Author Archives: Sandhya
This has been a year of great staff transition and expansion at the OPC. We bid farewell to our communications and development intern Tia Rounsoville who is starting at Mills College, and we bid a partial farewell to our operations manager Aja Minor who will continue to partner with us on our high school internship program through her OPC partner organization InSolidarity. We have a phenomenal new operations manager we hope you’ll get to work with in the months to come. And we’re grateful that Clidell “Franceyez” Jackson is providing continuity as our facilities coordinator.
When we welcomed our ARTivist-In-Residence Marvin K. White in March, OPC executive director Sandhya Jha interviewed him and shared the interview in that month’s newsletter as well as on our webpage. As we welcome our brand new OPC Peace and Partnerships Communicator, Todd Atkins-Whitley, Sandhya has done the same thing. We hope you’ll check out Todd’s bio on our webpage to learn more about his expertise and gifts in the field; but for now, here’s a little glimpse into Todd’s vision for his work with the Oakland Peace Center’s 40 partners!
SJ: Todd, what got you connected to the work of peace and justice in the first place?
It would not be until late in my life, actually after I became a community organizer, that I realized it was my mother who modeled the work of peace and justice to which I aspire. Her life’s work—well into her 80s—was focused on making life better for senior citizens in our community, particularly those on fixed incomes or experiencing poverty. Not only did she advocate for their immediate needs of food, transportation, and companionship, but she also lobbied governments and councils to address systems that marginalized and harmed the elderly and admonished them to care for these most overlooked folks. Her advocacy was done in the secular arena but it was 100% motivated by her faith. She felt those “little old people” (as she called them) deserved to experience peace in the sunset of their lives and that belief, as much as anything, prompted her justice work—even though she would have never called it such.
After spending a couple decades raising my children and working a corporate job, I began searching for meaningful work that would make an impact in society. So I began to show up in justice- and peace-oriented communities—listening, being present, following the lead of others. It would not be long before I was invited to leverage the skills and knowledge I had gained over my life toward efforts that not only responded to folks’ immediate needs but also addressed systemic issues that kept people oppressed.
Today, I realize this sense of connection to works of justice and peace simply runs in the family.
SJ: I love that. It raises an important question for me. At the OPC, all of our partners are working on peace, but they are working on it in 40 different ways. What is peace to you, and how do you hope to participate in peace at the OPC?
To be honest, I never really framed the work of peace in the same context as my justice work. You see, I was raised to think that “peace” was simply being nice to others, or being quiet, or meditating—certainly more of a passive, individual, heady pursuit. So even though at times I have thought I was experiencing peace in an interior way, I did not experience it fully until I came to imagine peace, and the work of peace, as a collaborative experience.
OK so—It may sound strange, but I think of “peace” as a sort of energy. Sure, it’s energy that must be cultivated within but for me, the work of peace, when done alongside other peace-makers and peace-dreamers, is exhilarating and much more productive. It is that energy—that varied hum of peace—that compels and propels my work among and alongside people committed to cultivating a culture of peace. I feel that energy here with the OPC team and I felt it in a powerful way in our partner meet-up last month!
I guess you could say I thrive on the idea of working among such a diverse community, with as many different practices as there are organizations, in partnership with folks who are committed to this great enterprise we know as seeking and creating peace.
SJ: You’ve gotten a few glimpses of that community so far. What are your thoughts about how we might be able to move towards peace together, and what’s your role in that?
It is important for us to be aware of each others’ hopes and dreams and what we’re doing to achieve and fulfill them, as well as our movements toward co-creating this peace we aspire to. I also believe a more unified peace is possible—and more realistically attained if not also more lasting—when we’re all aware of the intersections of our work. Where are we able to lean into the practice of solidarity, where can we lift together, where can we diversity, where can we learn from one another. And that’s how I perceive my role here—communicator, cheerleader, amplifier, evangelist, collaborator—not just for our community here in Oakland but for each member of this incredible collective.
SJ: Thanks so much! Anything on the horizon at the OPC you’re particularly excited about?
You mean, besides hearing Alice Walker live?! I am truly excited about getting to know this community and really immerse myself in the culture of peace being cultivated with such intention and great love. And honestly, I can’t wait to help bring as much attention as possible to the incredible work being done by the OPC team and the collective of people assembled here.
SJ: Thanks, Todd. Super excited to have you on board.
We are really thrilled to announce that esteemed poet Marvin K. White is joining the Oakland Peace Center team today, and we wanted you to share in the excitement! One OPC partner has already asked if I can get him to sign her copy of his latest poetry collection.
To introduce you to Marvin, I interviewed him briefly, but I’ll be honest: to really know Marvin, you need to meet him in person. I hope you’ll get to do that as he creates arts programs this year that help empower us to address the displacement crisis that is taking away the possibility of peace from so many in our communities.
Marvin will be co-creating some projects with our partners (he’s already percolating ideas about lifting up the art of our brothers behind bars with one of our partners and helping us connect creatively to the Poor People’s Campaign with another friend of the OPC…and keep an eye on your local bus stop in the near future to get a glimpse of art helping us talk about displacement in new ways, although that’s all I’m at liberty to say right now).
