Bless you

Rev. Andrea’s April Column in the Gazette

Grab a towel

And soak the folds

Bless you for lowering your

Grief-wracked body

To your knees in prayer

Something you have not done

Since you were a child

When you did not know the words

Arthritis, pandemic

Bless you for worrying

Today about Bangladesh


About India


About loved ones, scattered


About your neighbor, stricken

Bless you for writing inadequate words

Of comfort

On pastel cards

And mailing them


Bless you for standing on the sidewalk

In front of apartment buildings

Waving, waving

In case someone

Is at their window

— Andrea Ayvazian

The Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian of Northampton is an associate pastor at Alden Baptist Church in Springfield. She is also the founder and director of the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership.

Guest Column Andrea Ayvazian: ‘Let’s have a virtual love-fest during this crisis’

Let’s Have a Virtual Love Fest 
by Andrea Ayvazian 
published in the Hampshire Gazette, 3/11/20

As a former nurse, I hold germs in high regard and have a healthy respect for viruses and their ability to spread with rampant abandon.

I have been watching the evolution of the coronavirus outbreak as it has gone from a localized problem to an epidemic to a pandemic to a sense of panic, and I understand the risks and the fears.

One of the consequences of the coronavirus crisis is the implementation of what experts are calling “social distancing.” Social distancing is the term applied to certain actions that are taken by public health officials to stop or slow down the spread of a highly contagious disease. Social distancing is now being prescribed by government leaders and health officials, and is being self-imposed by worried citizens.

Social distancing is a way to keep people from interacting closely or frequently enough to spread an infectious disease. Schools and other gathering places such as movie theaters may be closed, sports events and religious services are being cancelled, travel is being curtailed and meetings and conferences postponed.

Social distancing is necessary to keep people safe, and so of course we must heed the warnings and recommendations of public health officials. This is, after all, a way to protect ourselves and each other during the duration of this crisis.

But I want to make a strong case for intentional, strong and compassionate social engagement during the coronavirus crisis. Safe social engagement is an antidote to the negative side effects of social distancing we are all now experiencing.

Now is the time to be cautious and to keep a distance from others to avoid the spread of the illness. But that is only on the physical level. Now is also a good time to pull in close to others emotionally and spiritually: We need safe social engagement, and we need it now.

Whatever vulnerability a person or family has been living with before this crisis will be exacerbated during this pandemic. If a person has been feeling lonely, they will now feel lonelier. If an elder has been experiencing a sense of isolation, they will now feel more isolated. If someone has been living with depression or anxiety, they will now feel more depressed and more anxious. If someone has been living close to the bone relying on tips for a large part of their income, they will now feel poorer. If young families have already been struggling to juggle work, day care, babysitting schedules, and play dates, they will now be more stressed and frazzled.

Any area of vulnerability that a person has been living with before this health crisis will be exaggerated during this time — whether it is experiencing fear and a sense of being alone, feeling secluded and forgotten, being gripped with worry and dread, or feeling consumed with anxiety about finances.

As a close and caring community, I believe we need to counter the medical necessity of social distancing with intentional acts of social engagement to show those most vulnerable that they have not been forgotten, that they are not alone.

Small gestures that show an isolated and frightened person that we are thinking of them are needed now. There are many steps that each of us can take to care for our community during this time.

This crisis, which is forcing us to keep one another literally at arm’s length, is a good time to connect heart to heart — and there are so many ways to do that.

Without seeing a person and exposing him, her, or them to illness, we can — if we can afford it and feel safe doing so — leave a note, food, or flowers at someone’s door — someone who is now self-quarantined due to fear.

We can call an elder or someone we have not seen in worship or other community settings for a few weeks, and express our concern about their well-being. We can write a note and rely on the good old U.S. Postal Service to carry our words of caring to someone’s door in a safe manner.

If we do go out to eat and can afford to be generous, we can leave our server a large tip to make up for lost wages as this crisis drags on. If downtown becomes less and less traveled, we can give more dollars to those asking for money on our streets.

We can also very intentionally thank people who are at work during this time — those individuals interacting with the public every day who are exposing themselves to airborne contagions. Thank the cashier at the grocery store, the bank teller, the police officer walking the beat, and the letter carrier delivering our notes of concern to friends and family.

