This weekend I receive a serious and legitimate inquiry via email. On our website, we describe Mirembe coffee as â€œA sweet, nutty coffee from Uganda with notes of pecan and nutmeg, and a lingering sensation of malty antiquity.â€ The question arose, â€œWhat suggestions do you have for a nut-free facility?â€
No need to worry. The description of the coffee is more about taste and character, than an actual outline of ingredients. In the coffee world, we use certain words to describe the texture, taste, aroma, feeling, etc. of the sensation of the coffee experience. We talk about floral notes like jasmine, even though there really aren’t any flowers in the coffee. When we talk about acidity, we are really just talking about the tingly feeling that lingers on our tongues after we swallow. We mentioned notes of pecan and nutmeg because when we taste the coffee it brings us back to Thanksgiving time and on our pallets we can taste the subtleties that are associated with pecan pie.
There are no nuts in the coffee. There are undertones, which are less intense than notes, and notes are different than hints. Basically, it’s just coffee talk. The only thing in the Ugandan Mirembe Coffee, is coffee. It is not flavored with anything but love and hard work. Coffee tasting and descriptions are much like wine. If you read a wine label it might say hints of melon, or notes of cedar, when really all that’s in the bottle are fermented grapes.
Thanks for bearing with us. Although the coffee is nut-free, I make no claim that we aren’t a little nuts (it keeps things fun on this end).
Several months ago I received a call from Charles London, a freelance writer who discovered the Peace Kawomera Cooperative after doing some research on the Abayudaya (Jews of Uganda).
“Hello, my name is Charles and I’m interested in writing a story about the Peace Kawomera Cooperative for O Magazine.”
“O, as in Overstock? O, as in Oh? Or O as in Oprah?” I asked. I was in a bit of shock.
Chuckling on the other end, he replied, “Yes, O as in Oprah.”
Thus it started.
I first met Charles at Tufts University. He went to Tufts to celebrate with us as we received the Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award. He also came to meet our February/March touring delegation, which included 4 farmers from the Peace Kawomera Cooperative. After spending some time together in Boston, Charles joined the farmers, Ben, and me on a bus as we traveled from Boston to NY. On the ride, he interviewed each of the farmers, Ben and me. We had a lot of fun as he got to know us, and we got to know him.
As we continued with the tour, Charles continued on to Uganda. He visited the members of the Peace Kawomera Cooperative, their farms and schools, and learned about the coffee project from the ground. He is a brilliant writer with a good heart.
The end result: a new friendship, and an article in August’s edition of O Magazine. Here is the link: http://www.oprah.com/article/omagazine/200808_omag_coffee/1
Sales have been much slower than we hoped for, but many people have called in response to the article with an interest to get involved. Only time will tell, but with the arrival of the new crop just before the article hit, and our new website launched, good things are on our side.
If you read this, please forward it on. Let’s start a new campaign of telling everyone we know about this article and the courageous farmers of the Peace Kawomera Cooperative. Encourage your friends to buy a bag or two, and even look into starting a buying club in your community if you haven’t already done so. Together is the only way we can sustain the peace building efforts of the Peace Kawomera Cooperative.
All the best, and have a great weekend!
As I’ve written elsewhere on this blog, our work, and fair trade in general is about relationships. When it boils down to it, relationships are what hold this model together and what make it so powerful. Relationships shape this complicated and layered global economic exchange and mold it in the image of community, transform the blind, exploitative, and unsustainable relationships of times past and heal them.
So it’s a great joy to see those relationships deepening, like I have over the past week. Far away, in the east of Uganda, a delegation from the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Evanston (Illinois) is visiting the Peace Kawomera Cooperative.
Our friend Rabbi Brant Rosen has been keeping an account on his blog, Shalom Rav.
Here’s an excerpt:
Iâ€™ve written extensively about Mirembe on this blog – largely because I have just been so inspired by the example they set for us. I truly believe that the folks at this modest coop in Uganda are, in their way, showing the rest of the world how to live.
