The On Earth Peace (OEP) fall board meeting was held October 3-5 at the Marian Center in Holyoke, Massachusetts. It was a joy to welcome Myalisse, the newborn daughter of Co-chair Melisa Leiter-Grandison and her husband Ben. The board also welcomed Mary Scott-Boria, the newest member and co-chair of the Anti-Racism Transformation Team.
A group building exercise planned by the new Board Governance and Development Committee kicked off the meetings. Other aspects of the board’s new organizational structure were also evident, demonstrating a smooth transition to the new design. An important part of the meetings continues to be intentional reflection on dynamics of power and process; the board pauses its work on a regular basis to assess these dynamics in order to ensure that the group is working well together, with power and privilege equally shared.
A keynote speaker the first evening gave witness to the powerful transformation possible through the organizing principals of Kingian Nonviolence. Victoria Christgau shared her amazing journey which led to the establishment of the Connecticut Center for Nonviolence. Her organization has won the trust of both schools and police, opening doors for each to receive nonviolence training.
An interesting OEP and Church of the Brethren connection to this work was highlighted. The CT Center for Nonviolence is one of a number of organizations using a curriculum co-authored by Dr. Bernard LaFayette, Jr., a freedom rider and associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and David Jehnsen, a member of the Church of the Brethren. Jehnsen also worked with King and was once jailed with him. On Earth Peace is the fiscal sponsor for the Kingian Nonviolence Coordinating Committee which holds the rights to the curriculum. After a meaningful and deeply spiritual time of sharing, the board laid hands on Victoria Christgau and prayed for God’s blessings on her work.
Times of worship were interspersed between the work sessions. One focused on the 400 year commemoration of the forced migration of the first Africans to the Virginia colony in 1619. Four chimes were sounded to remember the damage done by racist exploitation and to renew commitment to the healing work ahead of us.
As a prelude to deeper conversations, the board and staff reviewed progress made on developing a new board structure with mission and vision statements and a list of values for guiding the work of the organization. Related to this was a meaningful conversation regarding OEP’s relationship with the Church of the Brethren. Significant time was then devoted to reflecting on a staff proposal for strategic priorities to guide the organization’s work in coming years. The priorities approved by consensus at the meeting were:
- Develop individuals as leaders with spirituality and skills in Kingian Nonviolence, using groups such as cohorts and communities of practice.
- Walk with leaders and their communities as they take action for justice and peace using the Kingian Nonviolence approach, including accountability, consultation, and organizing in solidarity with current movements.
- Through our agency responsibilities and opportunities, embolden the Church of the Brethren to become a living peace and justice denomination.
- Institutionalize Anti-Racism/Anti-Oppression in OEP practices and structures, including staff and board composition, programs, budgets, policies, and accountability to AR/AO partners including Crossroads and the Supportive Communities Network.
Staff and the Anti-Racism Transformation Team were tasked with follow up assignments, such as specific goals and action plans related to these priorities.
Further reflection was devoted to next steps required for the organization to advance in its transformation as an anti-racist organization. One aspect of this will be intentionally diversifying the make up of the board itself. A decision was made to establish the board size at twelve; the board is currently down to nine members. This happened through intentional attrition pending a final decision on size as part of the new structure design. As part of this, the board recognized George Barnhart who has completed his term of service. Three new board members of color are now being sought to increase the diversity and skill of the board.
Bill Scheurer, Executive Director of OEP, reported on plans underway for a multi-year capital campaign. The Resource Management Committee reported on the board’s finances and recommended a 2020 budget with reduced spending to cap endowment draws. The budget was approved by consensus.
A significant time for caucusing was planned for Friday evening. Caucusing is a way of working to understand the influence of internalized racial superiority among white people and internalized racial oppression among people of color. The board divides by race for these conversations with those who are white gathering separately from people of color and then reporting back to the full group on learnings and observations. The process has proven to be a valuable tool for deep and careful decision-making.
Appreciation was expressed for staff reports and for the positive spirit in which the board is functioning. Ongoing work planned will result in significant additional reports which will be ready for sharing in the near future.