Soundtrack for Black History: 12 months a year

You're writing about the NFL pre-game?!

It’s weird to find myself writing about anything even remotely related to sports. When casual conversation turns to the Orioles or the Ravens, I usually remind my friends that I divorced sports when my first marriage ended. But as Black History Month draws to a close, I’ve been following reactions to the inclusion of Lift Every Voice and Sing – the “Black National Anthem” in the Super Bowl LVII Pregame show.

In 1899 poet and activist James Weldon Johnson composed the lyrics (and his brother John the music) to be performed the following year at a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. It was debuted by a chorus of 500 Black children, and spread by word of mouth. He called it “National Hymn.” We’re talking about a time period when the gains of post-Civil War Reconstruction were gutted by the spread of Jim Crow. The NAACP began calling the piece a “Negro National Anthem” in 1917. Just a year before that,  President Woodrow Wilson – who also introduced segregation into the Federal government – signed an executive order making the Star-Spangled Banner “our” national anthem.

The NFL began playing the song before its games in the 2020 season after the months of protests following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police.

Take in the lyrics...

…while noting that the Superbowl versions feature only the first verse. (Much as we are offered only the first verse of the Star Spangled Banner. See Go Deeper for more):

Lift every voice and sing,

Till earth and heaven ring,

Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;

Let our rejoicing rise

High as the listening skies,

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,

Let us march on till victory is won.


Stony the road we trod,

Bitter the chastening rod,

Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;

Yet with a steady beat,

Have not our weary feet

Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered.

We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,

Out from the gloomy past,

Till now we stand at last

Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,

God of our silent tears,

Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;

Thou who hast by Thy might,

Led us into the light,

Keep us forever in the path, we pray.

Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,

Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;

Shadowed beneath Thy hand,

May we forever stand,

True to our God,

True to our native land.

Copy this into your browser: YouTube Lift Every Voice and Sing

Click on the links you are drawn to.

To my Black and Brown readers, if your favorite isn’t here, please take a moment and send me the link!

To my white readers: take a musical browse break. Find a version that touches you. Bookmark that link. Adopt it as your personal go-to Soundtrack any time you find yourself 1) brought up short by media, and/or your own your own racialized response to breaking news, or to an interaction with a colleague or a friend 2) wanting to recognize, honor, celebrate a liberating moment of Black and Brown Renaissance, personhood, culture, creative genius, perseverance.

Music has the power to open us up to transformative learning.

No matter whether we take this as a hymn or an anthem: we know the proper response is to stand. To stand up. To stand with. To stand up for.  This hymn invites us – all of us –  to stand and honor the dignity, the history, and the hopeful future of Black and Brown people in our nation.

My favorites:

Alicia Keys’ pre-recorded video for the Super Bowl LV. Remember  this is recorded a few months after George Floyd’s murder and in the first year year of the Pandemic. Look carefully for the masks and t-shirts that Say Their Names.

The Chicago Children’s Choir,  where all three verses are sung. Recorded for their 2022 Black History Month Concert, one of the most breathtaking of Covid-times Zoom videos – how some 288 kids united in voice in their physical isolation.

Go Deeper

Consider the implications of this excerpt from Verse 3 of the Star-Spangled Banner. Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics during a young America’s 1814 war with the British. It was adopted as our National Anthem in 1931,  when the country was suffering the  effects of the Depression and the Dust Bowl. And the Harlem Renaissance was in full bloom.

No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Make history…reshape, re-form, your own racialized history…

You don’t have to lay down this path alone.

Gather a group of 6-12 friends, colleagues, who share your desire and readiness. We can begin to imagine and create a world where racial healing is an ongoing feature of our personal lives and the world.

Pick my brain for 30 minutes about –

a 2-hour practice-based format for working with our own lived experiences and racialized origin stories

A 4-hour practice-based retreat encounter with our personal and national history, the American Dream, and American Citizenship.

For those embedded in a family, community, or workplace challenged by today’s controversies and conflicts, I offer a bundle of six 1/1 sessions of support for personal inquiry, skill-building, and transformation to negotiate the rough waters of your racialized and gendered life.

Let’s take these illuminating and strengthening steps together.

Black History Month for White People: a Photo-Essay

Black History Month for White People: a Photo-Essay

Just a year ago I was preparing for a half-day online offering, digging back into a trove of photos from my first trip to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in 2016. One photo captured this interpretative text:                                                    “Cowrie shells, manillas, beads and guns changed hands in exchange for African men, women, and children.”

I looked up this one word…Manillas

and it opened up  a visual…and then visceral understanding of a slice of Black – and White – history that I share with you here. Accessed 11/15/21

Manillas: in the 1400s, variants of these metal bracelets or armlets were 

the most common form of “barter coinage” – aka money –  in Africa, 

and especially along the West African coast. 

They were highly portable,  

and usually worn by a woman to display her husband’s wealth. 

Their value was partly based on the sound made when they were struck. 