(Brant’s posted a few more times on JRC’s visit to the cooperative, and also on their experience in Rwanda where they are involved with a number of truly inspiring projects…so please take a minute to read backwards and forwards from the link above!)
Also, another member of the JRC delegation, Hannah Gelder, is keeping a blog where she wrote about her experience with Peace Kawomera. Check it out here.
Thanks to our friends at JRC who have made this project such an important part of their community. You’d be hard pressed to find a cup of coffee at their synagogue that’s not fair trade from the farmers of the Peace Kawomera, or make it through a community event without running into someone (probably with the last name Waxman!) hawking packages for people to take home.
And if this sounds exciting, amazing, and fun…why don’t you get your community involved?
Yours in Peace,
To all our dear supporters & coffee lovers:
So happy to share the good news that after much wait and anticipation, the new crop Ugandan coffee has traversed the Atlantic Ocean, cleared customs, and arrived at our roastery in northern California! AND IT’S DELICIOUS!
The mood when the first of the year’s coffee arrives is kind of like the frenzy around the year’s first Beaujolais. People converge in the tasting room, our head roaster Charles tries to settle everyone down so he can pay attention to the 100 gram sample he’s roasting to perfection, and we all bump into each other waiting for the first cup to brew. It’s inevitably been a long wait, with at least one or two snags in the road, some anxiety, and a good amount of anticipation.
This year’s coffee is the best we’ve had from the Peace Kawomera Cooperative. It’s character (some combination of nutty richness and a strong vanilla and spice note) is enhanced. The light roast is sweet, and almost chocolaty. The dark roast is strong, with a little bit of a smoky punch, and a sweet finish. Hats off to the farmers, who continue to refine their production and quality control mechanism. Quality is the goal of our work, and we’ve put a lot of time in on the ground in Uganda tinkering with fermentation times, drying techniques, sorting, and cupping. See my post from 2006 for more on that story.
We’ve got a little bit more newsâ€”the introduction of a re-designed package. We thought we’d wait for the new coffee to introduce it’s new clothes, so here it is:
Director of National Sales and Organizing Holly Moskowitz with a sack of the new coffee, and a package from our first production run.
Yours in Peace (and with some great coffee!)
Our friends at TWIN Trading (UK) just passed me a link to a recent article from London’s “The Observer”. In it, journalist Andrew Purvis explores the history of the Gumutindo Cooperative Union (of which Peace Kawomera is one of ten member-cooperatives), and the story of coffee in Uganda in general. It’s a great read, and illuminates a lot of the history of where Peace Kawomera came from, and the farmer-led movement transforming Uganda’s coffee trade.
“Yet, ironically, these people – deprived of everything – had one resource that the whole world wanted: coffee, grown at high altitude on the fertile slopes of Mount Elgon, which was virtually indistinguishable from its famous Kenyan counterpart. Unable to export their beans legally, farmers traded them on the black market – and Kenya, a two-day trek from the Konokoyi valley where I am standing now, was their conduit to the coffee-drinking world.”
Read the entire article.
Also, check out Mr. Purvis’ blog for his thoughts on the real reasons why fair trade matters.
Here’s to the farmers, whose remarkable story continues to inspire me, and hopefully you too!
There’s been a lot of attention recently to the international food crisis. Suddenly, it seems, we’re recognizing that even after decades of work on the issue, the most fundamental human right is still out of reach for hundreds of millions of people around the world. It’s becoming apparent that the consequences of climate change and population growth are creating some very difficult problems, and that these combine with a host of other political, economic, and ecological challenges to create complex and urgent crisis: people are hungry, and food security for a significant number of the world’s population is a long way off. In the last couple of days, a lot of attention has been put on the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) gathering in Rome. Much of the attention has been on a variety of side issues, including the extravagant menu offered to the government officials and dignitaries gathered, and on the continued abuse of power by Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president (if that’s a word I can use to describe his role, which is clearly that of a dictator).
