American Friends Service Committee Annual Reports - Mid-Atlantic Region
The Middle Atlantic Region of AFSC has continued to struggle with many changes over the past year. Programs within the Baltimore Yearly Meeting area have continued, with good results. Most notable are:
The DC Human Rights Learning Program has continued to work in three public schools, a private school and a charter school. Students have the benefit of receiving instruction about human rights, as well as designing and implementing projects to increase and justice in their own communities. Jean-Louis Ikambana, the program director, continues to visit Monthly Meetings in BYM and would welcome invitations to present his program at other meetings. The program has been enhanced by the appointment of a Cary Fellow, an attorney who had done an internship with the Human Rights Learning Program last year and is now preparing a revised curriculum for the program. This fellowship is nationally competitive, so it is an honor that this program’s request was selected.
The Maryland Peace with Justice Program also continues to work with prisoners in three prisons in the state. Dominique Stevenson uses conflict resolution training and has helped to develop a cadre of mentors among the prison population. For a period of time, several released prisoners who had learned culinary skills while incarcerated operated a café in the regional office, called Neutral Ground. Because of the limitations of the kitchen, a different kind of program is being planned. This year, Dominique partnered with Eddie Conway, one of the program participants, to write a book about his experiences. It is entitled Marshall Law and is available for sale through AFSC.
Although the Baltimore Urban Peace Program was laid down, Gary Gillespie is working as an independent contractor to continue the organization of the Baltimore College Peace Network, which involved students in the several colleges in the Baltimore area in peace projects.
As previously reported, for several years students from Sandy Spring Friends School have gone to Logan, West Virginia during Spring break to work with the Appalachian Center for Equality, doing home repair and winterizing projects. This year, Logan high school students also came to Sandy Spring and worked with Friends School students doing maintenance work at a nearby state park. This was a new experience for them, since they had been accustomed to receiving help rather than providing it.
Two other MAR programs merit special comment. Scilla Wahrhaftig, our Pennsylvania staff person worked with a group of students who successfully lobbied the Pittsburgh city council to have Pittsburgh designated a human rights city. Beth Spence, staff in the West Virginia Economic Justice program, was appointed by the governor to the group investigating the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, and did most of the writing on the subsequent report.
For the past two years, the MAR office has had interim regional directors. Currently, Howard Cell is serving in that capacity (for the second time.) It is uncertain what the future of this region will be, since consideration is being given to consolidating regions. This region is recognized as having strong programs, so will certainly continue in some configuration. The major change which has just taken place is that the region has sold its building on York Road in Baltimore to Loyola College. There have been major maintenance problems and, with the reduction in staff, less need for a building that large. The plan is to move on September 19 to Meadow Mill, a converted mill that houses several non-profits.
Jolee Robinson, BYM representative, MAR Executive Committee, AFSC
It has been an honor to serve as your representative to the Mid-Atlantic Region’s (MAR) Executive Committee (EC) of the American Friends Service Committee. So many of you have served for years or decades in many capacities for AFSC, at the local, regional, or national levels. That work—bearing Quaker witness in the world—has been much appreciated, though often unrecognized. Some of you have served in program, staff, volunteer, or governance capacities. Many have felt sadness or confusion as major changes have been made, to make way for the future of AFSC. Others are excited as the AFSC regions look to working more closely with each other. During the past year planned changes have begun to go into effect to the overall AFSC structure, which of course has impacted the Mid Atlantic Region (MAR).
Last autumn, the AFSC Corporation made recommendations for the restructuring of nine domestic (USA) regions to move to four, due to budgetary cutbacks. MAR, which has had its regional office in Baltimore, will now combine with the former South Eastern Regional Office (SERO) and have its headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. This new region is called the South Region. However, it must be noted that programs in Pennsylvania, and upstate New York will now be part of the Northeast Region. The Baltimore office will still be open, in its beautiful Meadow Mills office space, and Brooke McDonald who has been with the office there will be the new Assistant Regional Director. Bryan Vana joins as administrative assistant. Bonnie Horton, the South regional director, is based in the Atlanta office which is right down the street from the capitol building! BYM Friends from Pennsylvania will be represented in the Northeast Region Executive Committee. Yearly Meetings will no longer appoint Friends to serve on regional executive committees, but will still be asked to nominate persons to the AFSC Corporation. In any case, though our geographical regions may differ, it is in the region of the Spirit where our work and witness can create that Peaceable Kingdom.
But those are merely governance and structural changes. The programs that have been housed in the MAR region continue their solid work. The Maryland Peace with Justice Program has changed its name to the Friend of a Friends program, and it continues its mentoring work in the five Maryland prisons. It has a strong director, Dominique Stephenson, and a strong program committee. Miafere (Mia) Jones, in Baltimore, directs the Youth Empowerment through Conflict Resolution program. The programs in West Virginia continue their work with youth and for economic justice in the region. Although the Logan office has closed, a new director was hired, and that program continues to address the needs of young women in that coal mining area. Beth Spence and Rick Wilson continue their policy work. Beth Spence was part of the ten person committee that developed the report on the Upper Big Bridge Mining disaster in West Virginia. The report had impact on the mining community in that even though Massey Energy was not held liable, the court did allow for individuals within Massey Energy Corporation to be held liable for their neglectful acts. Rick Wilson continues to focus on policy issues at the legislative/state level in WV. He has built coalitions and has garnered substantial funding for his work, which seems to put AFSC values into action and law. The Washington, DC programs still are working in the public schools and focusing on the Human Rights Curriculum.
As we join with SERO to from the South Region we will cover programs that exist in Florida, The Carolinas, Atlanta, and New Orleans. In Florida (Miami) the American Friends Immigration Service (AFIS) supports the work of five employees who work with immigrants, and also produce a radio program that serves at least 25,000 people. Other programs in the former SERO work with youth, economic justice, immigration, and prisons.
Friends’ input and guidance will continue to play a role in the work of AFSC. The South Region encompasses at least five other Yearly Meetings (Southern Appalachian, Southeastern, South Central, North Carolina, North Carolina (Conservative) so Friends will continue to have a strong voice. BYM’s witness of inter-visitation will be a strength as those of us involved with AFSC continue to make connections across the new regions, and across the world. While some Friends who have served on the MAR EC have had to lay down this specific work, they remain avid supporters of AFSC and continue to serve in roles at the local, regional and national levels. Others who have previously stopped Executive Committee affiliation have come back to join in helping with the transition. But it must be noted that in the future Yearly Meetings may only have annual reports from the Corporation, rather than specific programs, unless something else is worked out.
The American Friends Service Committee continues to bear Quaker witness around the globe. Although there will no longer be a formal BYM representative to the South region’s Executive Committee, I will continue to serve on the new executive committee and continue to develop understandings between AFSC and Friends meetings. Jolee Robinson has agreed to come back on board for two years to help in the transition, and Cathie Felter will also continue for a bit. BYM Friends involved with AFSC at various levels have decided to discontinue their EC work: Jim Bell, Don Gann, Gail Gann, Sandi Morton, and Reuben Snipper have laid down work at the EC level, but continue to explore ways in which they can continue to serve. Please contact me, or any of the many other Friends here who continue to their involvement with the American Friends Service Committee (or your corporation representative), if you have any concerns, questions, or leadings. In addition, please hold the AFSC programs in our region and around the globe in the Light as they carry out work that so many of us value, but are not called to do.
Helen Tasker (Frederick)