American Friends Service Committee Annual Reports
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To Friends Everywhere:
The annual meeting of the American Friends Service Committee’s Corporation was convened on March 6, 2014, in Philadelphia by Arlene W. Kelly, Presiding Clerk of the Corporation, with optimism and celebration of 97 years of AFSC service.
Some Friends came on canes, walkers, crutches or braces. But don’t be fooled: Corporation members representing U.S. yearly meetings traveled long distances through inclement weather to reach AFSC’s annual business meeting. The members of the Corporation, which brings representatives from yearly meetings throughout the U.S. to consider business and engage in program work, took their responsibilities seriously. We are a diverse group, as befits an organization with over fifty offices and even more programs in the U.S. and around the world. We are all Quakers upholding and putting into practice Quaker values.
We conducted the business of the Corporation, appointed Corporation and Committee members, and approved the Friends put forward by the Standing Nominating Committee. We also approved the placement of the Friends Relations Committee as a committee of the Corporation, parallel to that of the Standing Nominating Committee.
The members of the Corporation of American Friends Service Committee from all walks of life included different regions of the country and branches of Quakerism. Youth and elders, staff and visitors gathered to worship and work together. As a community of seekers, we gathered in this sacred place to address peace and social justice issues of our contemporary world.
The gathering began on Thursday night when we directed our attention to art as a catalyst for change. Hearing songs of forgiveness and unity from Tribe One, we were inspired to search in the Spirit for the power to reconcile and bring peace. We also heard from Naima Lowe, who presented “39 Questions for White People” to challenge us to consider issues of privilege.
The Friends Relations Committee (FRC) is tasked to nurture a greater vitality in the Corporation and the connection between AFSC and U.S. Friends in their monthly and yearly meetings. FRC participated in the planning of the Corporation meeting. During the meeting Friends experienced both programmed and unprogrammed worship and worship-sharing sessions. The theme this year, “Steadfastly working for peace and justice in Israel-Palestine,” offered evening sessions on this topic.
Several seasoning sessions gave Friends a deeper familiarity with AFSC programs and provided an opportunity to advise staff and the AFSC Board.
We discussed the indicators of AFSC as a Quaker organization. An AFSC document, two years in the making, was reviewed at a seasoning session to get feedback and opportunity for refinement. This document reports on how AFSC seeks to embody Quaker practices in its mission, governance, leadership, program strategies, relationship principles and our spiritual connection through worship.
We held several seasoning sessions. One revolved around critical issues facing AFSC and the world. This session discussed a working paper, titled Shared Security: Reimagining U.S. Foreign Policy, jointly authored by the AFSC and our partners in the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). This document is the foundation of new program initiatives to embrace youth leadership both inside and outside of Quakerism and strive to change the narrative that justifies militarism and violence in the media. In our seasoning we explored the issue in terms of U.S. foreign policy abroad, amongst our own communities, and ways in which the language and concept of “security” could be redefined to promote dialogue between different communities.
This theme of security informed other discussions throughout the day, most notably concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict. Many times the question arose: What is the price of the current narrative of Israeli security in the form of restrictive walls, military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and discrimination and brutality directed towards the Palestinian people? Growing concerns were noted among Friends, which have resulted in initiatives in many monthly meetings towards a just peace in Palestine, while noting that the narrative of “peace” is also a complicated one. We heard from Sandra Tamari and Dalit Baum about the recent history in the region and attempts to boycott companies tied to apartheid against Palestinians. Although we do not know how these challenges will ultimately be overcome, we unite in hopes of a world where all can walk down the street and not be labeled criminal for simply existing. AFSC affirms its involvement with programs in Israel and Palestine. Since 1948 AFSC has been persistent in the search for a just peace in Israel-Palestine.
In another program presentation we heard about mass incarceration, specifically for people living in poverty. We asked ourselves what the future of the prison system should look like, seeing the injustice but not knowing a way to end it.
General Secretary Shan Cretin's annual report joyfully emphasized the return of AFSC's financial stability after critical years following the economic downturn. The required shrinkage of AFSC has resulted in higher efficiency. Any new work considered by AFSC will be guided by the strategic plan and financial health. The organization is smaller than in 2007. We have learned the need for good stewardship of our resources to meet our obligations, such as retirement plans. The 2013 Annual Report, including the audit results, was ready for the Corporation meeting. All documents were available electronically to members of the Corporation, reducing the environmental impact of printing. Plans are in the works for the centennial celebration and a related Courageous Acts campaign to raise additional funding for general endowment, interns/fellows, and strategic opportunities.