Rising food costs directly effect the farmers of the Peace Kawomera Cooperative. Though most grow a significant portion of their own food on their farms (along with their coffee), many buy some percentage of their food, especially grains (either wheat bread or rice) in town. Rising costs make it difficult for the farmers to feed their families, and spread their earnings from coffee all too thin. Underneath this challenge though, is a situation many decades in the making: for years, coffee has been the only lucrative crop, so farmers have invested in coffee, and moved away from growing food. But though their incomes have increased, their ability to provide for their family with the extra money their earning is starting to decline. It’s been two steps forward, and now a step backward.
How did this happen?
We could spend a lot of time pointing fingers, and the truth is that there are more guilty parties than we can count. Failed UN efforts, corruption, war, climate change, and the collapse of stable markets are just a few of the leading suspects. What’s clear is that prioritizing the needs of farmers and their families has long since lost traction in the world’s circles of power. Large-scale solutions such as liberalizing government policy (ie privatizing and reducing trade barriers) have exposed farmers to the hardest-hitting competition in the world, and as one would expect, the big guys win pretty quickly. A Ugandan farmer trying to make a profit on her surplus corn is in a bad way when she is selling to a market that’s controlled by giant American multinationals, and supplied by giant industrialized farms in the US cornbelt that are heavily subsidized by American tax dollars. So, for farmers like the 754 members of Peace Kawomera, the last 20 years have seen a decline in crop prices, which means three things: one, it’s harder to make a living growing food, two, it’s cheaper to buy food, it makes more sense to grow cash crops like coffee, which don’t face competition from subsidized production elsewhere.
This, for many economists, is a good thing. Specialization (those who grow corn best grow corn, those who don’t shouldn’t) should calibrate the economy towards efficiency. Farmers in Uganda should grow coffee, and sell it to farmers in Iowa who grow corn, and visa-versa. Farmers took this philosophical and economic bait and ate it too (who wouldn’t, it’s a rational choice considering the optionsâ€”work to grow crops to sell and then make very little money, or give up those crops and buy food at the new cheap prices). As food got cheaper, farmers started to grow less, and buy more. But then things changed. Food prices have skyrocketed, and now, farmers are faced with food prices that are beyond their means.
The UN’s recent call to action is a dramatic attempt to stave off disaster. In the short term, it may be necessary, but it’s not a long-term solution to the deepening problem, which is only exacerbated by population growth, climate change, and economic tremors caused by the challenge of peak oil.
It’s worth rewinding a few weeks in the news, to the attempted passage of the US Farm Bill.The Economist weighed in on the absurdity of some of the Farm Bill’s most notorious features (not only continuing a lavish subsidy program, but tying future subsidy levels to today’s record commodity prices), and others, like The Center for Ecoliteracy, have worked to draw the connection between the bill, farming, health, and the impact on our local food systems. What’s important to note here though, is that the farm bill is at the root of the hunger crisis now facing farmers around the world. In the US especially, but also in Europe, farm subsidies support the business of farming locally, but prop up an unsustainable commodity production, dramatically distort prices, and create a surplus of really cheap food. This food then travels the world, and finds its way untaxed into local markets, where it arrives at low prices, often undercutting the ability of local farmers to compete and make a profit. This is an important piece of the puzzle: the reduction of trade barriers in the third world and increased subsidies in the first world flood local markets and combine to dramatically alter the economy of farming and the social web of food production.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that the paradigm itself is unsustainable. It’s not going to work to overproduce food, and ship it from one side of the world to the other. For a while, that seemed logical, at least on some economic grounds. But now, the cost of that model has increased to the point where it’s clearly broken. Farmers are stuck in the midst of a situation that they did not create, and struggling to get by. It’s past time to envision and work towards a different paradigm, one that prioritizes the needs of farmers and their families, and understands that this is the only basis from which to build a strong and sustainable global economy. Henry Saragih, International Coordinator for Via Campesina, has written a subtle but provocative letter that hints at what this new direction might look like.