You’ll learn plenty about Marvin from our conversation below, but we first began dreaming this collaboration when he performed at our International Day of Peace event and he realized he was supposed to be a part of the work we are about at the OPC, preserving culture and community and creating peace in the city of his birth.
Marvin K. White is just completing a stint as “First Church Berkeley 2017-2018 Public Theologian in Residence.” He is currently an arts liaison and a co-facilitator of the “Faith Leaders Round Table” at The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. He is the author of four collections of poetry published by RedBone Press; Our Name Be Witness, Status and the two Lammy-nominated collections last rights and nothin’ ugly fly. As a public theologian and community-based artist, he is articulating a vision of social, prophetic and creative justice through being a poet, artist, teacher, facilitator, activist, community organizer, preacher, homemaker, cake baker, and Facebook Statustician.
Join me in welcoming Marvin, and do feel free to support our new staff and program addition by investing in the Oakland Peace Center today.
Sandhya: Marvin, the fact that you live the values of the OPC around equity, access and dignity as the means of creating peace, and the fact that you do it so creatively through the arts (and with more than a little playfulness) is pretty amazing. I’m really excited we’ll be getting to work with you over the course of the next year. What are your hopes for how we’ll be partnering together?
Marvin: I am a cultural activator, thought partner, and collaborator. It is my practice to first honor the groundwork that has led us to this place where our political and prophetic express, can be our creative expression. It is my hope in this partnership to lift up and surface the many creative gifts and skills that peace workers have gathered. I want to collect the chants organizations have chanted, the poems peace workers use as sacred text, and the origin stories of peace, that guide those who believe peace is possible. I want to help create a front facing, a public creative offering that calls out to communities, who are doing peace work, but by other names.
Sandhya: There’s something about what you’re cooking up that is deeply Oakland, deeply spiritual and deeply collaborative. I’m really excited about how your work will draw in folks who didn’t realize they were or wanted to be peace workers. Have you had experiences before with your work that helped people from our community realize they were artists or activists?
Marvin: I have always been the one to proclaim, “You’re a writer.” Or “You’re an artist.” Or “Your mama was a profound visionary.” Or “Your grandmother’s kitchen cooked up revolutions.” My work is not to convince people they are or want to be peace workers, but that ultimately everything we do is leading us to peace. I think my work is to demystify artistic practice and merit. The work is to decolonize art and wrestle it out of the capitalist grip on our imagination and remember that we are inherently creative, creators, co-creators, and the authors of our stories.
Sandhya: And demystifying it is the right word…you had folks riding on bart and writing poems about it! Mind telling the OPC folks about that?
Marvin: I believe that in a city that is experiencing deep dispossession and displacement, that we must look to “time” as a space. The “time” we use participating in the rat race of commuting to and from work, is “time” and space that can be transformed into creative time and space. The BART “Writers & Riders” series was about not being numbed out by the grind of having our creative capital ripped from us for a check. That commute became a creative writing workshop on “Journey, place, home, love, stopping, starting, openings, closing, transference, and return.” We boarded at one station, rode and wrote for three hours and returned home different. Not deplenished of our power, but empowered to tell a new story, our stories.
Sandhya: Amen. That is pretty amazing. So, one of the reasons I’m excited to work with you is that I really see the project we’re looking at (a series of events grounded in the arts and connected to ending displacement) as a way to address something really tangible that is happening to people we love and that is happening to this city where we “live and move and have our being,” and also inviting people into acts of grief and resistance and joy. The displacement crisis is something I carry in my heart all the time. Anything you’re excited to explore in that work particularly?
Marvin: I think public practice and public offerings are key to removing the blame from oppressed people. I am looking forward to creating creative containers and community pouring-outs around grief, state violence, physical and metaphysical displacement, and sharing. Sharing is key. “You mean, it’s not just me?” is often the first self-affirming thought people have when they know they are not alone, that they saw what they saw, heard what they heard, and that they cannot be gaslighted any longer. I want to explore liberation and freedom as well creative and prophetic placemaking. I want to know how we know our ways home in a city that destroys our monuments to make way for unaffordable housing.
Sandhya: That is so real. Thanks. So, you haven’t met all the partners yet, but anyone you look forward to working with and want to give a shout out to?
Marvin: I am hoping that we can send a “Creative Gifts Assessment” to the partners and ask them about the ways that art and culture has informed their work. I want to know who and what kinds of arts are practiced and weaved into the work of our partners. I want to know the knitters and the metal workers, the cooks and the gardeners, the dancers and the preachers, the poets and journalists, those who write it all down. And I want to find patterns and connections and synergies to help think across sector and build networks that are wired creatively.
Sandhya: So the revolution won’t be televised but will definitely be crocheted.
Marvin: And lip synced and signed and postered and rapped and DJd and gardened and walked and churched and accessible and free.
