Greetings to all and welcome to our 9th Annual Meet and Greet, an event that marks our 40th Anniversary as a Community Development Corporation.
This event also serves as the last such event that I will be addressing you as President of Banana Kelly. I say this with a great degree of pride but also wonderment given how far we have all come, working together over the last 40 years, particularly over the past 16.
Now, I could say that I am retiring. But I do not see it that way. I feel more like I am moving over – making room for the next generation of leaders to write the next, and I believe, exciting chapter of our organization and our community.
I could tell you that I am done. To quote Paul the Apostle, I could say that “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.” But the course is never truly finished and we must always strive, in whatever capacity we possess and in whatever setting we find ourselves, to continue to fight the good fight and to keep the faith.
And due to this fact, unlike Paul, I neither expect nor strive for any “crown of righteousness.” For there is a world of difference between being righteous and being duty bound to act where injustice is a daily fact of life. Too often, we view righteousness as simply being without guilt or blame. We hear this all the time. “I treat all people the same.” “I do not discriminate.” “I do not disrespect my neighbors or co-workers.”
That is all well and good, but it is not enough. The space where the reality of being without blame ends is precisely the space where injustice most often dwells and thrives. Under this view of righteousness, you can be righteous and never fight for justice.
So that duty to work for justice is crucial and it comes from a recognition that we all – men and women, adult and child, black, white, brown and all life’s beautiful and varied expressions of human diversity – that we all, regardless of status or station, are bound together. What I want for myself, I should want for you. And if you suffer, I suffer – we all suffer. If there is pain that is felt in the furthest reaches of our community, then that is a pain shared by all. Recognition of this ethic is the pathway forward to a more just and equitable society. But first we must expand our thinking and our feelings. We must define ourselves in some meaningful sense beyond ourselves and through those with whom we share our lives. And if we cannot share this perspective, either out of a sense of morality or for some other reason, then please do it for the sake of self-preservation. In the powerful words of Martin Luther King Jr., injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
And what about keeping the faith? Like all of you, I have been, on many occasions disappointed. But I have kept my faith in people.
I recognize that whatever disappointment I have experienced comes not from a lack of human potential but from the stifling of human dignity and the lack of gainful outlets for individual expression and personal meaning.
I recognize that greed and selfishness come not from human nature but from economic arrangements that marginalize people and isolate them in vulnerability.
I recognize that many, if not most, of the crime we experience comes not from lack of morality, but from lack of societal inclusiveness.
Change this destructive and demeaning dynamic, and we change society. And how do we start? It starts with people; it starts with the difficult and time consuming work of organizing. It starts with providing public space for people to engage with their neighbors, interact, share experiences and come up with collective approaches to address common concerns. And finally, this interaction, deliberation, sharing and bonding leads to actions meant to challenge and disrupt existing power sharing arrangements that favor some people while oppressing others.
So, keep the faith and let’s continue to struggle together. I am not retiring, but just moving over and taking on a different, and more subordinate, role that is most fitting and appropriate at this stage of my life. But the work continues. As stated so eloquently in the Talmud, the book of traditional Jewish law:
Be not daunted by the enormity of the world’s griefs.
Do justly now,
Have mercy now,
Walk humbly now,
For you are not expected to complete the work but neither are you free to abandon it.
Or, if we want to be more ambitious we can look to the Book of Micah (6:8), which may very well serve as the inspirational source of this passage:
‘It is not our responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world. But we are not free to desist from it either.’
So, aim high; let’s strive to become the best that our human condition has the capacity to be; let’s find value and strength in diversity, and commitment in our just cause. Thank you for your support and participation over these many years and I look forward to continuing our work together. And finally, I ask you to be as excited as I am about, and supportive of, our organization’s new leadership – Hope Burgess as the new CEO; our growing board of wonderful, mostly local, leaders; our dedicated staff and our members.
Harry DeRienzo – November 30, 2018