Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Disowning Jeremiah Wright

The media has gone crazy over Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his association with Barack Obama.

As I watched Nightline's report on Barack's latest disownment of Wright, I'm discouraged and saddened.

On a daily basis, I converse with friends about Barack's chances at the nomination and we express our hopes, concerns, and even skepticism.

Barack represents an opportunity for our country to demonstrate it's ability to deal with race and ethnicity. Of course, that's not the only reason to vote for him, but to many of us, we see his ideas as different. He addresses issues that many people seem to think are unimportant. Yet, to those of us who deal with race on a daily basis, his words are a breath of fresh air. It's nice to know someone is finally talking in a constructive way...not just about race, but about the way our country can be an agent of change. In my opinion, it seems like dealing with race as a core issue would help any number of other issues fall into place.

Some of my friends have said things that imply we are making concessions for Obama...and for Wright...because they are black. I have heard people say Wright's comments are equal to the KKK and Obama should disown him if he knows what's good for him. I completely disagree.

The more I think about this, I think I've figured out yet another reason why I am so disappointed by his move to disown Rev. Wright.

If Obama disowns his long-time friend and pastor, what does that mean for me?? In order to protect my reputation of living in an urban community, do I need to disown my own family and friends??? I may not be running for president, but in my mind, my reputation and my integrity is just as important to me...and the people around me would have just as much right to ask me to do that in order to prove my loyalty and to back up the message I profess.

Thank goodness I have friends here in Dallas who do not judge me by the people I grew up with or the people I know here in Dallas who make racist comments--some overt and intentional...others covert and out of ignorance. Thank goodness the people who know me don't judge me by the color of my skin or the baggage that might seem inevitable for someone with my cultural background.

My approach to my white friends who make overt or covert comments is just like my approach to my friends in Turner Courts, my friends with the city, or my friends at work. If I want to see things change, I must develop and maintain the relationship. People have to know me and I have to know them. We have to be able to have conversations. Relationships are reciprocal. Relationships imply you learn from each other. In genuine relationships, people are comfortable being themselves. Genuine relationships have allowed me to have amazing, challenging conversations with Black, White, and Hispanic friends. I have learned from all of them and I would like to think they have learned something from me as well.

Though I don't always agree with people...and I have often made blunt comments, I don't want to disown people. Nor do I want them to disown me.

I am still very much a Barack Obama supporter. I don't think he should be let off the hook just because he "has to be a politician" in this situation. I think he is better than that. But more so than being disappointed in Obama, I am disappointed in us...the White, Black, and Brown people...who have convinced Barack and ourselves that we have to distance ourselves from the black culture and distance ourselves from having the conversation in order to be accepted.

To amend a quote from Hillary, "Shame on us!"

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Imagine the Angels of Bread

by Martin Espada

This is the year that
squatters evict landlords,
gazing like admirals from the rail
of the roofdeck
or levitating hands
in praise of steam in the shower;
this is the year
that shawled refugees deport judges
who stare at
the floor
and their swollen feet
as files are stamped
with their destination;
this is the year that police revolvers,
stove-hot, blister the fingers
of raging cops,
and nightsticks splinter
in their palms;
this is the year
that darkskinned men
lynched a century ago
return to sip coffee quietly
with the apologizing descendants
of their executioners.

This is the year that those
who swim the borders undertow
and shiver in boxcars
are greeted with trumpets and drums
at the first railroad crossing
on the other side;
this is the year that the hands
pulling tomatoes from the vine
uproot the deed to the earth that sprouts the vine,
the hands canning tomatoes
are named in the will
that owns the bedlam of the cannery;

this is the year that the eyes
stinging from the poison that purifies toilets
awaken at last to the sight
of a rooster-loud hillside,
pilgrimage of immigrant birth;
this is the year that cockroaches
become extinct, that no doctor
finds a roach embedded
in the ear of an infant;
this is the year that the food stamps
of adolescent mothers
are auctioned like gold doubloons,
and no coin is given to buy machetes
for the next bouquet of severed heads
in coffee plantation country.

