Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship: A Book Group

By Linnea Halsten, FGC Ministry on Racism Assistant

La Jolla Monthly Meeting has organized an open virtual book group to read Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship, co-authored by Vanessa Julye and Donna McDaniel.

Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship reflects on Quakerism and its nearly three centuries of racial history to address the insidious and complex racism among Quakers of yesterday and today, particularly focusing on the dynamics between white Quakers and people of African descent. Susana Cervantes, the organizer of the book group that launched in the late winter of 2021, says she started this group because “I had this leading about reading this book as a group experience… I thought other Meetings would benefit from reading it also and was prompting a few friends to do the same, when I quickly realized, not every Meeting has enough members or capacity to replicate what I wanted to run in San Diego.  That’s when I thought, why not invite my friends?  And the rest is history!”  

Many Friends in the book group mentioned that they were drawn to this group due to the community support, accountability and processing of the book that can at times be upsetting to read. Many have come to understand anti-racism transformation is inextricably tied to community transformation. The book group’s responses to survey questions illustrate the benefits of being in community as they learn about the racial history of Quakerism.

“Reading this book with a group has forced me to keep reading, even when the contents are unsettling.  The discussions with the group range beyond the contents of the book itself and help to anchor the concepts in contemporary reality,” one Friend expressed. Another participant commented that reading the book in a group setting “…opened my consciousness to appreciate other themes of focus by people of different races.  We are not all reading the same book, because it can be perceived so differently by some… Focusing on this history is not as personal a wound for some friends.”

Many Friends found that the learnings from this book also shed light on Quakerism today. “Movement to end slavery, integrate schools, fair housing… came from Quaker individuals rather than from the main body of Friends,” said one reader. “How much the Story of earlier friends coming to unity around abolition mirrors the struggles we are currently having in our meeting on racial justice issues,” said another.

As many Quakers continue to feel called to move the faith community towards being anti-racist, it is clear a deep reflection of the past and present of the Quaker’s relationship to anti-racism, in community, is a powerful one indeed. If you are interested in learning more about Fit for Freedom, Not for Friendship, or starting an anti-racism book group of your own in your meeting, please see below for resources. 

With gratitude for members of the book group for their survey responses and to Susy Cervantes for organizing the group and disseminating the survey.

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