Reflections on Bearing Witness to Racism in America (2022 Retreat – Alabama)

This past week, I traveled with thirty-five other Zen Peacemakers to Birmingham, Montgomery, and Selma, Alabama to bear witness to racism in America, to “see ourself as other, and other as ourself.”
We stood on the same ground where Black people were shackled and sold.
Where families were torn apart, divided up as property.
Where children as young as eight were arrested or beaten.
We looked through the scope of a water cannon and felt the grip of a billy club.
We listened to and read the stories of men and women who were falsely accused and brutally lynched or imprisoned.

We were also witness to the hope, courage, persistence, and faith of those who struggled and those who continue to work all their lives to overcome oppression and trauma, to advance truth and reconciliation, and to create racial equality for all people.

We walked where thousands have marched for justice.
We offered our labor and love to the city park in Selma through work practice.
We shared our tears and our anger. Our grief, shame, stillness, and silence.

T. Marie King, an activist, racial reconciliation facilitator, and filmmaker in Birmingham, spoke to our group on the first night. Her great uncle was murdered by the Klan for being an organizer.

“What happened here in Alabama was a human rights issue – not just a civil rights issue.”

As we deepen in our realization of the violence of racism, and of how many people were willing to give up their very lives for equality, she asked us to ask ourselves, “Why am I here? What is my piece? What am I willing to risk?”


Two days after the retreat ended, ten Black people were murdered in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. The white person who shot them wrote a manifesto for white supremacy outlining his plans and live-streamed the attack.

The public racial terror killings continue.

I feel sick and angry. I feel ashamed. I feel broken open. I feel determined and clear.

I am a white, cisgender woman. I’ve learned that white-bodies can tend toward dissociation around race issues (polite, controlled, intellectualized), not vulnerability. It protects me from feeling and healing the full shame and pain of my own humanity. IN my body. I’m doing it now! What does it take to break through this illusion of separation?

Vulnerability is wound-ability. Am I willing to be wounded?

This question is also an illusion. I already am. Our One Body is crying out in pain.


Black people are exhausted and hurting.
White people, consumed by fear of differences and need for power and control. Greed, hatred and ignorance.

Our brothers and sisters need us. All of us.

What is my piece?
What am I willing to risk?

– Sam Sokyo Randall

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Reflections on Bearing Witness to Racism in America (2022 Retreat – Alabama)

2 Responses

    1. Hi Nancy. Wonderful to get this inquiry within days of finishing our 2022 retreat. We do not have a date set, but have every intention of holding the 2023 retreat around the same time of the year.

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