In the meantime, the farmers of Peace Kawomera are working to build a stable market for their coffee, which helps to bring some economic security to their families. The Cooperative is working on helping the farmers develop their coffee production, and balance cash-cropping with food production. It’s going to be a long journey together, but our hope is that by doing our part we can work to establish a model that works for farmers and their familiesâ€”both because coffee, which is and should be a viable cash crop is now profitable, and because farmers can use these earnings and the cooperative’s support to return to food production, and achieve a healthy balance in their farming between feeding their families and earning money to pay for the other necessities of life.
From the UN summit in Rome to the floor of the US congress, and all the way to the slopes of Mt. Elgon in Uganda, the challenge of our time is weaving together a globalized economy that works for everyone, now, and in the future. Should we be surprised to learn that it’s all connected, that just like an ecosystem, one change creates another, and a challenge one place is simultaneously a challenge somewhere else?
From time to time (and increasingly, with less time betweenâ€”a good thing!) like-minded blogs, bloggers, and organizations share our story with their audience. It’s certainly one of the wonders of our modern world: that we can reach so many with the stories of our time. I thought I’d share a couple of recent posts with you, in case you’re interested in reading what others are saying about our workâ€”maybe you’ll discover a new favorite blog or another inspiring story in the process!
From Tzaadi.com, an interesting perspective on Mirembe Kawomera and the larger struggles facing Africa, and Africans.
A snippet: “We should be looking to stories of self-reliance and ingenuity that show how Africans themselves are healing their continent from the inside out. Read more.
From Your Daily Thread, an LA-based blog about all things fair trade, hip, and sustainable.
A snippet: “Thanksgiving brings to mind turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce â€“ and coffee? Sure, Thanksgiving is still far away â€“ and maybe coffee isnâ€™t a traditional Thanksgiving food â€“ but we are definitely ready to give thanks for California-based Thanksgiving Coffee. Read more.
From Faith House, an innovative approach to building interfaith bridges and relationships, based in Manhattan.
A snippet: “We invite you to join efforts like this and harness the buying power of your community for peace and justice, and to heal the broken relationships of our world.” Read more.
Yours in Peace,
In recognition of World Fair Trade Day, I asked four friends and longtime supporters of Mirembe Kawomera to contribute to an interfaith commentary on the fair trade movement. Special thanks to the contributors: Reverend Will Scott a pastor at Grace Cathedral, in San Francisco; Nyla Khan a teacher at the Islamic Foundation School, in Villa Park (West Chicago); Rabbi Brant Rosen, rabbi at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation of Evanston; and Reverend Anne Myosho Kyle Brown, of the Kumeido Zen Center.
Reverend Will Scott, Grace Cathedral
There seems to be a real movement happening in the United States and all around the world â€“ a movement of â€œstaying awakeâ€ â€“ becoming more aware of how deeply we are connected to one another, and how much our choices affect the well being of others. The Internet and other communication technologies have helped many of us become more aware of the ways in which our lifestyles affect other people. Fair trade is one way to allow our love for God, our care for our neighbors and for the earth to infuse more of what we do.
Many Christians advocate simplicity, i.e. consume less of the worldâ€™s goods, buy less. The motto “live simply so that otherâ€™s might simply live” comes to mind. More and more Christians in addition to consuming less are also seeking to contribute to the good of the global and local community by how they engage in the marketplace. From fair trade gifts to buying livestock
for poor villages during the holidays, Christians and other people of faith are waking up to new ways of serving God and bringing hope to others.
