Sunday, February 22, 2015

"Claiming the Beloved Community" In San Jose - Attending for #CivilityMovement

First Part of Commitment: Awareness

This Friday, as I was getting ready to head into Strata+Hadoop World 2015 at the San Jose Convention Center for my day job at Aerospike, I checked Facebook. (I'll get to a round-up on Strata+Hadoop later.) Once on Facebook I noted a message posted on the St. Jude's Episcopal Church group:

"Claiming the Beloved Community"

At first I wasn't sure what the meeting was about. I squinted. It was hard to read the image through my mobile phone. So I opened up the poster.

"Claiming the Beloved Community: Black & Brown Lives Matter"

I saw the message. Folks from the #CivilityMovement know that this is right up there in the charter of Boom! I was in. St. Jude's pastor, Wilma Jakobsen commented on Facebook, "I'm going to try to get there - is anyone else going?" I replied: "I'll do my best!"

Second Part of Commitment: Showing Up

So later that evening, I drove from the San Jose Convention Center to Oakland Road. It was my first visit to the Bible Way Christian Center. I was intrigued by their slogan, "One visit could change your life."

At 6:24 pm, I tweeted out a quick message: ". Tonight I'm attending "Claiming the Beloved Community" at Bible Way Christian Center for ". Then headed in.

The Bible Way Christian Center is a repurposed commercial building. Some rooms were taped off and still under renovation. What could have once been an office was turned into a small child care room. Towards the back there was a large single room equipped with a stage. Around the carpeted floor were hundreds of chairs organized in dozens of small circular goups. I had gotten there early, so was given a slip, assigning me to sit in group #2.

Over the next hour, the large room began to fill. At first the organizers were worried that not enough people might attend. Then the crowds began to arrive. The groups began to fill up rapidly. By meeting start the room was rather packed. Soon events got underway. 

Third Part of Commitment: Understanding What's Required of You

The program opened with Lorianna Gardere singing America the Beautiful, followed by an opening prayer by Pastor Oscar Dare, and statements of purpose by co-chairs Pastor Sean Gardere, and Reverend Jennifer Goto. All of these were from the Bible Way Christian Center apart from Rev. Goto, who was of St. Paul's United Methodist Church. The purpose of the meeting was in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His commitment to principled and peaceful change, change from within our hearts, within our minds, within our communities, was the order of the day.

Lorianna Gardere sings "America the Beautiful" for opening song.

 "Claiming the Beloved Community: Black and Brown Lives Matter"

In the wake of Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, that of Eric Garner's in Staten Island, Tamir Rice's in Cleveland, and so many others, we, in San Jose had been called upon to speak and work together as civilians, law enforcement officers, elected officials, civic and religious leaders all united to get at the heart of the issues in our communities, and to turn the mirror on our own souls, our own biases, our own internal dialogue.

Fourth Part of Commitment: Incorporate the Experience of Others

To the podium came individuals of various backgrounds. Community members and representatives of law enforcement took to the stage. Tierney Yates (, Flor Martinez (PACT), Jesus Ruiz Diego (PACT), Zahra Billoo (CAIR), and Rachel Nortor (Westminster Presbyterian Church) all spoke about their individual experiences and personal perspective on civilian encounters with law enforcement. Zahra Billoo's perspective was telling. CAIR might be dealing with law enforcement in a positive way, helpful for their assistance in one instance, then find themselves at odds with how SJPD might have dealt with a member of the Islamic community later on the same day.

They were followed to the podium by Officer Howard Johnson (SJPD) and Bob Stresak (POST), who spoke from the perspective of law enforcement, and what they hope for and expect personally, and hold forth as standards for their peers and colleagues when dealing with the public.

Fifth Part of Commitment: Share Your Own Experiences

This evening was not for passive listening, however. Each of us who had come had an explicit mission: to hold discourse with each other on the topic at hand: "How does racial profiling and implicit bias affect you and our community?"

To do so effectively, the organizers set forth some principles and some guidelines to hold effective discussion. Reverend Michael-Ray Mathews, of PICO National Network, discussed Implicit Bias and Levels of Oppression & Change.

Afterwards, Minister Virginia Groce-Roberts of Emanuel Baptist Church spoke about the guidelines to hold effective discussions. For instance, less "we" speaking (on behalf of an organization or community), and more "I" speaking (speak only from your own point-of-view). Another important principle was confidentiality. What we spoke about in our small groups would remain in our groups. Though we would be filmed, for instance, there would be no audio soundtrack kept of the small group discussions.

Each of us were asked to keep these bounds for discussion in mind as we were to break out into groups.

In my group were "Peace Soldier" (an older fellow), Pam (an older white woman), Steve (a young black man who used to play for San Jose State and coaches football), Andrew Gutierrez (an attorney for Santa Clara County), Tierney Yates (the Program Coordinator for, Pastor Jeff Moore II (of the, and Bob Stresak (Executive Director of POST -- Peace Officer Standards and Training). As agreed to by the ground rules, I can't share specifics of what was spoken in our small group, yet I assure you that the conversation was lively and thought-provoking.

However, some of my thoughts long proceeded this meeting. First, I suggested there need to be better programs to help returning veterans that choose a career in law enforcement shift their thinking. The kinds of attributes and training that made soldiers successful kicking in doors in Afghanistan or Iraq are less-welcome in cities like San Jose or New York. "Force protection," while important, is only one thing to consider when doing community policing. ("Homeland security" thinking also polarized a lot of police forces after 9/11. Yet not every car stop should be treated as a potential terrorist threat. There needs to be a "demilitarization" at the philosophical level.)

Another point I raised was the matter of tracking and rewarding police activities. "Whatever you reward you will get more of." So are we rewarding police forces solely for aggressively policing, or are we rewarding them for their ability to get along with communities of color?

Sixth Part of Commitment: Follow Through & Next Steps

After the small group discussions, the meeting was brought to a close by addresses to the crowd by San Jose Mayor Sam Licardo, Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, and Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith. To them, the meeting was vital to stay in touch with the needs of the community. This was an invitation to keep the discussion going. To keep the momentum building, and ensure that voices are heard, and changes, where they need to be made, are made.

This was just the beginning of dialogue. Nothing that happened in this meeting has yet to truly affect how things happen on the streets or in the offices of power. The people that we made contact through such a community dialogue have a lot of work ahead of them.

Friday night's meeting at the Bible Way Christian Center was not the first meeting in this series, and it will not be the last. I look forward to the next event, and to seeing progress made between now-and-then.

Getting involved:

If you would like to continue conversation on this topic, I invite you to get involved with a Facebook group I started:
For those in other communities that want to start their own discussions and dialogue, I invite you to join the nation-wide Facebook group:
And if you want to find out more about the organization I started to back these movements, please go to

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