Friday, June 30, 2017

Where am I - really?

I love to travel. Give me a destination, give me a backpack, put me on a plane, and I would go just about anywhere. To walk. To try new foods. To learn. To journal. To meet new people. To listen to their stories.

One of my regular pre-trip practices is rereading sections of a book called The Way of the Traveler: Making Every Trip a Journey of Self-Discovery. I purchased my first copy of the book back in 2001, before my first trip to Italy. It is filled with quotes, reflections, questions, journaling suggestions, and other activities that are meant to do what the subtitle suggests - make every trip a journey of self-discovery. Although it is not a workbook and no space is intentionally provided for writing in the book, I wrote so much in the margins, I underlined so many passages, I jotted down so many trip memories, and I included so many lists of people and places I visited that I needed to buy a second copy a few years later. Like I said, I love to travel. And I love the way this book has helped me travel as far into the depths of my mind and soul as I travel out into the world around me.

One of the suggested activities in the book is explained this way:

"Now as a conscious traveler, I want to be aware of all the phases of my journey, from the moment I leave my house until the moment I return to it. All the steps between those two points are present with me as I go to where I am going and as I come back. Here is what I call the "Really" activity. It has helped me to be present in the going and in the coming back. Try it once or twice a day while approaching your destination. You will find that your adventure is vastly enhanced. Take a moment and close your eyes. Ask yourself two questions: Where am I right now, really? Where am I going, really? You may be on a plane flying over the Mississippi River. If so, answer yourself with that information. You may be going to a wedding. That is your answer to the second question. That would be enough to anchor you to the process of the journey. But there is more to this deceptively elementary exercise. As you rest with these questions and answers, something deeper seems to set in. The word "really" begins to work... This exercise works for all kinds of travel to any destination. You can make your journey a hero's quest if you just ask yourself where you really are right now and where it is that you are really going. The "Really" activity has never failed to open my eyes to my true destination and to the magical steps that are taking me to it."  (pp. 86-87)

Where am I right now, really?
Where am I going, really?

These two questions rattled around in my mind several times last night, during the second session of the six-part discussion series being put on by Educate to Engage here in Charlotte. Last night we discussed the second chapter of The New Jim Crow, The Lockdown. Early in our time together, the attendees of the workshop were asked to participate in a sociometric mapping exercise. In layman's terms, we were asked to distribute ourselves around the room based on questions we were asked. If you were ever in prison, go to that corner. If someone in your family has ever been in prison, go to that corner. That sort of thing. If you think your neighborhood is over-policed, go to this corner. If you think your neighborhood is under-policed, go to that corner.

As I migrated from one corner of the room to the other, I asked myself repeatedly,
"Where am I right now, really? Where am I going, really?"

Where do I live and what does that mean in terms of race, policing, and mass incarceration?
Where I live in Charlotte means that there won't be police cars roaming up and down the streets watching every pedestrian or stopping cars for warrantless drug searches. Where I live in Charlotte means that when the police are called, whether it be for domestic violence or an episode of mental illness or a burglary or a break in, the police will arrive quickly, quietly, without sirens blaring, and will ring the front doorbell, and await an answer politely. No SWAT team will arrive. No guns will be drawn. No doors will be broken down by battering rams. No public or noisy arrests will be made.

Where I live also means that when I, a tall, slender, flat-chested African-American woman, go out for my morning walks, I have to make sure that I'm wearing earrings, that I'm wearing some bright color that identifies me as a woman. I make sure that I'm not wearing a hoodie. I make sure that I'm not wearing headphones that would keep me from hearing someone tell me to stop, someone asking me who I am, and why I'm in the neighborhood. I don't want to be mistaken for a black male - because Trayvon Martin was a prime example of what can happen to an African American walking in a racially diverse, but predominantly white neighborhood, his own neighborhood, minding his own business. Murdered while eating Skittles and drinking soda and walking home.

As I migrated from one corner of the room to the other, I also watched others migrate from one corner to another. I wondered who they were thinking about as they decided where to stand in response to the questions about incarceration. I wondered where they were when they were arrested. I wondered what kinds of interactions they had had with police in their neighborhoods. And I wondered about the stories, the incidents, the dream-lives of privilege they were waking up into, and the nightmarish times of arrest and incarceration they had endured.

Where are they right now, really?
Where are they going, really?

