SAYMA Showdown: Another Yearly Meeting Split?

Over the past decade, I’ve witnessed and reported on the breakup of five U.S. Yearly Meetings.

This “assignment” was at best unpleasant, and often disheartening. After the fifth schism, I had hoped the ugly epidemic was over.

Graphic by Doug Gwyn

But now there’s a possible Number Six. A showdown for it is coming on July 20.

The previous five were all pastoral-evangelical YMs, and the matter of welcoming/affirming LGBT persons was the tripwire issue in most. But there were others too: the place and work of Jesus; interpretation and authority of the Bible; church governance (more plainly, who’s the boss), etc.

It’s early for grand interpretations, but in my view, what I refer to as the Separation Generation looks to be as extensive and consequential as that of the Hicksites-Orthodox fracture in 1827.

Deepening that sense is the fact that, after a two-year lull, it turns out the schisms may not be over.

If it comes to a split, at least this sixth one will offer some variety: LGBTs are not at issue. Nor is the Bible or Jesus. The yearly meeting in question is nonpastoral, quite liberal, and many in it once believed they had progressed far beyond the reach of squabbles over theological doctrines and dogmas.

Ha. They’ve traded one dogmatic clash for another, complete with an inquisition, and they are now obliged to face up to the fact, and its implications, or else.

The group on the brink is SAYMA, Southern  Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association. Its unprogrammed meetings are spread from the Carolinas through Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, West Virginia and Kentucky.

Earlier this year, three posts about SAYMA’s plight were published here, beginning with background on why SAYMA Is Not  Safe, on March 3, 2020.
It was followed by “Born for this”? Or Standing in the Way? on March 10;
with an update on New Trouble: Threats Against Three Meetings on March 11. They’re still relevant if readers want context or to refresh their recollection.

The issue for SAYMA remains, in sum, that an intruder named Sharon Smith has been harassing SAYMA and its meetings for several years. Claiming (without evidence) to be a topflight anti-racism trainer and resource, as  well as the (self-anointed) matriarchal overlord of all dealings with Native American issues in the region. Among a crop of liberals, she has dogmatism down pat.

Smith insists that any questions or less than fawning responses to her pronouncements or actions are de facto proof of deep personal and systemic racism on the part of any critics — both white and of color. Angry invective, violent actions and threats of physical harm have been her tools for dealing with any opposition. (Many details of this record are in the earlier posts.)

Sharon Smith, circa 2016

In 2019 Smith demanded and muscled through a grant of $16000 from SAYMA’s modest budget, which was to be under her personal control as Clerk of an Uplifting Racial Justice (URJ) Committee, which included no SAYMA Friends, and with no accounting. Numerous Friends were in fact opposed to this idea; but  Smith played on liberal Quaker guilt and habitual conflict avoidance to intimidate them into silence.

That was then. Predictably, Smith’s haul from last year has only whetted her appetite. On July 9 she sent an email to SAYMA’s officers and several others, which called for:

A. URJ Requests $10,000 of set-aside funds for fiscal year 2020, and another $10,000 for fiscal 2021, for a total of $20,000. NOTE: URJ has had no new funding for two years, since 2018.
B. In addition, URJ is requesting a line item in SAYMA’s annual budget of $10,000 each year, or unless URJ requests a different amount.

Yes, she wants $20,000 now, with a guarantee of $10,000 per year hereafter indefinitely. For the money, URJ ‘s vague mission statements says it will provide

. . . 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.

The notion of “providing space” is worth unpacking a  bit. For one thing, the only person on this “Committee” with any connection to SAYMA is Smith herself; and even she is not a member of any SAYMA Meeting, or of any other meeting, for that matter. In an earlier incarnation, there were other SAYMA Friends of Color on its initial  roster, but all left, finding Smith impossible to work with. One wonders where or for whom this “space” will be “provided.”

Then, it was pointed out in the March 3 post that the pace and content of the “educational resources” she disseminated (mainly as brief emails, sometimes accompanied by rants) work out to costing SAYMA several hundred dollars a pop.

