Another Sad Season for SAYMA

One plague this year wasn’t enough: Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting, gathering this week by Zoom, is facing another one: a fever of  panic and hysteria over charges of — wait for it — racism.

WWPCT: What Would Paul Cuffee Think? Read on.

First, though, the vector of SAYMA’s resurgent malady isn’t a lab or wet market in China. Rather, it’s a familiar figure, Sharon Smith, a self-appointed anti-racism “authority” and enforcer who has dogged, derailed and disrupted SAYMA sessions for several years. This blog reported extensively on her baleful record in the months leading up Covid’s appearance and spread. (A list of relevant posts is at the bottom of this report.)

Now that the virus is fading, Smith is re-emerging, seeming more determined after a time of enforced dormancy.

Smith has several targets in SAYMA for this week’s session, seemingly a kind of makeup list. To start with, she demanded that the YM Planning Committee dis-invite Harold Weaver, their keynote plenary speaker.  Weaver is a Black new England Friend,  who is on Smith’s very long list of Black Friends she has quarreled with and lumps together as a gaggle of “desperate and despicable” hacks. (Their main infraction: differing from her diktats.)

Fortunately, however, the SAYMA Committee stuck to its choice and Weaver spoke. Smith also blasted a Tuesday workshop; it regrouped and took place on schedule.

This was not the first time Smith tried to torpedo a full SAYMA plenary: in 2016, she disrupted and completely derailed the plenary appearance of Vanessa Julye, a black staffer for Friends General Conference.

As these items suggest, SAYMA has been burdened with a succession of extraordinarily feeble officers, who have repeatedly failed to preserve any semblance of its good order in the face of Smith’s recurring threats and bullying. This is even more dismaying in the Zoom era, when effective relief is but a Mute/Remove Button away.  She has also disrupted and shut down other workshops which SAYMA had approved but she disliked, even threatening physical  violence.

As one basis for her vehement objections, Smith claims Indian as well as Black ancestry — not only ancestry, but rank and authority as an Indian elder, beyond and over that of any other member among the many Indian tribal groups in the Southeast. But she indignantly refuses to offer any evidence for those claims, condemning such requests (like all opposition) as nothing but proof of white Quaker racism. This despite the fact that inquiries last year among NC Indian groups failed to turn up anyone who had heard of her, or her repeatedly declared exalted status.

Personally, after hearing these unsubstantiated claims repeated for some years, the only datum I have been able to confirm is that Smith is 67, so she does qualify as “an elder” at least by the calendar.
The rest, I frankly believe is phony. I think Smith is faking her Indian ancestry and imagining her exalted stature.  I dare her to prove this suspicion wrong.

I wish this was all. But later this week, Smith will be hectoring SAYMA with a repeat of her demands of a year ago that SAYMA give her $10,000, with no accountability. (They did so once, to their regret.) She is also insisting that an all-Black”worship group” she claims to have organized, perhaps in South Carolina, be brought under SAYMA’s direct care, with her as Clerk.
This purported “worship group” she says is named after Paul Cuffee, an early Black Quaker sea captain from Cape Cod.
However, this alleged “worship group” bears an uncanny resemblance to another with the exact same name founded (supposedly) by Smith on Cape Cod after she was expelled from Sandwich Meeting in 2007 for disruptive behavior. Smith claimed that Cuffee “Meeting” was a “safe space” for Black Friends driven away from Cape Cod meetings by white Quaker racism.
However, a Friend from Amesbury, Massachusetts, Kathleen Wooten, also reported to Friends Journal in October 2014, that despite many diligent efforts, she had been unable to find any trace of this “meeting”, or evidence of it ever having met at all. In response, Smith  shrugged off Wooten’s report, yet all but admitted her Cape Cod “Cuffee Meeting” had been a fiction.
Fast forward to 2021: after almost two years, I have seen no evidence that Smith’s Southeastern Cuffee “revival” is any more real. In her enemies list post Smith said the new Cuffee attenders were “POC who wish to worship in the manner of Friends without having to deal with Quaker racism (i. e., SAYMA)”no “dealings,” that is, except that their “clerk” was and is determined to grab a big chunk of SAYMA’s “white racist” money.
I’ll speak plainly here: this whole scheme sounds like a grift. A shakedown. A scam. No SAYMA officer with fiduciary responsibility should go anywhere near it. There are many other racial equity groups which SAYMA could support which follow sound and honest financial practices, and don’t deliver their requests wrapped in harangues, threats and abuse.

