Day 40: Byron Sandford

On this last day of this year’s 40 Days with Peacemakers, we celebrate the person who has made this series and much of what continues at William Penn House possible.

Byron Sandford was born in Cleburne, Texas, October 16, 1946 to Thaddeus Sandford and Mildred “Sammie” Howes Sandford, a couple who began their married life together in Alaska, trapping and gold mining.  Byron attended the University of Texas at El Paso (Texas Western at the time) and was a student there when its all-black basketball team beat all-white Kentucky for the national championship, a milestone in college athletics. He went on to earn a Master’s degrees in psychology and political science. Though Byron grew up a Methodist and his first wife Franci was brought up Catholic, they were seekers who wanted a spiritual life that spoke to their heart and spirit and reflected their values.  In 1974 their exploration let them to El Paso Worship Group and their spiritual home with Quakers.

ByronByron became fully committed to Quaker testimonies and service–Friends Meeting of Austin: treasurer; South Central Yearly Meeting: nominating, yearly meeting program, and ministry committees;  Friends General Conference: clerk of finance and development committees, treasurer, and various ad hoc committees; Quakerland, an intentional community in west Texas: trustee and builder; Pendle Hill’s nominating committee and acting presiding clerk; Friends Meeting of Washington:  clerk of property and finance and stewardship committees; and Baltimore Yearly Meeting:  nominating committee and clerk of trustees.

When Byron met his wife Susan, he spoke eloquently about the role of his Quaker faith in his life. It has been a strong thread in their lives together from that meeting on.  During his tenure at the William Penn House as executive director, Byron has been a leader and a follower.  He recognized the significant gifts of his colleagues and celebrated and facilitated their leadings, making the significance of Quaker faith and service visible to the community. His gentle nurturing has left a lasting imprint on William Penn House and the broader community. Even the way he handled Parkinsons – never shying away the challenges, but looking forward with optimism and a spirit that all is well, not necessarily good, but well – have been an inspiration. And, in recognition of how it all got started, here it is as only Byron can put it: My kids grew up and left home, my wife grew up and left home, the dog died, and I got the hell out of Texas. 

This brings the series to a close for another year. If you have enjoyed this 40 Days with Peacemakers, we invite you to take a moment to make a contribution to William Penn House so that the spirit of Byron’s work and all that we do can continue. Donations can be made here. We will also be raising a glass to Byron on Sunday, April 17 from 3-7PM at Biegarten Haus, 1335 H St NE. Click here to see more and RSVP.

 

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Day 39: James Forten

James Forten (1766-1842) was born free in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the grandson of a slave who had freed himself. After his father died, James Forten started working at age seven to help out his mother and sister, first as a chimney sweep and then as a grocery-store clerk. He also attended the African School, run by Quaker abolitionist Anthony Benezet. By age nine, Forten left school to work full-time.  During the Revolutionary War, Forten served on the Royal Louis. The ship was captured by British forces and he was at risk of being enslaved. Captain John Beazley, who had taken the privateer, was impressed with Forten and secured his being treated as a regular prisoner of war.

james-fortenForten was fortunate to survive the prison conditions in England where thousands of prisoners died. After 7 months he was released on parole and his promise not to fight in the war. He was returned to Brooklyn and walked to Philadelphia to return to his mother and sister and later signed up on a merchant ship that sailed to England. He lived and worked for more than a year in a London shipyard.

When Forten returned to Philadelphia in 1786, he became apprenticed to sail-maker Robert Bridges, his father’s former employer and a family friend. He learned quickly in the sail loft, ultimately purchasing the business in 1798. By 1810 his was one of the most successful sail-making businesses in Philadelphia, employing black and white workers, and Forten one of its wealthiest citizens. Having become well established, Forten devoted both time and money to working for the national abolition of slavery and gaining civil rights for blacks.  He wrote pamphlets and publicly denounced bills that mistreated free blacks. As the resettlement movement grew, Forten supported the idea of establishing black-governed nations like Liberia and Haiti. However, he also felt that many American blacks should have equal rights to property in the US as they had been here for generations. He consistently said that it was far better for them to fight for an egalitarian US society rather than to flee the country.

