SWO Lecture Series Luncheon – Sept. 8, 2012

Saturday, September 8, 2012
Belvie Rooks, co‐founder of Growing a Global Heart
From Broken Heartedness to Open Heartedness: A Journey of Transcendence

Belvie Rooks is a writer, educator, and producer whose work weaves the worlds of spirituality, feminism, and social justice with a passion for engaged dialogue as a way of bridging various socially constructed divides. She is co-founder of Growing a Global Heart, a project to plant a million trees along the Trans-Atlantic Slave Route in West Africa and the Underground Railroad in the United States to honor the millions of lives lost during the slave trade.

At SWO’s September 8, 2012 luncheon Belvie spoke of her experience visiting the El Mina slave dungeon on the West African coast. Not a Sufi practitioner herself, she noted that many of the men and women who have inspired her are, and she described how the heart, so emphasized in Sufism, is also what she uses to guide her life. Belvie took several minutes to “bring in the ancestors” into the room, honoring especially her great-grandmother, and all other family members from whom she seeks support and guidance.

Belvie and her husband visited Africa for their marriage (performed by a traditional healer) as well as with the intention to pay their respects at the El Mina dungeons. Belvie described the bittersweet experience of being in such a beautiful setting, having just wed a man she loves, while also having the experience a few days later of standing at the “Door-of-no-return” where for over 400 years men, women and children left in slave ships to never come home again. She felt the beauty of the coast “mocked” what this place had been, and for days afterwards she experienced a tremendous grief in imagining what people had experienced as they left their families in such a horrific manner and were “erased” from history. For her this was “a stark reminder of our inhumane lapses” and for days she was enraged and could not stop crying, feeling like something had “broken” within her.

Belvie related that her process with this grief was a teaching for her as she heard the voice of her grandmother who used to talk about “bearing witness with suffering and not turning away.” Belvie realized that her natural grief reaction was in a sense “turning away” and felt she could try to be a witness without isolating herself. With this guidance from her ancestors and the support of her husband, Belvie performed a traditional washing of her feet, as African elders teach to not “walk with so much sorrow.” She began thinking about how planting trees would provide for the earth as well as symbolically represent all of those people and identities lost. When Belvie and her husband then traveled to Senegal, and a women’s tree planting initiative was in the village, she knew this was a sign.

Belvie returned to the U. S. and began speaking with environmentalists, developing a curriculum and training to plant trees in different neighborhoods to commemorate lives lost in these communities and allow those present to share their experience. Co-founder of Growing a Global Heart, she hopes to plant trees along the Trans-Atlantic Slave Route as well as the Underground Railroad. Belvie closed her talk by saying that it is important to remember that we are all one people, taking from and giving back to the same soil as we all grow our roots.

The audience was deeply moved by Belvie’s story and journey; there was a lively question and answer dialogue following her presentation.  Many participants voiced their appreciation for the Sufi Women Organization hosting such an engaging luncheon presentation and were eager to hear more about the works and service of the Sufi Women Organization.

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