Manillas were the coinage of the African peoples – their tangible wealth, and their power,

 including their power of self-determination. Accessed 11/15/21

Photo Credit: Scott Semans

Manillas began to transform

In the 1470s Portuguese explorers became aware of the use of these “red gold”/copper bracelets – 

that had been mined and traded across the Sahara by Italian and Arab merchants long before the Portuguese arrival.

They contracted with manufacturers in Antwerp to produce these bracelet-like forms in a wide range of designs, sizes, and weights.

The British, French and Dutch followed suit. 

Bristol, as a copper manufacturing center, and then Birmingham as a brass center, developed in response.

Manillas became slave trade money.  

By 1505, a slave could be bought for 8-10 manillas,

and an elephant’s tooth for one copper manilla in Calabar, the chief city of the ancient Nigerian coastal kingdom of that name. 

(National Museum of African American History and Culture – personal photo, 2016)

“The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was the largest forced migration of people in world history.”

“The transatlantic slave trade grew as Europeans developed a new system of forced labor in the Americas. Cowrie shells, manillas, beads and guns changed hands in exchange for African men, women, and children.”

(Interpretive material from The National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC)

(National Museum of African American History and Culture – personal photo, 2016FrAn enslaved child’s manacles

From the shape of freedom and self-determination to the shape of enslavement

Manacles sized for a child

“Enslavement of Africans was a long process that began at the moment of capture 

and extended through a series of ordeals leading to the plantation fields or some other forced service.”

(Interpretive material from The National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC)

“In the 1400s Africans did not see themselves as African. The continent included many city-and-nation-states and, like Europe, it was made up of diverse societies. The people of one region might have little in common with their neighbors. The majority of enslaved Africans came from the western coast. These regions were known for their centers of learning, military prowess, vast empires, and diverse faiths. They traded with societies as far away as Asia and Europe.” [Interpretive material from The National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC]

Take a few moments to locate on the map the identities of the various “states” that are coded by color…the locations of natural resources – salt, gold, copper, ivory in black, and the various ethnic areas in red, and the land-trade routes in pink that run north and south.

I  remain stunned awake as I sit with this map and recall how I was taught about Africa: a dark undifferentiated continent. I was taught nothing of its history, knowledge, or cultures. Just undifferentiated Blackness, like the lens that I still must peer through when I see an unknown Black face in order to be able to see the individual human, not just a Black body, standing before me.

These symbols originated with the Ashanti people of present-day Ghana, a main departure point for slave ships – and  “convey knowledge, wisdom, and culture…Often seen on textiles, the symbols together tell a story. Throughout the African diaspora, objects made by enslaved people demonstrate the continuity of African knowledge and culture.”

[Interpretive material from The National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, DC]

Black – and White – history
as we continue to make it in the 21st Century

CBS News reports on the handcuffing of a 5-year-old Montgomery County, Maryland child

Roughly 39 minutes into this January, 2020 video, an officer briefly handcuffs the child, and can be heard to say:   

“You know what these are? These are hand-cuffs. These are for a person that don’t wanna listen and don’t know how to act.”

The handcuffing happened after the child’s mom arrived and he had calmed down. 

This Black History Month, let us White folks
commit to “return and get it.”
“Get” our single, shared, American history. Understand the blatant and subtle continuities
with the original sin that is slavery.
Make a way where there has been no way –
in ourselves, our neighborhoods, our places of worship,
our businesses, our institutions –
to racial reconciliation, restitution, peace,
and harmony after strife.

Dig deeper: two Black people making recent history

You have heard of Colin Kaepernick, and the price he paid for kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. You may not have heard (as I had not) of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who was suspended, then banished from the NBA in 1996.

And a couple of days ago, Google’s Doodle intoduced me to Mama Cax,  an American-Haitian model who walked the runway “showcasing her prosthetic leg,” challenging a whole bagful of “beauty atandards” as she did.

Make history…reshape, re-form, your own racialized history…walk a different future: lay down a fresh path walking

You don’t have to lay down this path alone.

Gather a group of 6-12 friends, colleagues, who share your desire and readiness. We can begin to imagine and create a world where racial healing is an ongoing feature of our personal lives and the world.

Pick my brain for 30 minutes about

    • a 2-hour practice-based format for working with our own lived experiences and racialized origin stories

    • A 4-hour practice-based retreat encounter with our personal and national history, the American Dream, and American Citizenship.

For those embedded in a family, community, or workplace challenged by today’s controversies and conflicts, I offer a bundle of six 1/1 sessions of support for personal inquiry, skill-building, and transformation to negotiate the rough waters of your racialized and gendered life.

Let’s take these illuminating and strengthening steps together.

MLK Day: Lay down a path walking towards Beloved Community

The civil rights movements had vital and substantial successes, but a change of heart did not follow changes in the law: the work of laying down a path as we walk towards Rev. King’s Beloved Community falls to us. Now and every day.