As we all migrated from one corner of the room to the other, I couldn't help but ponder the trip we are on. The trip that is turning into a journey of self-discovery. The trip that is causing each of us and all of us to do "the REALLY activity" on a weekly basis, on a daily basis.

Where did I grow up, really?
What did childhood and young adult experiences teach me about race, gender, class, really?
What have I learned about race and racism in my adult life, really?
Where do I live now, really?
How and why did I choose my neighborhood, really?
How do race and racism factor into my daily life and interactions, really?
What do I think when I see black people in my neighborhood, in my children's schools,
at my church, and at my place of employment, really?
Do they belong here, really?
Am I safe with them here, really?
What do I think when I see white people in my neighborhood, in my children's schools,
at my church, and at my place of employment, really?
Do they belong here, really?
Am I safe with them here, really?
What do I think when I see people whose racial or religious identity have been associated with being "an illegal immigrant" or being from one of countries that is on the list of six countries from which our nation is no longer welcoming visitors, really?
Do they belong here, really?
Am I safe with them here, really?
What do I think about people who were formerly incarcerated, really?
Do I think they deserve the right to vote, to get a student loan, to live in public housing, to be gainfully employed, really?
How often do I even think about race and racism, really?

As I migrate from one chapter of this book into the other,  I am reminded that my life journey has been a fortunate one. I have never been arrested. I have never been stopped by the police in my car or on the street.

Both of the interactions I have had with police officers here at my house were pleasant.

The first encounter was because of our house alarm. Something triggered the alarm, which triggered a call from ADT to my cell phone - a call that I wasn't able to answer - and that triggered a call to the police. I arrived back at home just seconds before two police cars pulled up in front of the house. I drove into my garage, got out of my car, walked out of the garage door onto the driveway, and approached the two officers as they walked toward our front door. They asked for permission to walk through the house in order to make sure that everything was okay. I gave them permission. They checked every room of the house, then came into the kitchen where I was waiting, and inquired as to when the homeowner would return. I informed them that I was the homeowner. They said that because I had come from the side of the house and not the front door, they thought I was a neighbor who had come over when I saw them arrive. They informed me that because I was the homeowner, I wasn't obligated to give them permission to walk through the house. I was not aware of that.  I apologized for the false alarm. I thanked them for making sure everything was okay. They left.

The second house call by men in blue happened last year, during a family health crisis. Someone called 911 and made a false report. Once again, two police cars arrived. Sirens not blaring. Two very calm and soft-spoken police officers rang our doorbell and asked if everything was okay. One officer came into the house and had a conversation with the person who had called the police. The other officer stood outside with me and my husband, and asked us a few questions. He began the conversation with unexpected words of encouragement and support for us. He said he understood the challenge of mental illness and applauded us for loving and caring for our family member in crisis here at home. The officer who had gone inside emerged a few minutes later, said that he was satisfied that it was a false report, complimented us on our home, and then they left. No one arrested. No one shot. No one tased. No one tear-gassed.

Where we live matters.
Our zip code matters.
Our level of education matters.
Our mastery of the English language matters.
Our socio-economic status matters.
Our socio-metric map matters.
Except when it doesn't.
Like when my skin color is enough to cause a white or Asian or Latinx woman to take their purse out of their shopping cart at Harris Teeter when they see me coming down the aisle. What else do they know about me other that what I look like?
Or when the African American cardiovascular surgeon who lives in our neighborhood and drives a Porsche gets stopped frequently for "driving while black." Except when his wife, the anesthesiologist, has to worry about whether her husband and their two sons will get home safe every day from school. Why isn't being a doctor enough to protect them from fear and harassment?
Why should anyone need a license to practice medicine to prove they are smart enough or live in the right zip code to prove they are rich enough or allow oneself to be stopped and frisked without resistance to prove they are unthreatening enough to be allowed to live?

Where are we, really?
Where are we going, really?

We are on the road to learning our checkered racialized american history. Really.
We are trying to figure out all the ways that we have internalized the racism and prejudice,
the fear and suspicion that we have been exposed to since the founding of this nation. Really.
We are asking each other and ourselves very difficult questions about where we live, where we work, where we worship, who we have as friends, and what all of that has to do with our nation's system of mass incarceration. Really.
We are looking at our nation's contemporary political landscape, the political landscape of our state and our city, and we are desperately trying to determine where we are, really, and where we are going, really.
And we are committed to getting involved in the transformative, healing work that is already being done, work that is waking us up to our various levels of privilege, work that makes us put ourselves on the socio-metric map alongside other residents of our city, work that makes us uncomfortable, work that makes us wish we could "unsee" all that we have been led to examine in the first two chapters of this uncomfortable, unsettling, unnerving book, The New Jim Crow. Really, we are.