Health care providers are on the front lines of this crisis. This is a good time to bring them flowers, chocolates and notes of appreciation, thanking them for their good work in the face of this coronavirus outbreak.

We are being asked to distance ourselves physically from others to protect ourselves and others. But I think it is also time to pull in close, emotionally, to keep the fabric of this community healthy. It is a good time to do an errand for someone who is shut in and leave whatever is needed at their door, to convey by phone what occurred at a religious service or meeting that someone could not attend, to let someone know you have your eye on them and are caring from a distance.

I know that some people reading this column may dismiss my calls for emotional closeness as naïve and unnecessary. I am happy to be considered naïve, and, as a pastor, I believe increasing our emotional connection to one another right now, as we maintain a physical distance, is a necessity.

Whoever was vulnerable in our community before this health crisis is more vulnerable now. Whoever was hurting before this health crisis is hurting more profoundly now. So I say we think of creative ways to open our hearts and reach out emotionally when we cannot visit, hug, or share any close spaces together. We can write letters, leave surprises, contribute dollars, make calls, bring food, say prayers, and reach out in any number of safe and creative ways.

We are a strong, caring, and connected community. Let’s have a virtual love fest during this crisis. And then, when the crisis is over, we will be an even stronger, more caring, and more connected community. This crisis is an opportunity to love up our neighbor. And there is no limit to who is our neighbor.

The Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian of Northampton is an associate pastor at Alden Baptist Church in Springfield. She is also the founder and director of the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership, which offers free movement-building classes from Greenfield to Springfield.

Truth School Response to Coronavirus (for now)

Dear Truth School Family,

I am writing to you now, on behalf of the leadership of the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership, about our response to the coronavirus crisis and how to keep folks safe as we move forward.  

This crisis is evolving and changing rapidly, so this is our best response as of today, March 11, 2020.

Please watch our website and our Facebook page for up-to-the-minute alerts and updates.  We will post new information as the situation changes and if we need to make further adjustments.

As of today, here are our thoughts with regard to moving forward with Truth School classes:

* All Truth School classes will be held, with the considerations, guidelines, and stipulations outlined below.

* Anyone planning on attending a Truth School class who has concerns or fears about participating and chooses to NOT attend the class because of the coronavirus, we support you fully.  We understand.  Please make your decision about participating in the class or not based on what is right for you medically and emotionally.  You have our full support, whatever you decide We ask that if you feel sick, you do not attend a TS class.

* If a Truth School trainer is ill or does not feel safe teaching the class, the class will be cancelled.

* If the site where the class is to be held does not want us to gather a group there, the class will be cancelled.  (We will not be moving classes to other locations.)

* Our classes are generally not large.  The Host, providing logistical support for the class, will ask all participants to sit safe distances from one another.  The Host will also have cleaning materials to disinfect surfaces that people might touch.

* Trainers are being asked to keep the class participants in a large group and suspend small group work, role plays, huddles, and anything that would require participants to be in close proximity or touch one another.

* Again, please check our website and FB page frequently for last-minute changes, announcements, and cancellations.  That is our best and fastest way to reach you!  (We will not be sending texts or making phone calls should classes be cancelled.) We do not want anyone appearing at a class that is cancelled because you did not get the news.  

Thank you for your vigilance.  And know that all of us at the Truth School are very eager to pull in together in a close and caring fashion emotionally–in terms of supporting and connecting with one another–as we are required to practice social distancing and literally keep each other at arm’s length.

We want to do everything possible to move forward in as safe and prudent a manner as we can.  We honor your personal decisions about what is best for you, and we will be monitoring this situation hour by hour.

Thank you for your involvement with the Truth School.  We value each one of you so much.

Warmly and my best wishes to you,  Andrea

Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian

a house party success!

Wildly Successful Truth School Fundraising House Party!
– from Truth School Director Andrea Ayvazian

Our heartfelt thanks to Lynn and David Barclay of Northampton for hosting a fundraising party in their very beautiful home in Northampton.  They rallied a big crowd of neighbors and friends and with delicious food and apple cider flowing, we settled into a great program.  Three trainers–Rose Sackey-Milligan, Jade Barker, and Lindsey Peterson–spoke about their Truth School classes and folks asked questions about the classes, the School, and more.  We set a goal of $5000 for the evening and checks are still coming in.  We are very very very close to our goal as I write this so I am sure we will reach the $5000!  Two couples who arrived with their checks to the School already written tore them up and wrote larger checks.  It was an evening filled with hope, inspiration, community, laughter and deep appreciation for the Truth School!  Thank you again Lynn and David, and hooray for our team!
yummy food too 🙂

big news

From the Director

Well hold on tight! The Truth School is growing and changing and wow, good stuff is happening and more changes lie ahead!

