Closing of the petition calling MCC to honor its commitment to antiracism

October 16, 2010

We are deeply grateful to the other constituents of MCC who publicly joined us in calling on MCC to strengthen its commitment to being anti-racist and committed to withhold a portion of their usual giving to the organization. Together, we forced MCC to take a deeper look at some of our shared concerns.

The previous post is a copy of our most recent communication with MCC administrators. As you will see in the letter, we are ending our call to withhold funds. We are ready to put our energies toward other anti-racist efforts within Anabaptist circles, and frankly, we haven’t seen much to celebrate in MCC’s response to our call for greater anti-racist accountability.

We hope and believe that the Anti-Racist Accountability document sent to MCC and included at the bottom of the post will be a helpful resource to anyone seeking to be more accountable to communities of color. Visitors to the blog are welcome and encouraged to put it to good use!

In solidarity and with hope,

The Anti-Racism Constituent Action Group

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Response to Mennonite Central Committee Executives Regarding Anti-racist Accountability

October 16, 2010

October 15, 2010
To:
Arli Klassen—MCC Executive Director
Herman Bontrager—MCC Board Chairperson
Ann Graber Hershberger—MCC US Chairperson
Don Peters—MCC Canada Exectuive Director
Neil Janzen—MCC Canada Chairperson
cc:
Ron Byler—MCC US Transitional Executive Director
Rick Derksen—MCC Antiracism Coordinator

Dear MCC chairs and executive directors,

In response to our concern about an intensifying pattern of people of color leaving MCC on bad terms, our group published an open letter calling for MCC constituents who were concerned about patterns of institutional racism in MCC to withhold 50 percent of their normal giving unless actions were taken to address the situation. One of the actions that we were calling for is increased accountability to communities of color.

At a follow up meeting with you in December 2009, you reported the following efforts to make MCC accountable to communities of color (From Arli Klassen’s report December 8, 2009):

1. The US Anti-Racism Reference Group was to have its first meeting before the end of March 2010.
2. MCC Bi-national is working on increasing the number of country programs with local advisory committees. MCC US is working on increasing the number of program reference groups for MCCs in the US. For the beginning of the fiscal year in April 2010, both MCC bi-national and MCC US will have concrete measurable targets to achieve during the 2010/2011 fiscal year in ensuring functioning advisory/reference committees, and can be held accountable for meeting those targets.
3. MCC Bi-national has a delegate body that meets once a year, composed of representatives from all the supporting denominations (MCC US does not have a comparable delegate body). MC USA appoints 6 delegates to the Bi-national delegate body. MCC Bi-national will ask MC USA to ensure that 1-2 of their delegates are people selected by the affinity groups of color within MC USA, and accountable back to both MC USA and those affinity groups of color.  Both MCC US and MCC BN already have policy regarding a minimum number of people of color on their respective governance bodies.

As part of the discussion at the December meeting, we also heard you asking “What are you (constituents) asking us (MCC executives) to do in order to be more accountable?” We have spent a great deal of time working on the enclosed document. The document is our attempt to respond to your request clarifying what we mean by being accountable to communities of color. It has been a valuable process for us as a group and we hope it will be a valuable resource for you as well.

We would like to suggest that as you read the enclosed document, you consider recent decisions or actions by MCC in which you were involved. By using your experiences as case studies, you will be able to consider the principles of accountability as applied to practical, “real-life” experiences. We have found the cycle of action and reflection to be an essential practice in becoming clearer on what it means to be accountable. Below, we also offer suggestions of some recent MCC actions/decisions we are aware of that could be used in this way as one reads through the accountability principles. How did MCC do in making itself accountable to communities of color in these specific situations? What successes can MCC build on? What mistakes can MCC learn from for the future?

Possible recent case studies for MCC’s accountability to US/Canadian communities of color:

1. New wine/New wineskins process, including composition of decision-making bodies as well as decision-making processes
2. The selection of Sudan and creation of the Sudan: Coming Home campaign as an ongoing commitment for MCC resources and fundraising
3. Recent changes in MCC’s Civil Disobedience policy, changes that came about at least partly in response to the decision of MCC Central States to support one of its workers who was facing the possibility of being involved in actions of civil disobedience
4. Recent changes made by MCC regarding its salary structure

We hope this document answers some of your questions about what we meant in our call to MCC to strengthen its structural accountability to communities of color.

