Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Breaking the Silence on Ferguson: It Starts With Me.

For the past ten days, I have been watching the stories coming out of Ferguson, MO. I have watched the news stories, the live news feeds, read the blogs, followed #Ferguson on Twitter, paid attention to status updates on Facebook regarding the heinous things that are happening. I have done so silently. I typed a blog during the first few days from a place of anger but never hit publish. That anger turned to sadness, sadness to confusion, confusion to introspection, introspection to realization and the realization to finding my voice. I do not think I am alone in this. I have watched so many of my friends so wonderfully articulate their feelings in a call to justice while I sat numb, feeling like my voice had no place. This morning, my friend posted a rally cry with a collage of twitter updates asking the Caucasian community to speak up. They were all inviting and asking for our voice in the conversation. I'm breaking my silence.

I'm ashamed. 

I'm ashamed that after all these years racism is still alive. It is not only alive but it is rearing its ugly head in some of the most heartbreaking and infuriating ways. The side by side pictures that are surfacing of years past vs this past week look identical. This is the type of history that should not repeat itself. I'm ashamed that as a human race we are still having to learn lessons on respect, love and just down right dignity.

I'm angry.

I'm angry that the color of ones skin can directly affect and dictate the type of treatment they receive. I have wrestled all week with the phrase, "white privilege." I hate it. As much as an African American person hates being judged for their darker skin, I absolutely HATE the assumptions that come with my lighter skin. However....just because I hate it does not make it false. It angers me so much because there IS truth in it. It is a reality that devastates me, but one that I must leverage for good.

I'm sad.

I have looked at numerous pictures online and there is one of a lady looking at a camera and she is wearing the exhaustion and heartbreak on her face. It is an image I have not been able to shake. I am sad that a small number of people are choosing to respond with violence and looting. It is heartbreaking to see police using tear gas, tanks, batons, shields and guns. THIS IS AMERICA! There is no FREEDOM in those images. I'm sad that there are children holding signs that say, "Don't Shoot." Children. They are growing up with this as their reality and it is formative in these young minds.

I'm aware. 

I have started paying more attention to what people say or do not say regarding race. I have immersed myself in a community and a culture that is 95% African American. I can go an entire day without seeing another Caucasian person in my neighborhood. I have worked so hard to be accepted by my neighbors and for the most part, I think that I am. I am also aware that no matter how hard I listen, learn or try to understand. I will never be able to understand 100% the thoughts, feelings and issues they face due to their race and it's a gap that I feel every day. I have listened to peoples concerns for mine and my husbands safety because of where we live. Deep down I know those concerns would not be the same if we lived in a neighborhood filled with people of our same race.  I know that some people reading this will say, "Oh that's not true," and if that's you....sit on that for awhile. Think about it. Examine it. I had to as well.

I'm hopeful.

I was sixteen miles from Ferguson last week visiting a friend in St. Louis and I attended a community prayer gathering. It was one of the greatest pictures of Heaven I have ever seen. There were people from all walks of life and different races who came together in unity to pray for our communities. One of the pastors talked about how in the midst of such chaos we need to remember "the God who sees and will set everything right." That brought such comfort to me. Not only does God see what is happening as a whole, He sees each person individually where they are. He knows the depth of our sadness, anger, confusion. He sees the unanswered questions and the aches and groans that feel too deep for words.   I'm hopeful because I see peoples of various races coming together united in the midst of division. I see an invitation extended and people accepting. I see the church coming to the city and people standing on the front lines in a cry for change and justice. I'm hopeful because I see this starting to happen in our city as well. Families crossing neighborhood lines and watching children of different races playing together. This gives me hope. 

I'm learning.

Listening is something we all need to be doing right now. There are voices that need to be heard. There are books, blogs, stories that we all need to read. I want to know what is actually happening and how people really feel. I want to be able to take part in the conversation without appearing or actually being ignorant. I want to know the issues that my neighbors face. I want to go deeper in knowledge and in self reflection. I need to have an opinion. I need to educated in things that I do not understand. 

It is my problem.

This is not just something happening on the news somewhere else. This is not someone else's issue. This is my neighborhood. My community. My town. Any of the boys I work with could have been Mike Brown and I have a responsibility in making sure that does not become a reality. I can not change the thoughts and opinions of people in our entire country. My place is not at a peaceful protest in Ferguson, MO. My place is in a small neighborhood in Savannah, GA and a member of a large predominately caucasian church. I live in a city where I see segregation every day. I have a voice and I have an audience. You have a voice and you have an audience. What are you saying...or not saying?

I came across this quote  that sums it all up for me:

"Everybody thinks about changing humanity, 
nobody thinks about changing himself."

Leo Tolstoy

It starts with me.

Monday, August 11, 2014

When Home Isn't Home

I am thankful that I grew up in a family in which I always knew I had a home. It did not matter what I went through in my life, good or bad, I knew I could (and did) go home when needed. I was reminded today that is not the case for everyone.