One big change happened this Fall when we moved our office from Race Street in Holyoke to State Street in Springfield.  The office is now embedded in the Alden Baptist Church where I serve as an Associate Pastor.  We love being in a downtown Springfield church with the buzz of the city all around us, and we cherish the support the Alden Church family provides the Truth School!  Thank you Alden!

Another change that has happened is that we have expanded our Partners Program and we are excited about that.  Truth School Partners have been, for the last three years, houses of worship up and down the Pioneer Valley who support the Truth School by providing the School with an annual financial gift, promoting our classes by including us in announcements and newsletters, and offering free space for Truth School classes and meetings.  We have 13 formal Partners and we will be reaching out to more houses of worship in 2020.  But a change occurred this fall, our first NON-house of worship became a formal partner and we are delighted.  River Valley Co-op in Northampton gave the Truth School a $1500 contribution, plus they have been promoting our classes and have offered their board room as a free space for us to hold classes and/or meetings.  We welcome the River Valley Co-op as a formal Truth School partner, and we will be reaching out to other groups and nonprofit organizations to partner with us as well!

And the final (really really really) big change I will highlight at this time is the School is stepping out on faith and growing up (in a way)…the Steering Committee has made the decision to break away from our fiscal sponsor, the Institute for Policy Studies in DC, and become our own 501(c)(3) organization in 2020.  We are deeply grateful to IPS for being our steady parent the first three years of our existence!  IPS stepped in immediately, when we were just a twinkle in the eyes of the school founders and took us on as their movement-building school—and for that we will be forever grateful!  But it is time we manage our own money, pay our trainers ourselves, and take on our own financial management.  Our lawyer has filed the paperwork, which is extensive (as many of you probably know!) and we are now waiting to be granted our own nonprofit status in the spring of 2020 (we hope).  All fingers and toes are crossed that this will come to pass without glitches and setbacks.

The Truth School is now three years old!  Happy Birthday Truth School!  And you, dear extended Truth School family, have made us the success that we are!  We are growing and growing up, changing and becoming more stable and effective—while still remaining light on our feet and committed to our original vision and purpose.  Thank you for all you do and give—and for being part of this remarkable little gem, the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership!

Happy New Year to each one of you and many many thanks,

October Newsletter – from the Director

From the Director

It’s my birthday and I love presents!

Now that I am old, it is fashionable, accepted, and even expected to say “No Gifts” when inviting people to a birthday dinner, party, or brunch. “No gifts” is what everyone anticipates you will say when you hit 68. But I don’t say that.
I say: bring on the presents!

My birthday is on October 2nd, and I love presents. So celebrate with me, and make my day. Please consider giving me my favorite present of all….a gift to the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership. Other than my family, my friends, my church, my community, and a list of things dear to my heart, the Truth School is my most beloved and most important thing in my life.

We need to fund this little gem of a movement-building, scrappy, pop-up school. We have to keep this baby of ours thriving and growing.

We have to raise $92,000 annually to keep the school alive and well. So how about giving me the gift I want most in the world? A gift to the Truth School!

Because it is my 68th birthday we are highlighting the theme of 68. Please consider giving a gift of 68 cents, or $6.80, or $68., or $680., or $6,800., or $68,000., or $680,000. You choose.

Friends, this is all sent in fun and with love. But the appeal for funds is real. It’s my birthday and I love presents and I love the Truth School. We welcome your gift of any size—whether it has a 68 in it or not—to keep this remarkable treasure of a free school up and running!

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you….68 times over.

Checks can be made payable to: IPS with “Truth School” in the memo line and sent to:
Truth School, 649 State Street, Springfield, 01109; or you can donate online here.

Give a Gift!

“Who is the we? And, this is what we’ve become? Have you not considered this nation’s past?”