We continue to have concerns about the future direction of MCC and its commitment to becoming an antiracist institution. Each of us brought a sense of caring for MCC and longing for it to be the best that it could be to our writing of the open letter and our efforts since it was published. We had hoped that this call from constituents might spur MCC to strengthen its commitment to antiracism and to take positive actions that would result in us ending our call to withhold funds with celebration. We are saddened that we haven’t seen evidence of that sort of response. However, from this point on, we no longer plan to work at organizing MCC constituents to call the institution to strengthen its commitment to antiracism. We plan to close the petition that we have posted on the web and to communicate to the persons who signed it and to the Damascus Road network what we are communicating with you here.

We have made this decision because we would like instead to focus our energies on supporting new anti-racist initiatives emerging within the Anabaptist community that have encouraged and energized us. We all have limited time and must make choices regarding where we believe our involvement is mostly likely to bear fruit. We are also confident that MCC has many internal resources that can be of great assistance to you in shepherding MCC on its antiracism journey, including processing the ideas in this document.

Toward that end, we are copying Rick Derksen, MCC’s antiracism coordinator, so he will also have a copy of the accountability document that we have developed. As a next step, we encourage you to involve and utilize current antiracism leaders within MCC, such as Rick, in discussing these principles of antiracist accountability, applying them to the whole of MCC, and ultimately building greater institutional accountability to Canadian and US communities of color.

We wish for you wisdom and courage in the work that you do.

In Peace and Hope,
Tim Barr, Calenthia Dowdy, Brenda Zook Friesen, Karissa Ortman Loewen, Conrad Moore, Yvonne Platts, Tobin Miller Shearer, Regina Shands Stoltzfus
The Anti-Racism Constituent Action Group

Accountability Final Version
White Supremacy Culture


Dec 2009 Update on Effort to Hold MCC Accountable for Anti-racist action and Withholding Petition

December 11, 2009

On Saturday, December, 5, 2009, six constituent members (Tim Barr, Calenthia Dowdy, Brenda Zook Friesen, Karissa Loewen Ortman, Yvonne Platts, and Tobin Miller Shearer) met with Ann Hershberger, MCC U.S. board chair; Herman Bontrager, MCC bi-national board chair; Arli Klassen, MCC bi-national executive director; and Rolando Santiago, MCC U.S. executive director in a meeting facilitated by Ewuare Osayande, an anti-racism writer, organizer, and poet, and Marcus Smucker, a Mennonite mediator and church conflict consultant. We met from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. in the offices of MCC East Coast located in the Oxford Circle Mennonite Church complex in Philadelphia, PA.

After time spent reporting by both MCC administrators and the constituents, our conversation settled on the three original stipulations in the letter submitted on May 26, 2009. We collectively agreed that another anti-racism audit was not needed at this time but that implementation of past studies and reports is far more essential. While we stressed the importance of freeing up staff members time to work effectively at anti-racism inside the institution, we as signers did not feel that was a point about which we needed additional discussion. We could not reach agreement, however, on the implementation of structural accountability to oppressed communities of color.

MCC administrators and chairs did agree to take action on four points within the next three months:
1)   actualize accountability committees for MCC US and MCC bi-national that will meet with the anti-racism coordinator position in MCC currently held by Rick Derksen;
2)   hold an organization-wide gathering of people of color within MCC for those so interested;
3)   ask Mennonite Church U.S.A. to have one or two of their delegates to the MCC bi-national delegate body be appointed by existing racial/ethic caucuses in that denomination;
4)   increase the number of reference groups for MCC bi-national’s country programs and the number of reference groups for MCC U.S.’s program reference groups.

While members of the group of constituent members affirmed these steps, we did not feel that they answered our call for the executive committees of MCC U.S., Bi-national, and Canada to make themselves structurally accountable for their anti-racist actions to independent groups of people of color who are knowledgeable about MCC in North America and able to identify and articulate institutional racism. As a result, we chose not to withdraw our request for withholding fifty percent of contributions to MCC at this time.

MCC administrators and board chairs did ask us for more detailed information on what such accountability relationships would look like and we have agreed to consider that request in the next weeks.

