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What does "Kindness" mean to you?

This Sunday, January 26, "2020: Year of Kindness and Nonviolent Action" will kick off in Evanston.

The public event will take place at the newly renovated (beautiful) Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster Street, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Emceed by Tim Rhoze, artistic director of Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, the event is FREE, open to Evanstonians of all ages, and will include art-making, food, drinks, and music. Space is still available, but you must register to participate!

To register, click here.

"This initiative is a public art and community engagement effort that uses the transformative power of the arts to bring people together around the common goal of fostering an inclusive and peaceful community," says Indira Johnson, the Evanston artist and peace activist who envisioned it.

"It aims to increase awareness around the roots of violence that plague our community, celebrate and activate kindness and nonviolence, and engage and empower residents to take action and be part of change in their community."

From January through December, a variety of Evanston organizations will host a series of programs, exhibitions, performances, workshops, and talks to bring the community together. The initiative includes nonprofits, businesses, educational, and religious institutions, artists and activists, including many that already do work around nonviolent action. Check the calendar for upcoming events. The calendar will be updated throughout the year.

**But ... What IS 'kindness?'**

During this turbulent time locally and nationally, as people are increasingly polarized, as systemic racism and inequity continue to plague our society, as racist, antisemitic, homophobic, anti-muslim, and anti-immigrant sentiments are encouraged and endorsed by our country's highest elected official, as violent acts of hate are perpetrated more and more frequently, and as gun violence remains a fact of life, what does--or doesn't--it mean to be ... kind?

I asked a number of the folks involved with this project. Here's what they said.

Indira Johnson, artist, peace activist, and initiative envisioner:

"The word ‘kindness' means different things to different people. Some think of it as sweet and soft. For me, kindness has always been about strength. I learned this from my mom who founded a community health organization in Mumbai, India, devoted to treating TB and Leprosy. The way she interacted with leprosy patients, no matter how disfigured they were, was an example of kindness in action.

My father, a follower of Gandhi’s teachings, made sure that the practice of nonviolence was a way of life for us. Thus, for me Kindness and Nonviolent Action are rooted in social justice and are a call to individual action."


Lachisa Barton, outreach worker, City of Evanston Youth and Young Adult Division

"Kindness to me is being true and genuine in whatever you do to help someone else. Now I must disclose that this could include doing something that could be considered bad, negative or violent to someone else.

At some point, we have to take a step back and determine when we are not the judge. My definition of kindness could be based on how I was raised and my moral upbringing. If I lived a privileged life, I may see kindness in a different manner than someone who grew up in poverty. Nobody gets to determine what is true and genuine to anyone else."


Lisa Degliantoni, founder, Evanston Made (Evanston Made connects Evanston artists with the public)

"Kindness is acting on behalf of others for the sake of good and this can take many forms, from the couch to the street. It can be radical or soft, big or small, but it is NEVER selfish or mean spirited and always has someone outside of the 'self' in mind.


Colette Allen, executive director, Family Focus Evanston.

"I see acts of kindness and nonviolence as taking inner strength, mindfulness and discipline. To say we must answer meanness, negativity, and violence with the same or greater vitriol saddens me, especially as we just celebrated the life of Martin Luther King, Jr."


Laura Lindroth, director of programming and community engagement, Rainbows For All Children (which provides support for all youth as they navigate grief and heal from loss, whether from death, divorce/separation, deployment, deportation, incarceration, or other trauma)

"As a mom, I have taught my three daughters that being kind to themselves and to others is one of the absolute most important things they can do in life. Practicing daily acts of kindness literally creates a higher vibration of positive energy in the world.

If we want to create change for the better, for all of us on this planet, we must each seek to change ourselves first. Being kind, practicing gratitude, and showing compassion are not only good traits, they are essential to manifesting a better world for all of us."


Sheila Merry, executive director, Evanston Cradle to Career

"For me, kindness is respecting and valuing the humanity of others. It is about being responsible for not only treating others with respect, but feeling a sense of responsibility for doing what is in your power to ensure all people are treated justly and being a force for positive change. Kindness can’t be passive. It requires stepping forward in support of others."


Michelle Raman Molitor, adjunct associate professor, Graduate Art Therapy and Counseling Department, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

"As an art therapist and artist-activist, kindness and empathy are at the root of my work with young people. I believe social justice work begins with the youngest members of our community. I feel a responsibility to help plant seeds in early development that can be nurtured so that our children can grow to become members of society who have the tools to work with others towards change.

My definition of kindness is being in relationship with everyone in your community; it is about respect and care, and purposefully using acts and words that heal wounds, not do harm.

But the word kindness is not without its adversity. For many, it is a word used to silence people who experience oppression, inequality, and injustice. I think it’s just as important to define what I think kindness is not. Kindness is not about ignoring difference. Kindness is not about being safe and comfortable. Kindness is not about being neutral. Because kindness without awareness of difference, acknowledgement of privilege, and commitment to justice, is not kind.

I don’t think promoting kindness is a solution; I think it’s one of many tools we need to foster as a society to do social justice work, and to engage all members of our community, especially our young people who hold the future in their hands."

My involvement in the initiative is focused on how we can engage our young people in social justice work. Using art to promote kindness, empathy, nonviolence and social justice is a form of action that has the potential to bring people together, encourage dialogue, and inspire change.

Agency through art is accessible and inclusive. It creates opportunities that increase the visibility and elevate the voices of young people in our community, and engages community members in conversations about social justice with young people and model what it means--and doesn’t mean--to be kind."


POST SCRIPT: By incredible coincidence, I received an email as I was thinking about kindness and writing this post. It was from the Christian Century, a magazine I follow because it publishes excellent, thought-provoking pieces. This email contained the most recent article, entitled, "Kindness, kinship, and the boundaries of justice: The virtue of kindness depends on who we see as kin."

WOW. It's a spectacular look at the etymology and history of the word "kind," excerpted from a book by author Amy Peterson, called "Where Goodness Still Grows."

Here's the last paragraph:

"Kindness has little to do with being blandly nice, being the right kind of person, someone who won’t cause any trouble by asking inconvenient questions, someone who willingly accepts the status quo and fills her place in society without troubling the waters. Kindness is, instead, about seeing the image of God in everyone, outsiders and insiders, and learning to love our kin in ways that don’t oppress others. Kindness sometimes means breaking boundaries of bloodlines to become family and being willing to have porous borders. Kindness may require the redistribution of wealth as a part of justice. To have this sort of kindness requires real strength."

You can read the full essay here.

What does kindness mean to you?


Organizations involved in the initiative include:

[Photo: Chicago Tribune]

Read about Indira and her work here.

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