At last year’s budget session, when Smith’s same $10,000 demand was presented, it was met with a very loud chorus of “No!” from the Zoom assembly.

One wonders what the answer will be this time.  In earlier posts, we reported that many individual Friends spoke of being so disheartened by this seemingly endless ordeal, that not a few were thinking of leaving SAYMA or Quakerism entirely, in the wake of it. A year later, I’m hearing more such echoes.

I wish I didn’t believe them.

But I do.
For Reference:

>>  Previous Blog Posts on SAYMA’s Travail

Post 1: A Sad Yearly Meeting Report: SAYMA Is Not Safe – Posted 3/3/2020.

Post 2: SAYMA: “Born for this”? Or Standing in the Way? – Posted 3/10/2020.

Post 3: SAYMA’s Not Safe, III: New Trouble: Threats Against Three Meetings – Posted March 11, 2020

Second Round – Blog Posts:

Post 4: July 15th 2020: SAYMA Showdown: Another Yearly Meeting Split?

Post 5: July 16th 2020: Response Re: SAYMA’s Travail; A Guest Post

Post 6: July 17th 2020: SAYMA and Smith: “Judging the Fruits” by Their Own Words

Post 7: July 20, 2020 Exclusive: The SAYMA Enemies List; and Two More Minutes

Post 8: July 21, 2020: SAYMA, Activists & Money: How Dr. King Almost Got Ten Years

Post 9: July 23, 2020: SAYMA Representative Meeting: Summary & Comment

Post 10: August 13, 2020: SAYMA: The Gravy Train Is Lurching toward a Stop

           Post 11: September 30, 2020:  After the Lynching that Wasn’t

Post 12: June 21 2021: SAYMA 2021: The Post-Mortem

Post 13: SAYMA: The Deathwatch Begins

Post 14: Breaking: A SAYMA Meeting Quits to Protest “Abuse” — 01/04/2022

21 thoughts on “Another Sad Season for SAYMA”

  1. Hustling white guilt. What could go wrong? Especially when we do benefit from white privilege. Maybe we should refuse our white privilege. What would that entail? Tough choices.

  2. There seems to be a similar problem with the Democrats in the Senate who just can’t deal with Munchkin and Slimena. One does wonder though if these impasses benefit someone.

  3. I am surprised to hear your report that there are SAYMA Friends who would “leave Quakerism” because is another person’s words and/or behavior.
    Considering that each Friend is a member because the Spirit led them to join a Monthly Meeting.

    I see “difficult” Friends friends as just another gift from the Spirit. Maybe because I was (am?) seen as “dangerous” by several “weighty” Friends. I learned later that an attempt to get me to leave the MM was put in place by “the inner circle”. They shunned me for at least 2 years before giving up. A few years later a former clerk of my meeting, who had moved out of state, apologized for her participation in that effort.

    That helped me as it explained why I was not recognized by her when clerking our business meetings. I was told that she was fairly new to the Meeting as she had transferred her membership after moving into the neighborhood.

    I would much rather have a loud angry Friend than a quiet angry Friend any day. My Spence of the Spirit is that being angry and being loud about one’s pain is acceptable behavior.

    Chuck, I love you, but could you please stop forecasting the future? You are a wonderful historian and advocate for Peace. I believe we can and must create our own future.

