Randee Wilding, COO, Speaks at Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church (LLUMC)

The following speech was delivered by Randee Wilding, Chief Operating Officer of the Dock C. Bracy Center for Human Reconciliation, on Sunday, June 26, 2022, 9am and 11am EDT at Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church in Clarksville, Maryland:



Good morning Church,

My name is Randee Wilding and I’m the Chief Operating Officer of the Dock C. Bracy Center for Human Reconciliation, a nonprofit with the goal of eradicating racism and other forms of human oppression. I am a husband of 21 years to Dr. Josh Sullivan, and a resident of Howard County for 19 years. We have two adopted African American children who attend Howard County Public Schools. LLUMC, thank you for your warm welcome. I’m honored to be here with you today.

I understand that the theme for this summer’s speaking series is “Journey to Transformation.” In preparation for today, Pastor Gayle gave me this background, in her words:

“We believe that God changes us continually, as we learn and grow, encounter new people and new information, and live that out in our daily being. We also believe that God calls us to continually draw our circle wider, and we are leaning into inclusion of all in our worship speakers for this summer.”

I’ve also enjoyed joining you virtually to watch Rev. Hand’s sermon (1) and brothers Sink (2) and Smith’s (3) talks.

Today, I would like to tell you about my journey to transformation and share a few of the foundational experiences that made me the person standing here today.

Empathy

How many of you have visited Ellis Island? How many of you have ancestors who immigrated to the United States and were processed through Ellis Island or Angel Island?

I grew up 20 miles from here [Clarksville, MD], in Montgomery County and attended public school. In third grade, 1984, at Forest Knolls Elementary, my class and I got to experience something very special. We participated in a simulation of Ellis Island.(4) We were all given identities and I was Helmut Kraft, a 30-year-old traveling in second class from Germany whose passage was paid for by friends in Milwaukee, also my destination. So, why am I telling you about this? Why was this a foundational experience for me?

Weeks before the field trip, we started learning and preparing. We learned about Ellis Island, immigration, majority groups, minority groups, different values of money, distances of train routes and cost of tickets. We learned how some immigrants were treated better than others. How women, children, elders, differently abled and those ill were treated. Who was most likely to be granted entrance and who would be deported? Nearing the time of our journey, the program educators came to the school to introduce themselves. They told us how they would be pretending to be the different workers at Ellis Island. Inspectors, medical doctors, lawyers, human aid representatives, money exchange tellers, immigration police and transportation.

Finally, the day arrived, and we boarded our ship. It was a large yellow bus. And we, the weary travelers, voyaged about twenty minutes. When we disembarked, it was 1910 and the simulation began. Helmut Kraft had traveled alone, with a small suitcase and 680 German marks. The scene inside was chaotic. My classmates and I were shoved into lines and tagged. Some names were changed by impatient workers. Those that were coughing were taken to quarantine. There was the kind human aid worker, an impatient doctor and inspectors who could be persuaded to overlook issues. After I bribed the inspector to overlook the discrepancy in my papers, would I have enough money to pay for my way to Milwaukee? What about the pregnant lady who’s being harassed by the inspectors? Should I/we step in to help and risk being deported? Do you help the sick person and risk exposure to whatever they’ve got? Why did that person get to go to the front of the line? By the end of the day, every single one of us was exhausted. As exhausted as a third grader can be.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, where a traveler who is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road is helped by a Samaritan, who is supposed to despise him. “Jesus is described as telling the parable in response to a provocative question from a lawyer, ‘And who is my neighbor?’, in the context of the Great Commandment. The conclusion is that the neighbor figure in the parable is the one who shows mercy to the injured fellow man—that is, the Samaritan.(5)

The Ellis Island simulation taught me empathy and to think critically. How we treat others, especially in times of great need, reflects who we are. Our character, our morals, our self-concept are tested. Who and why were some immigrants permitted first-class access to our country, while others were deported? Who was already here? Who was brought here against their will?


This was at the beginning of my journey to transformation.


Altruism & Moral Identity

Who is a parent or guardian? Who is a grandparent? Great-grandparent?

I always knew I wanted to get married and be a parent. It was one of those feelings you have that you can’t exactly explain. But after that knowledge came other realizations. I also came to know I was gay. And, at the time, 1987, there was no visible precedent for being a gay and a father. There was no visible precedent for same sex marriage.

Brother Smith: I didn’t know you were there. I didn’t know it was possible. I’m glad to know you and your story now.

There seemed only pain and suffering within the gay community, from generations of oppression, hate crimes to AIDS. It wasn’t safe to be me. So, at 12 years old, I made a choice. I was going to bury my sexual orientation and pretend to be straight. Very very long story short, that didn’t work, and I wouldn’t be standing here if it had.