In 1968, as the mother of a young child, I watched the civil rights movement unfold in streets across the country via black and white news clips on one of the three national news networks. I’d gone to a top school system in the country (so I had been told) and graduated from a women’s college with a degree in French and a couple of courses in the history of Western civilization. Nothing in my education gave me a context to understand what was going on.

I was historically illiterate.

But I wasn’t morally ignorant. I knew bravery when I saw it. I knew abuse of power when I saw it. 

There was nothing murky here, the way there was about the Vietnam war, which also dominated the news and which ultimately led me to turn off the TV while we ate dinner.

I knew of Gandhi. I had never heard the phrase, “the Beloved Community.”

In his 1959 Sermon on Gandhi, Dr. King elaborated on the after-effects of choosing nonviolence over violence: “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, so that when the battle’s over, a new relationship comes into being between the oppressed and the oppressor….

Sharing the wealth of the earth would come about through “understanding, redeeming goodwill for all…the love of God operating in the human heart” that does not discriminate “between worthy and unworthy people”  and “makes no distinction between a friend and enemy; it is…love seeking to preserve and create community. 

As we practice our way towards Beloved Community, the wealth we have to share at any given moment might be our time, attention, energy:

  • Putting aside our “discomfort”/aka fear again…and again
  • Permitting a change of heart to guide my behavior, which in turn fortifies my change of heart
  • Seeking out and learning history we weren’t taught
  • Being willing to see our racialized self as it is reflected back to us by contemporary writers and artists and actors of color

These are practices that help us lay down a path towards a Beloved Community as we walk.

You don’t have to lay down this path alone.

Gather a group of 6-15 friends, colleagues, who share your desire and readiness. We can begin to imagine and create a world where racial healing is an ongoing feature of our personal lives and the world.

Pick my brain for 30 minutes about

  • a 2-hour practice-based format for working with our own lived experiences and racialized origin stories
  • A 4-hour practice-based retreat encounter with our personal and national history, the American Dream, and American Citizenship.

For those embedded in a family, community, or workplace challenged by today’s controversies and conflicts, I offer a bundle of six 1/1 sessions of support for personal inquiry, skill-building, and transformation to negotiate the rough waters of your racialized and gendered life.

Let’s take these illuminating and strengthening steps together.


Step forward in friendship…back in respect

Over the last couple of weeks - in your newsfeed headline, in your social media or local neighborhood, across your family dinner table - did you encounter someone threateningly Different?

Then what? Did curiosity soften your heart just a little? Did you find it in you to move towards that person in a gesture of friendship? Or perhaps to step back in a gesture of respect?

Did you allow yourself to be changed by the encounter, by your listening? Was the Other changed by being met?

When to move towards an Other in a gesture of friendship - and when to step back

For most of my life, I had one direction: move ahead, step in, step up!

My default setting as a problem-solver has been honed and well-rewarded through years in family, school, and workplace settings. I can see problems around corners when others don’t even see the corners. I can anticipate and plan. I can scrap plans and reconstitute them out of spit and cardboard if that’s what I have to work with. 

For decades body-workers have told me that my energy-field extends 6-8 feet out in front of me (presumably scouting out the territory to be sure I was safe.) I guess this is how I have been able to see corners and around them.

I am not sure I ever paid much attention to whether that move was welcome or not!

And I often asked myself how I had ended up in a leadership position once again. I never thought much about whether I had intended the result or not, it was “just the way I was.”

Once I was in a leadership position, my style (I thought) was to listen a lot, build relationships, collaborate, nourish teams and ownership. And then once, towards the end of a half-dozen years as a non-profit director, one of my staff members let me know that when I thought I was brainstorming, or floating a theoretical I-wonder-how-this-would-fly, she (and others) took these as directives. I had totally missed a potent aspect of my power and how I exercised it.

I also had a commitment to transform our all-white-except-for the-front-desk organization into one that “looked” a lot more like the urban community we “served.” (See below for “White savior” phenomenon.)  I likely took this on as if it were up to me alone: it was a rough and tumble “we” who was up for it,  “we” who succeeded in diversifying the staff one hire at a time.

Then began what was more like a dance – supporting employees both White and Black to lean into one another’s strengths, to grow, to get along with one-another’s limitations, to grow together. A few years into it, we almost didn’t make it through a nasty altercation between a White woman and a Black woman. There were threats to quit, a lot of heavy breathing for a while, a lot of hours, over months, around a conference table, walls papered with newsprint, unpacking our group stereotypes and their power dynamics, and using W.E.B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk as required reading, connecting what we were doing around the table to our mission.

Mutual trust and affection grew. Integrity with our mission grew. Effectiveness of our strategies grew. 

We remained a pretty typical organization on paper – a hierarchy of “managers” and “reports.” Yet relationship-based power flowed somewhat more freely, and somewhat bi-directionally through it.