Guest column by The Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian: Wrestling with the headline, ‘This is what we’ve become’

As published in The Daily Hampshire Gazette, 8/12/2019

In early August, my husband and I were vacationing on the coast of Maine when we heard the news that a mass shooting had occurred in El Paso, Texas. Then we learned that just 13 hours later there was another mass shooting, this time in Dayton, Ohio.

I became frantic and wanted news about these horrific events. I drove up and down the “Shore Road,” stopping at 7-Elevens and Cumberland Farms stores to buy whatever newspapers they had to read all the details.

I bought every newspaper I could find. I read the news: 22 people killed in El Paso; nine people killed in Dayton; scores wounded.

I read the New York Times, USA Today and the Portland Press Herald. The chilling, numbing details were the same in every account.

But it was when I picked up the copy of the Boston Globe on Aug. 5 that I paused and thought, what? Who wrote this headline? There it was on the front page of the Globe in big, bold letters, 1 inch tall. The headline read: “This is what we’ve become.” I had an immediate reaction.

I had already read enough about mass shootings in America to know that the profiles of the El Paso and Dayton shooters were familiar: two young males. Two young white males. One, the El Paso shooter, an avowed white supremacist.

Profoundly disturbed individuals who commit mass shootings often fit the same description. They are typically young, white, male and committed to white supremacy, usually possessing an obsession with violence, a love of extremist views, a fascination with the military, a virulent presence on social media and a fondness for guns.

The descriptions of the killers in one mass shooting after another sound the same. There are exceptions, I know. The shooter in the Las Vegas rampage in October 2017 was a middle-aged white male. But overall, the profile is the same — young white men who glorify violence and identify with racist ideology.

I read the Globe headline again: “This is what we’ve become,” and I thought, “Who is the WE in this sentence?” “We” involves everyone. So why are the editors at the Globe lumping the targets of racist violence in with the perpetrators of racist violence? The problem with the word “we” in the headline is that it blurs the distinction between those who are targeted by the bullets and those who are shooting the guns.

In my mind, the headline should read, “This is who white supremacists have become: mass shooters.”

In this country, communities of color have been targeted repeatedly by mass shootings and are rarely mass shooters. So my reaction to the headline was: Don’t merge the victims of violence with the perpetrators, and thereby make the victims guilty.

As I sat in Maine, filled with despair, and angry at the Globe, I found an additional problem with their headline, “This is what we’ve become.” Restless and unhappy with their wording, I wondered: become? This is what we have become? As if this nation was somehow different in the past? As if this behavior is new? Sadly, but truthfully, this is what this nation has always been.

Name for me a time in this nation’s history, a chapter in our past, when white dominance did not rule the land, when violence and the threat of violence by white people was not deployed to oppress and exploit people of color, when communities of color were not under the thumb of white power. We are a nation built on white dominance and power.

I was taught in grade school that Columbus discovered America. But how do you discover an already inhabited land? There were an estimated 12-18 million indigenous people living in North America when Columbus arrived in 1492. And there were only 6 million indigenous people still alive there in 1650. From our earliest days, this nation was built on white supremacy, land grabbing, and violence.

Trace our history from the arrival of Europeans in 1492 to the middle passage that spanned the years 1600 to 1865, when millions of men and women of African descent were forced into bondage, transported across the Atlantic, treated violently, their labor exploited, traded and sold in America.

The Mexican-American War, fought between 1846 and 1848, was driven by the 19th century doctrine of Manifest Destiny, resource predation and the preservation of slavery. Twenty-five thousand Mexicans were killed or wounded in that war, which resulted in the acquisition of what is now California, Arizona and New Mexico, along with the permanent takeover of Texas.

Recall the internment camps during World War II, during which an estimated 120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated and incarcerated.

Consider the segregation, intimidation, inequality and unjust treatment of African-Americans in the years following the Civil War and lasting until and beyond the dawn of the civil rights movement.

Consider the social, political and economic inequality facing members of the African-American and Latinx communities in this country right now — the institutional racism woven into the very fabric of our society.

The history of this country is a history of oppressing every community of color that once lived on this land, was brought by force to this land, or immigrated to this land. It is a history of inequity, brutality, discrimination and violence.

And yet, following the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, the Boston Globe headline reads: “This is what we’ve become.” Become? Oppression and violence are our legacy, our history, our past. My response is: Who is the we? And, this is what we’ve become? Have you not considered this nation’s past?

