Archive for the 'Social Justice' Category

The Gift of Grace

Suzanne Pharr February 12th, 2009

On the evening of January 31, 2009 at the annual Creating Change Conference, I was honored by Queers for Economic Justice for my “years of work on economic justice and LGBT liberation.” In response to requests for my short acceptance speech, I am posting it here.

(Acceptance of award from Queers for Economic Justice at Creating Change 2009)

The Gift of Grace

My work is honored here tonight, I believe, because I was given the gift of grace.

In my religious tradition—Methodist—which I left at a very young age but not before it made a permanent mark on me, I recall that Grace is defined as a realm of good you are given, not because you earned it or necessarily deserve it.

When I think back to the gifts of grace in my life, I remember

my farm parents in Georgia who worked through poverty and disability to raise their 8 children and support their church and community. They gave me my life, my values, my determination.

those teachers at the Women’s College of Georgia—a tiny college for the daughters of shopkeepers and farmers—who slipped anonymous envelopes containing $10 and $20 into my college post office box. Those great single women—lesbians all, I think—made it possible for me to go to school when I was down to the last penny from my wages.

the people of color—especially Civil Rights leaders and other women of color—who had deep conversations with me, who challenged me, who confronted me, who shared with me our Southern culture, who joined me in laughter and struggle. They never cast me aside.

people of every generation across race, class and gender—and especially the young—who shared their lives and their ideas and invited me to be a comrade.

I have tried to return that gift of grace in my work and life.

My role in this movement has been to listen to what you have said, to make a composite of it, to put it in plain language, and to reflect it back to you—because it is yours.

My passionate love of ideas and action has been nurtured by your own. You have given me the space and time and patience to work and grow with you.

That is an act of love, community, and grace.

I thank you for it.

The Jena Six: Schools, Prisons, Guns—Black, White, Young

admin January 5th, 2008

A few weeks ago, I got a last-minute call to do “something” for Race Equality Week at the University of Tennessee. I agreed to conduct a one-hour open discussion about the Jena, Louisiana, racial conflict and its layers of meaning.

Here’s a brief recap.  First, I read the students a chronology of events:

8/31/06            In an assembly, a black student asked if he could sit under the single shade tree that white students always sat under.

9/1/06              Three nooses were hung from the tree.  The Principal wanted to expel the responsible students but the Superintendent overrode his decision.

9/6/06              The District Attorney (Walters) was invited to a school assembly.  Black students reported that he was looking at them when he said, “With a stroke of a pen, I can make life miserable or I can ruin your life.”

9/10/06            Black students asked to address the school board but were denied.

11/20/06          There was arson of a school building.

12/1/06            There was a private party at the Jena Fair Barn; a few black students tried to enter and a fight broke out.

12/4/06            A white student (Barker) was beaten by black students and sustained injuries.  He attended his school’s ring ceremony that night.

8/31/07            The school cut the tree down.

11/20/07          The New York Times reported that over 10,000 people marched for civil rights in Jena.

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