If the abolition of slave-manacles
began as a vision of hands without manacles,
then this is the year;
if the shutdown of extermination camps
began as imagination of a land
without barbed wire or the crematorium,
then this is the year;
if every rebellion begins with the idea
that conquerors on horseback
are not many-legged gods, that they too drown
if plunged in the river,
then this is the year.

So may every humiliated mouth,
teeth like desecrated headstones,
fill with the angels of bread.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Jeremiah context, please!!!

I have learned over the last several years that there are well-intentioned people who end up doing some abhorrent things unintentionally (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt here).

On the other hand, there are people who are intentionally spiteful.

The sad part is, whether unintentional or intentional, both have the same result.

Without being educated on whatever message it is we are sending, even the "unintentional," well-intentioned people can end up perpetuating a stereotype that is hurtful at best. (My last post addressed this on a different issue).

For the last several weeks we've heard Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sound bytes played over and over again.

I can't say that I agree with everything he says...but I think before we condemn Rev. Wright for his "hate speech" and incendiary language, we need to look in our own back yard. I know I grew up with preacher's who spoke of being in the "wrong church" because it was a black Church of Christ. I grew up with sermons about Miriam and Aaron's sin being that they were an interracial couple. I don't think we can condemn Rev. Wright for all of his comments until we scrutinize our own church and our own pastors. And I don't think we can condemn Rev. Wright until we listen to his entire message.

Bill Moyers interview with Rev. Wright confirmed what I suspected. A lot of the inflamatory nature of his words were taken out of context and thus made to sound more "angry." As a White woman who knew nothing about the Black church or Black Liberation Theology until the last decade, I believe much of the media attention to Wright's soundbytes are to incite fear. (I have added the clips below so you can see the interview and the broader context for the soundbytes that have been played and scrutinized out of context incessantly).

Quite honestly, it is still somewhat uncomfortable for me to enter a Black mega-church. However, although there are people there who may resent my presence, what I find over and over again is that people are kind and accepting and my discomfort is more about me than it is about them. Though I don't always agree with everything the pastor says, I seek to understand it from his perspective (and all of the other people who are shouting "amen" to his words). Their experience has been much different than mine. Before judging, I need to listen, hear, and seek understanding first.

This morning I had the opportunity to hear Rev. Wright speak at Friendship West Baptist Church. He made some comments that I'm sure could be taken out of context and exploited just like the ones he made in Chicago. But the overall message was not about the oppressiveness of White America; it was about not making excuses for not being able to do something. The message was about accountability. And, since Friendship West is a black mega-church (though I saw several White people there...perhaps to hear Rev. Wright), Rev. Wright's sermon was primarily targeted toward Black people. Unlike what we have been coached by the media, he did not encourage Black people to bemoan the oppression by White people and wallow in their pity. Quite the contrary. ...But we don't hear that soundbyte.

We live in a free country. Everyone is free to have their own opinion. I know some of my friends may listen to Rev. Wright's whole sermon and still find him offensive. My only request is that you *do* listen to all of his words first. Listen to his message. Talk to other black people (not just *one* other black person who might agree with you!). Disagree with what you must. But base your disagreements off of informed and educated opinions.

How about challenging ourselves to begin open and honest dialogue with people who don't look like and think like we do with the goal of thinking more critically about the messages we are receiving?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Christians--how can we be change agents??

I wish we could find another identifying name for Christians so that everyone didn't have to be lumped into one category.

I received an email yesterday, sent out by some pastors. The email was frantically telling parents that many schools will be observing a "Day of Silence." In the pastors' words, this Day of Silence is to "promote the homosexual lifestyle" and they encouraged parents to keep their kids home from school if their school is promoting it.

Where is our outrage at this ignorance????!!!

First of all, the National Day of Silence does not "promote the homosexual lifestyle." The National Day of Silence exists to "bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools." This year they are honoring the memory of Lawrence King, a California 8th-grader who was shot and killed Feb. 12 by a classmate because of his sexual orientation and gender expression.

I don't understand the rationale of removing ourselves from people in order to punish them for their choice or perhaps their genetics. As Christians, shouldn't we instead be standing with them to demonstrate to others that hate is wrong in any form or fashion??

