By Amy Behrens
In 1968, Calvin Craig, the grand dragon of the Georgia Ku Klux Klan, denounced the Klan and credited Xernona Clayton, an African-American woman working as a civil rights leader with Martin Luther King Jr., as the key influence in his decision.
His daughter Gail Craig Mayes has become friends with Clayton. They shared this amazing story of destroying hateful thoughts with more powerful thoughts of love at the National Race Amity Conference, June 9–12 at Wheelock College in Boston, Massachusetts.
Click here to read “National Race Amity Conference: What it’s About.”
This story, and other stories of unlikely friendships shared at the conference, affected me deeply and inspired me to action. I attended the conference as a Baha’i from the Boston area and as an educational consultant and community organizer who wanted to learn what is going on in terms of racial amity locally and nationally.
Since the conference, I have sought out three people from my past and reconnected with them to rekindle our friendships. In addition, I am starting to create gatherings and activities that offer opportunities for people from different backgrounds and experiences to meet each other and share with each other in deeper ways than we normally do in our social interactions.
I am always seeking ways to build experiences of interracial engagement and amity into my family, community and professional life and wanted to gather ideas to share with other Baha’is and friends who are eager to engage in racial healing work in their daily lives.
Several of the presenters at the June conference spoke about the importance of inviting people into our homes to eat, pray, sing, talk, and share experiences together in order to create racial amity.
Tod Ewing, author of Seeing Heaven in the Face of Black Men, suggested that we can practice love and unity on a personal basis by asking ourselves the question “What is the kindest thing I can do or say in this situation?” especially when we are faced with a moment of anger, confusion, or frustration. We heal ourselves and others around us as we act and speak with love and a genuine desire to understand each other’s perspectives and educate others about our own.
Clayton herself was the subject of another presentation, a play by the Middle School Race Amity Theatre Project. It brought to life how her steadfast loving kindness and tough, deep questioning of Craig attracted him to keep talking with her and to rethink his prejudices to such a degree that he could no longer be a part of the Klan.
‘Abdul-Baha, in Paris Talks, p. 29, said, “I charge you all that each one concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love.”
For years, I’ve been trying to put these thoughts into action by inviting people to my home for discussions based on the human virtues and by teaching Peacemakers classes for children and their families, where we can encourage each other by sharing ideas and experiences, doing role plays, singing, and creating art about the components of peace and unity.
This conference helped me think about ways that I can expand the circle of people I invite to these groups so that I can do a better job of creating racial amity. I may need to change the location where I run the groups and be more bold about talking about race as part of our dialogues.
Hearing the personal stories of presenters and participants filled me with courage to follow my instincts to reach out to others, to create spaces for deep listening between people, to find ways to empower people of all ages and backgrounds, and to be creative in taking risks to make changes that bring about the oneness of humanity.
Amy Behrens is a Boston-area consultant and educator.