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Reflections on “Resistance and Revolution” from Rev. Dante Tavolaro and Terrlyn L. Curry Avery, Ph.D., MDiv.

The Reverend Dante Tavolaro, Curate at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in East Greenwich, attended our program Resistance and Revolution on July 5, 2018, and was kind enough to share his reflections with us. This piece was originally published in the St. Luke’s [East Greenwich] Weekly on July 6, 2018. 

Following the piece below by Rev. Tavolaro, we have included a response from Terrlyn L. Curry Avery, Ph.D., MDiv.


On the evening of July 5, 85 people gathered at Roger Williams National Memorial (the park across the street from the Cathedral of St. John) to listen to a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence, a community reading of Frederick Douglass’s “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” and the singing of all four verses of the “Star Spangled Banner.” As I sat in the park listening, watching and praying, I found myself overcome with emotions as each performance was more powerful than the last.

To hear those words of the Declaration of Independence come alive off the page was powerful. What was more striking to me was the fact that those words were largely read by a staff member of the Roger Williams National Memorial dressed as a colonist (white man), as the rest of the dramatic readers read portions and highlighted particular words or phrases. It was a powerful reminder that “all men” has not always meant all throughout our nation’s complicated and sometimes difficult history. It is worth noting that standing with the colonist were several actors of color representing the civil rights movement, the black power movement, a slave woman and others. I found myself challenged by this image, and it gave me pause to reflect on the words I was hearing.

But the emotional journey was not over yet. After the reading of the Declaration of Independence, those gathered were invited to share in a community reading of Frederick Douglass’s “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” This was a speech delivered by Douglass on July 5, 1852. When I arrived at the park I was given a printed copy, and as I waited for the event to start I read several of the paragraphs. I was moved by the words. But hearing these words spoken by the character actors and by community members made the words come to life. Regularly throughout this reading I was moved to tears as I found my own actions called up short. I found myself in tears as I reflected on the fact that the day before – July 4 – I participated in celebrating our national holiday and the holy day (that’s right, the Fourth of July is a holy day on our church’s calendar). Just 24 hours earlier I was reflecting on how to bridge the gap between national holiday and holy day, reflecting on how to live in the tension of our dual citizenship of the kingdom of God and the United States. I thought I had it figured out until I heard these words about halfway through the reading:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.  To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.

The tears flowed.    

For the next day, I was not able to escape reliving and reflecting on this experience, and I do not think that is a bad thing. It made me wonder what other groups we might substitute for “slave” in those words. It made me wonder: What to the black man, the American immigrant, the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer person, the homeless veteran, the societal outcast is the Fourth of July? It made me wonder what groups are still not fully included in our national life? Which groups are still struggling to break free from the shackles of oppression? It made me wonder how much more work there is for us to do as followers of Jesus to ensure the true freedom and liberation of all of God’s beloved children.

At the conclusion of the performances, a young boy dressed as football player Colin Kaepernick sang all four verses of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Before he began to sing, the gathered community was invited to take whatever posture they felt most comfortable in. They were invite to kneel, to remain seated or to stand. As the actors took their chosen postures so did the community, and this angelic voice began to sing. As his song echoed through the park I looked around and saw the mixed crowd standing and sitting and kneeling together. As the verses progressed and we got to the final two verses, members of the gathered community began to softly sing along. Chills and tears filled my body. As I thought about how much more work we have to do as Americans and Christians to live into the promises and ideals of our founding documents for all people, that moment, gathered in Roger Williams National Memorial, in the shadow of the cathedral, gave me hope. It gave me hope because there we were a group of mixed identities across lines of race, class, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, political association and educational background. It gave me hope because we were a group of mixed postures as the “Star Spangled Banner” filled our souls. It gave me hope because that is what I imagine the kingdom of God to be like: a gathering of all God’s beloved children, a mixed community from across every line of difference, standing, sitting and kneeling together in peace.  

May this holiday and holy day inspire us to seek to follow Christ the Prince of Peace, the great liberator, the author of our salvation to build the kingdom of God right here and right now.