In 2001, Josh and I met in Virginia. We did as much legal paperwork as possible to simulate legal marriage. In 2002, we relocated to Columbia, Maryland so we could begin the domestic infant adoption process. The home study, the medical screenings, the health and fire inspections and fingerprints and background checks and the daycare slot with an unknown due date. In 2005, our eldest son came home at 16 days old. In 2006, we got domestically partnered in D.C. In 2009, our youngest son came home to us at two days old. In 2010, just like Brother Smith, we dropped off our boys at daycare, skipped work, donned our best Hawaiian shirts, and headed right to the courthouse with our dearest friends. Nine years after we committed to each other and to creating a family together, we were considered legally married.

Why did it take so long for our relationship and commitment to be legally recognized? Why did we have to relocate our home and jobs to start the adoption process? Why was I still seen as an abomination? Morally deficit, unworthy and ungodly? Why was it so easy for some to proclaim that LGBTQIA(6) people were less than human and undeserving of any protections? Isn’t it in everyone’s best interest to protect families?

In 2016, we moved from Columbia to Woodbine. As I was beginning to get more involved in the PTA, I read a book that deeply resonated with me. In “UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World,” by Dr. Michele Borba, she provides several case studies on developing and exercising empathy.(7) One of the references within this book was to the work of Samuel P. Oliner, a Holocaust survivor, and his wife Pearl. In “Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews In Nazi Europe,” published in 1988, the Oliners interviewed over 700 rescuers and bystanders to explore their experiences and motivations.(8)

What were the qualities that made them react so profoundly differently than the majority? In Dr. Borba’s words, she highlights that most rescuers were:

  1. Deeply empathetic, they couldn’t stand by and watch others suffer

  2. [They had a] strong sense of self efficacy, believed they could make a difference and help others

  3. [They] internalized a strong identity based on caring values, and an ethic of social responsibility that they learned from their parents.

When the rescuers asked what values their parents taught them, 44% cited caring or generosity. In contrast, bystanders were far more centered on their own needs or felt only obliged to help only a small circle of others. Their parents were more likely to stress monetary values, “Be thrifty, Get a good job,” than caring about moral concerns.(7)

In the lectionary reading of Galatians 5:1, 13-25, we consider motivations. “Do we act the same way when we know no-body is watching? Sometimes we do good to earn the approval of people. Sometimes to earn the approval of God. Sometimes to appease our own guilt or sense of unworthiness. In God’s economy, ‘being’ is of far more worth than ‘doing’.”(9)

Who are you? What are you ‘being’? What are you placing value on in your relationships? Are you modeling behavior for the children?


This has informed my parenting as part of my journey to transformation.

Humanity, Healing & Love

I don’t know about you, but something broke inside me during COVID-lockdown in 2020. It wasn’t one specific thing or event. It was the tsunami of the unknown virus, the constant fear for the health and safety of my family, the incomprehensible political response and messaging and watching the rotation of the world come to a slow stop. And during that stop, something else happened. The world, that was already in some form of suspension watched – witnessed – the murder of George Floyd.

Now, at the beginning of my talk, I told you I was going to share foundational experiences that made me who I am. That day and the days that followed felt like a hole had opened in my chest and love and worry and hope and fear that had accumulated came bursting out. I was in the storm. I was simultaneously fed-up with humanity and hopeful that this time we would finally help ourselves.

My children are African American. They were both adopted as infants – 16 and 2 days old, when they came to us. Our eldest had a full head of hair and very soon a rolling laugh that Josh could get started with Creepy Mousey. Our youngest was two days old, though we met him when he was twelve hours old and had a persistent case of reflux. He slept reclined in a swing for the first six months. He was always smiling. And if I close my eyes, I can smell them. I can remember what it sounded like when they were drinking their bottles or squealing during bath time.

My children have passed the threshold of being considered adorable and the family has moved into the knee-jerk reactions of white supremacy. We’ve had “the talk.” The talk Black parents give their children to protect them. How they are perceived differently by store owners, how they must act if stopped by law enforcement, how their skin alone – may be perceived as a threat.

During lockdown, I started reading. I’ve never considered myself a reader. I started organizing. I never thought of myself as an activist. I started talking and connecting with people who were, as I would come to understand, weathering the storm with me. I connected with the Howard County Office of Human Rights & Equity, I connected with Howard County Courageous Conversations, I connected with my now colleague and friend, Paul S. Bracy, the founder of the Dock C. Bracy Center for Human Reconciliation. I was connecting with all these passionate people while at the same time being utterly disgusted with humanity. I was changing.

Brother Sink mentioned in his talk how the benefits of the G.I. Bill, in 1944, welcoming home soldiers who fought in World War II, was accessible to almost exclusively white Americans. And, how that, and laws to come, compounded an already racially divided country.

