.) The concept is like a city-wide book read, only in this case we'll be watching a documentary: "I'm Not Racist... Am I?" (INRAI) I've created a website for the initiative and you can check out the trailer from the home page:

The kick-off event is a free, community-wide screening at the 1,100-seat Paramount Theater on the downtown mall on Friday, Feb. 9th at 7 pm. After that the film will travel throughout the city for the next 30 days. It's going to be shown in our public & private schools, churches, libraries, non-profits, at the University of Virginia, and more. (Locations are still being lined up.) I'm excited that the film is going to be shown in both of my children's high schools, as well as the UVA Medical School and the UVA Curry School of Education.

After each screening there will be a facilitated discussion so that the audience has a chance to talk about the  important themes in the film. The first big community-wide screening at the Paramount Theater will be led by the filmmakers themselves, Catherine Wigginton Greene and Andre Robert Lee. The next day we're going to be training up to 50 people to act as facilitators for the remaining screenings.

                      Andre Robert Lee, Elizabeth Shillue, Catherine Wigginton Greene, and Gordon Fields

The first time I saw the film I'm Not Racist... Am I? was at Friends General Conference in 2014, so to my mind this film is related to the Friends. (It was the very first public screening that they did.) I could immediately see that this was a film that could have a big impact and felt led to bring the film to Charlottesville. With the support of my Quaker meeting and my children's Quaker school I was able to screen it at the Paramount Theater in February 2015. The event was co-sponsored by Charlottesville Friends Meeting and Tandem Friends School and it attracted a diverse audience of nearly 800 people! I was amazed by the turnout and audience response. There were many requests to bring the film back and so now, nearly three years later, plans are solidifying to do it in an even bigger way. This time I'm adding a 30 day licensing agreement with the film company to make it possible for as many people in Charlottesville to take part as possible.

Financial support for the project is being variously provided by organizations interested in holding screenings, private foundations and individuals, as well as Charlottesville Friends Meeting, the Charlottesville Office of Human Rights, and the Clarence and Lilly Pickett Endowment for Quaker Leadership. I am continuing to fundraise, with over half of what’s needed already pledged. I invite you to go to my website and make a donation! 

Very important to my process has been the mentoring that I've been receiving from the Director of the Charlottesville Office of Human Rights. Charlene Green has guided and encouraged me every step of the way. In addition I have a spiritual support committee from Charlottesville Friends meeting, with whom I meet monthly. I also have developed an agreement with a statewide social justice organization called Virginia Organizing, in which they act as the project’s fiscal sponsor. Virginia Organizing has nonprofit 501(c)(3) status and can accept grants and donations on behalf of the project, as well as provide tax letters.

Follow up plans for Beloved Community Cville include creating small social change circles called "Beloved Community Circles". These groups will be for folks in Charlottesville who want to plug in and do more after seeing the film. I believe that there's a need for us to practice being in community with one another. It's never going to be perfect, but we can learn together, gain clarity about the work that's ours to do, become accountable to one another, and possibly heal in community. 

I'm also planning to bring an “Undoing Racism” workshop to Charlottesville for local area high schoolers and teachers. This workshop is offered by the People’s Institute for Survival & Beyond, and is the first of the five that the twelve students participate in during the INRAI documentary. The vision is to bring 35-40 students from the different area high schools together (who’ve already seen INRAI) to participate in a day-long workshop sometime in the near future. This workshop experience could serve as a catalyst for the creation of intercity “Summits on Race,” self-organized by local high schoolers, as was done in Rochester, NY. I am in touch with a Quaker organizer there about their efforts.

I will close by speaking to the timing of this effort, as I'm sure you know what happened here in Charlottesville last summer. For many those events have served as a wake up call, but I've been engaged in my work for some time so it's not in reaction to the events of August 12th. I'd had the realization years ago that racism is the spiritual issue of our time and it's what I've been called to work on ever since. I believe that now is the time for giving everything we've got toward create change, and that this change must be both inner and outer.

There are many ways to walk the path of a change-maker or activist, all of which are needed, and all of which are supported by the kind of inner work and leadership development that ripples out into positive growth within our community. Unconscious attitudes and stereotypes can shape our behavior without our even realizing it. Yet we can uncover these hidden biases and learn to creatively respond in ways that invite healing and restore wholeness. We need more people who understand our mutual interdependence and can work with compassion, recognizing that love, truth, and justice are paramount. This is about becoming connected, inwardly and outwardly, so that our hands can do the work of our hearts.

1 comment:

  1. Elizabeth, you have a wonderful vision. I suspect it is no coincidence that your vision for this event developed prior to the sad events of last August. The Spirit of God has been leading you, preparing you to make a difference.... Mike Moyer, Pickett Endowment Coordinator