Blessings,

Dante

The Rev’d Dante A. Tavolaro

Curate


Response from Terrlyn L. Curry Avery, Ph.D., MDiv.:
I find this to be a powerful account and experience. The one thing that I would add to this story is the knowledge that the Star Spangle Banner is also steeped in racism.  So, I find it interesting everyone there sang the last couple of verses without calling attention to the third stanza, particularly as they sang the lyrics.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

This last paragraph was written by Key in opposition to the Colonial Marines, a group of runaway slaves who joined with the British Royal Army in exchange for their freedom.  Here is one article written on the song:  https://www.theroot.com /star-spangled-bigotry-the-hid den-racist-history-of-the-1790 855893.

I think the idea of all groups singing and coming together to heal our wounds and understand our differences is a hopeful and encouraging start.  I’m just a bit surprised that this bit of history would not have been addressed in such an advocacy minded group.

Thanks for sharing.

Peace, love, and blessings!

Terrlyn L. Curry Avery, Ph.D., MDiv.

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Race, Memory, and Memorialization

Members of the Center for Reconciliation join Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice in its two-day conference on Race, Memory, and Memorialization.

Here, a panel shares stories of how universities began exploring the history of slavery and race.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebrations Focus on Reconciliation

The Center for Reconciliation (CFR) is hosting three events that explore various expressions of “reconciliation” based on Dr. Martin Luther King’s teachings about The Beloved Community.

Each event encourage attendees to explore the meaning and practice of reconciliation. In a world that is increasingly conflictual, this is an opportunity for people to share expressions of reconciliation in word, music and art.

The series of events began with four faith leaders reflecting on “Reconciliation as Expressed in Four Faith Traditions” on January 11. The second event in this series is “Reconciliation as Expressed in Music.” This event will feature choral instrumental performances featuring members of the Ruach Singers, students from the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra Music School, the Providence Gay Men’s Chorus and other performers. It will be held on Thursday, February 8th at St. John’s Cathedral, 271 North Main Street, Providence.

David J. Beauchesne, Executive Director of the Philharmonic, will speak about and invite participants to discuss how music relates to reconciliation.

This will be the first time the Cathedral will be open for a public event since its closure in 2012. The Rt. Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island is pleased to see the Cathedral being used by the community. “Rhode Island for Community and Justice just moved their offices into the office wing of the Cathedral, joining the Center for Reconciliation there,” he said. “Together they and our new Young Adult Missioner will bring youth and new life into this space. We are eager to open this building to the community and have it be a place where the sacred and secular meet.”

The third event in the Celebration Series explores “Reconciliation as Expressed in the Arts. The exhibit, done in partnership with Steven Pennell, Director of the URI Providence Campus Arts and Culture Program in partnership with the URI Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Education and Professional Studies, will include the works of local and national artists and a discussion of the exhibit. The event is scheduled for Thursday March the 8th at 7:00 PM at St. John’s Cathedral, 271 North Main Street, Providence.

A service of Choral Evensong will be on Sunday, February 25th at 4:00 PM at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Newport. The Evensong service will commemorate Black History Month and two historical black figures, Absalom Jones and Peter Quire, the founder of the church. The public is invited and encouraged attend to both services.

The Center for Reconciliation (CFR) is a nonprofit organization that fosters interracial reconciliation through a wide range of events and programs designed to connect us to our past so we can together build a more just and equitable future. The goal of each event or program is to engender dialogue — as part of the event, on the way home afterwards and with family, friends, co-workers in the days after the event. Their programs and events are designed to inform and inspire participants to become ambassadors of reconciliation.

The work of the Center for Reconciliation, based in the Cathedral of St. John in Providence, grows out of the commitment of the Episcopal Church to address its role in slavery and the slave trade and the ways the Church both participated in and benefitted from slavery. It is essential that we acknowledge this history and understand its impact in the ongoing process of reconciliation. And given the pivotal role that Rhode Island played in the slave trade, ours is a unique opportunity to provide leadership in this process – not to dwell on the past but to build on our history as a pathway to the future.

