Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Remembering Lucius Walker

Sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, I picked up the phone to hear a woman's voice asking me if I was familiar with the group Pastors for Peace.  I had to admit that I was not. She explained that the group was caravanning across the US, taking medical and other supplies to Central America, and needed a stopping point between Amarillo and San Antonio.  She'd been given my name by someone at the Peace Farm in Amarillo, and although it was not the ideal place to stop, Abilene might do (especially since I don't think they had any other contact people or choices haha).  She gave me a brief run down of the work of Pastors for Peace, that much of their purpose had to do with educating people along the way about US foreign policy and its effects on our brothers and sisters in the southern hemisphere, and requested that I set up a speaking engagement for them while they were in town overnight.  She then went on to say that the Rev. Lucius Walker, Jr., founder of Pastors for Peace, just happened to be on this leg of the caravan.  "Sure," I said, "Come on!"

So began my ongoing relationship with Pastors for Peace and Lucius Walker, who passed away yesterday at the age of 80.  When I first met Lucius, he was a vibrant man in his late 50s who'd been involved in social justice work for most of his life.  I felt an instant bond with him because he was a social worker (MSW) as well as a minister, and understood issues from the same value base that I did.  He was a soft spoken, kindhearted man but you knew immediately that he would not waver from his beliefs nor his stand for those who were oppressed.  My friends and I threw together a potluck dinner at a local church and invited our contacts to come and hear about the work being done.  I don't remember much about what was said, but I fell in love with Pastors for Peace and the boldness of their approach to the world.  

Lucius and two others spent the night at our home and I remember sitting around the kitchen table listening to their stories and thinking "I want to go on a caravan someday!"  I had all kinds of questions and it was great to hear from individuals with such knowledge and experience.  Living in conservative West Texas, I often felt that there were few  who really understood my thinking or agreed with my beliefs so it was enormously validating to get to talk about issues with "my people." Lucius was also very kind to my three girls and later sent us a thank-you letter addressed to "Jane and my three favorite young ladies." From that day till I left Texas for Alaska, a steady stream of caravanistas came through Abilene once or twice most years, and we continued to host potlucks and informational meetings while having anywhere from 2 to 12 individuals staying overnight with us and farmed out to our friends.  We met lots of interesting people from all walks of life, teachers and mechanics and nurses and a few preachers, students and military veterans and homemakers and doctors, all of whom wanted to make the world a better place by practicing "the peoples' foreign policy" in countries such as Nicaragua, Mexico, and later, Cuba, which opened up a huge political can of worms.  But Lucius never wavered then, even going on a hunger strike at one point when the US government was seizing items bound for Cuba.

I only saw Lucius a couple of other times over the years.  In New York City, the home of Pastors for Peace, my friend Susan and I brought some social work students to meet him and to talk about social justice work.  I remember one student drifting off to sleep and another being somewhat confrontational with Lucius, which made me feel tense and uncomfortable.  Oh my gosh, what would he think about us bringing these students in and they couldn't even pay attention or worse, dared to disagree with him?!  I think he ignored the snoozing student, but he welcomed the disagreement and discussion, saying "thank you for lifting that up for us so we can openly discuss it..." and then went on to address the student's concerns.  Susan and I have certain Lucius-isms that we refer to and "thank you for lifting that up" is one of them.  :)

We attended services at Lucius' church in Brooklyn, at the time meeting in the basement of a nearby building while the church was having some work done.  The congregation was small but welcomed us white people with literal open arms as we sat amongst them to hear Lucius preach about "calling out the foxes," speaking out when injustice is done and not standing by to let it continue.  I'm not very religious, but there was definitely a spiritual power in that small Black church in Brooklyn that morning.  

Several years later, I received a phone call from Lucius saying "you keep saying you want to go with Pastors for Peace some time...we're going to Chiapas, Mexico, and we need one more person!"  It was kinda like, "Okay, Jane, quit talking about it and do it!"  I had many reasons not to go and I am not a very impulsive person but this time I decided to take the leap.  I did not have the time off work to travel across country with one of the caravans so I met the group in Mexico.  We traveled in an old yellow school bus deep into the remote mountainside of Chiapas, where we worked with villagers reclaiming their community after being in exile for the previous six years due to violence from the government and the paramilitaries.  What an eye opening experience it was!  Really tough and challenging and made me realize just how middle class I really am and just how much I really do like all of my modern conveniences like toilets and showers and a working kitchen.  It's another whole big story that I won't go into now but I am forever grateful that Lucius called me out!

Yesterday I (along with everyone else on the P4P email list) received a brief message that Lucius Walker had passed away.  Although I could not claim to be a close friend and I had not seen him nor talked with him in awhile, I will miss his presence in my life and on this Earth. I know he was a tireless worker for the good of all, for peace and justice throughout the world, a champion for the oppressed, a kind and loving human being, a mentor to me and countless others and his example will live on in the many, many people he touched here in the US and abroad. My thoughts are with his family and the Pastors for Peace family who will feel his loss so intensely.   Here's the Pastors for Peace website if you want to learn more about their work.


Suzassippi said...

I have not yet gathered my thoughts about Lucius' passing, but I am thankful for having known him, thankful for you having introduced him, and thankful for the experience of the many who stayed in our home as a result: the Union organizer and his son, the physician "Bob" and Gary, the poet, the woman whose life was saved while in Cuba when she had a heart attack, Sissy, and so many whose faces I remember but not their names. Remember when someone left her suitcase on our driveway and Rand and I drove like mad to Lawn to catch them and give her the suitcase?

Gigi said...

Yes, I remember that story and so many others, as well as many wonderful people who came our way through Pastors for Peace. I was tempted to talk about some of them, too, but it seemed like I was already getting longwinded. We could do many posts about our caravanista experiences!

Betty said...

What a wonderful tribute to someone so loved by his followers and those who had the chance to meet him and share his thoughts.