Of course, I must go back to the distortion of the original email I received. Although I am appalled at their suggestion to pull kids out of school so they won't be exposed to "homosexuals," the pastors didn't even get the message right. The message is to stand with people who are being bullied, harrassed, and even killed simply because of their sexual orientation. The pastors (and many others in our society), stir up fear because of their own hate. Unfortunately, many buy into it.

As Christians, I think we have to fight against the "Christians." We need to speak out and say, "Any kind of hate is wrong!" ...whether it is against skin color, immigration, sexual orientation, poverty, etc. We need to be the stronger voice to stand up with our friends and neighbors who are experiencing injustice. My Bible speaks against injustice.

(If you're interested in learning more, you can watch For the Bible Tells me So, a documentary that addresses the issues of: "Can the love between two people ever be an abomination? Is the chasm separating gays and lesbians and Christianity too wide to cross? Is the Bible an excuse to hate?")

I just came across this Bible (The Poverty and Justice Bible) that may be of interest. It sounds like it focuses more on the poor and the injustices against them (which is another important issue in itself), but it is about "poverty and justice"--two important issues that have been consistently overlooked as we live out our Christianity.

Tomorrow is the National Day of Silence. I would encourage you to find out if your child's school is having a National Day of Silence. If they are, encourage your child to participate and take the vow of silence in order to bring attention to the bullying and harrassment that happens to our GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered) students. If they are not, talk with your child and their school and begin getting organized for next year. Here is an organizing manual.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Learning how to love people

At the Faith-Based Forum I attended today, non-profits gathered to interact and work on improving the way we gather data that informs our outcomes and influences our funding.

In the second half of the forum, we were able to listen to a panel of people from foundations who provide grant money to non-profits. This was set up in order for us to hear directly from the foundations to gain a better understanding of what they look for when reviewing grant proposals.

When it came time to ask questions, one gentleman in the audience respectfully asked how we, as non-profits, can demonstrate to the foundations that we are truly thankful and grateful to them. He also wondered how we could demonstrate our care and concern for them as valuable people without them feeling like we have an agenda or have our hand out to them asking them for money.

The panelists gave answers like,

"We want to be able to offer you resources, but we also want to learn from you. Create a dialogue with us."

"Don't come around just when you want something. Maintain the relationship. Invite us to some of your events so that we can see what you are doing."

"Continue the relationship with us even after the funding is over."

"Don't send Christmas gifts. ...Seriously."

Though this was all good advice and it was good to learn how to interact with funders, I wonder how often people reverse that process. How often do we create panels of people in the communities we "serve" and genuinely ask the community serious questions like,

"How can we, as non-profits, demonstrate our care and concern for you without coming across like we only want you to increase our numbers and our outcomes?"

I wonder if it the answers from the community wouldn't be very similar to the answers from the people with foundation money. Re-read the answers from above (with a few slight adaptations):

"We want to accept your resources, but we also want to learn from you and we want you to learn from us. Create a dialogue with us."

"Don't come around just when you want to give something. Maintain a relationship with us year-round. Invite us to events you have and come to events we have."

"Continue the relationship with us even when you don't have a 'program' you want to offer us."

"Don't send Christmas gifts. Seriously. Don't assume we always want charity."

It seems to me that the desires would be pretty similar. The monetary wealth is very different, but the desire for dignity and respect no matter how much money you make remains the same.

Have we asked the question?

Are we willing to hear and follow through on what people have to say??

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Asking for Care, not Favors

The "voice" of the community is so important. We can learn so much when we listen to the struggles (and solutions) of the community from the community's point of view. Below is a recently published article written by one of the students who keeps me updated about her progress.

Virtual Mentor. April 2008, Volume 10, Number 4: 242-244.

Asking for Care, not Favors: Experience of Immigrants in the U.S. Medical System
Immigrant patients are often bewildered when they need to seek health care in the U.S., and that care usually comes from physicians who are unsympathetic to their plight.