Your feedback and questions are welcome as discern how best to proceed from this point forward.


Update

December 1, 2009

As mentioned in the FAQ, in June 2009, we received an official letter of response to the petition from the Executive Directors and Board Chairs of MCC US and MCC Binational.  As the result of email exchanges since that time, a meeting has been set between the original signers of the letter and MCC leaders for conversation about the concerns mentioned in the letter and accompanying petition.  The meeting will be held on December 5, 2009 in Philadelphia.  Ewuare Osyande and Marcus Smucker will be serving as facilitators for the meeting.  We would invite your thoughts and prayers of support and will plan to publish another update following the meeting.


Frequently Asked Questions

July 4, 2009

As the initial signers of the letter to Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) regarding institutional racism, we realize more information may be needed than we could include in the letter.  It is our hope that this list of Frequently Asked Questions will clarify some of our purpose and intent, as well as background for the letter.  If you have further questions, or would value more discussion, please feel free to contact any or all of us.  We welcome the opportunity to grow together in our understanding and implementation of anti-racism. Read the rest of this entry »


Follow-up letter to MCC administrators

July 4, 2009

Dear MCC chairs and executive directors –

We pray this finds each of you well, having a meaningful time at the Mennonite Convention in Columbus.  Again, we express our regret that so few of us were able to attend convention this year.  It would have been ideal for all of us to sit together and discuss this further.  We look forward to scheduling a conference call in the near future.  In the meantime, we submit this letter in the hopes we can clarify several points and to address some additional concerns.

We appreciate your response to us.  We readily admit that our process has not been perfect. We are doing our best to consider all the feedback we have received and will continue to evaluate our approach based on its impact.  At this point, we feel that much energy and time has gone into criticizing our organizing approach, our roles, and our analysis.  We welcome constructive feedback and reflection; however, we had hoped most time and energy would be focused on considering steps that MCC could take to address the ongoing racism within the institution.  The question remains for us:  What will make this juncture different in the history of MCC?

From our original letter, we would like to reiterate actions that MCC could take that would be indicators of significant progress towards dismantling racism in MCC:
1)    MCC follows through on its current intention to undergo an independent anti-racism audit of both existing and proposed structures of the entire institution;
2)    the executive committees of MCC U.S., Bi-national, and Canada have made themselves structurally accountable for their anti-racist actions to independent groups of people of color who are knowledgeable about MCC in North America and able to identify and articulate institutional racism;
3)    the internal MCC anti-racism teams are given time, financial resources, and demonstrable authority to carry out their respective missions.

Our hope is that we can engage in fruitful conversation about these points and collaborate in our shared goal of addressing institutional racism within MCC.  We understand and acknowledge that there are some change processes in progress in MCC.  At this point, we feel a need to call for a new level of commitment to anti-racism.

We want to respond to some of your concerns here, in hopes that we can find a way to move past these issues and focus on the question at hand.

First, we are sharing this letter with members of the Damascus Road (DR) listserv, as we did with our initial letter.  We regret to learn that this has caused some controversy and confusion.  We posted the letter with the understanding that the Damascus Road listserv is an open community for anyone who has attended a DR anti-racism analysis training.  We are each subscribers and for us, this was a natural place to connect with others who are working to dismantle systemic racism.  Our letter and accompanying petition are not initiatives of Damascus Road, but something in which the broader DR network may have interest.

Second, we realize the confusion about the role of Damascus Road was magnified by the fact several signers are trainers with DR.  In our lives, each of us fills various roles and positions.  Many of us have previously served as MCC volunteers and staff.  Several of us are currently contracted as Damascus Road trainers.   We are all MCC constituents and signed the letter in this capacity.  We are aware now that this distinction is not clear and has caused confusion both within and outside of MCC.  We are sorry about this and will do our best to clear it up.  Regardless, we feel it is our responsibility (as constituents, trainers, alumni, etc) to voice our concern about the racism within the organization we serve.  We care deeply about the future of MCC and its ability to become anti-racist.