Recently, my brother shared with me how college students around the country are asking that their campuses serve local produce to support family farms. As a priest, I think all this conscientious consumption is connected to the deep human longing to be awakened to Godâ€™s purposes, to be part of Godâ€™s realm of love and peace. I think this concern for where our food comes from, for how something is made and by whom is all about waking up, is all about loving our neighbors â€”even strangersâ€” as ourselves. This conscientious consumption may be a spiritual discipline inviting us to consider how we seek and serve God in all persons, including those that made the clothes on our backs, or picked the vegetables we eat, or harvested the coffee we drink or bagged all these items at the store.
Our faith insists that we tell the truth. A modern Christian confession asks us to confess the evil things we have done, and those evil things that have been done on our behalf. We must name the cruelty, injustice, ecological devastation, and the greed that is part of our contemporary economic system. The Fair Trade Movement helps us get real, to be more honest about who we are and what we are doing to make the world a better place. May the Fair Trade Movement help us all stay alert, keeping awake to the urgent message of Godâ€™s love for us, and our responsibility to share that love with all people in all our words and deeds.
Grace Cathedral recently began serving fair trade coffee at all our church events. We have partnered with the Interfaith Council of San Francisco and Thanksgiving Coffee Company’s Mirembe Kawomera Cooperative, an interfaith co-op in Uganda. On Easter Sunday, we were treated to a visit by a group of these coffee farmers, and together celebrated in song God’s life among us.
Nyla Khan, Islamic Foundation School
Fair Trade â€“ A Muslimâ€™s Perspective
Fair trade is in total congruence with Islam and Islam is in total congruence with fair trade. The teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him) have related over and over the ideas of fairness and justice â€“ on the part of the buyer and the seller.
â€œA truthful and trustworthy trader will be in the company of the Prophets, the very truthful, and the martyrs.â€ (Tirmidhi)
This Hadith underscores the importance of a traderâ€™s integrity. At the time of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him), traders wanted wealth so badly, they didnâ€™t care how they acquired it, thus the basis of this Hadith. I think that these days, as consumers, we want THINGS so badly, we donâ€™t care where we get these things from. It is our duty as consumers, Americans, Muslims, and human beings to be very careful about where our food, clothing, necessities and accessories come from and where our money goes. By engaging in fair trade, we can at least uphold our end of the bargain.
Rabbi Brant Rosen, Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation
One of my favorite Talmud passages comes from this discussion about the blessing after eating:
“It is written, ‘The earth and its fullness are God’s’ (Psalms 24:1), and it is written ‘He has given the earth to the children of man’ (Psalms 115:16). This is no contradiction. The first verse is before man’s blessing, and the second verse is after the blessing.” (Talmud – Berachot 35a)
As it is often fond of doing, the Talmud presents two Scriptural verses that seem to contradict on another. In this case, they are two verses from the Psalms: one claims that the earth belongs to God, and the other holds that the earth belongs to humanity. So which is it?
The Talmud points out that while the world indeed does belong to God, the earth becomes ours to enjoy in direct proportion to our recognition of Godâ€™s dominion over it. If we fail to properly acknowledge Godâ€™s proprietorship of the goods we use, in a sense we commit a kind of thievery when we dare to use them for our own ends. Thatâ€™s why as Jews, we dare not enjoy the blessings of this world without first saying a blessing.
I find a great deal of spiritual power in this teaching: that the world becomes ours to enjoy only when we acknowledge that it really doesnâ€™t belong to us. I also believe that this insight has profound implications for a world in which humanity too often claims exclusive proprietorship over its bounty â€“ where increasingly powerful interests are claiming ownership over increasingly diminishing resources.
I sometimes find myself wondering, what would it mean for our global world economy if we truly took this teaching to heart: that none of it was ever really ours to begin with? One thing I do believe is that it would force us to confront the chronic sense of entitlement we have toward the earthâ€™s resources. And I also believe it would give us a much deeper sensitivity to the process by which goods and services reach our door.
I think that more than anything else, this is why, as a Jew, I am so drawn to the Fair Trade movement. Fair Trade is a discipline that demands mindfulness of a greater good when we consume certain goods: of fair prices to those who actually produce the products we enjoy, to safer working conditions, to sustainable development in their communities, to the sustainability of their farms.
