Meet the Leadership Team: Kathy Casper

Over the last few weeks, the Leadership Team has been sharing brief introductions to our work with SURJ, along with a resource (or several!) that we have found helpful along the way, or would recommend to folks new to racial justice work. This is the final post in that series. Without further ado, meet Kathy:

After reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, I was looking for people with whom I could discuss and process the information and powerful insights that Alexander presents about racism in 21st century America.  Alexander’s premise that to this day we live in a “racial caste system” in America was new and overwhelming to me (despite probably being a completely obvious fact of daily life to people of color!).

When I learned that La Crosse had a SURJ chapter, I joined and found that this was the place I had been looking for to have those conversations and begin to learn more — from fellow SURJ members, from our amazing accountability partners and other people of color and POC-led groups in the La Crosse area, and from the many teachers and activists from around the state and country who visit our community to speak about these crucial issues.

The question remains, what do I do with this information, and the still overwhelming feeling that racism is so deeply embedded in, even foundational to, our society and our individual identities and thought processes? Part of the answer for me begins with just participating in the group, not remaining isolated, working with others to gain inspiration, to be held accountable, to collaborate and create a synergy that produces better thinking and better outcomes than any one person could.  I am hopeful that through the ongoing conversations and developing relationships, both within SURJ and throughout the community as a whole, more answers will emerge.

I encourage anyone who feels drawn to addressing these issues to join our SURJ chapter, attend a meeting or event, and see what may emerge for you!

Favorite resources:

Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow – this book gave me a whole new perspective on systemic racism and led me to think more about my place and complicity in the system.

James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name and The Fire Next Time – I love Baldwin’s writing, it is a clear, compelling testimony and indictment of racial oppression in America.  Tellingly, and painfully, these works written in the early 1960s feel as though they could have been written yesterday.

2 Dope Queens – a podcast tackling issues of race, gender identity and sexuality through comedy and storytelling provides laughter, education and inspiration!                  https://www.wnycstudios.org/shows/dopequeens

Meet the Leadership Team: Ron Malzer

Over the next few weeks, the Leadership Team will be sharing brief introductions to our work with SURJ, along with a resource (or several!) that we have found helpful along the way, or would recommend to folks new to racial justice work. Without further ado, meet Ron:

I was slow in seeing white privilege and the depth of racism in America. The election of 2016 was my wake-up call. Then I read Debbie Irving’s book “Waking Up White” with a group of caring people, and found myself– as did everyone in our group of 10 or so– amazed at how much our blinders kept us from seeing. I joined SURJ January 2017 as the La Crosse Chapter was forming. SURJ gives me a way to fight back against the racism, sexism, homophobia, and all other forms of injustice directed against those not in power. SURJ calls in people, and calls out injustice.

Meet the Leadership Team: Monica Gorski

Over the next few weeks, the Leadership Team will be sharing brief introductions to our work with SURJ, along with a resource (or several!) that we have found helpful along the way, or would recommend to folks new to racial justice work. Without further ado, meet Monica:

New to La Crosse in 2014, I was uncertain if this community was the right fit for me. I had discovered SURJ national while researching online and heard good things about them from activist friends in other parts of the country. I was disappointed there was not a local chapter in La Crosse and felt unsure how I would be able to start a group when I didn’t know anyone here. I felt disempowered, anxious, and ill-equipped to do much on my own.

 

I started getting involved in La Crosse grassroots organizing in the 2016 primaries, which led me to meeting many incredible people, some of whom became my best friends. Through those relationships, I was connected to other local people working for racial justice, and when I heard about a meeting to discuss starting a SURJ chapter, I was excited to attend. After that meeting, I started hosting meetings, and I felt increasingly convinced that this values-based manner of organizing for change was the kind of work I was meant to do.

 

Our chapter has grown, shrunk, shifted, and grown again, with relationships deepening and trust in our community building. I continue to learn more and more about white supremacy and its relationship to patriarchy, imperialism, and capitalism, and I am grateful to be part of this emergent collective of conscious beings working together for liberation.

 

Most resonant influences:

Meet the Leadership Team: Joella Striebel

Over the next few weeks, the Leadership Team will be sharing brief introductions to our work with SURJ, along with a resource (or several!) that we have found helpful along the way, or would recommend to folks new to racial justice work. Without further ado, meet Joella:

I first learned the word “intersectional” about 10 years ago in a Women’s Studies course. I had identified as a feminist since adolescence, and, completely unaware of my privilege as a white woman, it took until I was nearly 30 years old to understand that the scope of my feminism was limited to those who looked like me and moved about the world in the same ways I did. I committed to learning about race, privilege and oppression, and the systems in place that keep perpetuating all of it. Most of this education, and the fellowship around it I could find, took place on line. When I first learned about SURJ, I optimistically sought out a local chapter, but came up empty-handed. Like others I’ve since met, I considered trying to start one, but the prospects of doing so alone while working and raising young children felt too daunting.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I happened upon plans for a local march in response to a call from Shaundel Spivey, a local Black leader and activist, asking white folks to show up in the aftermath of Philando Castille’s death. At long last, I was able to connect with local folks who were learning and growing into the same values I was. Over time, our chapter has deepened relationships within our ranks, as well as with our accountability partners and businesses and people of color in our community. Together, we grapple with concepts we know that we will never understand as intimately as our friends and neighbors of color do. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We help each other see when we’ve misstepped, and we are helping our community to become more equitable and just by following the lead and supporting the work of racially marginalized local organizers and organizations. We have taken in and reflected on criticisms and worked to be intentional in righting our wrongs and the wrongs of our mostly white community. The road ahead of us is long, but by working together in authentic and accountable relationship with each other and our community, we stay the course.

One of resources I value most is the writer and activist, Ijeoma Oluo. In her book, So You Want to Talk About Race, she addresses a significant number of race-related topics from general concepts, like Intersectionality, to specific issues, like Affirmative Action. Her approach offers a depth of knowledge without being overladen with statistics and academia, and is easily digestible without being superficial. She offers tips for discussing these topics with friends and family in ways that minimize defensiveness and invite curiosity. 

Meet the Leadership Team-Peter Gorski

Over the next few weeks, the Leadership Team will be sharing brief introductions to our work with SURJ, along with a resource (or several!) that we have found helpful along the way, or would recommend to folks new to racial justice work. Without further ado, meet Peter:

SURJ is a group that, despite my determination to not get involved in another organization, drew me in because of its strong values, and the commitment the group has to founding its work in them. SURJ’s commitment to compassion, accountability through authentic relationships, and continual growth and learning has kept me engaged where other groups often falter. Like many of the education opportunities in my life, I was introduced to SURJ by my partner and wife Monica. Growing up as a straight, white, upper-middle class male who pursued a degree in engineering, I had few encounters with the systems of oppression that are foundational to our society. However, even with my privileges I still encountered emotional unrest from our society’s entrenched toxic masculinity and the isolation of our culture.  SURJ is a space where white people are put to the task of learning and undoing racism themselves, without relying on people of color to teach them. Our SURJ chapter is built based on the relationships between our members, and our shared desire for a better world, and I continue to be a part of this group because of those relationships.

A resource I found to be very insightful is the Seeing White series from the radio program/podcast Scene On Radio. It is a documentary series that explores both our nation’s history from various time periods as well as contemporary resources and stories. The host, John Biewen, also gives time to process the material with his friend and colleague Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika. This series uncovers racism and white supremacy in areas we don’t always expect them, and I found the balance of academic sources with personal interviews and self-reflection to be a perfect for my digestion of information.