This journey towards justice, wholeness, unity, and peace
is a journey of self-discovery -
self-discovery of each of us, one by one,
self-discovery of our city and its history,
self-discovery of our state,
self-discovery of our nation.
It's rough terrain, this journey we're on.
It's a rocky road.
Many of us have moments when we want to turn around and head back to where we started.
To what we were used to. To the way of life we've known for most of our lives.
Except that there is no turning back.
We cannot go back.

So let me ask you: where are you right now, really?
Where are you going, really?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thankful Thursday - "No One is Coming to Save Us"

The title of this blog is from a book that my daughter is reading, a book by Stephanie Powell Watts. A book about the lives of black residents of Pinewood, North Carolina (which I assume is a fictional town being that this is a novel) and how they deal with wealth and loss, family and pain. Full disclosure: I haven't read any part of the book other than the inside of the cover flap. But the title was enough to capture my attention and get stuck in my thoughts.

I just came in from the first of a six-part series on The New Jim Crow, another book with a thought-provoking title. The series is being facilitated by a new friend, Patrice Funderburg, who is already a soul-sister, mentor, co-conspirator, and inspiration in my life. Check out her facebook page and feel the burn of her spirit fire here. This woman is lit, engaged, and unafraid to speak the truth as she has come to understand it.

There were approximately 25 of us in the room, talking, listening, asking questions, telling stories, laughing, groaning, and committing ourselves to being open-hearted, quick to listen, slow to speak, welcoming, receptive, and also challenged, changed, and charged to go out into our community, our city, our work spaces, our faith spaces, and even our more intimate spaces and engage in transformative dialogue.

Because no one is coming to save us.

The first chapter of this book, The New Jim Crow, gives a brief history lesson about the birth of slavery in this country and how it has evolved, morphed, and transformed into the mass incarceration system that holds millions in captivity not only behind bars, but also under the authority of the parole and probation system. We read about dozens of laws, hundreds of laws, written and unwritten, that have been used to oppress, suppress, murder, torture, and imprison black and brown bodies on this continent since the arrival of Europeans. It's not a pretty history, but it is American history.

Most of the people in that room tonight didn't learn this history in the classroom. Most of us are learning this as adults. Most of the people I have spoken to about race and racism in the past two or three years are learning these brutal truths for the first time in adulthood. But don't be dismayed: better late than never. And it is never too late to get a real education, a good education.

We are arming ourselves with information so that we can do what Patrice so succinctly stated tonight: educate truth, expose systems, and engage action. Yes, we need to learn a lot. We need to expose and examine the systems of oppression that are active in our nation, and we need to engage in action to make a difference, to make a change.

Because no one is coming to save us.

Harriet Tubman came.
Fannie Lou Hamer came.
Rosa Parks came.
Martin Luther King Jr came.
Malcolm X came.
Medgar Evers came.
Countless uncelebrated people came.
They realized that no one was coming to save them either.

So they sacrificed their lives, their families, their homes, their livelihoods.
Sacrificed their reputations, their anonymity, their safety.
Sacrificed their comfort, their ease, their most intimate relationships.
And many of them were murdered for their efforts.
They were vilified.
They were ostracized.
They were criminalized.
But they didn't give up.
We won't give up.

We will gather five more times - feel free to join us.
We will read one chapter of this powerful book each week.
We will ask and answer questions.
We will hear and tell more stories.
We will bring our whole selves to these gatherings and to this work.
We will commit ourselves to engaging in justice work, intervening when we hear and see racism at work, challenging ourselves when we are complicit in oppressive systems, and otherwise find ways to both "step up and step back" as we are educating ourselves to engage.

Because no one is coming to save us.

We have to do the hard work that our nation needs, that our state needs, that our city needs, that our neighborhoods need, that our family members need if we are ever going to be the land where all are free and a home where all residents feel safe, regardless of skin color, religion, country of origin, gender, sexual identity, and every other category that has been used to separate and isolate us.
We have to read and learn, research and study on our own, for ourselves.
We are not going to sit back and expect someone else to teach us what we need to know.
We are not going to rely on the facilitator to bring all the answers or even all the questions.
We are not going to wait for "them" to show "us" what to do and when.
We are going to work at eliminating "us" and "them" categories all together.