The SAYMA budget for the coming year was slated to be presented at a mid-March representative session, for final action at annual sessions in June. But both were canceled by the pandemic. Now a ZOOM representative session is to happen next Monday, July 20, for the financial presentation, with final budget action to come probably in September.

And despite the lockdown, some things have been happening in SAYMA.

For one, Smith has ramped up her claims to control over Quaker events on Native issues. She pronounced herself particularly offended by Colorado Friend Paula Palmer who conducts workshops on “Toward Right Relationship With Native People.”

Paula Palmer

Asheville Meeting had invited Palmer to conduct such a workshop there on May 9. But Smith insisted:

This is by no means OK, my Friends.  Because, as a Saponi matriarch, it is unfortunately my responsibility to organize a contingent of NC Natives to shut this workshop down. . . .

This is a warning. . . .

Of course, the pandemic beat her to it, and forced the workshop’s postponement. But that was not enough. In a March 30 email, Smith doubled down on her threat to Palmer:

You are so far out of your depth here, Paula. Which is why you are completely unqualified to teach anyone how to be in right relationship with Native people . . . .

Don’t you ever come to the southeast. I have already told you what will happen if you do and I find out about it.

Small wonder that, reflecting on the July 20 session, one SAYMA Friend wrote:  “Sharon’s demands feel like blackmail – if you don’t fund SAYMA URJ – that proves you are racist. . . .”

The idea that SAYMA is supposed to be paying Smith $20,000 to, among other “educational resources,” send physical threats to other Friends for agreeing to visit a SAYMA meeting is, as the current argot puts it “deeply concerning.”

Resistance to Smith’s behavior and demands has been building. SAYMA’s Treasurer Carol Lamm of Berea, Kentucky,  reported in March that  opposition to the Smith/URJ funding was hurting SAYMA’s income:

 . . . assessment income is running behind and stands at only 30% of budget . . . . The upshot is that as of February 29, SAYMA has a deficit of $7,195 . . .  which is 120% of the $6,000 deficit planned for the whole year.
Assessments are SAYMA’s financial lifeblood. A shortfall of this magnitude is not normal and calls for a closer look. Some MMs are simply behind last year’s schedule and will catch up. Two MMs are withholding payments pending resolution of their concerns about URJ spending. If they withhold payments for the remainder of the year and other lines hold steady, the deficit will for the year will be $10,500.

She added a graph to make it visible:

This graph has not been updated on the SAYMA site as of this writing. But at that point the “undesignated equity” funds were expected to be less than $20,000 by summer. And since then –the updated Treasurer’s report shows that a deficit persists, as the broader recession deepens.

The $20,000 Smith wants more than equals SAYMA’s liquid balance. If the deficit increases as the depression deepens, it would take more.

It’s no wonder that some eminent SAYMA Friends, who have long been uneasy,  are at length finding their voice in open opposition. H.  Larry Ingle, a longtime SAYMA member and one of the leading Quaker historians of our day, wrote plainly about this last week from Chattanooga:

Sharon has circulated her URJ’s “Financial Request” that differs little from what she has been asking for now for nearly a year, a permanent claim of $10,000 dollars a year on SAYMA’s budget with none of the accountability that we have traditionally required of other committees.  Acceding to that amounts to a run on our treasury that would break our budget. 
H. Larry Ingle

And her committee’s demand—why not be blunt, and truthful, and call it that?—comes from a group of people who may or may not be Friends and are certainly not members of a “worship group” that has ever had any status in SAYMA.  We have a valuable history of financial probity going back decades, and we are now being asked to throw that tradition to the winds.

Hence for those participating in the July 20th meeting, it is crucial that each Friend is aware of the challenge facing SAYMA and should be prepared to see that this demand from URJ is firmly and finally repudiated.  Otherwise meetings and individual Friends will see their confidence in the yearly meeting swept away, never to be captured.

