Since early 2016 I have attempted to encourage a spirit of leadership in the Lynching Sites Project modeled after high-flying geese, but I have never taken the time to spell that out fully. I want to do that here with some examples from the LSP story.
There are 6 character traits of high-flying geese which offer profound teaching about leadership, communion with one another, and flying well as an organization:
1. Keeping Company with the Fallen
In the early 1980s the San Francisco Chronicle ran a story of two geese, somehow separated from the family to which they belonged, settled down on a small beach behind a tavern in Tiburon, CA. It had been discovered that one goose was blind and that the other, a gander, had bravely sacrificed his migratory freedom to stay behind and keep his mate company.
In addition two Australian nature photographers lived with snow geese in migration for a year and reported seeing a family of geese halt their migration to stay behind with a cripple, risking death as ice and snow moved in. Geese are known for keeping company with the fallen.
In the life of the LSP it could be said that our fundamental mission is to “keep company” with the fallen victims of lynching and with others who have been terrorized by lynching. We have also kept company with one another in our more fallen moments including many of you who have me thoughtful emails during this week when I feel myself to be somewhat among the fallen as I face a cancer biopsy.
2. Sharing the Lead
For geese a vee formation is required to equally distribute the drag from the wind, and the lead bird does not necessarily have the most strenuous position. And studies reveal that geese rotate being the lead bird in ways that reflect the changing needs of the flock.
In the life of the LSP we have been blessed with many willing to take a turn in the lead. We have all been grateful to get into formation behind the lead of Margaret Vandiver in Research. In Arlington Tom Carlson took the lead for the first 20 months, then I enjoyed Tom’s fully support as I initiated a new chapter of leadership. McKinley Doty offered a few weeks of leadership that enabled some large steps forward. And now a new formation of leadership is taking form from at least three settings: from the family of Jesse Lee Bond, by friends who are residents ofArlington and from the larger LSP. There are many other examples.
3. Flying in Formation
Researchers have found that geese flying in formation improves aerodynamic efficiency and that birds in formation can have a range capacity increase of up to 70% more than a bird flying alone.
This is especially instructive for me as I remember a number of times when I have made mistakes and gotten exhausted trying to carry out some part of LSP’s work alone. When we have the support and the accountability of others working beside us the work always increases in both quality and volume and mistakes decrease. In the buildup in 2017 to the Ell Persons centennial we were meeting weekly, staying in touch, and reasonably clear about who was responsible for what task and by what deadline. We stayed “in formation” and we felt united and joyful at the end.
4. Open Lungs and Hollow Bones
When geese breathe as they fly, unlike human breathing, the air passes through the lungs in a system of air sacs that extend into every important part of the body, including the larger bones. The creature is thus transformed into one buoyant in both air and water.
In most languages the word for breath is also the word for spirit. Many times in the life of the LSP we have been able to affirm a sense of being carried by Spirit. Call it by whatever names works for you, but it is clear that there is energy that carries this work that is greater than the sum of even all of us together. Unexpected people show us to offer support from as far away as Atlanta, England and France. We discover related family members who live in Memphis, Chicago and San Antonio. It has seemed that people needed for specific assignments appeared just when they were needed.
5. Honking from Behind
Geese in flight honk as they fly and this is how they encourage one another and alert one another to danger. By changes in modulation, pitch and frequency they have a vocal network of mutuality and encouragement.
In so many ways we have been able to be a community of support for one another. We can get better at this, to be sure, and there are always moments of conflict and misunderstanding in any human endeavor. Not a one of us has been able to do a job well without support from others in the flock.
6. Facing into Danger
Hunters testify that it is difficult to shoot a goose who is flying toward you. They are more vulnerable when they are in retreat.
The work of the LSP is sometimes controversial and difficult. We will not be able to resolve all the conflicts and criticism that we encounter. We seem to have been effective when we have acknowledged difficulty and conflict and sought ways to move into it rather than avoid it. This may apply to the inevitable conflicts we may sometimes have with one another as well as with the pushbacks that will occur as a result of the work itself. When a property owner near the Lee Walker marker expressed displeasure with the marker LSP leaders and others leaders made contact with him to listen and attempt to respond wisely to his concerns.
The preceding was written by Randall Mullins and is based on High-Flying Geese by the late Browne Barr a minister and teacher. Originally written for congregations it also applies to gatherings such as the LSP.
-- Randall Mullins