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Our colleague Lucas Johnson catches up with one of his mentors, Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons. Now a member of the National Council of Elders, she was a teenager when she joined the Mississippi Freedom Summer. She shares what she has learned about exhaustion and self-care, spiritual practice and community, while engaging in civil rights organizing and deep social healing. Dr. Simmons was raised Christian and later converted to the Sufi tradition of Islam.

It feels good and right this week to sit with the beloved writer Nikki Giovanni’s signature mix of high seriousness, sweeping perspective, and insistent pleasure. In the 1960s, she was a poet of the Black Arts Movement that nourished civil rights. She’s also a professor at Virginia Tech, where she brought beauty and courage after the 2007 shooting there. And she’s an adored voice to a new generation — an enthusiastic elder to us all — at home in her body and in the world of her lifetime even while she sees and delights in the beyond of it.

How to embrace what’s right and corrective, redemptive and restorative — and an insistence that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve done — these are gifts Bryan Stevenson offers with his life. He’s brought the language of mercy and redemption into American culture in recent years, growing out of his work as a lawyer to people unfairly on death row, people who are mentally ill and incarcerated, and children tried as adults. Krista draws out his spirit and his moral imagination.

The U.S. election will be over soon but this year has surfaced deep human challenges that remain our callings — and possibilities for growth — for the foreseeable future. So this week and next, we’re taking the long view — first with journalist John Biewen, on the stories of our families and hometowns, what it means to be human, and what it means to be white. This conversation between Krista and John starts simply — tracing the racial story of our time through the story of a single life. It’s an exercise each of us can do. And it is a step toward a more whole and humane world, starting with ourselves.

An hour to sit with, and be filled. Two voices — one from the last century, one from ours — who inspire inward contemplation as an essential part of meeting the challenges in the world. Howard Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited, it was said, was carried by Martin Luther King Jr. alongside the Bible and the U.S. Constitution. Thurman is remembered as a philosopher and theologian, a moral anchor, a contemplative, a prophet, and pastor to the civil rights leaders. Rev. Otis Moss III, himself the son of one of those leaders, is a bridge to Thurman’s resonance in the present day, and between the Black freedom movements then and now.

This prophetic conversation, which Rev. angel Kyodo williams had with Krista in 2018, is an invitation to imagine and nourish the transformative potential of this moment — toward human wholeness. Rev. angel is an esteemed Zen priest and the second Black woman recognized as a teacher in the Japanese Zen lineage. She is one of our wisest voices on social evolution and the spiritual aspect of social healing.

An extraordinary conversation with the late congressman John Lewis, taped in Montgomery, Alabama, during a pilgrimage 50 years after the March on Washington. It offers a special look inside his wisdom, the civil rights leaders’ spiritual confrontation within themselves, and the intricate art of nonviolence as “love in action.”

The show we released with Minneapolis-based trauma specialist Resmaa Menakem in the weeks after George Floyd’s killing has become one of our most popular episodes, and has touched listeners and galvanized personal searching. So we said yes when Resmaa proposed that he join On Being again, this time together with Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility. Hearing the two of them together is electric — the deepest of dives into the calling of our lifetimes.

Vincent Harding was wise about how the vision of the civil rights movement might speak to 21st-century realities. He reminded us that the movement of the ’50s and ’60s was spiritually as well as politically vigorous; it aspired to a “beloved community,” not merely a tolerant integrated society. He pursued this through patient-yet-passionate cross-cultural, cross-generational relationships. And he posed and lived a question that is freshly in our midst: Is America possible?

Go to the doctor and they won’t begin to treat you without taking your history — and not just yours, but that of your parents and grandparents before you. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson points this out as she reflects on her epic work of narrative nonfiction, The Warmth of Other Suns. She’s immersed herself in the stories of the Great Migration, the movement of six million African Americans to northern U.S. cities in the 20th century. The book is a carrier of histories and truths that help make sense of human and social challenges at the heart of our life together now.

The best laws and diversity training have not gotten us anywhere near where we want to go. Therapist and trauma specialist Resmaa Menakem is working with old wisdom and very new science about our bodies and nervous systems, and all we condense into the word “race.” Krista sat down with him in Minneapolis, where they both live and work, before the pandemic lockdown began. In this heartbreaking moment, after the killing of George Floyd and the history it carries, Resmaa Menakem’s practices offer us the beginning to change at a cellular level. 

Essay

June 3, 2020

Race and Healing: A Body Practice

Therapist and trauma specialist Resmaa Menakem is working with old wisdom and very new science about our bodies and nervous systems, and all we condense into the word “race.” “Your body — all of our bodies — are where changing the status quo must begin.” Find a quiet place and…

Civil rights legend Ruby Sales learned to ask “Where does it hurt?” because it’s a question that drives to the heart of the matter — and a question we scarcely know how to ask in public life now. Sales says we must be as clear about what we love as about what we hate if we want to make change. And even as she unsettles some of what we think we know about the force of religion in civil rights history, she names a “spiritual crisis of white America” as a calling of today.

James Baldwin said, “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” Imani Perry embodies that prism. For the past few years, Perry has been pondering the notions of slow work and resistant joy as she writes about what it means to raise her two black sons — as a thinker and writer at the intersection of law, race, culture, and literature. This live conversation was recorded at the Chautauqua Institution.

Ta-Nehisi Coates says we must love our country the way we love our friends — and not spare the hard truths. “Can you get to a place where citizens are encouraged to see themselves critically, where they’re encouraged to see their history critically?” he asks. Coates is a poetic journalist and a defining voice of our times. He’s with us in a conversation that is joyful, hard, kind, soaring, and down-to-earth all at once. He spoke with Krista as part of the 2017 Chicago Humanities Festival.

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