I’ve known Larry Ingle for more than forty years. He measures his words carefully, especially for print. When he says that continued funding of Smith would mean that “meetings and individual Friends will see their confidence in the yearly meeting swept away, never to be captured,” he means what he says.

And when Larry warns that continuing would also throw away SAYMA’s valuable history of financial probity,” he means that as well. As a Quaker historian who has published standard works on the founding and shaping of Quaker faith and culture, he is deeply familiar with the reputation Friends maintained for a very long time for financial and business integrity. I would be stunned to see him and Becky leave SAYMA behind over this, after so many decades, but it would not really not be a surprise.

The matter of financial probity deserves closer attention. Last summer questions were raised about whether the unaccountable grant to Smith/URJ would violate IRS rules for nonprofits. A tax attorney was consulted; a report of this conversation is on the SAYMA website.

The attorney’s answer to the specific legal question was no, the grant was not illegal.

But he said something else, which is more important, and worth quoting:

Beyond the specific IRS risk matters on which we sought his advice, [the attorney] offered general advice on good practice, including the following. . . .
● To avoid conflict of interest concerns, if money is to be paid to someone personally, or if the person’s spouse or children would benefit, it is better that they are not involved in the decision.

There have been calls for SAYMA to prepare such a conflict of interest policy; but Smith has loudly resisted, calling it a mask for “white supremacy.” Thus the idea has been stopped dead: the Finance Committee’s Annual report for the July 20 meeting notes only that “Draft Conflict of Interest Policy – circulate and no unity so not brought for approval”.

Here SAYMA is making a big mistake. They focused on the wrong question to the attorney –whether the Smith funding would end SAYMA’s nonprofit status or put someone in jail– and left his more important counsel as an insignificant afterthought at the end.

It is not. Smith’s bullying of SAYMA in the past years of business has clearly had her monetary self-interest at its center, and whether SAYMA has a formal policy or not, the conflict of interest here is obvious,  glaring, and repugnant.

Sure, such behavior may not put Smith behind bars. But instead, it would paint SAYMA as ripe for being suckered, and put its  “reputation for probity”, as Larry Ingle put it, straight into the trash.

A body that doesn’t have and enforce such elementary safeguards has lost its integrity, and standing as a responsible steward. It is not a reliable place for donors to invest their funds now, or leave their legacies to benefit future generations in pursuit of common values.

Such integrity and safeguards were (and still are)  basic concerns of most Quaker bodies (and other credible ventures, profit or non-profit). Calling them racist is straight-out gaslighting and grifter’s smokescreen baloney.

Larry Ingle is not alone; nor is the concern limited to whites. The March 10 blog post discussed in some detail the long list of Friends of Color that Smith abhors and heaps scorn upon. She charged, in part, that

Now [Philadelphia  Friends] use that wealth to buy the allegiance of a few desperate and/or despicable Friends of color and to suppress dissenters. I am a witness. . . .”

“Desperate and despicable” persons of color, is that what they are? And their allegiance has been bought (like slaves?) with white Quaker money? Well, some of them were once her allies. One who knew Smith well and who asked to be unnamed wrote to me about this. She is a mature Friend of Color who was formerly sympathetic & learned better. She wrote:

The only insight I have at the moment is to encourage SAYMA to ignore Sharon and her demands. Just don’t give in to her – don’t do what she’s asking – and especially don’t give her any more money.

If any of her ideas strike them as feasible, they can always implement them on their own without involving her.

I think SAYMA should simply say that they feel paralyzed in the face of her hate and vitriol and that they are going to lay down the committee, pull back to reflect and pray on it,  and wait for the way to open.

Give money to their local NAACP or BLM group if they feel they have to do something. 

Alas,  others lack such resolve. The 2021 proposed budget, includes $2500 for Smith/URJ. This would be a  big comedown from the demanded $20,000, but it is clearly someone’s idea of “compromise.” One imagines their thought was, maybe Smith will take it and go away.

Good luck with that.

The upshot is that SAYMA is not simply deeply divided about its connection with Smith and URJ.  It has been essentially paralyzed and compromised by it for going on three years.