I do believe, as I learn from the Talmud, that when we consume with a sense of personal entitlement, we are guilty of a kind of theft. Much like the utterance of a blessing, when we support Fair Trade we demand conscious consumption.
Revered Ann Myosho Kyle Brown, Kumeido Zen Center
On the occasion of the celebration of World Fair Trade Day, I would like to express my deep appreciation and gratitude for Thanksgiving Coffee Company and the Mirembe Kawomera Coffee Cooperative in Uganda for their fine work in helping to alleviate global poverty and promote sustainability.
To move individuals and communities from a position of vulnerability and to a position of security and economic self-sufficiency is a noble task, springing from the essence of the Buddhist principle of Right Livelihood which states that Buddhist practioners not engage in trades or occupations which either directly or indirectly lead to harm to individuals or systems.
Right Livelihood is but one element of the Buddhaâ€™s Nobel Eightfold Path to enlightenment which includes: right view, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
Though the path is numbered one through eight, it is not a series of linear steps through which one must progress; but rather the simultaneous development of wisdom, ethical conduct and mental discipline, as far as possible according to the capacity of each individual. They are all linked together and each helps the cultivation of the others.
As such, JJ Keki, founder and director of Peace Kawomera Cooperative, was truly inspired with Right View to have conceived of the idea of bringing together his Jewish, Christian and Muslim neighbors to work for their mutual benefit and the benefit of all.
For these neighbors to bridge their historical differences and operate with trust and cooperation clearly required Right Speech, Right Effort and Right Mindfulness. For the Katzeff family to recognize the great value of their endeavor and commit to supporting and promoting not just their coffee but their values is a remarkable manifestation of Right Aspiration and Right Action.
This is an enlightened project which fills me with hope and faith in these troubled times around the world.
May all beings realize their true nature of oneness. May all beings be free from fear and danger. May all beings be happy and able to protect their happiness. May all beings be peaceful.
Deep bows to all of you.
Rev. Ann Myosho Kyle Brown
Kumeido / The Little River Zen Center
A Soto Zen Buddhist Sangha
Itâ€™s Passover, the Jewish celebration of freedom and the telling of the story of Exodus, told literally and interpretively in ways new and old. For me, and many other people of the Jewish tradition, Passover is a vital link between our cultural and religious inheritance and our work for justice; it illuminates a legacy of struggle, and helps us understand our place in a human geography of people called to make the world a better place, or more specifically, to pursue the realization of freedom for everyone, everywhere.
So, thatâ€™ a long way of saying that Iâ€™ve been thinking about freedom and justice extra hard lately, and I thought Iâ€™d share a few thoughts on the topic, as it relates to fair trade.
Fundamentally, fair trade is about changing the character of economic relationships so that producer and consumer come together in a whole partnership, one that sustains, nourishes, and shares. For farmers, this often means a transformation of the conditions of their livesâ€”from poverty, and struggle of not having enough, to freedom, and the ability to choose with agency. Itâ€™s the difference between choosing which child not to send to kindergarten, and choosing which child to send to high school or even college. The uniting of farmers with consumers in a relationship that is direct, just, and sustaining changes the world. It creates a condition of freedom, or at least, circumstances of life that are more-free, with the possibility of the ever-opening pursuit of more freedom.
This is the heart of fair tradeâ€™s freedom, but it is only one side of a partnership, and its pursuit is incomplete (and I might say impossible) without an exploration of freedomâ€™s other side.
