“Breaking down stereotypes is really important, and who better and more important to do it than Quakers?” Jolee Robinson reflects on her experiences with subverting stereotypes.
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Breaking down stereotypes is really important, and who better and more important to do it than Quakers? Because we all have them – we do.
The Importance of Breaking Stereotypes
My name is Jolee Robinson, and I live in Silver Spring, Maryland now (I’ve lived a number of places in my life), and I’m a member of Adelphi Friends Meeting in Adelphi, Maryland. When I really became aware of Quakerism was while I was in divinity school at Duke University and I was studying to be a Methodist minister. I had a very real concern for service, for peace, for issues of justice. I was in the South and racial issues were very important and I became disappointed with the Methodist church because they still had what they called the Central Conference, which was all Black, and I was disappointed in that and I felt they weren’t doing enough on the other issues that I cared about, and then I ended up becoming involved with the NAACP.
Interracial Organizing in the NAACP*
Well, I met a young man who was in the so-called law school at the Black college, which was an excuse for a law school because Blacks, of course, could not go to the University of North Carolina, and he and I decided that the problem with the North Carolina NAACP was that it was all old people and that they needed young people, so he and I went around the state setting up high school and college chapters of the NAACP which the president didn’t like particularly, but we were very successful!
We had enough people that we elected a youth slate and David was elected president, a guy named James was elected vice president, and they made me second vice president, which I think was sort of being the token White, but anyway. Then David got drafted, because the draft was still on, and he went to Europe and that made James the president and me the vice president, and then James got drafted, so guess what? I became the youth president of the NAACP in North Carolina. And this was at about the time that the “all deliberate speed” portion of the Brown v. Board of Education case came out saying that schools had to desegregate with all deliberate speed, so we became a hot topic in the state.
They interviewed Kelly Alexander, the state president of the NAACP, and referred to the NAACP as a Black org– no, a Negro organization, and he said, “No, no. From the very beginning it was an interracial organization,” which is true, and he talked about that and he said, “and in fact, our state youth president is Jolee Fritz, who is White.” And, of course, that was an interview with the Greensboro Daily News, where I was working at the time. So, of course it was on the front page of the Greensboro Daily News and that’s how I lost my first full-time job.
Breaking Down Stereotypes Among Quakers
My involvement with intervisitation with Baltimore Yearly Meeting started out when I went to Kenya in 2010 as one of six women from Baltimore Yearly Meeting who were sent to the triennial of the United Society of Friends Women International, and then I spent a week visiting all the places where Friends had program. They’re all part of Friends United Meeting and they worship in a way that’s slightly different from how we worship in unprogrammed meetings, but I became very, very interested in having that kind of intercultural relationship among Friends, and it has been an eye-opening experience for me because like the people at Friends United Meeting who have certain stereotypes about unprogrammed Friends, I had certain stereotypes about programmed Friends, and they’re not all the same.
Finding Common Ground
One of these yearly meetings that I’ve gone to over and over again has never had any silence in their meeting but one year they actually had a period of silence and I thought, “Oh! That’s interesting…” and the next thing I knew I was on my feet speaking, and I told a story (which I didn’t tell the whole story), and I talked about how this man had met people that he was sure would be hostile to him and he discovered their humanity and that as he discovered that he said sort of impulsively said to this man, “I love you, brother.”
And after we broke up from that session, the two people in that yearly meeting who had been most reserved and feeling that I was not a real Quaker came to me separately and said, “I love you.” And that was such a marvelous feeling! And I said back to them, “I love you.” So, that’s how important I think the intervisitation program is, and all of us who have participated in it have found really, really important seeds of understanding that can grow.
- What are some ways you’ve broken stereotypes in your life?
- There are many different ways for Quakers to practice their faith. What is the value of having an “intercultural relationship among Friends?”
- Have you experienced someone subverting your expectations of them? How did that feel, and what did you learn from it?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.