Statement from San Francisco Zen Center Leadership, in collaboration with the Central DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility) Committee and CAIC (Cultural Awareness and Inclusivity Committee)
Since early last year, this country has been battered by a series of ongoing crises and events. We have experienced heartache after heartache from a global pandemic to instances of brutal racial violence to increasing numbers of mass shootings. It has been one year since George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was murdered while in police custody.
At this time, we want to acknowledge that Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by the hardships of the last year and to offer our support.
The economic impact of the pandemic has meant that households of color, already over-represented in low-wage “essential” jobs, have often been first to lose incomes and the last to regain employment. While this has been the case in every economic downturn, the inequality is especially glaring this time since the economic pain of Covid-19 has cut so deep. Today, Black households struggle with the highest rate of unemployment in the US today while being twice as likely to die from Covid-19.
Income inequality has also been coupled with violent policing and an assault on voting rights for the poor and communities of color. Black Americans have also suffered from adverse mental health due to generations of collective trauma. In some areas of the country, suicide mortality among African Americans nearly doubled in the past year while decreasing substantially among white Americans.
These are symptoms of the systemic racism that has been designed into the institutions and culture of our country. While a small measure of justice was served to the family of George Floyd for his murder, his life remains lost, to them and to us.
No one should feel afraid for simply existing. For far too long, economic, physical, and emotional abuses directed toward our Black brothers and sisters have gone ignored. We want to say that we see you, we care about you, and we are committed to cultivating the conditions in which you can feel safe, respected, and at ease anywhere you may wish to be.
We resonate deeply with the words of Lilla Watson, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” However, the real power of encouraging words is not in the feelings they evoke, but in the positive actions they inspire, the commitments we make and uphold, and the work we do together.
Hate is a cycle, but so is peace. Thus we vow to interrupt hate, intolerance, and division wherever we encounter them and instead plant seeds of loving-kindness, inclusion, and unity. Using our voices to speak out, we will bear witness to the suffering caused by systemic racism and to act as allies. May we continuously manifest the truth of our profound interdependency as we work together for the liberation of all beings.
San Francisco Zen Center Leadership in collaboration with Central DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility) Committee and CAIC (Cultural Awareness and Inclusivity Committee)
Resources and references…
By Tova Green
Pamela Ayo Yetunde, a Community Dharma Leader, Zen practitioner, chaplain, and author, was living in St. Paul when George Floyd was tortured and murdered. She experienced the unrest in the Twin Cities and elsewhere in the weeks and months after this event and paid close attention to the George Floyd/Derrick Chauvin trial in March. She was concerned that if Chauvin was found not guilty it would have serious repercussions for the safety of communities of color. She could not have just sat on her cushion without finding a way to respond.
Ayo, along with BIPOC Zen and Insight practitioners in the Twin Cities, founded Buddhist Justice Reporter: The George Floyd Trials to address the role Buddhists could play in criminal justice reform. This project is the focus of an online SFZC program Ayo is offering on Thursday, June 10, from 4 to 6 pm PT. She will engage participants in a discussion with an aspiration to tap into the compassionate and creative energies that already exist in Buddhist communities. Read more
The impact of the January 6 siege on Congress by a mob incited by the President of the United States continues to reverberate throughout the nation. San Francisco Zen Center condemns the violence that was perpetrated, mourns the loss of lives, and bears witness to the alarm, dismay, and anguish arising from the attack. Disagreements and protests are valid aspects of a free and open dialogue in a democracy; violence and intimidation are not.
These recent attempts to subvert our democracy have been shocking and heartbreaking. They also highlight the stark contrast between the treatment of the predominantly White rioters and the protesters who assembled in support of Black lives over this past year. The roots of this inequity are found in the history of racism and injustice in the U.S., and are directly tied to the hatred and white supremacy that fueled last week’s insurrection. Read more
Lives Matter banner. The original banner that we had displayed had been removed without the communityâ€™s support.
Green Gulch Farm held a memorial service on 5/31 for the innumerable lives lost to police violence and hung a Black Lives Matter banner on their sign on Highway 1. Yesterday, residents marched to the top of the driveway to sit in solidarity as strict shelter in place protocols have prevented the community to join the protests. To view the memorial service, held in the empty GGF zendo due to physical distancing, go here: https://www.sfzc.org/teachings/dharma-talks/george-floyd-blm-service
On Sunday, residents at Beginner’s Mind Temple painted a Black Lives Matter banner and put it up across the front of the entryway of 300 Page Street. Green Gulch Farm is also in the process of creating a BLM banner and we will share that when it happens. UPDATE: See images below of the banner that Green Gulch Farm made and hung on the sign on Highway 1.
The spiritual leadership of San Francisco Zen Center stands with the families and communities of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless other Black lives lost to the systemic racist violence endemic to American society.
The painful and pervasive reality of racism will not allow us to turn away. We take a stand against all expressions of racism, beginning with the racial, cultural, and class disparities in our state and country that are being highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Bodhisattva vows we hold in our hearts tell us to save all sentient beings from suffering. To this end, we encourage each member and friend of the wider San Francisco Zen Center community to cultivate the Bodhisattva spirit in inquiring deeply, “What am I going to do from here on to be actively anti-racist?” We urge our community not to be silent.
In the coming days, we will be sharing more about how to practice with this deeply complex and important question, as well as what SFZC is doing as a sangha and an organization.
May we all have the courage, strength, and support to examine our own hearts and minds. May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.