BY KIT SLACK— A little after noon on Sunday, July 31, a circle of about 30 people held hands in a meeting room inside Hyattsville’s Municipal Building. The group listened as Jeannette Soon-Ludes read aloud an introduction she had written for the potluck and racial justice workshop which followed.
July 31, Soon-Ludes said, is La HoiHoi Ea, the day when Native Hawaiians, or Kanaka Maoli, celebrate the restoration, on that day in 1843, of Hawaiian sovereignty from British occupation. Soon-Ludes counts herself among the Kanaka who now “work for U.S. deoccupation of our lands.”
The people assembled that day included Maryland State Delegate Alonzo T. Washington, Mayor Rocio Treminio-Lopez of Brentwood, members of the City of Hyattsville’s Police and Public Safety Citizen’s Advisory Committee, and mothers from Hyattsville Nurturing Moms, a local mom’s group. According to Soon-Ludes, the idea of the workshop had first come up among parents discussing on Facebook how to talk to children about race.
Soon-Ludes went on to invoke the names of 25 victims of fatal police shootings who were people of color, and make reference to those killed in mass shootings Charleston and Orlando. Later, she explained that “it was in the wake of the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile” that she saw through her Facebook feed that people in the area were filled with grief and wanted to engage in anti-racist work. “I saw a need to create a space right away, to do the work.”
After sharing a hearty potluck that included caprese salad, Coca-Cola, and sloppy joes, participants settled in for a collective-action decision-making process that took several hours. Though the majority of those attending saw the conversation through, many of the elected officials weren’t able to stay past lunch.
Soon-Ludes challenged the group to answer the question “What can we do to create racial justice along the Route 1 corridor?. . .not focused necessarily on the police.”
She facilitated the discussion using a process that she said “is a reclamation of a model described by the nineteenth century Hawaiian political scholar David Malo.” Participants joined others with similar professions and skills in small groups. The small groups reported to the large group, where the whole group narrowed the focus of the work. For example, the “politicians, economists and lawyers” talked to each other about issues including low voter turnout, and the sorts of data and transparency needed for police accountability. The “educators and healers” group talked about hateful speech, white silence, and integrating public schools.
And what came of it? The large group decided to take on two projects to be accomplished in the next two months: a Spanish-language voter registration drive, and a bystander intervention workshop, designed to “give community members the skills necessary for navigating instances of racialized violence and aggression in our communities.” Soon-Ludes says the Facebook page, Rte 1 Racial Justice Peace Makers, has lots of details and specific tasks for volunteers.
Soon-Ludes said she plans to facilitate another racial justice workshop in three months, “to keep the ball rolling.”