This time marks Friend Arlene Kelly’s last meeting as Clerk. She is released from these duties with gratitude for the leadership she has shown in partnership with the General Secretary, governing bodies, and committees. A strong and articulate voice of reason, she will be remembered for her ability to pause for silence and wait for clarity to resume in the meeting. While she conducted business with humor, her high expectation of commitment, promptness, and exacting nature led AFSC though challenging times, ensuring viability for future generations. During her tenure as Clerk, AFSC faced restructuring and reorganization due to the economic downturn. Board committees were combined or laid down, and well-defined charges gave clear direction for each committee. Her trait of discernment is a special gift that she has brought to us and leaves with us. A minute of appreciation was approved and signed by the Corporation.
Phil Lord will become Presiding Clerk at the rise of meeting. He brings a wealth of experience from many roles within AFSC over the years. He is a longtime member of the Society of Friends.
Phil is currently a member of Chestnut Hill Meeting in Philadelphia. He has had more than twenty years of experience with the AFSC, during which he has come to know many different aspects of the organization and has served in varying capacities, including assistant clerk of the Board of Directors at two different points in his Board service. He wrote recently in Acting in Faith, an AFSC blog, “At its very best, AFSC is a vehicle and conduit for mutual transformation and Continuing Revelation.”
Ad Hoc Epistle Committee: Harold Branam, Patric Garrison, Ted Klyce, Jane Kroesen, Carolyne Lamar Jordan, and Margaret Rowlett.
To Friends Everywhere: an Epistle from the American Friends Service Committee
“People can be transformed by being open and human. We believe that people have a need to be heard, but how they are heard really matters – if they take the risk of telling their story, it needs to make a difference.” – Denise Altvater
On March 1 and 2 more than 100 of us gathered at Friends Center in Philadelphia for the AFSC Corporation Meeting. For two days, Quakers and AFSC staff worshipped together, engaged in business, and learned ways to work in partnership for peace and justice. A strong spirit of mutual respect and common cause drew us together as Friends and staff spoke about how to be effective allies and explored actions that individual Friends, meetings, and churches might be led to take in working alongside AFSC.
On Friday we spent the evening exploring trauma healing and reconciliation. Denise Altvater, a member of the Passamaquoddy tribe of the Wabankai, who has worked for AFSC for 18 years told the story of her work in Maine with Wabanki and state child care workers to establish a truth and reconciliation commission—the first between a sovereign tribal nation and a U.S. state, and the first in which victims and perpetrators have proceeded in unity. On February 12, it was seated in Hermon, Maine. Preceding it was a day of reflection and prayer for the telling of the hard stories of children who had been taken from their homes, from their people, from their ways, and placed into foster homes with white families.
The foster care system was a tactic to eradicate the culture of the few Wabanaki who had survived physical genocide. The intention was, as Richard Henry Pratt, founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania said, “to kill the Indian, but save the man.”
Many of the children are now adults and still suffer from the trauma of being taken. Denise says, “Across the board, however you were taken, in a real good way or a real bad way, whether you were taken from a good home or a bad home, whether you were placed in a good or bad foster home, the people taken didn’t feel like they knew where they belonged. The trauma that had the deepest impact was the trauma of being taken. It was a real strong and real life-long traumatic event.”
Denise is clear that the harm done was part of the system: “During the boarding school era, the foster care era, child welfare workers were doing their jobs and they thought they were doing the right thing. It’s not an issue of them being good or bad, right or wrong.”
The focus of the truth and reconciliation process will be the healing of the Wabanaki through the telling and receiving of their stories, the healing of the child care workers, and changes in policy and practice.
Child welfare workers and tribal members have worked together on developing the declaration of intent; they were mistrustful at first, but when they told each other stories about who they are as people, their hearts opened to one another, and they have moved together to make the commission a reality.
As the tender, difficult stories are told and really heard, the healing can begin, the reclamation of the birthright of all people: to one’s own culture, to one’s own heart, to a sense of belonging.
Denise says, “No amount of money could make up for what happened to me.” For her, it’s all about feeling joy again, reclaiming that birthright, which has been elusive since the trauma of being taken from her home and the trauma of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her foster parents.
Moving from harm to healing is a focus of AFSC’s work all over the world. In 13 countries and 38 U.S. cities, AFSC works from the understanding that peace begins with healing from the trauma of war, violence, and other forms of harm. The interruption of cycles of violence through healing lays the foundation for peace. Our work, drawn from Quaker faith and testimonies, arises from the understanding that people have the answers they need within and listening undergirds all transformation. At its best, our work reveals the power of love.
