A column from Sept, 2012. I was the kick-off speaker at The Nantucket Project 2012 Fellows Academy lunch to start the weekend:
By Jeff Grant
An Ancient Chinese proverb says, “may you live in interesting times.” I have a feeling that The Nantucket Project will be a very interesting time.
I recently received my acceptance email selecting me as a 2012 TNP Fellow to The Nantucket Project this Oct. 5-8th. The email from Kate Brosnan (TNP Exec. Director) said, “I would need you to be here by noon on Friday since I have you speaking to all of our Fellows at the Fellows lunch. You will be following Senator Bill Frist on the program.”Really?
So here’s the deal. The Nantucket Project bills itself as an “event experience that brings together a select group of eminent and accomplished visionaries, thinkers, innovators and performers to one of the most storied places in the United States.” And I think that it’s pretty much true (present company excepted) from what I can tell from its website and from speaking with its Chairman, Tom Scott (a Greenwich resident). The presenters at this year’s event are mind-boggling, or in my case as I labor over my own presentation, mind-numbing. Here are a few names to get me crazy in the middle of the night: Greenwich’s own Eddie Lambert, Google’s Eric Schmidt, Peter Thiel of PayPal fame, the actor Mark Ruffalo and his Water Defense project, Larry Summers the Ex-Secretary of the Treasury. There are probably 30 – 40 presenters and panelists in all, and 350 people private jetting in to this oasis in the Atlantic to experience the experience and rub elbows. As a TNP Fellow, I have a scholarship to attend but I wasn’t surprised to find out that that no private jet will whisk away my wife Lynn and me to Nantucket. We do have a plan, however; if we start rowing from Greenwich Harbor today we may make it by the start of the event.
Why in the world would Tom Scott and Kate Brosnan select me, a seminarian/theologian and Director of a new prison ministry model, as a Fellow to this monster of an event? Well, I’m not sure. But I think it’s about two things. The first is about lifting up the voices of those who can’t speak for themselves; about understanding that the only way we can solve this mess we are in is to hold the oppressed at the center of the conversation. It is so easy to enlarge (or reduce) the discussion to meta-terms, think of the world as a big technological problem to solve. But who is actually speaking with and for the hundreds of millions of people on the ground in this country, the billions on this planet, who have to figure out how to live life each day on life’s terms? Can their issues, problems and traumas be reduced to some imagined collective and/or collected understanding from which business leaders will make decisions that will change their way of life and destiny? What are our ethical imperatives? Do we slow down enough to engage the people in the process, invite them to the table, ask them the questions about what they really need, or want?
The second is specific to the world of the imprisoned, the recently released from prison and those who are in fear or danger of going to prison. It doesn’t take too much time for them to figure out that the process is, and is forever going to be, life altering for them and their families. In fact, for almost all, it’s a life sentence regardless of their sentence. It is more trauma, after years or lifetimes of trauma, and it affects those in every economic background. In my work in Bridgeport and New York City, I’ve spent years with, and fighting for the rights of, families on the margins who have no resources with which to ensure a successful reentry from prison. Some succeed, but the majority succumbs to the cycle of recidivism that swallows generation after generation.
Headlines every day announce prison-centric issues that affect people in towns like Greenwich. It seems like no one is immune. For white collar types it is disturbing that there are virtually no services available to help make sense of this. Nobody, that is almost nobody, understands. The affected have never felt more alone, more vulnerable, hurt, afraid, and helpless. The old standbys that they used to rely upon (power, independence, intelligence) not only feel useless and unreliable, but they feel counterproductive. It feels like there is nowhere to get credible information, and nobody to trust. I meet with these people most days too, and offer my experience about the process, and hope that there is a different and better life on the other side.
So, I think there is little doubt that that The Nantucket Project will be a very interesting time. I will give a full report in my next column.
Link to my column, Practically Religion, that appears in various Connecticut-based media: http://hamlethub.com/greenwich-life/cat/people/19504-practically-religion-interesting-times-at-the-nantucket-project-2