Breonna Taylor, shot by cops in Louisville.

The adverse reputational impact of this entanglement is obvious. And its opportunity cost becomes even higher this year, after the uprisings following the deaths of George Floyd, and in particular, Breonna Taylor, in Louisville Kentucky, and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, among others, killed by cops right in SAYMA’s “territory. ”

A remarkable feature of these protests, and the burgeoning police reform efforts, has been their inclusive, multiracial character. New opportunities for constructive work by concerned whites are springing up all around. Yet SAYMA is sidelined, mired in what is not only a dead-end, but now clearly shown to be an obsolete waste of time as well as money; along with the prospect of watching, as Larry Ingle wrote, “their confidence in the yearly meeting swept away . . . .”

If the counsel of Larry Ingle and others, is not heeded, prospects for SAYMA look grim. Attendance was down at the past two annual sessions, as Smith’s histrionics and bullying sapped morale and crowded out most constructive work. As the initial post in this blog series said, SAYMA Is Not Safe. If that continues, the attrition could easily descend into group departures.

I don’t want the toll of yearly meeting breakups in the “Separation Generation” to move from five to six. But it could happen.

A second post in this series is here.

An earlier related series of posts is below:

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

Part 3: “SAYMA’s Not Safe, III: New Trouble: Threats Against Three Meetings”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

34 thoughts on “SAYMA Showdown: Another Yearly Meeting Split?”

  1. It is a shame that one person unaffiliated with any Meeting should cause so much disruption in any yearly meeting. Sometimes, you just have to screw up you courage and say no. The issues can be addressed by someone with more integrity and less vitriol. And her attack on Paula Palmer borders on a criminal threat.

    1. Sheila, I don’t know who you are, but Sharon Smith is doing good work against a huge tide of racism. Chuck’s posts here are divisive and wrong, and border on slander. Sometimes you do just have to say no, and people here should be saying no to Chucks rants about things he doesn’t really have the facts on.

  2. Thanks Chuck for your excellent reporting. You have sumed it up very well. Unfortunately I suspect that Sharon would see a break up of SAYMA as an acceptable plan B. I see her crowing about how effective she has been.
    Brian Yaffe
    Celo MM

    1. Brian, this is not excellent reporting. It is misinformed in many ways. For one thing, those initial funds were approved by Rep Meeting at a time when Sharon was absent. I know because I was there.

      Berea Friends Meeting Representative

  3. Friend Fager
    It is difficult for Quakers to not open their doors to all in the interest of inclusivity but we have done so in the past. I know of meetings which have gone to court to enforce removal from the community. It is never something to be done lightly and Quakers, in the situations I know about, did not do it for a very long time. The failure of Sayma leadership to address this bad conduct will leave deep wounds and maybe the shattering of the yearly meeting. I pray for a community united in its commitment to social justice to include resolute unity in the face of bullying and intimidation.
    Wishing all grace and peace
    WRH

    1. William, the failure of SAYMA to address racism within its community so that SAYMA can make good contributions to the world is where the shame lies, and the bad conduct occurring here is Chuck’s inaccurate rants about Sharon Smith which are neither kind nor fair, nor do they show Chuck to be in tune with his part in white supremacy. I pray for a community that Uplifts Racial Justice within SAYMA and beyond. What is this rant if not bullying and intimidation. It is not Quakerly in the least.

      1. I feel that it is absolutely OUTRAGEOUS to speak of Chuck Fager’s “part in white supremacy.” That is a shocking and disgusting slander against a weighty Friend. You should be ASHAMED OF YOURSELF for saying such a thing. I feel that it is time for this madness to end and for Friends to speak some plain truth about this kind of vile accusation.
        Of course, I recognize that you will define “white supremacy” as a kind of original sin that attaches to someone because they are of European descent. But this is simply misuse of plain English. HOW DARE YOU SUGGEST THAT CHUCK FAGER BELIEVES THAT PEOPLE OF EUROPEAN DESCENT ARE SUPERIOR TO AND SHOULD HAVE DOMINATION OVER PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT OF EUROPEAN DESCENT?