Forten financially backed William Lloyd Garrison in starting up start up his newspaper, The Liberator, in 1831, in which he frequently published letters signed as “A Colored Man of Philadelphia.” According to his biographer Julie Winch, Forten was “one of the most powerful African-American voices, for many thousands more throughout the North. He knew how to use the press and the speaker’s podium. He knew about building alliances, when to back down and when to press forwards with his agenda.”

He died at the age of 75 in Philadelphia. Thousands of people, both black and white, attended his funeral. His children and grandchildren remained active in the abolitionist movement as leaders, activists and educators. His granddaughter, Charlotte Forten Grimké became a poet, diarist and educator. Her diary from teaching freedmen and their children in the South after the Civil War was republished in scholarly editions in the 1980s.

For today, reflect on these words of Forten: “It seems almost incredible that the advocates of liberty should conceive of the idea of selling a fellow creature to slavery.”

Day 35: George Soros

George Soros (born György Schwartz on August 12 1930) was born in Budapest Hungary to a non-observant Jewish family. His father was a lawyer and had been a prisoner of war during and after WWI. As Soros grew up, his parent were cautious with their religious roots and, in 1936, changed the family name to Soros. In 1944, Nazi Germany invaded Hungary. Jewish children were barred from attending school, but were instead made to report to the Jewish Council, where they were used to deliver deportation notices. When Soros learned from his father about this, he did not return to the Jewish Council and, instead, went into hiding. Soros survived the war thanks to the employee of the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture. Post-WWII, he made his way to England, starting as an impoverished student but ultimately earning a BS and PhD from the London School of Economics.

George_Soros_-_Festival_Economia_2012_02Soros became rich in various positions and companies in the financial world, including at times shady dealings, insider trading and short-selling, something that should give pause to issues of integrity. But it is his philanthropic efforts (including giving $11 billion to philanthropic causes between 1979 and 2015) that are also noteworthy. He provided funds to help black students in Apartheid South Africa to attend the University of Cape Town, as well as funding dissident movements behind the iron curtain.  His Open Society Foundations have been instrumental in helping post-Soviet states non-violently transition to democracy. He has provided $100 million towards helping develop the internet infrastructure for regional Russian universities and $50 million towards poverty eradication in Africa. He has been an active donor to scientists and universities in central and eastern Europe. In the US, he has supported Prop. 19 (California’s marijuana legalization effort), provided initial funding for the Center for American Progress, and continues to fund Open Society Foundation and its programs in more than 60 countries. He has also been an outspoken advocate for liberal and progressive causes and anti-war efforts. Former Fed chairman Paul Volcker wrote of Soros that he was an enormously successful financial speculator, and the bulk of his winnings is now devoted to encouraging “open societies”, not just in the sense of freedom of commerce, but “more important – tolerant of new ideas and different modes of thinking and behavior.”

Soros is an outspoken critic of the current system of financial speculation, arguing that it undermines healthy economic development in underdeveloped countries. While he is clearly a participant in the market, he works to change the rules.  On the issue of anti-semitism, Soros holds the tension between recognizing the long history of anti-Jewish attitudes and actions, current Israeli and US policies and actions (particularly in the Middle East), and how his own position of wealth and power can contribute to the image that “Jews rule the world.”

For today, reflect on these Soros’ words of wisdom: “Once we realize that imperfect understanding is the human condition there is no shame in being wrong, only in failing to correct our mistakes.”

Day 34: Benjamin Lundy

Benjamin Lundy (1789-1839) was a Quaker abolitionist born in Hardwick Township, New Jersey. From 1808-1812 he lived at Wheeling, Virginia (now in West Virginia), where he was an apprentice to a saddler. Wheeling was an important headquarters of the interstate slave trade, and Lundy, troubled by the iniquity of slavery, determined to devote his life to the cause of abolition.