Having stepped up too many times, for too long, I made a change in life-direction when I left that job. Shifting first to a wholistic health-care environment, and then returning to school for a Masters in Herbal Medicine. Clinical practice too was a dance, I learned: when to let the client lead, when to suggest, when to direct, when to keep my peace.


And when I stepped back into race and gender justice work, I had still more to learn in a deeply embodied way.

I was well-schooled to step back, to defer: as a woman in a man’s world, as a Jew in a Christian world. I was beginning to experience  being stepped back as an aging person in a quarterly-returns world.

It was only a few years ago on a movement-practice retreat that I had a life-changing, visceral epiphany about the power and possibility of stepping back. This came as a moment of grace, as all sense of urgency fell away into an open receptive state.

I found myself in a posture of waiting. Waiting for someone/something else to move first. Allowing someone else to step forward. Yielding to the shaping power of life. 

This new level of embodied receptivity has become a touchstone. The nature of power itself shifts. No longer limited resource. No longer a servant of the ego-only, the personality-only. The Power of life itself, that precedes, enlivens, powers our lives and our limited perspectives. Sooo much room for creativity to emerge, unmanaged by me!

Now it comes down to practice: I practice stepping back out of respect.

To step back as a White person in a multi-colored-world.

To step back as a cis-gendered woman in a gender-fluid world.

To be an apprentice in life in a way I never have.

To listen.

To receive.

To have my heart pierced over and over again, broken open again and again.

To be changed by my listening.

In this practice, the only power I give up is control that was never mine!

I gain the world as a creative partner.

I am learning to question when and how I move forward in friendship towards people of color, people all along the gender continuum, and other “Others” in my life.

I know I don’t want to use these precious possibilities for relationship for some unconscious purpose – to prop up claims to being a good person. 

Truly, isn’t it astounding how complicated we can make it to come into relationship with ourselves as imperfect human beings in relationship with other imperfect human beings?

What we memorialize, what we erase

What we memorialize, and how, profoundly shapes our world.

You wouldn’t know there was a vet in my family history

My cousin Harv was serving in the U.S. Army when I was born in 1944. His obituary, at age 94, leaps from his birth in 1928 to his PhD in molecular biochemistry at the University of Chicago in 1952, the beginning of a distinguished lifelong career as a lab researcher. No war stories were told in my family. 

Years later, I recall how moved I was to hear one of my herbal medicine classmates talk about her family’s multi-generational military service. There was an honest, humble, touching pride that rang of actual patriotism, a word I had learned to shrink away from, and continue to shrink away from today, sadly feeling very little good can come from it.

During my elementary school years, we observed Decoration Day with lapel-sized American flag glued, I believe, onto toothpicks. For most of my adult life, the Memorial Day into which it morphed meant a day off from work marked by splashy full-sized sales adds.

Memorial Day, 2021 has a host of provocative resonances and stories. Surrogate cemetery visits follow a year of truncated funerals.

The Washington Post reported on Emily Domenech  who found herself virtually alone in Arlington Cemetery when she made her annual pilgrimage to her grandfather’s grave in the early raging days of Covid-19, Memorial Day 2020.

I’ve visited Arlington on what I’d also describe as a pilgrimage, to the memorial of President John F. Kennedy. I recall the overall effect of six-hundred and twenty-five lightly rolling acres, many of them in ordered rows numbering some 400,000 uniform tombstones, as a rolling ocean wave frozen in time.

Domenech’s planned half-hour visit grew to six hours as strangers responded to her Tweet gone viral: “Does anyone have buddies buried in Arlington who they would like visited today?” she asked. “Since only family members are allowed in, I would be honored to pay respects on your behalf …”

This year, her personal efforts have been amplified by the Travis Manion Foundation, a support organization for veterans and their families. #TheHonor Project arranged to place small American flags at 4,000 gravesites and invited family members to register online to have a volunteer visit a loved one’s grave.

As in civilian life, so in the military.

A portion of The  Arlington National Cemetery website is devoted to its Black history from the Civil War through Vietnam. Segregation. Denied promotion. Race-based pay scales. This is what marked the service of Black people in the U.S. armed services.

You wouldn’t know there was a Black Wall Street in Tulsa from the Standard American Education

As I write this, President Biden is traveling to Tulsa, Oklahoma to participate in a public ceremony that marks the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre on June 1.

If you are hearing about this event for the first time, it is because the rioters were white, and because the history most of us were taught was White-washed. “Facts” surrounding the spark that set off the fear and rage of white citizens are not well-established: there was a reported elevator encounter between a young Black man, Dick Rowland, and a young White woman, Sarah Page. Stories spread by word of mouth, the social media of its day, and, amplified by the local daily, the Tulsa Tribune, which ran as its front-page story “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl In Elevator.”