Far away from the farmers who grow our coffee, we walk through the automatic doors of our neighborhood supermarket and are confronted with a countless number of choices. Products offer us health, energy, deliciousness, maybe even the fullness of satisfaction. We feel our power, and choose our favorite loaf of bread from the selection. Our favorite peanut butter. Our favorite fruit jam or jelly. So many choices. Then itâ€™s on to bananas or oranges, maybe both, and apples, pears, lettuce and spinach. Then the coffee section. Strong or sweet, ground or whole bean, flavored or not. We wheel our carts to checkout, each of pushing a metal cart containing the results of our choicesâ€”or is it a cage containing the work of our freedom, a definition of self expressed through our agency to choose within the choices given to us?
What interests me is the question how are we to understand our freedom as consumers. To move from choosing within the narrow choices given to us, and the meaning of those choices, literally manufactured by a corporate culture, towards an economy where we choose in a broadly free way, where meaning is personal, and the process of choosing is liberated from external pressure, definition, and constraint.
This seems to me to be a study of the unfreedom of our condition as consumers in a world beyond our control, our blind (or distorted) participation in relationships formed predominantly by anotherâ€™s choices, our day-to-day feeding of a social organism directed and guided to serve the interests of some over the many. If freedom is the ability to choose, to connect, and to know in truth, then we are greatly deceived by the illusion of freedom we so surrounded within.
Fair trade proposes a very different kind of freedom, the freedom to choose not only for self (think back to health, deliciousness, satisfaction) but also to choose for other. The possibility of choosing to consume in a way that takes and gives, the possibility, as Iâ€™ve written elsewhere, to re-imagine our role as consumers to be more like co-producers in a world where farmers feed, and are fed. Where we who take do our taking in a way that sustains the ability of those who give to give.
These are the two sides of fair tradeâ€™s work for freedom. I hope that you who know the story of Peace Kawomera, whoâ€™ve met the farmers, read their interviews, and thought of them when you bought and drank their coffeeâ€”you whoâ€™ve made this project whole and who it possible for our company and their cooperative to continue our workâ€”I hope that your participation has given you a new sense of freedom, your freedom, and anotherâ€™s, together awakening a new, more whole, more free world.
Yours in Peace (and for Freedom),
I just found a treasure, in the midst of a task Iâ€™ve been dreading (always a good lesson).
Over the course of the past four weeks, as weâ€™ve met with community leaders, presented our work to interfaith coalitions, and individual congregations, weâ€™ve kept a growing stack of signup sheets for our email newsletter. By the end, the stack had that nice heavy feel of a full file folderâ€”substantial, and gratifying, but alsoâ€¦kind of a chore to enter each name and email, hundereds of â€˜em.
At least thatâ€™s what I thought. So I came in to work early this morning. Sat down with a sweet cup of Byron Corrales Martinezâ€™s organic Maracaturra (Byron is and has been a mentor for me, heâ€™s a leader in the cooperative movement in Nicaragua, and a dear friend. No, contrary to popular belief, I donâ€™t only drink Mirembe Kawomera coffee.) I put Midnite on my headphones (great politically charged reggae from St. Croix) and started typing one-by-one-by-one, trying to enjoy the time, but mostly looking forward to being done with it.
And thenâ€¦I started to pay attention to the names, to enjoy their sounds and to imagine their stories. Luo, McDowell, Shapiro, Qarni, Najmiâ€¦that was Boston, I think. Panitz, Curtis, Abu Jamal, Allen, Ali, Van Besien, Weisbaumâ€¦that was Chicago, the sign-up sheet from our event at Columbia College. Then Lupien, Khan, Gardner, Hasaan, Mulazim, and Gardner, from Baltimore . These people were standing next to each other, probably talking, maybe shaking hands, perhaps trading phone numbers and email addresses. Read their names out loud, for yourself. Imagine the world they are living in. People of all different backgrounds, faiths, and histories, together in a moment, a rich tapestry of human experience, weaving their disparate threads together around this project…
So now, with the chore transformed into a kind of treasure hunt, I sit and ponder the beauty of this work to build peace by working together; the work of creating a pluralistic society where are differences are cause for celebration and a source of inspiration, rather than a cause for division and conflict.
Still yours, in Peace,