Almost two years ago Phyllis, Gene and I, with a lot of help from our friends and family, began the process of developing the Race Story Rewrite concept and project. We realized at that point that the rewrite concept was very simple and yet very profound. In the short time since the passing of Mr. Mandela, we’ve realized it on an even deeper level.
Although the project’s model has direct application for other racial and ethnic groups, we decided from the beginning to focus on Black/White relations, in part because we come from those backgrounds and are most familiar with those challenges. Interactions between Whites and Blacks in this country were born out of a materialistic mindset that insisted on a dominant/subordinate relationship and reinforced a deep and enduring sense of otherness. In some cases, as the struggle for equality evolved, Blacks and Whites were able to work side by side with harmony of purpose. However, hurt, fear, suspicion, anger and separation have characterized the landscape and continue to shape our collective and personal race stories. All too frequently our lower nature, triggered by conditioned responses to each other, dictates an emotionally conflicted relationship.
We are strongly convinced that many people, both Black and White, are anxious to change this pattern and create something new. Because we believe a problem cannot be solved from the same consciousness that created it, we are calling on each of us to reflect on our personal race story, reframe it, and use it as fuel to recommit ourselves to our virtues – or what we call our spiritual nature. Then we are asking that each of us – from that place of sacredness and with a clear intention supported by specific attitudes and actions – recreate and rewrite our race story.
Long before we thought of the rewrite concept, I looked to Nelson Mandela as an inspiration for how to spiritually and practically create a personal race story I could be proud of. So upon hearing of his passing, I experienced an immediate sense of loss. I felt like there was a space inside me where something solid had been, and now it was gone. That reaction told me that I was relying on his example even more than I knew. Since 1980, when my commitment to racial justice began, he was always there. In prison and as president and beyond, he was always part of my consciousness.
In the days to come I will gain perspective on his passing and hopefully will open my spirit to being elevated even more by his example. But for now, I simply felt moved to draw a huge circle around his life and to say to all of us who grasp the rewrite concept and want to support the deeper purpose of the Rewrite project that Nelson Mandela’s life is the prototype of the process of writing a new and liberating race story. He demonstrated the transformative power of taking an existing race story grounded in oppression, anger and bitterness (which he felt) and reflecting on it in a purposeful way. And then he made the choice to commit – and, I am guessing, to recommit over and over again – to reframing his bitter experiences in such a way as to allow them to engage his higher nature, his better angels. From that sacred place and space he began recreating and rewriting his own story, which ultimately resulted in monumental changes to the nation he so loved.
The process he engaged in is a mighty example of what we know can happen, in its own way, for each of us who will exercise the conviction and discipline to rewrite our race story and commit and recommit to living it. The passing of Mr. Mandela has increased the consecration of the ReWrite team to share our model as widely and as quickly possible. We are working on a way to do just that, so stayed tuned.
In the meantime, let us not simply marvel at the transformative power displayed by Mr. Mandela or make him into a saint whose life we could never emulate. But rather let us examine, with our spirits wide open, the tangible and intangible elements that allowed him to rewrite his story. If we want to marvel, let us marvel at the possibilities for rewriting our own story and, with renewed confidence in what is achievable, add our “move” to the Race Story ReWrite Movement.