The Tribune ran an editorial in the same edition: “To Lynch Tonight.” Like other documents related to the events, that editorial is “now-lost,” having been torn out of the paper by the time the Works Progress Administration went to microfilm old issues in the 1930s. Professor of Afro American and African studies at the University of Michigan Scott Ellsworth details, among other erasures, that the Chief of Police sent his officers to every photograph studio in the city to “confiscate all the pictures taken of the carnage.” A cache of photos was later discovered, and used by a 1997 Commission on which Ellsworth served. The Commission concluded by recommending reparations for survivors and their descendants.  Dutton has recently published his investigative research in The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice.

Meanwhile, in my awareness, the absence of known burial grounds stands as a dark monolith against the pristine hills of Arlington.

Of course, the last days, perhaps months and years of the lives of servicemen and servicewomen buried in Arlington were hardly pristine. Glory accrued after death, after the gore of life.

Still, each one’s burial site is marked and treated with honor. 

The unidentified dead too are honored at Arlington by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which also observes its 100th anniversary this year. An honor guard has stood watch at the Tomb 24/7 since 1937. Their movements are choreographed in time and space by the number 21, enacting “the highest symbolic military honor that can be bestowed: the 21-gun salute.” 

In Tulsa, historians now estimate 100-300 dead, in contrast to 38 deaths “officially” confirmed. A mass grave was discovered in the city’s Oaklawn Cemetery last October, where archaeologists found a dozen coffins. “Full excavation and exhumation” of the site is to begin June 1, the same day as President Biden’s arrival. 

The 35 square blocks of homes, businesses, churches, schools, hospitals torched in the Tulsa Massacre is equivalent to 56 acres, approximately one of every 11 acres of Arlington Cemetery’s spread. 

Buck Colbert Franklin, a Black attorney, left these words among his ten-page hand-written eyewitness account:

“I could see planes circling in mid-air. They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top.” As he left his law office, he noted, “The side-walks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls. I knew all too well where they came from, and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught from the top,” he continues. “I paused and waited for an opportune time to escape. ‘Where oh where is our splendid fire department with its half dozen stations?’ I asked myself. ‘Is the city in conspiracy with the mob?’”

Acres of white tombstones.

Acres of torched lives.

100 years mark the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

100 years mark the Unknown Burial Sites of Tulsa.

I’m doing my best to hold these together in my consciousness at the same time.

Because we must, as we sit with the question, “Where do we go from here?” 

Oddly, I find Israeli rock singer Avi Bellieli’s lyrics capture the totality of my thoughts and feelings  

Where is everyone going all of a sudden…

Everything recedes and disappears

Only the words are afloat…

Where do we go from here?

Banner photo: Friends and Lovers – painting by Chris  Graebner, Hillsborough Gallery of Arts Hillsborough, NC.

On Black Bodies in A Groundhog Year

After ten months of privileged, demanding, yet hardly ruinous self-isolation, time is losing its grip on my White Body.

One day is so much like another that I have ordered the clock pictured above and made a prominent space for it directly across from my seat at the diningroom table. 

So engaging with Black History Month in this Groundhog Year has prompted me to reflect on a the hundreds of years that Black and Brown people have survived ownership and control of their bodies: bone-crunching, spirit-defying Groundhog Century after Century.

Paul Laurence Dunbar was the son of parents who had been enslaved in Kentucky before the Civil War and himself died of tuberculosis at age 33. In his poem Forever he wrote:

I had not known before

    Forever was so long a word.

The slow stroke of the clock of time

    I had not heard.

Maryland Poet Laureate (1979-1985) Lucille Clifton shared some Kentucky history with Dunbar: she wrote that one of her women forbears had been the first Black woman to be “legally hanged” for manslaughter in the state. She invites us to join her in won’t you celebrate with me:

won’t you celebrate with me

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

Whether or not you live in a place where we can sniff spring around the corner, this month is a time to reflect on and celebrate the survival of Lucille Clifton, and every other Black and Brown body. Each a whole human being, gifted and limited.

For those of us who are White, it’s on us to end the ever-repeating Groundhog history of controlling Black and Brown bodies, and shape a different world.

Our individual acts of repair may be small we think,             

creating barely a ripple. 

Together, we can make this historical time                                            a lasting, sea-change moment. 

No one else is coming along to do this work.

It’s on us.

Help bring back the world

Impeachment Redux: the House has impeached the sitting President a second time -

– a necessary and insufficient action to rectify events, the extent of which will not be even known to us for some time. So it is up to us to answer this question posed by Kansas-born poet William Stafford, a conscientious objector during World War II. Because whatever we have been doing and not doing up to now as humans has not been enough.

Read this not as how do we restore some imagined glory days, but as – how do we bring back life, vibrant life, love, and valor among and between human beings?  What virtues will we cultivate? How will we build character? What will we use as a compass?

Putting aside even these sometimes helpful constructs, how are we listening to the moment? As I write, our elected representatives in the House have been cramming their words, hopes, fears, wisdom and foolishness into 30-second increments in which they may hold forth, or yield to a colleague.

How are we holding this rhetoric, as this selected/elected group attempts to connect or cloud cause and effect, to draw a boundary between unquestionable incitement and damnable but not impeachable behavior? Will the Lost Cause of the American Civil War gain new life or immanent death now that its flag has been waved in the US Capitol?

