Unification News for October 1996
The Interracial Sisterhood Project:
October 5, 1996 Left "Heartprints" On Our Souls
by Paula Fujiwara-Los Angeles, CA
"Be a part of it! Be the start of it!" With this spirit, more than 300 women of every imaginable ethnic background from around the Southland converged on the L.A. Convention Center on Saturday, Oct. 5 for a first-ever Bridge of Peace ceremony organized by a new committee of woman volunteers known as the Interracial Sisterhood Project of Southern California.
The Interracial Sisterhood Project of Southern California was born out of the urging of participants from our International Women's Friendship Conference series in Los Angeles. In January we held a Japanese-American Friendship Circle and New Year Party. There, we sent around a sign-up sheet for an ad hoc committee and announced our first meeting. Usually fewer people show up than sign up for something, but this time we were surprised! Our chairwoman, Mrs. Sheri Rueter, expressed it this way in her welcoming speech Oct. 5: "We expected five like-passioned women to attend that meeting...but 35 showed up! Our numbers have continued to grow. Two weeks ago, on Saturday morning when we gathered once again around the table in our tiny office, I began to weep. There we were, still together, still working, sharing our victories and disappointments over the sound of our children running around outside. Still together on the most multicultural, interfaith committee I ever worked on. All volunteering, working day after day. Coming week after week. Crying together, praying together, healing together. I am so grateful to each and every woman who dared to put her heart and soul into this project."
The essence of the occasion was the creation of interracial pairs of women who met and embraced in the spirit of repentance, respect and reconciliation on the Bridge of Peace atop the stage of the Concourse Hall. There, they became sisters of peace and pledged to become peacemakers and harmonizers in their families and communities. The organizers hope that the experience of the ceremony and the ongoing sisterhood relationships can have a real and lasting impact on the pain of racial division in Los Angeles.
Sheri Rueter, I.S.P. chairwoman, said in her welcoming remarks that "Perhaps the biggest untapped resource in America is that of women united for the sake of goodness."
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the women on our Ad Hoc Committee became eternal sisters as we worked to make the Interracial Bridge of Peace Ceremony a reality-especially when, as a result of networking, the Los Angeles City Council passed a motion waiving the room fee for the L.A. Convention Center! With the endorsement of our project by the city, we had to get serious quick! From then on we switched gears from mostly talking to high-speed action! Thus, there was much intensive give and take among us, especially during the final weeks of preparation. We saw more of each other than we might have liked in those last days leading up to the ceremony! There were "slumber parties" at our chairwoman's house and the WFWP office as the hour glass emptied and so much preparation was left to be done. But as one of our sponsoring co-chairwomen said: "No fear, no fear," making reference to Jesus and the disciples out in a fishing boat during a storm. There was so much evidence of God's guiding hand in every aspect of the project. Many leaps of faith were required from all of us. We were all committed enough to make those leaps of faith and we landed, in every case, in Heavenly Father's comforting embrace.
For the most part, the women who felt called to participate in the ceremony were already actively working for or giving moral support to interracial harmony. However, there were still internal struggles to overcome. For instance, one of our performers was encouraged to receive a sister, but she was very hesitant. We offered her a compromise; she could attend as an observer and then have the option of changing her mind in time to participate in the sisterhood ceremony. I was overjoyed to see her among the bridge-crossers with a broad smile on her face! Another woman from India who had recently lost her husband was encouraged to attend by her friend. She declined at first, thinking that she would only cry from grief during the program. Well, her friend was persistent and she attended. She ended up having so much fun that she energetically joined the dancing at the end of the program. Before going home she arranged to get together with her new sister to cook ethnic recipes.
One older black woman was paired with a young Japanese woman. The black woman admitted afterwards that she struggled at first, thinking she had nothing in common with her new sister. She didn't know how to "break the ice" with her. However, tears began to flow during Dr. Shepherd's humorous and heartwarming keynote address. Dr. Shepherd recounted a beloved story of a mother who, no matter how old her son became, would wait each night for him to fall sound asleep. Then she would rock him in her arms and sing of her eternal love for him. Eventually, she became too old and frail to continue, so her son began to rock her in his arms and sing the song to her. During the speech, the young Japanese sister took out a handkerchief embroidered with butterflies to wipe away her tears. Her sister was also weeping and was moved to see her favorite symbol, the butterfly, on the handkerchief. They began to share the handkerchief and embrace as they wept together. The younger sister gave the handkerchief as a gift. The older sister was so touched by this experience that she felt that the handkerchief had become a "holy handkerchief." Without washing it, she cut it in two and framed each half, returning one half to her sister.
Our regional leader recently coined a new word which I think captures the essence of the Bridge of Peace Ceremony experience: we left "heartprints" upon each other's soul which can never be erased.
The sponsoring organizations were the Southern California chapter of Woman's Federation for World Peace and the Association for Cultural Awareness, Unity and Social Equality. The co-emcees were Cheryl Landon and Donzaleigh Abernathy. The keynote speakers were Dr. Genevieve Shepherd and Ms. Kathleen Calderon.
Chris MacCauley, executive director of the L.A. City Human Relations Commission, and State Assemblywoman Grace Napolitano, were on hand to give official greetings. Letters of commendation were received from Gov. and Mrs. Wilson, Senator Barbara Boxer and City Councilwoman Rita Walters. The hall fee was waived by the L.A. City Council and many goods and services were donated in support of the event. In recognition of Cultural Diversity Month, the occasion was marked by high-spirited celebration with multicultural vendors, a luncheon with raffle and door prizes, entertainment and all-around good fun.
The I.S.P. committee intends to plan more sisterhood ceremonies for the future if the impact of this first event proves to be effective in addressing the causes of racial disharmony.
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