We appreciate our deepening connection to Quaker monthly meetings, churches, yearly meetings, and Friends everywhere. Last year we launched an AFSC-Quaker meeting/church liaison program to work with Quaker congregations for peace and justice. The program has been well received and we hope that many more meetings and churches will join with us in the coming year. If you are interested, email email@example.com.
Please hold us in your prayers, challenge us, and engage with us. None of this work can happen without communities reaching out in love to help make peace possible.
Shan Cretin Arlene Kelly
General Secretary Clerk, the Board of AFSC
To Friends Everywhere,
Power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Week after week AFSC staff member Domnique Stevenson visits four prisons in Maryland and invites the incarcerated men with whom she works to consider how they can change their lives from within the walls of their confinement. The men have worked with Domnique to design the program she runs and some weeks they learn about effectively mediating conflict, some weeks they learn about parenting, and one week in the past few months they talked about love, which Domnique described as the foundation for their work together. The men didn’t hesitate. One man said, “Love can be defined as a noun or a verb. When you're in love, that feeling can fade, then what? Mature love is about what you do, how you act, the sacrifices you're willing to make.”
Another man responded, “How do we define family? If your brother's been oppressed, help him. If your brother's been an oppressor, help him by helping him to stop the oppression.”
From across the room, a man said, “We have a government that doesn't advocate love. I don't expect the government to offer love. Humans make it up, but don't behave in human ways. We've come from communities that were denied love.”
They continued their conversation until a man concluded, “One issue is we lack understanding, and love is the highest degree of understanding. You can hate someone's actions, but love the person. If you hate someone, you hate the creator. We need to hate the action. We hate others because we lack understanding.”
In a concrete classroom in a prison in Maryland, these men vulnerably explored their experience with love. All over the world, in thirteen countries and in more than thirty-five United States towns and cities, the American Friends Service Committee invites people to explore “what love can do” from within the walls of their confinement, however that manifests. And through that act they also explore how to become free and overcome the constrictions of injustice.
Our work, drawn from Quaker faith and the testimonies, can be seen as a constellation of optimistic experiments with truth and love, with human vulnerability underlying both. As we work for a world where all people can live in peace, we operate from the belief that the answers lie within those with whom we work and that when we listen, and respond compassionately, this process releases the power to work for justice that is already present. Through this work for justice we begin to address the seeds of war and violence, thereby creating the social and economic conditions necessary for lasting peace.
We are deeply appreciative of the role of Quaker meetings and individuals in supporting this work, in making it possible. In the coming years, we hope to deepen our connection and partnership with Quakers. As one part of that effort, we have hired Lucy Duncan as Friends Liaison. She writes and edits a blog for Quakers on AFSC’s work entitled Acting in Faith at www.afsc.org/friends. This year she is establishing a new Quaker Meeting/Church Liaison program to strengthen ties to monthly meetings/churches. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year we published a booklet, An Introduction to Quaker Testimonies. The booklet reminds us of the spiritual basis for AFSC’s work. You can find it at http://www.afsc.org/document/friends-testimonies-booklet or order it from QuakerBooks.org.
Friends, please challenge us, hold us in your prayers, and continue to help us. Together we can do so much.
In the Light,
Shan Cretin Arlene Kelly
General Secretary Clerk of the AFSC Board
The American Friends Service Committee is the largest service arm of Friends nationwide and worldwide, accomplishing a broad and very meaningful array of projects. Baltimore Yearly Meeting appoints five members to the AFSC Corporation, which meets annually, changed this year to March. Here are AFSC’s current focus areas:
Fostering Peace in Communities
Primarily in urban settings, AFSC uses conflict resolution, “summit meetings” between rival groups, and simple projects such as gardens to bring together diverse elements to reduce violence.
- Responding to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, AFSC is working in two communities, Martissant (Port-au-Prince) and Leogane, a town close to the capital that suffered destruction of up to 80-90% of its urban area. The starting point for this work has been to create a "safe space" in each community. AFSC has now erected large tents in both communities, which serve as common meeting areas where immediate assistance and conflict resolution work can be provided.
- Following the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami that effected swaths of Indonesia, AFSC worked with local partners to provide initial emergency aid that laid the groundwork for building trust between skeptical communities. Since the initial response, we have run "peace camps" for young leaders, worked to reduce inequities, and helped improve understanding of traditionally marginalized people.
