Recently it dawned on me that I was in seminary before President Gerald Ford in 1976 called upon the nation to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” As a white person I am keenly aware that American History is taught through a very narrow lens. It is my responsibility as an adult to widen that lens and move its focus. As we recognize Black History Month at Kirkridge we thought it was important to lift up history makers in our midst; all of whom remember times before 1976. This year we lift up four women who are presently active in the life of the Kirkridge community and graciously share their wisdom with us through their leadership. Each of these women know and honor that others paved the way for them.
Donna Bivens says she first fell in love with the trees at Kirkridge Retreat & Study Center. Those trees spoke to her City-Girl heart, causing Donna to return for the next five years as a Kirkridge Courage Fellow and then to say yes to joining the Kirkridge Board. A diversity, inclusion and equity consultant and trainer, Donna worked for many years for the City of Boston, leading the effort in desegregation; as Co-Director of Women’s Theological Center (WTC) in Boston for over 20 years, Donna consulted with scores of organizations around the country to facilitate their creation of shared ownership, leadership and benefit across divides of racism and other systemic oppressions. Donna is known for her innovative work on internalized racism and she has begun to work toward her dream of programs for Black women at Kirkridge by starting with intentional small groups. She knows Kirkridge as a thin place that encourages the kind of internal work she defines as the practice of living on purpose, in spirit, and for justice.
Marian David never shared with her parents the pain and woundedness she suffered as a young child who integrated the public schools in Bennettsville, South Carolina. Instead she developed her own internal practices to sustain her soul – and pursued her dream to be a teacher. She left teaching in public schools to join the Children’s Defense Fund, developing the curriculum for the Summer Freedom Schools that have become a national treasure. As she worked with college students to teach in those summer programs, she recognized that they were burning out just as they were becoming good teachers – and that she needed to teach those young teachers the very skills that she had practiced all her life. Now she is working on the second edition of Sustaining the Soul that Serves and is bringing this important work to Kirkridge and to leaders across the world.
Veta Goler, PhD has touched the lives of thousands of Black young women through her life’s work at Spelman College in Atlanta. Interested in the intersections of several disciplines, for the last thirty-three years, Dr. Goler has been a professor of modern dance, dance and spirituality and contemplative studies. Veta is a dance historian and has toured internationally as a dance artist. Since 2007 she has been certified as a national Circle of Trust® facilitator and presently serves on their governing board. At Kirkridge, Veta leads Circle of Trust® programs, is a member of the Kirkridge Fellows, and is currently leading a series for Black Women on Radical Self Love.
Juanita Kirton, PhD. has been breaking boundaries all of her life. An avid writer and poet she earned her MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College. As a single mother, Dr. Kirton, served 14 years in the U.S. Army, is a proud veteran and member of the Buffalo Soldiers. Presently she is employed with the Pennsylvania Department of Education where she serves as an enforcement officer for educational policy. Dr. Kirton is the author of two books: Inner Journey (2009) and Letters to My Father (2020). An avid cyclist and member of the famous Sirens motorcycle club, Juanita often can be found touring the backroads on her blue trike motorcycle named Poetry in Motion with her partner Carol. Juanita serves on the Governing Board at Kirkridge and leads a Writing Circle at Kirkridge several times a year.
Not only do we celebrate Black history at Kirkridge, we look to the future, too. We turn our eyes from history into future by honoring two individuals who are carving paths for the decades to come. Their voices also ring with clarity and vision within their communities and beckon us to listen carefully for the hope that lives among us.
To meet Tabitha D. James is to encounter a breath of fresh air of optimism, hope, energy and commitment to make a difference with her life. As she writes in her own words, Two degrees, two published books, endless miles of travel … I have learned how to continually let go of fear and unleash my greatness into the world. It was not without challenge, and I’m grateful for the gift of grace. Having learned from her elders, Tabitha always lifts as she climbs. Creator of the S.H. E. is Me Mentoring Program for rural young girls of South Carolina, Tabitha serves as a mentor and coach for young women to empower them to dream big. Her mantra is: A true leader not only leads others, but advises and builds them to become leaders as well.
Nothing stands in the way of Ernie Roundtree when he is training for Special Olympics as a runner. Ernie dreams big, and through his perseverance, carves a path for his dreams to come true. Two years ago Ernie traveled to Boston to fulfill one of his life dreams to run and complete the Boston Marathon. Ernie accomplished that dream to the cheers of countless police officers and friends who supported him along the way. Active in his community, Ernie serves as an advocate for young adults living with disabilities, is a faithful volunteer at the Red Cross, and active member of the First Methodist Church of East Stroudsburg. Ernie is the recipient of many awards for his community service, advocacy work and leadership. Ernie is in his first term on the Governing Board at Kirkridge and never fails to inspire or offer ideas that further our mission, “To be and become and people of hope, compassion, justice and service.”