Third, we understand the ethical concerns about asking constituents to withhold donations, while diverting funds to Damascus Road (an MCC U.S. program).  From what we know of MCC’s financial structure, if people would decide to designate funds to Damascus Road (versus other MCC funds), this essentially has NO financial impact on MCC’s overall budget.  The exception would be if the amount of money designated for Damascus Road exceeded its total projected budget.    For us, this action is primarily symbolic, a way for concerned constituents to support anti-racism work within MCC, while not jeopardizing overall funding.  If constituents decide to divert funds to one of the other anti-racist organizations we listed, this would have a different financial impact.

Lastly, we are greatly troubled to hear reports that people of color within MCC are receiving the brunt of criticism and questions about our letter.  People of color within MCC are already in a difficult and stressful position of serving a white-controlled organization with a history of institutional racism.  The fact that people of color are “taking the heat” for something in which they had no part is further evidence that MCC has room to grow.

We have not given up on MCC – quite the opposite.  We have devoted countless hours praying, discerning, and consulting (with people of color inside and outside of MCC).  We have heard some reports of positive anti-racist organizing that is happening within MCC and we want to do all we can to support and build on that important work.  It is our intention that the withholding of funds will be temporary.  It is also our hope that there will be significant movement in MCC’s anti-racist journey, and that we will all be able to celebrate together.

There are numerous other points you raised in your letter which we would prefer to address during our anticipated phone conversation.  Other constituents have also raised questions and points for clarification.  As a result, we have worked with other constituents to compile a list of Frequently Asked Questions.  We are attaching this for your reference, and will be including it with our original letter when distributed.  This will potentially clarify some of the other concerns you have raised.

We have greatly valued the individual conversations we’ve been able to have with you and look forward to our collective conference call.  It is easy for us all to become trapped in the ways that racism can divide us.  Instead, we want to move together toward God’s vision of a redeemed community.

With continued hope,

Tim Barr, Calenthia Dowdy, Brenda Zook Friesen, Karissa Ortman Loewen, Conrad Moore, Yvonne Platts, Tobin Miller Shearer, Regina Shands Stoltzfus


Response to invitation

June 26, 2009
Dear Herman Bontrager, Arli Klassen, Ann Hershberger, and Rolando Santiago,

Thank you for your letter of response, and for your invitation to work together with your board and staff towards positive change.  We would like to accept that invitation.  We are currently working on a longer more substantial response that addresses some of the issues raised in your letter.

In the meantime, we wanted to respond to your invitation for dialogue during the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Columbus.  We especially value opportunities to talk face to face, and we appreciate the suggestion of meeting during the convention. Unfortunately, very few members of our group plan to be there.  Considering the fact that members of our group live in various places, it may be most practical for us to talk with you by phone. Perhaps we can schedule such a meeting some time after the assembly.

We signed our letter in hope.  We have not given up on MCC.  The actions we have taken are signs of our deep caring and commitment to the work of anti-racism within MCC.

Again in good hope,
Tim Barr, Calenthia Dowdy, Brenda Zook Friesen, Karissa Ortman Loewen, Conrad Moore, Yvonne Platts, Tobin Miller Shearer, Regina Shands Stoltzfus

Online petition

May 27, 2009

Friends,

We invite you to sign the Open Letter to MCC regarding antiracism by pointing your browsers to: http://www.petitiononline.com/mcc/petition.html

We also are greatly in need of members of the Damascus Road Antiracism Network to get friends, family members, and congregations to sign on to the letter as well.

This effort will only be effective if people add their voices and signatures to the letter.


An Open Letter to MCC on Anti-Racism

May 26, 2009

To:

Arli Klassen – MCC Executive Director
Herman Bontrager – MCC Board Chairperson
Rolando Santiago – MCC US Executive Director
Ann Graber Hershberger – MCC US Chairperson
Don Peters – MCC Canada Executive Director
Neil Janzen – MCC Canada Chairperson

Dear MCC chairs and executive directors,

We write to you as constituents who are concerned about the strength of MCC’s commitment to anti-racism. We have noted over the last number of months cause for both celebration and concern. Several of you have stated your commitment to an anti-racist agenda and, at least within MCC US, are planning for a limited anti-racism audit. Likewise, participants in the New Wineskins process have recommended that “justice and peace-building” become a mission priority of the organization. These are hopeful signs. At the same time, staffing cuts and resignations have resulted in a disproportionate loss of people of color at the leadership levels of the organization. We are aware of many other people of color who have left MCC under undesirable circumstances in the last three decades.