Meanwhile I feel like I am sweeping up broken glass.

I am punctured over and over again, bleeding bright red in spite of voting blue. I find little slivers everywhere, as I search for emerging kindnesses, bits of order, the right words, the right actions.  I am calmed by the rock pictured above, that fits comfortably if roughly in the palm of my hand.

In this rock, I have the gift of holding deep time in my hand

Last night I received this granite emissary of the Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque from my good friend and geologist-writer Deb Green. Today I asked her to share its significance with our online practice group. She said the rock, as it sits on its flat side – as it does in the banner photo – is in both the shape and color of these mountains. You can see the salmon pink of orthoclase feldspar, the green of epidote, and shining specks of mica among the quartz and other minerals, colors true to “Sandia” (Spanish for “watermelon.”)

Deb had been sitting for meditation on a boulder. Tapping its edge as she rose, this chunk fell off in her hand, “because it was weathering in place.” She went on to describe how this really hard rock that had built a whole mountain range had, through countless freeze and thaw cycles, fractured and broken off so easily. 

The rock is some 1.3 – 1.4 billion years old. The “deep time” embodied in these rocks, she said, renders her insignificant in the scheme of things, and simultaneously frees her “to go for” what she is here for on this earth, at this moment.

A few minutes later another group member questioned, how do we get through to people who seem as solid as boulders impervious to change, who hold so tightly to a view of the world that is anathema to us?

Here’s what has come to me, some hours later.

We may not ever “get through” to them.

Maybe, just maybe, we can enter into relationship with some of them.

First, we restrain them.

This is what I devoutly pray will result from impeachment and whatever other additional legal means we have at hand to effectively restrain acts of domestic insanity and terrorism, including the fomenting of hatred in word or deed and the use of casual threat. This can work only as civilian and military policing, prosecutors, judges and jurors each come to their own deep moments of reckoning with Whiteness. This will take long, but not long enough to register as deep time.

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”

When I hear a false equivalency used to justify or normalize the sitting President’s words and behaviors, I know to listen for the grains of truth that are there, especially the ones that ping “true” for me in my own thoughts and actions.

And then, we melt. Um, our enemies? Ourselves? A bit of each?

The word “MELT” came into my mind, all CAPS,  an oversized billboard. And, frankly, this act remains aspirational,  a level of holy human action and courage still beyond me. I just don’t have the heart, “le coeur” for it.

So I come back to William Stafford’s answer to his own question, and this has to do me for now:

What can a person do to help

bring back the world?

We have to watch it and then look at each other.

Together we hold it close and carefully

save it, like a bubble that can disappear

if we don’t watch out.

Please think about this as you go on. Breath on the world.

Hold out your hands to it. When mornings and evenings

roll along, watch how they open and close, how they

invite you to the long party that your life is.

A New Year’s Eve view of the world

On New Year’s Eve: a view of the world from the red house in the middle of the block

With 36 odd hours left in the year 2020, I am of a mind that way too many words have already been written about it. It’s still too hard, too close, too rich with learning and loss, gaslighting and distortions for me to try to sum it up. I need a longer arc of time to look back on it.

Looking ahead is equally perplexing. I’m making some plans, setting some intentions – and resolved that my plans not make me. Agility, even more than  resilience, is what I am looking to cultivate to meet the many unknowns. I am wary of another round of decision-making exhaustion of the sort that pervaded the early weeks and months of Life under Pandemic. I anticipate some version of returning to weighing the pros and cons of every outing or errand that needs to be run – once (if?) widespread vaccination and economic engines open life up in ways we can envision only through mask-fogged glasses and brains.

It’s been a no-brainer, and part of my privileged life, to pretty much confine myself to home and my walking neighborhood of perhaps six square blocks, since April.

I’ve encountered such wonders as a flock of yard flamingos, a colony of frogs in a variety of yoga poses, chalk drawings in the street, families out walking together with and without dogs, and a Sacred Datura plant anchoring the front corner of a neighbor’s yard.  I would have said that I live in a pretty much all-white neighborhood. Instead I have been pleasantly surprised to exchange greetings with many multiracial families.

My neighborhood has two styles of homes, all built in the late 1920’s. So far my husband and I are “aging in place.” It’s not just our home of 36 years. It’s the neighborhood that feels like home – the old trees – especially the sycamores –  the surviving drug store with soda fountain, a library, an old movie palace. 

Oh – and the best – one neighbor who has for years taken his mellow guitar practice outside during all the warm seasons: a neighborhood playlist. And another who has been securing our recycling barrel in the bed of his pick-up every week since Covid-19 worker illness shut down Baltimore’s curbside recycling in September.

