Our Visit with Gloria White-Hammond

The day that we set out to visit the My Sister’s Keeper office, we did not expect to interview anyone. However, once we heard what they had to say, we decided to catch it on camera. Unfortunately, we used Ben’s digital camera, and the sound quality of the resulting clips were not exceptional. We have included transcripts of excerpts from the interviews below:

Transcript of Interview with Gloria White-Hammond

O: What would you say would be the most enjoyable thing about what you do in terms of the accumulation of all your various projects?

G: Certainly meeting people, and to have the opportunities to really serve is wonderfully rewarding whether I’m in clinic or in church setting is very enjoyable. It’s all part of the relationship of giving and getting and giving and getting.
O: the most difficult part?

G: hmmm.. The hardest thing is feeling like I can’t change the difficult things. Certainly in terms of my practice to have situations of people going through either physical or emotional trauma or disease and not having the capacity to reverse that is very difficult. Of course it’s rewarding to help people cope and transcend, still it’s sad to not be able to turn it around. And certainly it’s sad in Darfur and Sudan to have women relating and people relating just very horrible stories; and to know that I’m trying to reverse it or trying to stop it but every day people die or people suffer, that’s hard.

O: Do you feel that your making a difference, well obviously your making a difference, but do you ever feel too overwhelmed like there’s nothing you can do or do you always have hope?

G: I always have hope and even if for a moment I like “ugh”, it only lasts for a moment. Because there’s still so much that we can do so many creative possibilities. And we’ll never know, as it is, how many lives we save just because of the attention that we have brought to the Sudan area. We’ll just never be able to calculate how many people have died, but we won’t be able to calculate how many have been saved. So I am by no means overwhelmed or perplexed. I think that there’s so many more so many more tricks up our sleeves, so many things that we have to create. So I’m not discouraged.

A: So I was wondering in terms of international aid what do you think would be the most important thing for Darfur right now.

G: well the most urgent thing would be some protection to stop the killing. And there are other collateral efforts that have to go on simultaneously, we have to bring people to the table to talk peace, authentic peace, just peace. We have to ensure that the perpetrators for the crime are held accountable. They do have to suffer something, some kind of consequences. You can’t violate people…Humanitarian support. We need top provide some humanitarian relief. Food, shelter,

O: Do you think that the UN is doing its part

G: (shakes head) No.

O: Or do you think in actuality that it can do much, much more?

G: The UN is not doing its part. The international leaders are certainly not doing their part. They could put much more pressure. They have yet to do some of the things that they said they would do. This whole issue of responsibility to protect is a UN to which Sudan sided on. They’re not doing that. China, an international leader, has been, in many ways, an enabler of the genocide. They could use their economic leverage against Sudan. They’ve not done that. It’s very disappointing. It’s very disappointing that they have not condemned the Sudanese government nor have they provided the kind of humanitarian support which they should. Anyway we look at the international leadership is not uh….even our government could do much more in terms of putting, just, sanctions on government of Sudan or restricting travel of the primary perpetrators. So we have been very disappointed by the international leaders. And that is why it has been such a grass roots movement because the leaders have failed us. We are holding them accountable.

O: I heard that recently the United Nations has been pushing China to stop oil negotiations with Sudan?

G: They’ve done a lot of speaking haven’t they?

O: Yeah, I heard about the Olympics, or they’re gonna take it out of China?

G: I haven’t heard that. They have made so many threats, and it’s hard to take them seriously. I’m past the point of being impressed by the words that people say. I want to see your fruit, and you don’t have a lot of fruit coming out of the UN or the European Union. So empty rhetoric thus far.

Gloria at one point compared the UN to a parent who issues empty threats. She expressed desire for more knowledge and action from Americans. She said that she wanted people who do know to speak out. She also said that people in Africa to put pressure on their governments, and a need for international cooperation that is unique for 2007. “I don’t know how many more, but we’re working for everyone.”

When Olivia asked what people our age could do about the situations like the genocide in Darfur, this was Gloria’s response:

G: First of all, you’re doing the most important thing, which is for yourself to be knowledgeable. And determined to do something to figure out what the something is and to do it. And you’re not despising event the littlest contributions. This is a very significant contribution. Certainly for you to be self-educated and to create avenues for you to educate other people both within your high school around the commonwealth, around  the nation and around the world. And students have a unique capacity to do that because your so much more facile with these kinds of things (computers) and you could figure out how to internationalize this in a way that would so much work for some of the rest of us. And again, nobody knows what is going to work. This upcoming genocide Olympics is huge. There’s so many ways to think about this. Not everybody’s watching the Olympics but everybody’s watching the Olympics and they’re just any number of ways that we can do this. And we have a good year to figure it out. And we have lots of things to try along the way leading all the way up to the Olympics. And we’re not gonna back down. I think just getting the word out that China of all people is hosting these Olympics.