Much of my reading and learning has been focused on the historical and social construction of race and the effects of white supremacy(10).

In “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, highlights that the concept of race or a racial hierarchy didn’t exist until the time of Aristotle [384 to 322 BCE]. Aristotle cast Greeks as the ideal, at the top of the human hierarchy, and Greece supreme with its intermediate climate. To Aristotle, extreme hot and cold climates produced Barbarians, inferior and lacking capacity for freedom and self-government. Enter the concept of natural slavery.(11)

In “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together,” by Heather McGhee, she posits that many white Americans view race as a zero-sum game: There’s an us and a them, and what’s good for them is bad for us. This rationale animates our public policies even today, when those who benefit from our country’s drastic economic inequality sell the zero-sum story to block public support for any collective action that benefits us all, from universal healthcare to living wages. Further, according to McGhee, “racism hurts everyone, and when Whites and people of color manage to work together, it’s better for everybody.” She believes that if Americans united across racial and ethnic lines, it would create a “solidarity dividend” that helps our entire society.(12)

In “See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love,” Valarie Kaur declares revolutionary love is the call of our times, a radical, joyful practice that extends in three directions: to others, to our opponents, and to ourselves. It enjoins us to see no stranger but instead look at others and say: You are a part of me I do not yet know.(13)

You are a part of me I do not yet know.

Sometimes, I get really frustrated that it took me this long to learn some of these things. Why didn’t we learn about the unequal accessibility of the G.I. Bill?(12) Why didn’t we learn about red lining(14) or Black Wall Street or that New York City was the second largest slave port in the United States?(15) How did I get to be this many years old and not know this stuff?


God gave me the opportunity to continue my transformative journey and draw a wider circle through becoming Chief Operating Officer at the Dock C. Bracy Center.


Thank you for welcoming me into your circle.


I would like to take this opportunity to invite you into my circle. Our shared vision is this:


“The United States of America is a country where all children are valued and have equal access to health, happiness, education, personal freedom, and economic security. All institutions conduct their business in a manner to ensure the human rights of every child.”(16)

In closing, it is with empathy, altruism, moral identity, a recognition of our shared humanity, healing and love that we can realize that shared vision.


I welcome you to join me on my journey and to learn more about the Dock C. Bracy Center for Human Reconciliation.


Thank you. God be with you.


Definitions

“LGBTQIA.” lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (one's sexual or gender identity), intersex, and asexual/aromantic/agender.


“White supremacy.”

1 : the belief that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races

2 : the social, economic, and political systems that collectively enable white people to maintain power over people of other races


Citations

  1. Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church. “9:00 AM Worship Service, June 19, 2022 - LLUMC.” YouTube, uploaded by Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church, 19 June 2022, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bt1ogc7vrJI&feature=youtu.be.

  2. Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church. “LLUMC 9:00 AM Service - July 5, 2022.” YouTube, uploaded by Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church, 5 June 2022, www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPV-9dkHSZw&feature=youtu.be.

  3. Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church. “9:00 AM Worship Service, June 19, 2022 - LLUMC.” YouTube, uploaded by Linden-Linthicum United Methodist Church, 19 June 2022, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bt1ogc7vrJI&feature=youtu.be.

  4. “Ellis Island Simulation for Sponsors | AmericansAll.” Americans All, https://americansall.org/page/ellis-island-simulation-sponsors. Accessed 25 June 2022.

  5. Wikipedia contributors. (2022, June 19). Parable of the Good Samaritan. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:04, June 25, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Parable_of_the_Good_Samaritan&oldid=1093883766

  6. “LGBTQIA” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/LGBTQIA. Accessed 25 Jun. 2022.

  7. Dr., Borba Michele. UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. Reprint, Touchstone, 2017.

  8. Oliner, Samuel. The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe. Reprint, Touchstone, 1992.

  9. Clanger, Mother. “Galatians 5:1, 13–25.” The Reflectionary, 7 Aug. 2016, https://reflectionary.org/2016/06/13/galatians-51-13-25/.

  10. Kendi, Ibram. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (National Book Award Winner). Reprint, Bold Type Books, 2017.

  11. “White supremacy” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/white%20supremacy. Accessed 15 Jun. 2022.

  12. McGhee, Heather. The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. Reprint, One World, 2022.

  13. Kaur, Valarie. See No Stranger. Penguin Random House, 2021.

  14. Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Reprint, Liveright, 2018.

  15. Smith, Clint. How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America. Little, Brown and Company, 2021.

  16. “The Pledge | Dock C. Bracy Center Inc.” Dock C. Bracy Center, www.dcbcenter.org/the-pledge. Accessed 25 June 2022.