Director, Ignite Institute
Seven years ago, when I was working with families of incarcerated youth, we would visit the different facilities to meet the mothers, fathers, and siblings of kids who were incarcerated. A lot of times, if a guard happened to dislike a kid, he would take it out on the kid’s parents. I remember one afternoon; a mother came out after a visit, crying. A guard had told her that she was wasting her time visiting her son, he told her that her son was worthless. I remember being filled with hatred for that guard – thinking how terrible it was that he had decided a child was a waste, was someone you could just throw away. I thought, here was this kid – who was someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s friend. How could this man just decide that a child was worthless?
Not too long after, I was working at another facility. The morning had been frustrating – although the warden had agreed to allow my visit, the sergeant in charge was throwing up arbitrary obstacles. Finally, after I had to call the warden, everything got straightened out, but I was still furious.
We had this guard, who was acting as our liaison, and I remember hating him – all I could see was his uniform and the tear gas canister on his belt. And this guy wouldn’t stop talking. The whole time we were there, he practically told me his life story. He had worked at the facility for more than thirty years. In the beginning, he said, the guards didn’t wear uniforms or carry tear gas. He told stories of taking the kids whitewater rafting.
I really wanted to hate him, because all I could see was his uniform. He was Latino, in his late 50s, and had been at that facility for longer than I’d been alive. As he talked on, I started thinking that the longest a kid might be in that facility would be maybe 12 years, and this guy had done thirty. I thought of when I’d been so angry at the guard at the other facility for deciding there were people you could just throw away, and I suddenly realized I was doing the same thing to this man who was talking to me. I had written him off because he was a guard. I had forgotten that he was someone’s father, son, and brother.
And I realized that if I really believed that we are all children of God, then I couldn’t hate him, or even the other guard.
I have spent the last 26 years working to blunt the impact of harmful social, political and economic policies and systems that keep majority of people on of us from reaching our full potential. During that time have had to fortune to work with amazing people, everyone from homeless youth to mayors, from families of incarcerated youth to Washington D.C. lobbyists, from veterans from the civil rights movement to solar entrepreneurs. All of these courageous inspiring people have taught me the same thing: it takes individual and collective action to make change.
This same truth holds up for spiritually rooted change. To transform the fractured broken relationship that we humans have with each other and world, we will need to do our personal transformation work and the collective work of transforming our relationships with each other and our planet. Through spiritual practice and ritual we each can tap into the power and wisdom of the Divine for healing, hope and wholeness. We can develop nurture our collective work through collective meditation and or pray. This is a part of building powerful, effective organizations and movements for social transformation.
As Alicia Garza of #BlackLivesMatter put it, “Collective transformative practice is not some hippy dippy thing. It’s about how we are together had how we are successful as movements.”
Many of us have come to the realize that no single leader, innovative organization, denomination or even one social movement can produce the scale of change our nation, much less our planet, needs to be sustainable. It will take many more us working together, in new and old ways to heal ourselves, our communities and our world. We will need to connect as adaptive leaders, flexible organizations, evolving networks and responsive movements that are committed to social, cultural, political, economic and environmental transformation that leaves no one out.
At the Ignite Institute @ PSR, we believe that one of the most powerful ways to develop these individual and collective capacities for transformative change is though individual and collective spiritual practice. Not just individual prayer or meditation, but collective spiritual practice.
Because both individual and collective spiritual practice are required to develop and sustain a fight for justice that envisions healing and transformation for both the jailed and for the jailor.