Withdrawing U.S. Troops
AFSC is working to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and to build lasting peace in those war-torn countries. Currently, Windows and Mirrors, a traveling exhibit of forty-five unique panels created by international artists and US students, help us imagine the experience of Afghan civilians - from death and destruction to hopes for peace. Drawings by Afghan students in Kabul – collected in June 2010 – provide an up close look at life in a war zone. It’s now on display in Chicago. AFSC has been able to organize demonstrations around the country, including in Kansas and Iowa, to shift budget priorities away from war and toward a humane society.
Shaping a Just Federal Budget
AFSC believes that the U.S. government spends too much on the military. Human needs should come first. With two major wars underway and huge expenses to prepare for wars of the future, the United States spends 60% of the discretionary federal budget on military related expenses. Thus AFSC’s focuses on realigning our national spending priorities and to increase the portion of the budget that is spent on housing, quality education for all, medical care, and fair wages. By providing accurate information and mobilizing the public to speak out, we can influence the government.
Eliminating Nuclear Weapons
In collaboration with an international coalition AFSC is building a nuclear-free world, pressing for full U.S. participation in international treaties. Priorities include cutting funding for the modernization of U.S. nuclear war fighting capabilities and also movement building for nuclear weapons abolition. Peace and Economic Security staff serve as resources and speakers in the local community and around the world.
Strengthening Relationships that Prevent Conflict
AFSC works behind the scenes to bring stakeholders at all levels together in quiet diplomacy, fact-finding delegations, and off-the-record meetings that help build the relationships that facilitate future public actions.
- In North Korea, we responded with direct aid when severe famine meant starvation for tens of thousands of Koreans and stayed on to improve agricultural output. North Korean agronomists travelled in the United States under AFSC auspices to learn from farmers here about crop rotation to enhance soil fertility and other techniques. In the best circumstances, such informal connections can influence how governments relate to one another.
- In the Central Lakes Region of Africa, where numerous wars and civil unrest has been all too present, AFSC has facilitated exchanges among civic leaders, civil servants and others to help the democratic process and elections run smoothly.
- Latin America has gone through a spiral of violence and crime which has affected most of the cities. Together with a local partner in Guatemala, AFSC supports “Burrita de la Paz”. This project combines practical assistance to gang members affected by physical aggression while at the same time aiming to reconstruct relationships among local people affected by the violence.
- The AFSC has been a presence at the United Nations almost since the body’s inception. The off-site Quaker House often is used as a site for off-the-record, informal sessions for diplomats who can work on resolving problems.
Providing Peaceful Alternatives for Youth
In the U.S. and around the world, AFSC is helping youth discover alternatives to conflict, war, and militarism. It provides youth in the U.S. with information about alternatives to military service and advocates to reduce the influence of the U.S. military in the nation’s public schools. It empowers youth to become peacemakers in their communities and schools, and reduce the impact of handgun and other interpersonal violence in their lives. AFSC gives voice to young people affected by police violence and works to reduce the impact of gangs in Mexico and Guatemala. It welcomes young people into peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts to create a more secure future in Palestine, Indonesia, Cambodia and Myanmar.
Humanely Reforming Immigration Policy
Fair and humane treatment of all people, including immigrants, should be the norm in the United States. AFSC believes large scale reform is needed to live up our nations ideals. Current work includes helping students engage with immigration issues, empowering immigrant families in Colorado, and dealing with the growing pattern of U.S. border brutality.
Meeting the Economic Needs of Communities
In communities throughout the United States and around the world, AFSC addresses the causes of economic disparity. Projects are as varied as vegetable gardens in a blighted Baltimore neighborhood, an informative radio program in Spanish for migrant workers in California who need to know their rights, handbooks on resources available to the homeless on Massachusetts, recovering back pay for factory workers who were “stiffed” by their employer, helping taxi drivers in the Chicago area change local ordinances that affect their livelihoods, or sustaining traditional water rights agreements for family farmers in New Mexico.
Responding to Humanitarian Crises
In places where AFSC has programs or long experience we can respond to disasters such as earthquakes. However, a long-term commitment to building peaceful communities is part of such aid. Currently, these include water Projects in Somalia, and assistance with the food crisis in the Horn of Africa.
The AFSC website, www.AFSC.org, holds a wealth of information on AFSC’s work.
BYM appointees for this year to the AFSC Corporation have been Nancy Beiter, Cathie Felter, Meg Meyer, Riley Robinson and Richey Sharett.