  4. This is very sad. There is a danger today among “liberal” Friends that fear of being labeled a “white supremacist” ends all discussion, and even more importantly, all seeking for unity in the Spirit.
    A practice that appears to have gone missing in the story reported here is that the “visitor” with some sort of request should be required to produce a minute from their local or Yearly Meeting to the effect that that body has united in the visiting Friend’s “ministry.”
    (Of course, in this case, the “ministry” appears to be totally bogus in the first place.)

  5. Thanks Chuck, for keeping this concern front and center. I was struck by parallels with the malignant narcissism we are currently seeing from Donald Trump and his enablers. Such manipulative behavior usually needs a “hook” as its nourishment – its means of survival. In both cases, we see that racism and funding demands are the hungry beasts. Racism has saturated American culture since its beginning and we’re all vulnerable to its perpetual toxicity. In cleansing ourselves of these toxins, we must refuse to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to more poison from those who generate hate for their own pathological, neurotic needs. I haven’t been a SAYMA member for several years, but I’m saddened to see its membership mired in such a murky swamp. My sincere hope is that each SAYMA member will take the opportunity to reflect on why they are members of the Religious Society of Friends, that they labor earnestly, individually and in group worship, to seek spiritual openings, and allow the craziness and hatred to fall back into the ocean of Darkness. In the long run, these are meaningless entities. And they do not deserve the attention that anyone, Quaker or non-Quaker, would give them as a display for their self-righteous banner.

  6. The sad thing is that the information you are providing here, Chuck Fager, is not accurate but is seriously biased and divisive. You make a big deal about not wanting to see SAYMA split up, but you continue to post inaccurate trash that can only further a potential split. What are you trying to accomplish here? If it is a sense of unity or integrity you are going about it the wrong way. In my mind, you are not a member of SAYMA–please correct me if I am wrong–and you have not business talking about SAYMA business.

  7. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting history offers some partially overlapping examples. In the late 1960’s & early ‘70’s, the Young Great Society (YGS) asked for funding and had a presence at annual sessions. I was living in Mantua (A West Philadelphia neighborhood) then, working for PYM’s Social Order Committee. YGS & Mantua Community Planning sometimes provided speakers an work projects for the Weekend Workcamps in Mantua. YGS folks talked about their “Mau- Mau” tactics which they were using to get funds from PYM. Guilt-tripping & loud confrontation were some of the tactics used to obtain funding. Minnesota AVP provides another example, though in that case a Black activist was hired by FNVW (a Quaker non-profit created when AFSC closed its MN office). This staffer started using these same tactics to get her way, initially with some success. Maintaining a reputation for good fiscal management is essential, especially in these challenging times.

    1. Thank-you Jon! I was a George School student at one of these weekend work camps in Mantua. This post reminded me of that pivotal experience. It had a profound effect on my life and is one of the few moments (now over 50 years ago) that I still have vivid memories of, the feelings, the camaraderie, and then as a young Friend, going to a black baptism church Sunday morning. If “Mau- Mau” tactics were necessary, well, for whatever its worth, the ripple effects did make a positive difference. Love matters.

  8. Sharon Smith is not an “intruder”, to call her so is not only racist, it is dehumanizing. Sharon is just as much a member of our community as anyone at SAYMA.

    The funds put forth for the Uplifting Racial Justice committee have been used to help people of color through preventing evictions by rent assistance, starting a victory garden to teach kids about food, donating money to local BLM groups, founding a sound studio for the production of BIPOC Media (https://www.blogtalkradio.com/abolitiontoday), and assistance with legal fees for black folks going through our systematically racist judicial system. to call these actions a waste of money is simply false.

    I wish SAYMA had the power to fund URJ with more than their request of $10,000, but it is beyond our ability. To call the proposed 2,500 towards URJ an attempt at compromise shows your willingness to indulge your own ignorance on the matter.

