40 Years in America
Beyond The Dream
A WFWP conference in Washington, D.C.
On Oct. 5 something very special happened in three cities across the United States. In Los Angeles, Tampa and New York City, over 700 African- American and Caucasian women crossed the Bridge of Peace, uniting in sisterhood, pledging to heal the racial wounds which have historically divided our nation. This was not a political event. This was not some social program or legislative action. These were women who were courageous enough to face their own demons, their own prejudices, and their own internal wounds, woman to woman, heart to heart. Their hope was to create a consciousness whereby the historical misdeeds of slavery and the abuses of racism could finally begin to be laid to rest. These were brave women willing to put themselves on the line.
This event, sponsored by the Womenís Federation for World Peace, was patterned after the series of International Friendship Conferences held throughout the country since 1995. These conferences brought together women from Japan and America who crossed the Bridge of Peace in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. The restorative nature of these ceremonies soon became quite evident. Women, it seems, because of their roles as mothers, healers, nurturers and wives, were able to bridge the gap of resentment, pain and historical indemnity -- not through the path of intellectualism or social engineering but through the path of "heart." The results have actually been quite astounding.
When the Japanese and American women cross the bridge to meet their new sister, the passion and tears that ensue and the realization that whatever has happened in the past can be healed in the present is a moment transcending words. The past, present and future all seem to exist in that moment of embrace and upon that foundation of tears, forgiveness and repentance, the relationship between the women and the histories of their nations are reborn. The his-tories become her-stories and the feminine aspects of our mass consciousness are allowed to emerge. The feminine aspects of God are required now to promote the healing necessary to enter the new millennium. The American women knew this was the only way to heal the racial divide. Thus the idea for the Interracial Conference "Beyond the Dream" was born.
Having worked on the conference myself here in New York, I can tell you it was not easy. Every obstacle that could arise did. From lack of funds to finding the right venue and gathering women who understood the issues, to preparing the program, was an uphill journey all the way. But the path was paved with miracles as if God wanted this to happen even more than any of us could imagine.
The event in New York was held at Riverside Church in Harlem. This was especially significant not only because they were celebrating their 65th anniversary on that precise day, but because Riverside is also the church where Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke several times. As co-chairwoman Suzanne Tadokoro said, "Martin Luther King had a dream, but it is up to us to go beyond the dream and make the dream a reality."
Debby Gullery, chairwoman of the New York chapter of Womenís Federation for World Peace, and co-chair of "Beyond the Dream," said in her address: "Each of us represents thousands of people who have lived before us, people who have suffered and people who have caused suffering...but one personís transformation has the power to affect thousands." And so it was, the unity between the two co-chairwomen, Ms. Gullery, a Caucasian woman, and Ms. Tadokoro, daughter of an interracial couple who is now herself in an interracial marriage. They, too, had to cross the bridge many times within themselves and with each other to lay a strong internal foundation for the event.
Keynote speaker Andria Hall, former WNBC/Ch. 4 news anchor and lecturer, who crossed the bridge with Ms. Gullery, said: "Racism is ugly, racism is real and racism hurts. I implore you to rebuke this monster which is in our midst." Ms. Hall continued to give testimony about the many times she had to symbolically cross the bridge in her journalistic career as an African-American woman, and the deep pains she had to endure.
Other featured speakers included Ms. Mozelle Reid, state convener of the National Council of Negro Women and president of the Native Black American Womenís Organization, and Marjorie Davis, community activist and journalist with the Afro Times. An address was given by Ms. Marta Varela, chairwoman of the NYC Commission on Human Rights, and Ms. Michelle Tong from the Office of Community Affairs read a letter from New York State Governor George Pataki applauding the work of WFWP.
From this roster of celebrated speakers and from all the women and men who participated, it seemed as if on this one sunny autumn afternoon the city of New York was at peace. As the strains of "Let There Be Peace on Earth" resonated throughout the halls of this great cathedral, the women recited the sisterhood pledge: "to build a bridge of peace and reconciliation, healing and forgiveness between our two races." It was at that moment, that eternal second, although unspoken, that everyone knew this was the key to our liberation.
It was Charmaine Singerís 44th birthday, and she was crying. "I wondered how I was going to spend my birthday," she said, "but God gave me a sister today." Ms. Singerís eyes brimmed with tears as she walked arm in arm with her new African-American sister, Ms. Loftin, an evangelist from Yonkers. Ms. Loftin, who fled South Carolina in her youth to escape a cross-burning, handed Ms. Singer a pamphlet showing her family tree dating to a freed slave born in 1845. "Welcome to my family," Ms. Loftin said. "Now God is really using us."
The afternoon continued to soar higher and higher as the program concluded with a performance by Mavis Staples, from the internationally acclaimed gospel group, the Staples Singers, nominated for a Grammy for their hit song, "Iíll Take You There." Ms. Staples gave her testimony of meeting with WFWP Boston Chairwomen Heather Thalheimer and Cynthia Myers. They had initially discussed the idea for the Beyond the Dream conference when Ms. Staples became inspired to say, "Thatís a great idea and a great name for a song!" Heather said, "Why donít you write it?" One month later Ms. Staples did just that. New York City was privileged to hear the world premiere of the song "Beyond the Dream." The crowd went wild singing and dancing as the afternoon drew to a close in a joyous rhapsody of love.
As all good times must come to an end, this was the end of our new beginning. There was something different now. Something had changed. As each woman left the auditorium, I noticed a sparkle in her eyes, a glimmer which only comes from the discovery of new hope. A new hope had been born that afternoon. A hope to transform the face of our nation, one nation under God with liberty and justice for all
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