G: I think it’s really high time that the way the world handles its business that there be a feminine, whatever comprises the woman approach, nurturing, the sense of wanting us to work together. Getting away from the “macho”. Whatever it is that is, not unique to women cause I think that men can have sort of this bit too. So whatever that bit is, I think it’s high time that it begin to form and shape the way and nature that the world does business with one another. Whether we’re talking about global warming or whatever conflicts there are.  It’s time to have to have the attributes that are often associated with the woman’s perspective. I don’t think the world could do any worse, by adopting some of those features. I’m trying to tease out what some of those features are so that we don’t specifically identify as being women even though I’m proud of doing that. There are men with that kind of sensitivity. I think it’s time to start doing business differently.

Olivia also asked if, when the Darfur situation is “under control”, whether Pastor Gloria would consider working on other causes.

G: ….I do know that Sudan will take awhile. Even if the genocide stopped tomorrow, we’ve got a lot of work to do to save Darfur in terms of rebuilding. …And I’m clearly called to do this for now… I am called to do this, raised up for such a time as this. I may be doing this for 5 years, but part of my legacy will be to instill in the 3 of you a commitment to go beyond my time.

A: You already have.

G: I may not be on it for however long it takes, but if I do my job right, I will inspire another generation that will be on this however long it takes. That will be able and be willing to create a model for how a diverse group of people from, every nation, every kindred, every tribe sort of thing, identified a foreign issue, built an infrastructure on how to confront it and stayed till the job is done. That may not be me.

“The easiest thing is giving birth to something. The hardest thing is raising it up.”



Interview with Sarah Rial:

Ada: So, are there other humanitarian groups in Akon?

Sarah Rial: American anti-slavery groups: they do a lot of activity for Sudan.

Ada: And they work with Pastor White-Hammond?

Sarah Rial: Yes. Actually they were one of the first groups who invited Gloria White-Hammond to go to Sudan and witness the slavery that was happening. So, when she [went] and she saw it, that’s when [My Sister’s Keeper] actually came into action. They met with the women and asked what they wanted, because this was after they had been freed from their captives. And so the first thing that they said was that they wanted a grinding mill and they wanted a place for their daughters to learn. So we started the project for the school for girls because so many girls didn’t get that opportunity. But the other schools were co-education, like boys and girls, so normally, there are not so many girls in the school.

Ben: What’s it like, there? The situation?

Ada: How would you describe Pastor White-Hammond?

Sarah Rial: I work with Gloria over here and the attention and the responsibilities that I have and the world that I’ve experienced working with her. And she’s definitely a good person. I mean, the heart and care she brings to the Sudanese people, including myself, that is very special to me. I feel there are a lot of words to describe [her]. I’m very glad that I met her.

Olivia: Do you see the war ending anytime soon?

Yes, of course, but especially in the South right now there is peace and there is no more war going on, and people need education. People need healthcare. They need clothing. And these are all things that people need. In Darfur, the situation is getting very serious now. People are being killed and the more people ask when is the end of the war. They need food, they need a lot of things. So we have to use measures against the government in order to let allow food

Olivia: If…I feel like this is a bit of a ridiculous question… but do you think that complete peace will occur soon, or do you thing it’s going to be a really long time before that happens?

I hope it will come soon. And especially in Darfur, the war started in 2003 and so many people have died. And everyone is praying [for] peace. In the South, the war went on for 21 years. But, people have suffered a lot and there is already some peace in the South now.

Olivia: It sounds like you’ve been doing a lot. Do you ever find it overwhelming, how much work it is? Do you ever feel like you’re working toward an end that is, maybe, really far away?

Sarah Rial: No, I…my passion has always been education for women in Sudan and to encourage that, so that’s more reachable. To make a commitment from people like us, from the children who are actually going to the schools and from the government that is supporting the schools, teachers. My passion has always been education. Education, you know, never ends. As soon as you start [incomprehensible]. So it never ends.


Interview with Melinda Weekes:

Ada: In a few words, how would you describe Pastor White-Hammond?