    SAYMA is alive and thriving. The Spirit is knocking many of us out of our comfort zone and into the world many would prefer to pretend does not exist. Growth is a stretch. Together we are growing into the present and searching for a way to make our circle bigger.

    Maybe try reporting what already happened and leave the forecasting to Wall Street and the talking heads on TV and the internet?

    “The Best Is Yet To Come “


    1. Dear Friend “Oolazzo,” always good to hear from you. But I predict that AutoCorrect will keep giving you fits.

      1. Oolazzo. Ha. I have been called many names but this one is a real doozy.

        Cellphones have a 1/2 mind of their own.

        As long as google recognizes me I a m ok.

  4. Thank you, Chuck, for this update on a disheartening situation at SAYMA. I’ve followed it with interest for some years now.

    On the other hand, it is good to hear that SAYMA can express a “resounding NO” to a bigoted bully in sheep’s clothes. The clothes don’t fit particularly well, do they? They seem to be unraveling at the seams.

    Quakers have always been especially vulnerable to people with mental illness, especially when they wrap themselves in PC Quakerese. It sounds like SAYMA should explore a legal restraining order. How did the Friends in NEYM deal with Smith?
    Keith Barton (Sierra Cascades YM)

    1. Hi Keith — I have a PhD in psychology with 25 years in clinical practice. What is the legitimizing basis for your diagnosis?

      Or are you a lawyer? A restraining order for issuing speech in a Meeting?


      1. I am not making a psychological evaluation of the situation in SAYMA.

        I am saying that Quakers historically have been vulnerable to people with mental illness in their midst. One thinks of James Naylor. Again, not a diagnosis, but a plausible explanation.

        However, a restraining order does not require a psychological diagnosis. K

        1. “Quakers have always been especially vulnerable to people with mental illness, especially when they wrap themselves in PC Quakerese.”

          Was that just a casual observation unrelated to a particular individual? Or you were asserting that a particular individual had mental illness? The latter requires diagnosis.

          A restraining order does require a legal basis. Well, not for “Karens”, male and female, but in reality.

    1. Hi Mike,

      How would you discern between a person doing both actions you assert (“exploiting” and “abusing”) and a Benjamin Lay, excoriating those who benefitted from slavery?


  5. Hi Chuck,

    The early union organizers were not genteel middle class: they were rabble-rousers. The middle class disdained them as trouble-makers, just as the SAYMA middle class disdains the Friends of Color organizer in question. Heck, the London middle-class Quakers in the early 1660’s disdained those who raised holy hell (cf. Letter to the Brethren, pdf on request). This conflict between working- and middle-class manners of speech and expression is as old as written history, at least. Those who never have physical pain as a result of daily labor are likely to evolve different manners of expression than those who do. We adjust our speech to our living environment.

    Indeed, some places evoke spiritual experience. I experienced a covered meeting in a 20-minute silent meeting with one other Friend (who confirmed the event) in Ruth Graham’s chapel (imported piece-by-piece from a church in England) in Billy Graham’s Cathedral in the Pines, while the organist practiced in the main body of the Cathedral. There were no messages given, only received.


  6. More defamatory gossip from Weighty Friend Chuck.

    I guess our adherence to the testimonies (the lack of integrity here is staggering) is conditional on BIPOC showing up the “correct” way and not rocking the boat. How is Weighty Friend Chuck seeking that of the divine in Sharon Star Smith?


    1. Indeed, good point. If we experience/hold that every person has a portion of the light, and if our spiritual practice informs us to seek Light everywhere, we will be led to do that before all else.

      1. F/friend Hank,
        Our Faith and Practice does not require us to abandon our processes because someone believes that the “ends justify the means”.

  7. How can you advocate peace and write this? This type of hypocrisy is what drives Friends away. I wonder why money is so much more important to you than the fruits of the Spirit?

  8. I read last week that one SAYMA meeting has a session for considering its relationship to SAYMA.

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