So I was shocked to realize, as I prepared to lead a workshop on unconscious bias for residents from my and adjoining neighborhoods, that the role of “neighbor” has become a pretty weak part of my identity. Yes, I just delivered my seasonally home-made gingerbread up and down my block. Still, it seems like I have largely “aged out” of being a neighbor since having school-age kids in the house. And since aging out of the snow-shoveling gang that used to assemble from up and down our block to dig out cars and make the street passable as we last did in January, 2016 (see banner photo!)

I got to thinking how every neighborhood has its Rules for Living and belonging.

Some of these rules may be explicit – as in covenants. Others implicit yet baked into a neighborhood’s culture. How formal? How friendly? How distant? How quiet? And all of these rules are shaped by racialized and gendered histories  f wealth, property, ownership, financing – and by our own perceptions and behaviors.

I thought about “neighborliness.”

What does it mean to “neighbor”? - making “neighbor” into a verb for the moment.

When and how do I offer help, a suggestion, an invitation?

When and how do I inquire, speak up, step forward, step back, “mind my own business”?

What behaviors tell me “I belong” – or that I am stretching or testing the limits of belonging?

How do I treat property boundaries? 

Are there activities or toys or amenities – tomato and squash vines, for example that I believe “belong” in back yards not in front yards?

How about the aesthetics of holiday decorations? displays of the American flag, which has been so effectively appropriated by a certain brand of patriot? the Rainbow flag? the Earth flag? – unquestionably “my” people. And signs. Campaign signs, Graduating- Class-from-Home 2020 class signs, #Blacklivesmatter signs?

And the real clincher: what do I do when I see someone who is “a stranger” to me? When can I trust that calling the police is 1) warranted and 2) won’t lead to a terrible outcome?

So I am leaving/entering the year sitting with these questions:

How will I “neighbor”  in my neighborhood?

How will I think globally and act locally?


And how will I “neighbor” in the wider world – Baltimore? America? the world?             How will I also think locally – as in you, and you, and you – are my neighbors                       as I act globally?

How about you?

P.S May we leave behind our shattered exceptionalistic illusions, including “We’re better than this.” 

And may we seize every opportunity to reshape our consciousness and our world.


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#2 Come play with me - FREE 30 minute interactive video: GET REAL WITH RACE AND GENDER. I’ll take you through the basic practice of Radical Inclusion.

Time-sensitive: December 5-13

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Thanks to Portland diva-of-all-things-tech-and-alchemical Mary Ginger Williams, I am one of 15 “curated presenters.” Her Small & Mighty Summit features entrepreneurs who build transformational relationships with their clients and customers. Topics range from micro-habits to neuroscience, leadership to self- care. Check out my fellow-herbalist and MUIH-grad Katherine Hofmann ND’s talk on Small & Simple Strategies for Mighty Mental Health. Also Ellie Ballentine’s Magic  of Your Mindset – she has given me some very valuable coaching. 

Member of a group – colleagues, religious/spiritual buddies, readers, neighborhood or PTA who are wrestling with race and gender justice, questioning their own responsibility and capacity to nourish change, to be change?  GET IN TOUCH – and let’s talk about designing a two-hour session to meet your group’s needs (no cookie-cutter for this work!) Then I’ll send  on a full description you can share and discuss with your group. 

Some comments from workshop participants

“This is the work we need to do and what will shift things if we can do it.”

“This practice activates my heart.”

“Found the given exercises very useful and practical.”

“I came aware with clarity around where I am… and a plan for moving forward.”

“This program has opened the door to the possibility of healing 

my inner divisions, judgement, and shame.”

“…a container for deep, nuanced work.” 

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New cohort group forming for a 4-week course to begin in mid-January.

Ready to go to your working edge with race and gender in 2021? 

  • Begin to notice your habits of seeing and making meaning of events.
  • Nourish curiosity and  empathy.
  • Gain freedom to act from a place of inclusion, to be inclusionary.
  • Learn to trust discomfort as a friend and guide.
  • Loosen the grip of your Rules for Living – the rules that govern  how you  appear, how you behave, whether and how you belong. These rules are our internal equivalents of the laws, policies, procedures, and  organizational hierarchies that dispense and withhold access, incentives and opportunities  in our society. 

Some comments from course participants

“surprising revelations,” 

“visceral empathy”  

“a strong emotional foundation for listening to others” 

 “a knowing where to dig” 

 “a willingness to step up and be more ‘out loud’ with a formerly shy voice” 

 “tools to move past limiting assumptions.”