Because no one is coming to save us.

Politicians aren't interested in saving us; they seem to only want to increase their own pay, eliminate our protections and medical care, while forcing us to pay for their medical care and protection (but don't get me started on politics in this country...).
The government isn't going to save us. The government can barely contain, control, or save itself.
Schools aren't going to save us. We can't even agree that all children deserve the same quality of education.
Churches aren't going to save us. Full disclosure: Yesterday, I finished my second year of seminary. And I know more than ever that churches aren't going to save us. Churches have spent way too much time protecting and maintaining the status quo in this country - going all the way back to using the Bible to justify the slaughter of the people who lived here when Europeans arrived, to justify chattel slavery, and to justify segregation and Jim Crow laws. Churches need to emerge from their fortress-like silos, repent of their collusion and silence when they should have been active and outspoken, and commit themselves to engage in action that will bring about the justice, peace, and salvation they claim to want for all people. (Again, don't get me started...)

So having said all that, where and how does gratitude show up?

* I am grateful for Patrice, for her passion, her compassion, and her insistence on action.
* I am grateful for every person who showed up to that space tonight, committed to learning, listening, and getting involved in the work of healing and wholeness.
* I am grateful for Michelle Alexander's difficult and necessary book - The New Jim Crow.
* I am grateful for the time and ability and freedom to go to these sessions.
* I am grateful for the thousands, the millions of people who are doing the work, speaking up, standing up, writing letters, writing essays, writing books, marching, working, advocating, pressing for changes in laws, and otherwise pushing for justice.
* I am grateful for friends, for pastors, for neighbors, for church mates, for non-religious people, who are committed to not stopping, to not losing hope, to not walking away from the neediest among us right here. Here's a fabulous example of a new friend doing something to make a difference in the lives of homeless women. Go, Donna, go!
* I am grateful for the ways in which we can encourage and support each other as we do this work.
* I am grateful for down time too, for time with family and friends, over food and wine, to decompress, to laugh, to dance, to celebrate new babies, to witness to the formation of new families in matrimony, all while taking time to disconnect from bad news, and turn away from videos of people dying in their cars in front of their children, and repeated acquittals for brutality and murder. Even if only for a few hours or a few days at a time.
* I am grateful that "no one is coming to save us" because maybe, just maybe, having realized that this is the only country we have, this is the only planet we have, this is the only life we have, we will work that much harder to walk together, to work together, to come together to help one another and to save one another.
* I am grateful for the fact that those of us who claim to be Christ followers, those of us who say that Jesus saves, we have absolutely no excuse for NOT getting involved in the work of mercy and justice. If we are followers of the prince of peace, we have no justification for advocating violence of any kind. If we are believers in the light of the world, we need to bring our own sins and our nation's sins into the bright light of justice and fairness, forgiveness and repentance. If we are disciples of the great physician, then we ought to be fighting for healing and wholeness, for medical care and coverage for all people who need medical, mental, and rehab care. If we are truly pro-life, then we ought to be advocating for all lives, including Muslim lives, immigrant lives, poor people's lives, black lives, the lives of those who are homeless, the incarcerated, and even people whose politics are not our own - yup, even them. We who say we believe in Jesus are without excuse. Because no one set a better of example of including the excluded, touching the untouchable, welcoming the outcast, and of actually living like every life mattered than Jesus. Without exception.

Silence is complicity. Sitting on the sidelines is complicity. Claiming ignorance is complicity.
It's time to speak up, to stand up, to get yourself educated to engage.
Because no one is coming to save us.


Thursday, June 08, 2017

Thankful Thursday

So much to be grateful for, my friends.

* gorgeous bright sunny day today - and not too hot.

* the fact that when the tree fell from our yard onto our neighbor's car (yikes!), there was no one in the car and, in fact, they were planning to get rid of the car anyway. PLUS the woman who lives there works with a tree cutting company and she said she can get the family discount to have that tree (and a couple of others that need to come down before they fall down) taken care of.

* my third grade tutee and I had a fun last session together today. School ends for the public schools here in Charlotte tomorrow. I am grateful to have had time to read with her, review math with her, and also talk to her about how not to be a bully, how not to fight, and how to be a better friend, sister, and daughter. I hope HT has a fantastic summer. I will miss her stories and her smiles.