    The folks that serve through the Uplifting Racial Justice Committee are people of color who have had to live through decades of racists derailing them and their work, and now they have to deal with that again here. I imagine these blogs are popular, and probably satisfying to write given your take on the situation, and provide affirmation to folks trying to harm Sharon, but you really need to stop with the half truths.

    This is an important time of discernment, and your yellow page journalism is doing loads of harm. You take peoples’ words out of context, as you have with Carol, and you twist them to fit your white-supremacist narrative.

    For as much as you write about her, how much time have you spent in dialogue with Sharon? Or with the folks from the Friends Center for Racial Justice: http://fcrj.org/

    Your use of Breonna Taylor’s image is disgusting.

    SAYMA has been working towards the issues of racist justice for years now, so if anything, we are ahead of the curve and stand to come out ahead of most Yearly Meetings (since we are framing the unity of YMs as competitive in this forum). How will other YMs deal with their histories of racial violence?

    People keep asking, when will the anti-racist programming at SAYMA begin? This is it folks. May we have eyes to see and ears to listen.

    O.H. Jackson Napier
    Assistant Treasurer, SAYMA
    Berea Friends Meeting

    1. I have folllowed Sharon’s posts on various Facebook pages, for a number of years, and have sympathized with the concerns expressed there, however I have not been comfortable with the personal attacks on other Friends that sometimes are aired.
      O.H. Jackson Napier’s response was enlightening, and I was impressed with his reports of the amount of work and support URJ has done with the funds SAYMA provided.
      I am surprised not to hear that these expenditures have not been reported to SAYMA, or if they have, why Chuck Fager didn’t mention them. If the issue is accountability, and if URJ is providing that, then I am sorry to hear that the good work is not being recognized. On the other hand, if SAYMA is not receiving these reports, then I understand the calls for accountability.
      If SAYMA’s budget allows, and if accountability can be carried out, continuing the good work seems appropriate, but this is a difficult year for budgeting for all activities. My Yearly Meeting will be cutting its budget and I hope it will do so in a fair way.

    2. I do not understand why it is “racist” for Chuck Fager to characterize Sharon Smith as an outsider, unless he explicitly bases that characterization on race or otherwise suggests that all members of Sharon Smith’s race are outsiders.

      One reason for being highly suspicious of this supposed “ministry” is that it appears to prompt the assumption that anyone who raises questions or issues is immediately branded a “racist.” Alternatively, by unquestioningly embracing this supposed “ministry” one signals that one is “anti-racist.”

      With this mindset, all seeking for the will of God and all appeal to reason or logic are gone. One has become a member of a cult, whose primary doctrine is allegiance to the cult’s leader and whatever pronouncements the leader makes. Once the leader has divided the body into those who unquestioningly accept and repeat what the leader says (e.g. “COVID-19 is a hoax” or “All white people are the devil”), those who do not accept the leader’s words are now labeled “divisive.”

      My prayer is that members of SAYMA will wake up from this delusion.

  9. Granted this is not my Yearly Meeting. However, having experienced the brunt of a verbal assault by Friend Smith, I have my own doubts about her. It is admirable that SAYMA is willing to take on this work and assist someone with their leading. That said, if you cannot afford to do it, would it not be more prudent to donate funds to an organization that has a successful track record in bringing real change? That is what our Meeting does. Each year $3000 is set aside to donate to community groups. Then encourage Friend Smith to obtain employment with an organization large enough to provide her with a salary and funds to be more effective in the community.

  10. I’m curious about those who responded saying that the “facts” Chuck recounted are wrong. If that is the case, I would like to see a detailed recounting of events that refuted the account Chuck offered so as to make clear where the disagreement on the “facts” lie.