Sandhya: I wonder if there are any things you’re looking forward to particularly about working with us at the opc considering all the super high level arts communities you’ve rolled with like Yerba Buena and BAM/PFA, and whether you have any final thoughts for the 1,500 OPC community members who will get this.
Marvin: I’m looking forward to being a creative matchmaker. I want us all to be in love. And I want our movements to be fueled by love and creativity. I am looking forward to circling back to the institutions that I have presented in and introduce them to the communities associated with the Oakland Peace Center. But mostly I want folks to know that I am in my most creative place in my life; I call it my “Harriet Tubman” and I am ready to run with whoever is ready to get free.
If you want to send Marvin a congratulations or welcome message, send it to email@example.com!
Creating spaces of Peace: Here in the Bay it can feel like there are no real spaces of peace. But every one of us has the ability to create peace in our communities and in our everyday lives. Whether it be through silent meditation or by attending a rally to stand with marginalized peoples. And when you do a little something to create a space of peace, it can start a chain reaction!
OPC’s Creating Spaces of Peace is a project that highlights our collective stories of peace and allows us to acknowledge the actions we make toward creating peace everyday.
During winter 2018 people will have the opportunity to share their stories of peacemaking and reflect on how that action affected themselves and the broader community. Thanks to generous donors, for every person who reports how they made a space of peace, we get $1…all the way to $1,000 if 1,000 people participate! This is a way you can help the community with your actions and the OPC also benefits financially!
So we are asking you to go to the OPC’s Action Network site between now and the end of the year and report something you did to create a space of peace! For every 100 submissions we get, we’ll share them (anonymously) with the community through social media to get people inspired! We hope this will make for a more peaceful Oakland this year.
Since the term peace is so broad, it can be confusing to know whether we’re actually doing stuff that results in peace. It turns out, though, that creating peace is a lot more than meditating silently in the Himalayas. It can be pretty everyday stuff! Also, doing social justice stuff creates peace. (Check out this list of nontraditional ways to make peace thanks to our friends at American Friends Service Committee!)
We have constructed 10 Creating Spaces of Peace Categories and examples to help get you thinking. Each category is based on a section of the Satyagrahga Foundation’s Wheel of Integral Nonviolence (to learn more about “integral nonviolence” from someone who works with OPC partner East Point Peace Academy, click here!):
Creating Spaces of Peace Categories –
- Forging connections: Connecting with people across all lines of difference
- Fruits of Our Labor: Being less reliant on things found in stores
- Spiritual Practice & Fellowship: Engaging in spiritual practices and community
- Action, Engagement, Resistance: Taking matters of resistance into our own hands (??)
- Accompaniment: Walking with the oppressed in mutual empowerment and service
- Building Community: Creating interdependence (hosting a meal of spaghetti or beans and rice when you were just going to eat by yourself)
- Honoring Creation: Being present to the earth (planting or caring for a tree where there isn’t enough green, volunteering at a community garden or advocating to create a community garden, getting into nature instead of absorbing a violent tv show or movie)
- Self-care and Wholeness: Being present to the needs of yourself and your body (turning to meditation and mindfulness practices instead of anger or violence)
- Power to the People: Taking our money away from institutions that create injustice and lead to war (moving your credit card balance from a big bank that took away people’s homes during the foreclosure crisis and putting it with a credit union)
- Passing the Torch: Using your knowledge and sharing the lessons (sharing stories of peace and justice with a child, mentoring a youth so they can get better opportunities down the road)
Hey, friends! We’ve been given a great opportunity to double our donations on Giving Tuesday via Facebook (plus no fees charged on any donations given that way that day). We really need your help, and we need it as early in the morning as possible. (We learned last year that east coast nonprofits got most of the money because you can start raising money at 8am eastern…which is 5am pacific…and the matching funds from the Gates Foundation ran out at around 11 am.)
If you’re willing, set up a Facebook fundraiser for us on Monday night 11/26 or Tuesday morning 11/27, and let people know why peace matters to you, why nonprofit anti-displacement matters to you, or why cultivating greater partnership between nonprofits matters to you and encourage people to donate to our work, a testimony to love and compassion and inclusion that builds a foundation for a different community and country than the one our national leadership seeks to establish, a legacy of love for our children to inherit. You’re welcome to include the link to our video if it helps.
90% of people give to charity when family asks, and 65% when friends ask, but only 9% when the organization asks. So we always needed you in order to build Beloved Community, but we really need you on Giving Tuesday!
Here’s how to set up that fundraiser on facebook:
- Click Fundraisers in the left menu of your News Feed (towards the bottom of that left column)
- Click Raise Money
- Select Nonprofit/Charity.
- Select Oakland Peace Center, choose a cover photo (feel free to steal the one OPC intern Tia designed at the top of this blog post) and fill in the fundraiser details.
- Click Create.
If you have ANY questions, don’t hesitate to contact firstname.lastname@example.org. And let Tia know if you can do this so they can send a helpful reminder and also support you that day.
Thanks again for being a phenomenal peacemaker.