These events point to a recurring pattern. MCC has a history of being confronted about racist practices, committing itself to reform, and then returning to old ways. For example, in 1979 African-American leaders in the Mennonite church pointed out that Mennonite Central Committee was “a racist institution which believes in equality but does not practice it in all areas of its involvement.”[f1]  Meetings between Mennonite Church Black Caucus leaders and MCC administrators followed, as did assurances that change would ensue. Yet, reports in 1993, 1998, 2001, 2003, and 2005 testified to ongoing problems that remained unaddressed.[f2]

We refuse to believe that MCC has to perpetuate this cycle of confrontation, commitment, and failure to act. At the same time, we remain hopeful that concrete challenge from constituent members will bring about a different result. To that end, as a first step we are committing ourselves and will encourage our congregations to withhold fifty percent of our normal MCC contributions until such time as:

1)    MCC follows through on its current intention to undergo an independent anti-racism audit of both existing and proposed structures of the entire institution;
2)    the executive committees of MCC U.S., Bi-national, and Canada have made themselves structurally accountable for their anti-racist actions to independent groups of people of color who are knowledgeable about MCC in North America and able to identify and articulate institutional racism;
3)    the internal MCC anti-racism teams are given time, financial resources, and demonstrable authority to carry out their respective missions.

We invite signers to send their withheld funds to anti-racism organizations such as People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, Crossroads Ministries, or Damascus Road until such time as these actions have been taken. Addresses for these organizations appear below.

We ask to meet with the executive directors named above, the MCC Anti-Racism Coordinator, and members of that office’s Community Reference Council by September 1, 2009, to evaluate whether these actions have been taken. Based on the outcome of that meeting, we will then either invite signatories of this letter to return to their and their congregations’ normal giving patterns or encourage continued and increased withholding.

We make these commitments with the clear understanding that we, as constituency members, are connected to this organization and wish only the best for its continued success. At the same time, the recurring history of actions harmful to people of color and beneficial to white people demands bolder action than we have previously taken. We hope that this action will be the first step in an ongoing conversation with you about MCC’s anti-racism practices.

We remain, in good hope,

[signatures]

Addresses of Anti-racism Organizations:

The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond
601 N. Carrollton
New Orleans, LA 70119
http://www.pisab.org/

Crossroads Ministries
P.O. Box 309
Matteson, IL 60443-0309
http://www.crossroadsantiracism.org/

Damascus Road
21 S. 12th St.
PO Box 500
Akron, Pennsylvania 17501-0500
http://mcc.org/damascusroad/

[f1]  Dwight McFadden to William T. Snyder, June 14, 1979, Elkhart, IN. Available from Mennonite Church Archives, Goshen, IN, I-6-7 African-American Mennonite Association, Records, 1969, 1976-91, Box 28 (Large), Folder Mennonite Central Committee 28/1.

[f2]  Memorandum by Rick Derksen, “Recommendations from Various MCC Diversity/Culture/Racism Reports,” July 7, 2008, Akron, PA.


Preface to An Open Letter to MCC on Anti-racism

May 26, 2009

Friends:

Many of us were deeply troubled to learn of the dismissal of our colleague and friend Dionicio Acosta from MCC East Coast earlier this year. His termination came on the heels of the resignation of MCC Human Resources Director Kathy Jackson. Together, the departures of these two talented people of color reminded us of how much work remains to be done within MCC. Based on our relationships with Dionicio and Kathy, we have felt called to act with a new sense of urgency. We are prompted further to take new action based on documentation of MCC’s recurrent inability to make substantive anti-racism changes and the emerging record of people of color who have departed from MCC in recent years whether in large or small part due to frustrations stemming from institutional racism. Thus we are inviting all members of MCC’s constituency who care about MCC’s future as an anti-racist organization to join us in signing the following letter and taking the proposed action.  We would be delighted to talk with you further about our reasons for proposing this action.

Sincerely,

Tim Barr, Calenthia Dowdy, Brenda Zook Friesen, Karissa Ortman Loewen, Conrad Moore, Yvonne Platts, Tobin Miller Shearer, Regina Shands Stoltzfus