The internet is a mystifying thing: emails can go round and round, and some end up in my inbox that have been many other places on their electronic journey.
One such came yesterday, and it is germane to the current issues roiling SAYMA (Southern Appalachian yearly Meeting & Association). It is no less than the Enemies List of Sharon Smith, the self-styled uber-anti-racist activist and Indian elder/matriarch, whose demand for $20,000 of SAYMA’s funds (& $10,000 per year thereafter indefinitely) will come before the group’s representative meeting this evening.
Of course, it is not titled as an “Enemies List. ” The email was originally sent to the Friends Center for Racial Justice, a relatively new project based in Ithaca new York. But Smith does say explicitly that “the above list are those known to be upholding white supremacy, causing the most harm to Friends of color, particularly URJ members, through their leadership roles in SAYMA . . .”
The names are below. I’ll point out here that for a Quaker body, it’s a pretty weighty lot. It includes
>> A former YM Clerk, the current YM Clerk, and the incoming YM Clerk;
>> The former Clerk of its Finance Committee, and the Committee’s incoming Clerk; the Clerk of its Ministry & Nurture Committee; a distinguished Quaker historian; an experienced CPA; and
>> A founding member of SAYMA, and at least one who has been arrested in civil rights protests.
It’s also worth noting that they are scattered from Asheville to Memphis, and are hardly a homogeneous, well-oiled machine. What they do have in common is the temerity to have questioned, or even opposed, Smith’s demands for money and control.
And so, these are the “white supremacists” who she identifies as obstructing her path to a SAYMA sinecure, and she wants them out. Note that her “list” of “Root Causes” actually specifies only one: “White supremacy/racism among Friends.” That is the only basis she has been known to recognize for pushback against her plans and demands. She has also stated in other emails that she intends to block the nominations of those on the list who are incoming officers.
If she were to achieve her organizational and financial goals, the apprehensions about a schism, or at least a major purge, in SAYMA would be all but realized.
One might think that, as Smith is neither a member of SAYMA nor of any other Friends meeting, such a cleansing might be difficult. But in fact Smith has already driven away numerous former SAYMA stalwarts, so she is not to be underestimated.
Here is the list, with her intro, unedited:
Smith to FCRJ: Suffice it to say, I have been observing SAYMA’s racism long enough to have observed who the main characters in this Quaker Passion Play are, what the primary areas of conflicts are, and can read the climate.The Major Players:
Alan Robinson (Asheville NC): deceased.
Barbara Esther (Asheville NC): Current clerk of SAYMA
Bob McGahey (Celo NC) Incoming SAYMA clerk
Ron Mc Donald (?): Current clerk of SAYMA Ministry and NurtureRobyn Josephs (Swannanoa Valley/Black Mountain NC) Meeting rep to SAYMA M&N
Charles Schade (Charleston WV): Former clerk of SAYMA Finance
Geeta Mcgahey (Celo NC) Interrim clerk of SAYMA FinanceLarry Ingle (Chatanooga TN) Former SAYMA clerk
Free Polazzo (Atlanta GA): Atlanta Representative to SAYMA/clerk of Faith and Practice Revision CommtteeThere are others as yet to be identified, but the above list are those known to be upholding white supremacy, causing the most harm to Friends of color, particularly URJ members, through their leadership roles in SAYMA
Key players on the other side of the SAYMA racial conflict are,
Sharon “Star” Smith (Indigenous Saponi elder/matriarch. SAYMA Friend at large and clerk of the Paul Cuffee Worship Group, established by SAYMA-URJ for POC who wish to worship in the manner of Friends without having to deal with Quaker racism) clerk of SAYMA-URJ—a committee only POC can serve.
URJ’s Mission from the SAYMA website, is “To help SAYMA become a welcoming place for Friends of color. The committee will do this by providing safe space for Friends of color to bring issues and concerns regarding racism within their Monthly Meetings and SAYMA, to find support and advocacy. The committee will also work to raise awareness about White Supremacy aka racism within SAYMA, by compiling and disseminating educational resources.”
Shannon Roberts Smith (Barea KY) clerk of the ad hoc SAYMA Anti-Racism Working Group (They are White Friends in support of SAYMA-URJ) Their mission is to support the policy initiatives of URJ, provide technical assistance when asked for, and work with white Friends who are struggling with their racism.
Root Causes: White supremacy/racism among Friends. That is my assessment, but others will say it is about my behavior, not their racism.