With Sara’s teaching, encouragement and guidance, I was able to discover early narratives that impact attitudes towards racial and gender bias.  These surprising revelations, along with new practices have given me new tools moving forward.                                                                                                                                                                                                          Susan, Acupuncturist


The Radical Inclusion course helped me process a lot of unspoken thoughts and feelings around race, especially that uncomfortable topic of white privilege. It’s a very organic process, not linear, and that allowed it to be exactly what I needed to open up my heart and mind to a new perspective on how I view myself and others. I now have a strong emotional foundation from which I can do the continuing work of listening to others, listening to myself, and questioning my assumptions about how things work. In a world that is constantly changing, this is a valuable tool for understanding how the world really works (not just how I think it works or want it to work), and that is very empowering to me.                                                                                                                                                                                                                Sara Korn, Writer


This course helped me unpack and clarify long-hidden assumptions that I now realize were getting in my way.  I discovered personal insights that are already paying dividends…and I believe will continue to benefit me as I build on the course’s foundational, perspective-expanding structure.                                                                                                            Greg Conderacci, Good Ground Consulting LLC


Sara consistently created a space where moments of understanding could unfold. During one of the course’s many excellent exercises, I made a profound connection—it was about my own sense of belonging and the conditions of life for Black people in our country that could preclude a feeling of belonging…The connection is now visceral for me, as well as intellectual, and oh so powerful.                                                                                                                                           Deborah Green, Association of Environmental & Engineering Geologists Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Committee Chair


TGiving-2020: Gratitude, Grief, Real History

To give thanks.

A prayer. 

A practice.

A family celebration.

A bow of deep appreciation to  you,  faithful readers through the seasons.

For some, a Zoom Gathering on the 4th Thursday of 2020.

Now that we are somewhat assured that an orderly transition of political power will unfold between now and January, my personal capacity to give thanks has gotten a boost. 

It will get a bigger boost when I log in to Zoom later today to hear Monica’s Thanksgiving prayer before the meal. Monica and Beth and daughter Sari have been guests at our Passover Seder since Sari was a baby. Several years ago we began to say yes to their invitation to join their families and friends for Thanksgiving. I was ready to give up hosting our own. It was an easy transition.

Monica is a soul-ful pray-er, and invokes all manner of blessings received and blessings still needed.

She offers me the real dessert before the meal: a deeper meaning of the day. A day about which I was schooled in cringeworthy myths about Pilgrims and Indians sharing a meal.  She doesn’t pass over either the awful or the sublime. This year, instead of their post-meal ritual of sending home each guest with an individualized set of containers of left-overs, Beth and Monica and Sari made pre-Thanksgiving home deliveries on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

Still, I grieve the loss of the “traditional” way we have come together, the breaking of bread together, the assembling of a meal that many hands and kitchens contributed to.

One more loss, one more season now belonging to the Before Times. And for me, one grief seems to tap into another, as if they all feed into one underground stream. 

Grief, love for what I have valued, loved, lost…they are a matched set, grief and love. 

I am not a gratitude practice person – if you are fortunate to find that your natural go-to, wonderful. I envy you! For me, letting in grief allows me to  find  my way to gratitude. It can take a while.

Who lives, who dies, who tells the story?

And this year I also feel a self-conscious pull to enlarge my personal sphere and include a deeper grief historically linked to this holiday. Thanksgiving, 2020 marks a National Day of Mourning, now in its 51st year. This event honors the death of Native Americans at the hands of early settlers and colonists, and shines a light on contemporary issues facing Native Americans. In October, the CDC reported that American Indian and Alaska Native people are 5.3 times more likely than white people to be hospitalized due to COVID-19, the largest disparity for any racial or ethnic group.

The dynamic of celebration by one tribe signifying a day of disaster for another is not unfamiliar to me as a Jew. Israel’s Independence Day is celebrated on May 15: celebrating a safe home for Jews following the Holocaust. Naqba, literally meaning “catastrophe,” is observed to commemorate hundreds of thousands of Arab Palestinians who fled or were displaced from their homes. I am not making a political statement here or declaring any sense that I understand the historical complexities and realities. I simply wish to acknowledge that there are two sets of lived experiences here, along with some truths and some mythologies, leaving a trail of  unresolved, blood-stained conflict.

The land my house is built on, and where we have lived for 36 years, was home to the Piscataway-Conoy as far back as 800 BCE.

I do not know much of their history or way of life – when I do, I may be ready to write my own “land acknowledgement” – a statement crafted differently by Native Peoples and White people to recognize the original stewards of the lands on which we now live. Naming what is true is the first step in healing. 

I am finding it more and more common on Zoom meetings among activists and seekers to invite participants to introduce themselves not only with their names and preferred pronouns, but also with a land acknowledgement of the place they are calling in from. It feels awkward and somewhat empty, a label on an empty box. But empty because I myself am empty of truthful historical information, lived historical human experiences, and an embodied appreciation to tribal knowledge and governance.

An invitation … to remember the land we live on is in our care, that we may rent or have a deed of ownership, but we are merely the current caretaker: you can enter your zip code at this website to learn the names of the tribal land on which you live.

Then see what you can find about their history – their way of life and governance.

A first small step towards yet one more conciliation that the waning months of 2020 summon us to make.

May our gratitudes help us rise to the occasion.

May we respect one another and do what we can
to keep one another safe, well, and nourished.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Engage, recommit, repair, or take your first tentative steps to re-imagine and shape a world where equity is valued and embodied: Radical Inclusion Practice