We came to Chicago for Glenn to be nationally certified in gang intervention and prevention and gangs in K-12 schools. It has already been a phenomenal training and networking event but due to the cost, I could not attend with him. I thought that during the day I would work on some things for The Dream Campaign or sight see around Chicago. I have never really been anywhere like it. There are giant skyscrapers and people EVERYWHERE. Yesterday, I was walking back to the hotel from meeting up with Glenn and just scoping out the area for things to do and places to see. Our hotel sits in the middle of an area known as the Gold Coast which upon further research I discovered is one of the richest neighborhoods in the nation.  As I rounded the corner, I happened upon a young girl holding a sign, visibly homeless...tattered and dirty clothing. She held her sign in front of her with white knuckles so focused on the feet that walked by in front of her, not daring to make eye contact with those who probably had opinions of who she was and why she was sitting there.  I don't make it a habit of giving anyone money, but I did not have anything else on me and I felt a peace about giving her a few dollars. I knelt down beside her and said "Hi, I'm Morgan. What's your name?"  She replied very cautiously, "I'm Allie." She thanked me after I gave her a few dollars and I went on my way. The image of her sitting with thousands of people passing by her as if she were not even there stayed with me.

I decided to try and find the Walgreens this morning for a few needed items and took a different route than where I met Allie. On my way to the store, I passed by two homeless men. There is literally a homeless person on every corner in the area. I felt the uncomfortable feeling as I approached the cross walk and the ability to excuse myself to keep walking was quickly met by the hand telling me to stop. There I was right next to the man calling out for change. I felt myself becoming just like everyone else...."Don't make eye contact." I started to come up with reasons that I should not feel bad about acknowledging him. He seemed totally out of it. Maybe he was drunk or high. I did not feel good about giving him money like the day before. I felt his eyes bearing down on me and my eyes stayed fixed on the blinking hand. My feet promptly moved across the street at the first sign of "go." I did not get more than 2 feet into the street when I heard, "Morgan, what if that was Jesus?" Remorse and guilt enveloped me as I realized I had just done what I speak against to everyone else. How easily I blended in to my surroundings. That same voice said, "give a cup of cold water."

I put my needed items up on the counter to check out and added a few extra bottles of water. I went back to the man on the corner and said, "Hello sir, this is for you." He looked at the bottle of water and slowly reached out to retrieve it from my hand. He looked shocked and glanced up at me as he said, "Thank You."
I walked to meet Glenn during his lunch break and passed another man with a sign that said he had been homeless for two months.  Another well dressed man held a cardboard sign expressing that he needed work as a handyman. I felt like I was moving in slow motion suddenly noticing the need surrounding me. I approached the intersection where I had met Allie the day before and there she sat, head down, any ounce of dignity drained from her face. I called out, "Hey Allie!" She looked up scanning the crowd until her eyes met mine. I wondered how long it had been since she had heard her name called out loud. She smiled. I told her I was going to meet up with my husband but I would be back shortly. I assured Glenn over lunch that I was not going to bring her back to our hotel or follow her anywhere. He made me convince him. He knows me well.

I had not read her sign the first time I met her but this time as I walked up I read the words scribbled out on the cardboard, "Homeless. Stuck in Chicago. Vegetarian." along with some other things. Next to her was a little pocket book with the words, "Trust in Jesus" written across the top. I decided to start off our conversation by asking her how long she had been a vegetarian and why she took that stance. She told me all about how she loved animals and hated how they were treated so it was more out of a conviction for their well being. She told me she was 20 years old and I asked her about being stuck in Chicago.  I asked her where home was and she replied, "Cincinnati, OH..but things at home are not good...it's not really home." I told her about how Glenn and I met working at a homeless shelter and she seemed to relax a little more. I asked her if she was here with anyone else and she told me about her boyfriend and how they sleep outside next to the church around the corner. I asked her what she really needed. She said, "What do you mean?" I explained that I realize people may give her change here and there but if she could walk in a store right now and get something, what would it be? She immediately said, "shampoo and conditioner" as she started stroking her hair...."Especially conditioner." I asked her if she needed socks and she said, "OH YES!" and whispered, "and underwear." She explained that a bus pass would be really nice but the card itself was $5 she had not gotten one. I told her I would be back in a few minutes.

I passed by the bus tour kiosks on the way to the store and watched the double decker buses drive by filled with tourists taking in the sights. That had been the one thing I wanted to do while I was here but I knew that money would be better spent helping a young 20 year old girl feel seen that day. I walked through the aisles trying to pick out things she would need and a few things she would want. I grabbed a few fresh fruit and veggies as a treat for a vegetarian. I passed by my new homeless friends on the way and said hello and I could see Allie smile as I started my way across the street. I knew that it was more than just a bag with some needed items. It was a someone doing what they said they were going to do. Seeing her. Hearing her. Her boyfriend had joined her and I introduced myself and shook his hand. He was very kind and appreciative. She looked through the bags and kept saying "Thank you." I handed her the bus card loaded with enough money for them to have 10 trips. You would have thought it was Christmas morning. I felt myself choke up a bit and she and her boyfriend exchanged smiles and conversations about what that could mean for them. I told her I'd be in town a few more days and would come back tomorrow to hang out and chat for a bit., I plan to ask her what her dreams are.

Some may read this and think that I'm talking about "what I did" for someone today. It's quite the opposite. It is more of a confession of the fact that even in the midst of what we do for a living, I can find myself putting on blinders to the hurt around me. It's easy to walk by and ignore. It's easier to come up with excuses or reasons why someone does not need or deserve your help. I just want to ask the questions, "What if home wasn't home? What if you hit a hard time and the very people you thought you could turn to weren't there? How many of us could be Allie?"

I'm thankful that God gave me the reminder today that my selfishness still needs work and that He Loves.
I pray that God continues to prune me and break my heart for what breaks his.
God, help me to see and to always be willing to give a cup of cold water.
Help me always stop long enough to look someone in the eye and call them by name.

Would you remember Allie and Frank in your prayers tonight?