Cathedrals traditionally have been places located at the intersection of the secular and sacred – physically situated at the crossroads of in cities and towns where the community gathers for debate and discourse. They have provided “sanctuary” – a safe refuge in difficult times and are known to be centers of excellence in liturgy and the arts.

In 2018 the CFR will launch a series of programs held on Thursday evenings including Movie Nights, The Art of Race, exhibits, speakers and more. Walking Tours of the College Hill area and historic homes are popular in the summer months. See their website www.cfrri.org for event information. CFR will also seek to strengthen partnerships with organizations that share our commitment reconciliation. The Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra Music School, The Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice of Brown University, Rhode Island for Community and Justice, URI’s Arts and Culture Program and the Rhode Island School of Design.

To contact the Center for Reconciliation, click here.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Breakfast

Bishop Knisely and the Center for Reconciliation heard Rev. Dr. Sammy Vaughan speak at the Minister’s Alliance Breakfast celebrating Martin Luther King Day. For 35 years the Alliance has raised money to support scholarships for black youth.

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Center for Reconciliation Receives Award

The Center for Reconciliation (CFR) is honored to have been named the 2017 winner of the Sister Ann Keefe Community and Faith Service Award.

Presented by The Reverend Donald Anderson, executive director of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, the award is given to an individual or organization that has worked with the faith community to achieved shared goals. The award was accepted by Elon Cook, the program director and museum curator for the CFR. Click here to watch the presentation — and share it with others!

We appreciate the recognition and your support!

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Rhode Island Docent Symposium

The Center for Reconciliation participated last week in the 2017 Rhode Island Docent Symposium, sponsored by the Rhode Island Historical Society and funded by the Rhode Island Foundation and the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities.

The symposium was held on Monday, May 8 in New Bedford, Massachusetts at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. This year’s theme was “Creating Welcoming Spaces.”

Elon Cook, our program director and curator, gave a 15-minute video presentation as part of the session on “Race in Museums.” Elon spoke about how to develop respectful interpretations of enslaved, and gradually emancipated, people by collaborating with universities and other historic sites. She emphasized the importance of telling the truth about our shared history. Keith Stokes from the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society then spoke about the importance of representing enslaved people from the point of view of the people themselves (their family, food, culture, religion, skills, etc.) rather than simply as “slaves.” Pam McDonald, CFR volunteer program coordinator, Morgan Grefe, executive director of the Rhode Island Historical Society, and Keith Stokes then answered questions posed by the 40 docents present at the program.

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Open House at the Cathedral

Center members and over 50 visitors enjoyed viewing an exhibit on “Black Mechanics: The Foinding of a University and Nation” featuring Black Americans history and Brown University followed by a tour of The Cathedral of St John and an introduction to the work of the Center. (Exhibit on loan from the Center for Slavery and Justice). 

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Interfaith Anti-Semitism Vigil

CFR members joined other members of Rhode Island’s Interfaith Community who gathered in response to the increased acts of anti-Semitism on Sunday, March 5th at the Holocaust Memorial in downtown Providence.

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Elon Cook, Program Manager, radio interview

Elon Cook, CFR’s Program Manager and Museum Curator was featured in an interview with WCAI radio (a local NPR station). Mindy Todd interviewed Cook as part of their weekly “On The Point” segment. It focused on Slavery in New England and is a great opportunity to learn more about the CFR. Check it out here: http://capeandislands.org/post/new-england-s-hidden-slave-past#stream/0

Elon Cook will be the keynote speaker at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday Breakfast, hosted by No Place for Hate in Falmouth, MA on Monday, January 16 at 9:30 a.m.

 

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MLK Celebration

The personal reflections on Dr. King’s six principles of non-violence were powerful and moving. Highlights of the evening also included musical performances by youth from the RI Philharmonic School of Music, the Grace Church choir, a Native American drummers and singers group, jazz pianist, a cello player and an original composition for piano and flute. The collaboration of several organizations and many people was wonderful to behold!

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