How can Quakers play a role in racial healing? According to Sterling Duns, it’s going to take a lot of dreaming.
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It feels simple and deeply radical to just say as a group that is committed to honoring that of God in everyone, that that person of color, that black person is deserving of their full humanity—to be recognized by me as a Quaker. That’s a simple thing to say and it’s a radical thing to say.
Dreaming of Wholeness: Quakers and the Future of Race Relations
My name is Sterling Duns. I am a West Philadelphia native and currently live in West Philadelphia. I’m a member of Merion Meeting in Merion, Pennsylvania, and I’m the coordinator of equity and justice education at Friends Central School, and also a musician—an emcee.
Being Black and Quaker
Being a person of African heritage in Quakerism is complex, because being a person of African heritage in the United States is complex, because being a person of African heritage in the world is complex. So I’m just thinking how beautiful this life can be walking around in black skin, and how traumatic and dangerous it can be walking around in this beautiful black skin, and how both of those things can be true.
Over the years I’ve learned more about the history of Quakers, knowing that some Quakers were abolitionists, knowing that some Quakers owned slaves. Sometimes I imagine what old school Quakers were like and these Quakers who had this powerful revelation about the slave trade or enslaving Africans. But I like to think that it was a continuum where people examined over and over again an idea they had and eventually let it go.
Quakers and Racial Healing
Quakers are equipped to have a role in the racial healing work that we need in the world today because inherent to the faith, inherent to the spiritual practice, is a belief that there is that of God in everyone. When I think about some of the ways that folks of color, black folks, have been traumatized and targeted in our country, the source of the targeting comes from this belief that’s embedded into our country’s history, that somehow black people aren’t worthy of their full humanity being recognized.
We’re saying the direct opposite. We’re in direct opposition to systems that helped to build everything we see around us. That feels deep and radical, and also it feels right in line with what Quakers were doing from the jump. You know, walking around the city doing wild stuff, butt naked or going into religious services and standing up and you know—Quakers have always had a sense of going against the grain. So it feels right in line to actually say “No, I’m going to honor this human being’s full humanity.”
Dreaming for the Future
For me, I’m a big dreamer. Shout out to Pisces. Shout out to the creatives. Shout out to artists. I’m a big dreamer. Shout out to the Afro-futurists, you know? As an Afro-futurist, I spend time thinking about the future, and really spending some deep time imagining what it looks like for us all to be free.
I think Quaker communities can spend that time and energy doing that. I think they can totally do that. And when we talk about something like Quaker bodies being more inclusive, I think you literally have to spend time on “Dream Mountain”. Just go up to Dream Mountain, and look out, and then come back to “Reality Meadows.” Right? And then Dream Mountain, and Reality Meadows. I spend a lot of time oscillating between those different worlds and I think having a practice of being able to do that as a group, as multiple groups, would be really important.
- When considering how Quakers can play a role in racial healing, Sterling Duns encourages us to take a trip to “dream mountain” and “and really spending some deep time imagining what it looks like for us all to be free.” What was your most productive trip to “dream mountain?” How do you imagine a group of us can go there together?
- How do you see the work of racial healing getting done? What role do you see for Quakers in this work?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.