His apprenticeship completed, he married, and, settling in Saint Clairsville, Ohio, soonLundy built up a profitable business. There, in 1815, he organized an anti-slavery association, known as the Union Humane Society, which quickly grew to more than 500, and he assisted Charles Osborne in editing the Philanthropist. In 1819-1820, he went to St. Louis, Missouri and took an active part in the slavery controversy. In 1821 he founded an anti-slavery paper, the Genius of Universal Emancipation, at Mount Pleasant, Ohio. This periodical was published successively in Ohio, Tennessee, Maryland, the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania, although as times sporadically when he traveled and spoke out against slavery. He is said to be the first to deliver anti-slavery lectures in the US.

When the paper was located in Baltimore (1829-1830), Lundy was assisted in editing by William Lloyd Garrison. The two were alike in their hostility to slavery, but Garrison was an advocate of immediate emancipation on the soil, while Lundy was committed to schemes of colonization abroad. Within a few months, while Lundy was absent in Mexico, Garrison published extremely radical articles demanding immediate emancipation and asserting that the domestic slave trade was as piratical as the foreign. Garrison was brought to trial for criminal libel, fined, and imprisoned. This occurrence so reduced the circulation of the Genius that a friendly dissolution of partnership between Lundy and Garrison took place. It also raised up such a hostile spirit in Baltimore that Lundy shortly afterwards moved the paper to Washington, D.C., where, after some years, it failed.

Besides traveling through many states of the United States to deliver anti-slavery lectures, Lundy visited Haiti twice, in 1825 and 1829; the Wilberforce Colony of freedmen and refugee slaves in Canada in 1830-1831; and Texas, in 1832 and again in 1833; all these visits being made, in part, to find a suitable place outside the United States to which emancipated slaves might be sent. Between 1820 and 1830, according to a statement made by Lundy himself, he traveled “more than 5000 miles on foot and 20,000 in other ways, visited 19 states of the Union, and held more than 200 public meetings.” He was bitterly denounced by slaveholders and also by such non-slaveholders as disapproved of all anti-slavery agitation, and in January 1827 he was assaulted and seriously injured by a slave-trader, Austin Woolfolk, whom he had severely criticized in his paper.

In 1836-1838 Lundy edited in Philadelphia a new anti-slavery weekly, The National Enquirer, which he had founded, and which under the editorship of John G. Whittier, Lundy’s successor, became The Pennsylvania Freeman. In 1838 Lundy moved to Lowell, Illinois, where he printed several copies of the re-established Genius of Universal Emancipation. There he died.

In honor of his spirit for change that was reflected through his patience and perseverance, here are his sentiments about the purpose of his work: “The end and aim of this publication is the gradual, though total, abolition of slavery in the United States of America.”

Day 33: St. Clare of Assisi

Born Chiara Offreduccio, St. Clare (1194-1253) was one of the first followers of St. Francis of Assisi. Her father, Favorino Sciffi, was a wealthy representative of an ancient Roman family, owning a palace in Assisi and a castle on the slope of Mount Subasio. Her mother, Ortolana, also belonged to a noble family and was a very devout woman who had taken pilgrimages to as far as the Holy Land. (Ortolona also later joined the monastic order started by St. Clare).

As a child, Clare was devoted to prayer. As was the custom of the times, it is assumed that she was to be married but, at 18 years of age, she first heard Francis preaching a Lenten service, and her life was changed. She asked Francis to help her live in the manner of the Gospel and on Palm Sunday of that year, she left her father’s house and proceeds to meet Francis. She had her hair cut and exchanged her rich gown for a plain robe and veil.

Saint_Clare_of_AssisiFrancis placed Clare in a convent of Benedictine nuns. When her father attempted to force her to return home, she clung to the alter, professing that she would have no other husband but Jesus Christ. Clare then went to a more remote Benedictine monastery (soon joined by her sister) and remained there until a dwelling was built for them next to the church of San Damiano near Assisi. This became the center of Clare’s new order, at first known as “Order of Poor Ladies of San Damiano”, now known as the Order of St. Clare. During her lifetime, this order remained devoutly committed to a life of poverty, work and prayer, while also promoting the growth of Francis’s order, as she viewed him as a spiritual father figure. She often had to resist the orders of popes and church leaders attempting to impose rules on her order that might water down the radical commitment to corporate poverty. It is said that she also thwarted an impending plunder by the army of Frederick II in 1224 by going out to meet them with the Blessed Sacrament on her hands, causing the army to mysteriously flee the city.