Sharon “Star” Smith
But also in my weekend inbox were statements of a different sort. The latest came from Chattanooga Meeting, from a business session om First Day. It addresses the matters of Smith’s funding, and here it is in full:
Chattanooga Friends MeetingMeeting for Worship with Attention to BusinessJuly 19, 2020A Summary of our DiscussionRegarding SAYMA Rep Meeting for Monday (7.20.2020)Chuck Jones is attending the SAYMA Rep Meeting, via Zoom as the Chattanooga Monthly Meeting’s SAYMA Representative. He asked his Meeting to discuss the request by the SAYMA URJ Committee for an annual dollar amount for the committee’s use ($10k for each of the next two years).After a lengthy discussion with many Friends contributing, the Meeting’s clerk summarized and Friends approved the following:
1. Our Meeting supports racial justice, and
2. We want accountability from both the SAYMA Uplifting Racial Justice committee in the same way we ask for accountability from any SAYMA committee. In addition, we recognize that the Yearly Meeting must also be accountable. It is a two-way street where we all need to work toward racial justice.
3. Quaker practice must be followed addressing that of God in each individual.
4. We are not interested in supporting SAYMA URJ financially (in any amount) without the committee’s accountability of funds.
5. We want a committee clerk who leads us in the direction of uplifting racial justice instead of dividing us.Submitted by Chuck JonesSAYMA Rep for Chattanooga Monthly Meeting
Although it is carefully, circuitous;y worded, Chattanooga’s minute calls for several things Smith has insisted she and her committee will never abide, mainly any actual accountability. We shall see if it is presented to the representative meeting with clarity and resolve.
Then, turning to some notes, I came up with an earlier statement, that also applies to this evening’s proceedings, from North Carolina’s Celo Meeting. It too is circuitously worded, but calls for an end to funding and rethinking the entire project from the ground up. This sentiment is as timely now as it was five months ago. Here it is, in full:
Celo Friends Meeting Minute on the Uplifting Racial Justice Committee
Let us be enraged about injustice, but let us not be destroyed by it. –Bayard Rustin
Celo Friends acknowledge that regardless of our good intentions, white Americans will never fully understand the suffering – past and present – of African Americans. We seek unity of purpose among all SAYMA Friends in the pursuit of racial justice.
Celo Friends embrace the principles of nonviolence. We cherish the statement from SAYMA’s Faith and Practice that reads, “We recognize that violence can manifest itself in words as well as deeds. As Friends, we endeavor to bring all aspects of our lives into harmony with this testimony.” And so we have been dismayed to learn that Friends of color have experienced some meetings as unsafe places because of the words and deeds of some white Friends, and we champion the vision of the Uplifting Racial Justice (URJ) committee, which reads as follows:
SAYMA-URJ envisions a Yearly Meeting community where every Friend of color feels welcome. We see a SAYMA community where the divine Light within every Friend of color is affirmed, their unique history, spiritual journey and lived Truth is honored, where our messages and concerns are heard and respected with due consideration. We see a SAYMA community where Friends of color are empowered to build close spiritual Friendships, appreciation, love and support for the weighty responsibilities we carry as people of color, embodying Quaker Testimonies, within and outside of the Religious Society of Friends.
After three years it does not appear that progress has been made toward the fulfillment of this vision. In fact, it has been well documented that new, rancorous divisions have opened up among white Friends, among Friends of color, and between white and African American Friends. The vision statement explicitly looks forward to empowering Friends of color within the SAYMA community. And yet we observe that SAYMA Friends of color are not participating in the URJ committee. We are particularly concerned by unloving speech and existing posts in social media containing personal attacks against Friends that are antithetical to Quaker testimonies and at odds with what SAYMA Friends envisioned when the URJ committee was formed.
We do not feel that it is useful to assign blame for these results. After reviewing the SAYMA documents addressing the formation of the URJ committee, we must all humbly acknowledge that in several aspects Friends made mistakes while forming the committee, and we believe that the only way forward is to suspend future funding for the URJ committee until there is assurance of the following:
· That the six original approved goals for the committee be revisited and, if necessary, new goals be approved by SAYMA during a meeting for worship with attention for business.
· That most of the members and attendees of the URJ committee are participants in SAYMA monthly meetings and/or worship groups and are thus guided by SAYMA’s Faith and Practice.
· That as part of restoring a culture of respect to SAYMA, there is an end to personal attacks—both in person and online—which are antithetical to Quaker testimonies. We further ask that all such past attacks be removed from the SAYMA website.
Neither Friends of color nor white Friends have been served by releasing our collective selves from following Quaker process. Having been forged by generations of Friends, the process of waiting on God’s will to direct our steps identifies us as Friends and holds us to that identity. While we may disagree with one another on many things, it is fundamental to Quaker belief that when we seek God’s will, all together in worshipful silence, we will find unity of spirit.
We write with love for all Friends and for the world. We are living during a time when we see daily that the fruits of rancorous speech and divisive deeds are poisonous indeed. Let us be examples. Let us use the tools that we know from our own experience and from our history will help us best to discern the will of God as we struggle to correct our course and find God’s way forward in our quest for racial justice.