  11. Sometimes I wonder about Friends commitment to plain speaking and the Ttruths we can share. This person evidently has acted like an asshole again and again and again. This is simply plainly true and relevant and not to be gentled in some kind of appeal to “speech violence”. I would remind Friends that we do not define ourselves as non-violent., Non-violence is a long tradition that I happen to ascribe too, but it does not define me as a Quaker and it never did, it is simply our long standing tradition. Refraining from violent speech has never been our tradition at all — so why this reticence to speak the Ttruth of important situations like this. Con artists will destroy you and your meetings without the slightest qualms, that’s what makes them con-artists. If there was a conscience involved this kind of thing wouldn’t have occurred. Obviously there is no conscience involved here at all. If you want a practical answer to all this. Ask this nut to be quiet for a time. Say a year. Then work on any issues. Who ever said we need to do anything at other than our own pace. We have time. ( eternity I believe ) this is not being handled in right order and this is a good time to stop it. Our meeting has been thru this kind of thing at least twice in the recent past and we have scars to prove it. All conflict leaves scars and that is the nature of the place we live in. Are we going to reject the world as presented to us and live in a fantasy where we don’t have to (gasp) fight for ourselves? No wonder Quakerism doesn’t appeal to the young folks anymore. Ben Schultz

    1. I would disagree with you, Friend Schultz. I think pacifism *does* define us as Quakers – but “tradition” of any sort does not. Indeed, we are the most iconoclastic of all Christian traditions, to mix one’s metaphors, on multiple levels.

  12. Chuck Fager’s post is divisive because of falsely blaming Sharon Smith as an intruder, distorting facts, ignoring elements of structural racism in SAYMA, and not recognizing or encouraging movement toward conflict resolution. Hardly an intruder, Sharon Smith has spent several years participating in Quaker Meetings in the SAYMA region, was raised a Quaker, and her indigenous ancestors lived in the area. Not being a member of a SAYMA Meeting has not stopped white Friends from being active in both their local meetings and SAYMA.

    Here are some corrections about facts. Sharon Smith did “not muscle through a $16,00 grant.” SAYMA approved the set-aside fund of $16,000 for SAYMA Uplifting Racial Justice Committee at a Representatives Meeting in 2018 before Sharon Smith was clerk. Sharon Smith was nominated and approved as clerk of SAYMA URJ in 2019. The claim that she personally demanded to be paid $10,000 is untrue according to the SAYMA minutes of Yearly Meeting and Reps meetings. The phrase, “no accounting” is misleading, since Finance Committee and/ or SAYMA URJ reports tell how much has been spent for what purposes. For documentation, go to links to the SAYMA Home page https://www.sayma.org/
    and to the SAYMA URJ page https://www.sayma.org/racial_justice.htm#minutes

    I agree with Assistant SAYMA Treasurer O.H. Jackson Napier, who said in a July 16 comment on Chuck Fager’s blog that the SAYMA URJ Committee has done many useful projects with their funds such as helping people of color with rent assistance, a victory garden, aid to local Black Lives Matter groups, developing a sound studio for the production of BIPOC Media (https://www.blogtalkradio.com/abolitiontoday), and assistance with legal fees for black folks going through our systematically racist judicial system.

    In addition, SAYMA URJ has offered workshops and disseminated resources. They presented workshops for at least one SAYMA monthly meeting and were planning a worship sharing event at Reps Meeting and 2 more anti-racism workshops for SAYMA folks when the pandemic hit. Beyond just emails, Sharon Smith and SAYMA URJ, with some assistance from the Ad Hoc Racial Justice Committee, have developed an extensive list of resources organized by topic in searchable PDF form as well as other resources they have posted on the SAYMA URJ resource page.

    SAYMA needs to look closely at how institutional racism plays a part in white Friends’ reactions to Sharon Smith and SAYMA URJ. The Black Lives Matter protests are an urgent reminder to us that racism is not only the violent actions of individuals, but personal, institutional, and systemic racism that allows racist violence and controls whose lives are valued and how resources are used. As a white woman who is working on my own racism, I know that looking at white Friends’ institutional racism is necessary, and any discomfort involved is far less than the discomfort and danger that BIPOC experience living in a racist system every day.