Melinda: She is…I would describe her as: deeply sensitive, very intuitive, very sweet, just a deep thinker, feeler. Funny, uh…a really good friend. Loyal, caring.

Ada: How long have you known her?

Melinda: Oh, I guess I met her in 20, so I would say, 7 years.

Ada: What kinds of things has she done or said to make you think this way about her?

Melinda: Well, I really enjoy her company. See, I’ve done a lot of work with her. I’m one of the ministers here at the church with her. I’m one of the members of My Sister’s Keeper. She’s got a really great sense of humor, she’s very down to earth. She’s a big sister, a friend. She’s not full of herself. And she changes a room with her presence. She brings a big heart and lots of compassion and she’s a wise woman.

Ada: I know you’ve probably heard her preach. What are usually the reactions from the congregation?

Melinda: Well, there’s always a big response in terms of the altar call. You know, its when after you preach, you invite people to come to make a decision to have God in their life, to make some improvement in their life, to pray with the minister.

Ada: You said that she was meant to the in the forefront. How did you first realize this?

Melinda: The work that I’ve seen. How god has shown her at each stage, how it is what she’s supposed to be doing in life. About two summers ago, we spent some time in [Sudan]. When we first decided to spend some time in Darfur, because we had been dealing in Sudan, in southern Sudan, she went and visited Darfur. And when came back, she had a verdict to have life improve for the women we met in the IDP camps there. So, we spent that summer of 2005 kinda brainstorming on how we could really raise the conciousness to bring attention to what was going on in Darfur and particularly, how it was affecting women’s lives. So we spent some time brainstorming what that would look like. We anted to a whole grassroots movement of what that would look like. And I knew in our conversations and it was clear to me that she was the kind of person to really be in the forefront of this. Because of her own self, she never really did thing that she would, but since that time in 2005 when we dreamed about it and tried to figure out who were the people who were speaking out in this issue, and what groups were represented, what groups were not represented. It was clear to me that she was going to play kind of a connecting role in all these groups and wanted to, but never thought it would actually happen. And by September of 2006, she had been appointed the chairperson of the Million Voices for Darfur, which resulted in a huge rally at the mall in Washington D.C. So from that early beginning, when were were just, like, in her living room, with post-its and trying to figure it out, seeing how that really blessed to become to become part of a thing  she had a passion to do. And now, a year later even from 2006, we’re beginning to launch yet another grassroots movement for women speaking out against this issue and she’s been, you know, at the forefront of that.

Olivia: What’s Gloria White-Hammond like? How would you describe her?

Melinda: Oh, describe Gloria. Where do I start? She’s been my best friend for the longest period of time my life, if anybody knows, we go back to our college days together. And has probably shared the most important changes in my life. She’s been a great friend, she’s been a colleague, has been the co-founder of this church. We’ve had the privilege of being parents together and through all of that, she’s been an extremely bright, funny, fun to be with, adventurous, sometimes a little crazy…a warm and giving person.

Interview with Pastor Ray Hammond:

Olivia: So how involved are you with My Sister’s Keeper?

Pastor Ray: A little bit in the sense that I’ve gone on some of the trips and have continued to support a lot of the trips and tried to provide financial support for some of the things. You might say, I’m not on the board or anything like that, but because we work closely together in the church, I’m well aware of it.

Olivia: So you are co-pastor of the church. How do you describe the way that the congregation reacts to her when she preaches?

Pastor Ray: I think that, people really enjoy hearing her preach. She helps people through her own unique perspective. She can be very funny and also very direct and people kind of appreaciate her. She has a real gift too, for bringing into the sermon stuff from everyday life. Experiences that we’ve had, songs that we know and all remember, experiences we’ve shared and I think she’s also apprecated for her willingness to share a lot of herself, not just the things that have gone well for her but also the, you know, bad things, mistakes that she’s made.

Ada: Why did you decide to start this church?

Pastor Ray: The simple answer is that we sensed it was what God was telling us to do. Why God was telling us to do this was several things: One, we sensed the need for more churches to serve a population that was changing in Boston. We sensed the need for a church that would be very committed to working with we’re situated in, and particularly, a church that would be committed to reaching young people. And not just the young people who come on Sunday, but the young people who need us in the neighborhood around that church, so there’s a lot of things we do. [Its important that] we’re not limited to our neighborhood, that we think about the whole world and find ways to connect with it.