Clare died at the age of 59 and was canonized three years later.  For today, take a moment to reflect on her words about love: “We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God’s compassionate love for others.”

Day 32: Nawal El Saadawi

Nawal El Saadawi is an Egyptian writer, activist, phsyician and psychiatrists. She has written extensively on the subject of women in Islam with particular atention on female genital mutilation in her society.

Nawal ElBorn in 1930 in a small village, her family was at once traditional and progressive. At age 6, she was “circumcised” (otherwise known as female genital mutilation, a non-medical practice that is illegal in many parts of the world), but her father also insisted that all his children be educated. Her father campaigned against the British occupation during the 1919 revolution which resulted in being exiled to a small town in the Nile Delta and being denied promotions in his Ministry of Education job. Through it all, he encoraged his daughter to study and speak her mind.

Saadawi graduated with an MD in 1955. Through her practice, she observed women’s physical and psychological problems and connected them with oppressive cultural, patriarchal, class and imperialistic oppression. In 1972, she published Al-Mar’a wa Al-Jins (Woman and Sex) confronting the various aggressions against women’s bodies. This book became a foundational text of second-wave feminism and led to her being dismissed from her position with the Ministry of Health and other public health positions. She was imprisoned in September 1981 after publishing a feminist magazine called Confrontation, but was released a month after Anwar Sadat’s assassination. She has written books and memoirs based on her own experiences as well as those of women she met in prison.

She was forced to fell Egypt in 1988 when threatened by Islamist and political persecution. Between then and 1996, she held positions at various universities in the US and France before returning to Egypt to continue her activism. She was among the protesters in Tahrir Square in 2011, and has called for the abolition of religious instruction in Egyptian schools.  She was a devout muslim, expresses the view that women are oppressed by the larger partriarchal religions, but also states that the root of the oppression of women lies in the post-modern capitalist system that is supported by religions.

For today, here are two quotes of very different sentiment from Saadawi: “Danger has been a part of my life ever since I picked up a pen and wrote. Nothing is more perilous than truth in a world that lies” and “Love has made me a different person. It has made the world a beautiful place”

Day 29: Mary Bonauto

Mary Bonauto (b. 1961) is a lawyer and civil rights advocate who has been instrumental in eradicating discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and been called “our Thurgood Marshall” by retired congressman Barney Frank.  She was born into a Roman Catholic family in Newburgh, NY. After graduating law school, in 1987, she entered private practice in Maine where she was one of three openly gay private practice lawyers in the state.  She has taken on cases in such areas as public accommodations discrimination, relationship protections (including second parent rights), vindicating First Amendment protections, and challenging anti-gay harassment and violence. Her work has informed public policy in all six New England states.

Bonauto’s first marriage case was in Vermont in 1997 that led Vermont to become the Mary.Bonautofirst state to enact civil unions and extending benefits to same-sex couples in a “separate but equal” system. Then she was the lead attorney in the Goodridge v Department of Public Health case in Massachusetts that ruled in her favor, leading MA to be the first state to allow civil marriage for same-sex couples. After similar successes in Connecticut and Maine, she took the lead in the Obergefell v. Hodges case in front of the US Supreme Court that led to the ruling that state bans on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional.  She also won cases that led to overturning Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Mary Bonauto continues to live in Portland, ME with her spouse, Jennifer Wriggins whom she married in MA. They have twin daughters. Bonauto has also received many accolades for the impact she made, including Yale University’s 2010-11 Brudner Prize. She has been on Boston Magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in Boston” list, and was included in the list of 31 LGB history icons in 2012.

In honor of and with great appreciation for her work, take a moment to reflect on her own words that remind us demonizing the ‘other’ is not the way to go:  “When you’re in a fight for your common humanity, you cannot discount the common humanity of others.”