* my daughter made carrot cake for dessert tonight. We didn't have cream cheese for her to make the traditional cream cheese frosting, so she made a glaze with fresh squeezed orange juice, powdered sugar, and vanilla. Can't wait to taste it - which I will do as soon as I publish this post.

* time spent by the lake with my dear friend and her rambunctious puppy. Laughter and stories, training and Portuguese water dog antics in the lake and the swimming pool (I seriously wish I could live his life!)

* new friends, long walks, and soul connections

* old friends, lunch dates, and deep conversations

* attending a session this past Monday evening put on by MeckMin related to Charlotte Uprising, the rallies and marches, protests and other public responses to the September 20, 2016 shooting of Keith Lamont Scott. Their stories of fear and hope, courage and determination in the face of injustice, violence, and mistreatment by police officers unnerved us all. Those men and women demonstrated both poise and anger, both hope and frustration - and they are all still standing strong, still doing their work on behalf of those whose voices go frequently unheard, hugging one another, sharing essential oils to keep each other calm, and laughing between their tears. They inspired and challenged me as well as everyone else who sat under the sound of their quivering voices.

- Here are a few of the quotes that caught my attention and have given me much to ponder:

+ For far too long, we've done far too little.
+ Listening is an act of love. We have to listen to people's pain all the way down to the bottom. We cannot turn away just because we get uncomfortable.
+ I am brave - and sick and tired of this conversation about race and racism.
+ Is it impossible to stop killing people?
+ The uprising didn't start last September.
+ I was never in front, but I stood beside some beautiful souls out there.
+ It's my duty to fight for freedom - and it's also yours.
+ We had to be prepared because every second counts in a war zone.
+ I showed up because I love my people.
+ I'm not a religious person. I'm a Christian. There's a difference.
+ I didn't see Christ out there. I saw hate.
+ You need to use your voice. You need to have the courage to act.
+ Shame on us (in the church for not doing more and being more courageous.)
+ You created racism; you need to fix it.
+ I will keep showing up, no matter how tired I get.

* attending another MeckMin-sponsored event last night - at one of the mosques here in Charlotte several Muslim brothers and sisters spoke to a curious and attentive crowd about Ramadan and what it means to them to fast from sunrise to sunset for an entire month. There was also a Baptist minister on the docket who spoke about fasting from his experience and perspective. An older Jewish gentlemen rightly pointed out the oversight of not having someone Jewish speaking about their faith and the practice of fasting.  In response to a question I asked, young women and older women, talked about their pride and joy in wearing hijab.

Just before 8:30 pm, the Muslims in attendance were offered dates and bottled water to break their fast. They remained in their worship space for their prayers while most of the non-Muslim attendees headed for their large cafeteria to wait. My daughter, my friend, Kate, and I stayed and watched them as they prayed. My daughter later told me that she was deeply moved by being in the space with them as they knelt and bowed down in prayer. There is something sacred about bending the knee in supplication and thanksgiving. When the prayers were concluded, we joined them for iftar, the rather elaborate and absolutely delicious meal they had prepared.

We sat at the dinner table with two Muslim women, one an adult and the other a teenager, who talked to us about both the courage it takes to wear hijab these days and also about the mounting concern about praying in public. The teenager reminded us about their commitment to praying five times a day, regardless of where they are. She said it used to be safe to just kneel and pray, even outdoors. Nowadays, she said that if two people are together in a public place at prayer time, one will kneel and the other will keep watch. Shame on us - that this nation that claims to have been founded in response to a lack of religious freedom elsewhere has become a place where its citizens are no longer confident that they can safely practice their religion.

 I hope to have more opportunities to sit with people whose experiences are so different from my own; there is so much to learn from everyone I encounter. Everyone.

As we ate and talked, children ran around the tables and chairs - and tripped and fell.
Food slipped from overloaded plates onto the floor and was ground into the carpet.
Plates were left on tables and napkins drifted down to the floor beneath.
Mothers admonished their children to finish their food and wipe their mouths.
Teenagers chatted while they nibbled on cupcakes.
Men moved chairs from one place to another.
Someone talked too long.
Someone didn't get to talk enough.
It was life in community. Life in a community of faith.
It was funny. It was hopeful.
It was beautiful. It was messy.
It was prayerful. It was sobering.
It was human. It was holy.

I am grateful.
So very grateful.