    I am encouraged by some shifts in attitude and efforts to work with the Friends Center for Racial Justice toward conflict resolution/ transformation in the future. I look forward to the day when SAYMA and its member Monthly Meetings can truly be welcoming and equitable spiritual homes for all.
    Susan Firestone
    Atlanta Friends Meeting

    1. Friend Firestone
      What is your response to Ms Smith’s treatments of Paula Palmer? Is this what counts for good order in Sayma? Would you expect this sort of dictatorial and exclusionary conduct from persons familiar with Quaker ways? Has Ms Smith been asked about her conduct and any response to Paula Palmer and others who commented on her claims of authority.?
      En la luz

      1. Putting aside the ad-honimum attack of using pejorative terms like “dictatorial and exclusionary,” this is a relatively easy question the answer and may be helpful for others. If one is familiar with most Indigenous people’s protocols (as Paula should be) before venturing into any tribal territory to do this sort of work contact traditional people from the main tribal group in the area CLOSEST to the event. The clan mothers or elder councils would be the ideal place to start, otherwise look for an individual who has some weight in the tribal community. Respectfully tell them what your intentions are, how you recognize their sovereignty, and ask for permission. Also listen to their perspective and invite them to participate in leadership of the event (and provide a fee or stipend if they accept.) Anyone following the basics of the above protocol should be able to share this information. Anyone not knowing about or following the basics of the above protocol, might not be the best person to be teaching about the work. Had Paula Palmer been asked about her conduct and her claims of authority?

        While the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians might the closest federally recognized tribe to Asheville, there could be other non-recognized tribal groups more regionally appropriate.

        1. Friend
          The words I used were not ad hominem at all. They described language used by Ms Smith. Take a peak at the meaning of the Latin term and you should understand, I think.
          My folks were involved with Osage people as Quaker youth pastors right after their marriage in 1939 for some years. Later I was born and raised in the Navajo Nation and a great number of native Americans are my blood relatives. Thank you for the lesson about interacting with native people though. I’m wondering if you saw Paula Palmer’s thoughtful response to the attack by Ms Smith describing a great deal of what you articulated.
          Still wondering if you are endorsing Ms Smith’s language and conduct relative to Paula Palmer. Does Ms Smith enjoy any oversight in her role as a representative of SAYMA as is customary for released Friends? I note that Woolman describes his oversight committee as not always willing to endorse his planner excursions.
          Seems to me that the work of addressing the abiding residue of generations of racial and sexual oppression is little aided by the conduct described. Building understanding that leads to fundamental change has to begin with the First Motion. And indeed it has to end with it too
          Good luck to you.

          1. Friend William,
            I am fascinated by that period of history of Friends involvement with Native people. I’d love to learn more about it especially directly from a source. Do you have any photos you’d be willing to share? or writing about their experience, feelings or spiritual grounding?
            I fully agree that “Building understanding that leads to fundamental change has to begin with the First Motion. ” Thank-you for the reminder. ~R~

          2. I came along in 1949 when they were in Ft Defiance on the Navajo Nation is what I know are stories. My folks were married at Toronto Friends Meeting and hired by Indiana Yearly Meeting to work at Hominy Friends Meeting with young people. They had to interview in Hominy which was a 4 day train trip before they were married. My father was trained at Springfield College which was a YMCA school. Osage youth activities was their ficus. One of the things they did was organize folk dances in Saturdays at the Meeting House. They were visited by a panel of clergy concerned about dancing. After listening my Pop said dancing was a wholesome healthy activity
            teaching young men how to hold young women respectfully and young women the same lesson.
            Howard Thurman was a friend of my grandfather Booth and wrote to say he was coming through and wanted to visit. My mother arranged for a reception and invited African American clergy in the area. Apparently some white pastors heard and asked why they weren’t invited. My mother of course invited them and said she believed that might have been a first for integrated clergy.
            Btw the current pastor there is David Nagel who is an adopted Osage who speaks Osage. Wonderful man

        1. Kate,
          Inasmuch as SS’s behavior toward Paula was described and quoted accurately & in context in this blog, I’m not surprised that a satisfactory answer was, shall we say, challenging.

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