As a person of faith, I know we go on. In our best moments, those of us committed to equity, justice and nonviolence go forward together. We call out injustice and try to face each new day with courage.

We try to take hands across the differences meant to divide us and pledge again to name injustice, call out inequality, fight discrimination, march to stop gun violence, and vote lawmakers who spew hate out of office.

I am choosing to believe that the shootings in El Paso and Dayton will be a wake-up call to white people in this nation. That white people will wrestle with their/our privilege, entitlement, love of power and use of violence. That white people will recognize that the horrific shootings are not an aberration. I am hoping that this newest tragedy will pierce white people’s complacency, and jolt every single white person to take action to stop gun violence.

I am choosing to believe that the national conversation on race that needs to happen in this country, the conversation that is centuries overdue, will now actually occur.

I am choosing to believe that the reparations due to every African-American and Native American in this nation will soon be made a reality.

I am choosing to believe that the victims of violence at the hands of white extremists will no longer be blamed for their own persecution.

I am choosing to believe that the courage, strength, beauty and spirit of communities of color will be uplifted, valued, and honored in the days, weeks, months, years, decades and centuries ahead.

I am choosing to believe that the strength and intensity of love that rises up as a powerful force for good will win out against the evil present in our society.

The Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian, of Northampton, is an associate pastor at Alden Baptist Church in Springfield. She is also the founder and director of the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership, which offers free movement-building classes from Greenfield to Springfield.

From the Director

The Truth School Founder and Director writes in the April Newsletter:

We knew that the leadership team at the Truth School had made a good decision when we decided to have ALL the classes in the Fall 2019 cycle (September, October, November, December) taught by people of color.  We announced this a month ago…making it clear that white people are still welcome to teach for us, but they must be part of a biracial team.  People of color are welcome to teach for us alone.  We knew this was a good decision but we were unprepared for the outpouring of positive feedback that would come our way.

We have received so many emails, texts, and phone calls saying (essentially) GOOD DECISION!  There is even a Letter to the Editorin the Daily Hampshire Gazette on March 28th from JM Sorrell (a white woman, Truth School trainer and host) saying GOOD DECISION!

Many people of color who have never taught for the Truth School before have heard about the decision and been in touch wanting to teach for us.  We could not be more delighted.  The Fall Catalogue, which we are working on now, will be terrific.  And every participant who comes to one of our Fall Truth School classes will have a person of color up front teaching.

What touches me most about the flood of positive feedback we have received from folks up and down the Valley to the announcement of our decision is the number of messages that start or end with: thank you. 

Well…let me say this.  Thank YOU…thank you trainers of color who are now coming forward wanting to work with the Truth School.  Thank you white trainers who are submitting proposals as part of a biracial pair and expressing so much excitement.  Thank you everyone who wrote to us—so messages of affirmation and encouragement.  Thank you extended Truth School family for believing in this scrappy, spunky, movement-building School that continues to grow and change.  We are all in this together.

With loving appreciation, Andrea

From the Director – March News

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From the Director – March 2019

The Sojourner Truth School for Social Change

Leadership is now in year three.  Since we had the inspiration for the School (January 2017) and opened (May 2017), we have run six cycles of classes (that includes the Spring cycle we are now in).  In total, since opening, we have offered 278 class sessions and we have now trained literally thousands of activists in five cities, across three counties.

In our current catalogue, Spring 2019, 43% of the 53 class sessions are taught or co-taught by trainers of color.  But we realized we are not satisfied with that number.  We want to reach for a higher goal.  So I am happy to announce that the Truth School Steering Committee and I will be creating a Fall Catalogue (September, October, November, December 2019) in which every single class will be taught or co-taught by a person of color.

We believe it is time to take this step and I am very glad we have made this decision.  So trainers of color….if you are reading this….let us hear from you.  We would welcome your proposals to teach through the Truth School.  And white people, we want to hear from you also—but to teach through the Truth School, you need to be part of a biracial pair.  We will not be offering any classes taught by white people alone or in pairs.  Every class in the Fall will have a trainer of color leading.

We hope to hear from you, we welcome your proposals.  Here is a link to the form on our website. Thank you for your good work creating change, strengthening social movements, and engaging in the democratic process.  Thank you for all your good efforts.  The world needs you!  Shine on!

Sending each one of you my best,