Rev. Andrea’s April Column in the Gazette https://www.gazettenet.com/Columnist-Andrea-Ayvazian-33731953
Grab a towel
And soak the folds
Bless you for lowering your
To your knees in prayer
Something you have not done
Since you were a child
When you did not know the words
Bless you for worrying
Today about Bangladesh
About loved ones, scattered
About your neighbor, stricken
Bless you for writing inadequate words
On pastel cards
And mailing them
Bless you for standing on the sidewalk
In front of apartment buildings
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.
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.
Lots has been happening in the Truth School. With classes all over CT River Valley (ok, not everywhere but in Springfield, Easthampton, Holyoke, Northampton and Greenfield) it’s hard to keep track of it all!
In brief: Sacred Music: A Journey to Freedom led by Dr. Ruth Bass Green was offered at Lathrop in Northampton and moved one participant with the possibility of forgetting yourself and just joining and singing. Positive Change through Education housed at Jackson street school and co-led by Gwen Agna and Thomas Chang helped participants refine techniques for approaching inequity issues with children, the fine art of show kids things and asking them what they notice. Social Activism for Senior Citizens housed up in Greenfield at the Franklin Co-op space on 170 Main street inspired the simple reflection in one participant, “in part, I need to learn how to be in community, just be able to be with folk.”
After attending the Circle Practice to Build Strength and Trust class led by Tasondra Jardine at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke (what an unexpected place for a Circle Practice class!) one participant is motivated to get involved in restorative justice movements; Norma Akamatsu and Gail Perlman’s Infighting on the Left: A Structured Dialogue class reminded one participant “of how important storytelling is in breaking down barriers. Also, a better understanding of why ‘point-counterpoint’ doesn’t work, which was helpful.” And then last but not least, Pamela Marsh William’s class on leading volunteers accomplished its goal: one participant said, “I think I can recruit and nurture volunteers more effectively!” Cheers to that.
Books to Read
How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
White Guys on Campus: Racism, White Immunity and the Myth of “Post-Racial” Higher Education by Nolan L. Cabrera
Where Do We Go from here: Chaos or Community? by Martin Luther King Jr.
Some Notes from the Evening
Anti-racist work as calling
Children can’t imagine being something they haven’t seen – be white allies
Race is an invention; to move through it, not get stuck in it.
Tell stories. Empathy moves people to action. White people: Listen. Don’t ask people of color to tell their stories over and over again, it re-traumatizes.
Chaos or Community?
History shows that every wave of progress is met with a wave of push back. We are in the push back. And history shows us that every wave of pushback is met with another wave of progress.
Undoing whiteness is spiritual work – what is our worth without it, what is our value without it.
More of this, please.
Transformation. Power from the ground up.
Johnie and Jenny led this class Thursday at the Arise for Social Justice office in Springfield.
The Poetry gathering from Pain to Beautiful Power was outstanding in every way.– Class Participant
- Have you been expected to lift as you climb?
- Do you have tensions with other people of color in positions of power or authority over you?
- Is there class tension between you and family members, friends, co-workers, or community?
- Are there different values within race that are held by folks of different class?
- Are you often the only person of color in your class group or work setting?
- How do we communicate across the hidden differences of class when we share race in common?
“I learned what “circle practice” means and why it is so powerful. I learned how people can share in an environment that allows people to be both powerful and vulnerable.”– Truth School Participant
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.
The Truth School is proud to be a co-sponsor of “Why I March—Women Activists Speak Out,” which will be held March 9 at the Northampton Center for the Arts (33 Hawley St.).
Event organizers are still looking for women activists to speak. We know we have many powerful women activists with strong voices in our Truth School community, but you don’t have to be an experienced speaker to contribute your voice to this event. If you’re interested, sign up to speak!
Date: March 9
Time: 7 PM -10 PM
Location: Northampton Center for the Arts, 33 Hawley St., Northampton
Cost: Sliding scale $0-$15
For more information: https://www.womenspeakup.org/why-i-march.html
Cathy McNally of Women Speak Up!, Pioneer Valley Women’s March, Sojourner Truth School for Social Change, BadAss activists, Massachusetts for Equality and Racial justice, and more. (If your organization is interested in co-sponsoring, contact Cathy at email@example.com.)