Kimberly Aparicio

To this day, I get nauseated at the sight of the green cap from a bottle of Pompeian olive oil. Home remedies were the closest I got to visiting a doctor's office while growing up in inner city Dallas with an extended and ever-present Guatemalan family. For stomach aches the diagnosis was always "un empacho"—chronic indigestion—and, as much as I dreaded getting sick, my grandmother would do all she could to soothe my pains. She would start by massaging me with warm oil, then thump on my stomach to hear if it sounded hollow or obstructed. She would then pick me up by the skin of my back only to finally wrap my stomach with a tight cloth called an "ombliguero." The final step was drinking three to four teaspoons of olive oil with salt (while pinching my nose) to cleanse the digestive system.

Not many can say that their earaches were "cured" by inserting a large paper funnel into the ear with the outer tip burning to "suck out all of the bad air" that was causing the pain. By these and similar methods I managed perfect attendance throughout elementary school without ever seeing a physician. Although they arouse considerable humor now, the process of diagnosing and curing my illnesses was serious business. As I, now a medical student, reflect on those times, I realize that my attitude toward medicine was shaped not by a one-time epiphany but by the constant reminder of how different my experiences were from those of most of my classmates.

For my immigrant family there was no insurance policy, nor any savings account for emergencies—calling 911 was seen as especially wasteful because the bill would come later with a charge for the ambulance ride. As my father always said, "There is no money to get sick." What I had instead were the herbs, teas, ointments, and wonder pills from pharmacies in Mexico and Guatemala that ostensibly cured everything. Prayer for health was always a central part of my family's approach to illness. When a family member was pregnant, Parkland Hospital would deliver the baby. I grew up thinking that physicians were the people you went to when all the home remedies failed. Even trusting a physician was hard for my family, especially for my Spanish-speaking relatives, who often could not talk directly to their doctors.

When seeing a doctor did become necessary for my grandmother, I was the family translator, with the responsibility of telling the doctor her symptoms, no matter how personal, awkward, or uncomfortable it became for both of us. This arrangement was usually met with frustration by the doctor, who often responded demeaningly, as though just seeing us was doing us a favor. My grandmother never complained because she, too, felt as though he was doing her a favor. Practically, she had two options: She could either stop treatment and lose the progress she had made, or she could endure the scolding attitude from her physician because she had no where else to go.

After a certain point in her life, going to the doctor every couple of months became routine for my grandmother. When I couldn't accompany her, I would ask her what he had said about her illness, but she couldn't tell me because no one had translated for her. As she would later tell me, the trip was spent initialing some paperwork she didn't understand, sitting for hours in the waiting room, then seeing the doctor for 10 minutes only to be greeted with frustration, no explanation of her progress, and perhaps an identification bracelet as a souvenir. There was no end to this cycle, and each time it happened she missed work and spent money without learning anything about her health.

After being a long-time patient in the Parkland system and now a citizen of the United States, my grandmother recently opted to go to Guatemala for health care. She believed that doctors in the United States looked only at disease, processed her through the legality of the paperwork, and moved on. When she told me she was leaving for this reason, I couldn't help but think of the irony of it all. She rejected the health care system just as I, her trusted link to it, began the formal medical training that she had lost hope in.

Perhaps what I find most striking is that this isn't just a patient who is simply reluctant to follow doctor's orders. Rather it is a reflection of an ongoing lack of trust in the medical system on the part of the immigrant population, fueled in part by a lack of compassion, the very essence of the patient-physician relationship. While many will point out that the reasons why many immigrants are less likely to comply with medical advice are their legal status, culture, lack of education, inability to pay, and language barriers, we seem to neglect the possibility that the problems may begin at the bedside.

My experience as a medical student, as an employee in a hospital, and as an immigrant patient have provided me with valuable insight into the inadequacies of health care delivery and availability in the U.S. Having viewed the medical profession from these various perspectives, I have seen the difference in attitude that workers have toward the immigrant patient. There is not exactly a reluctance to diagnose and treat them, but bedside manner seems to be an unnecessary amenity for patients who "don't know the language and shouldn't complain because at least they're being treated." We would like to think that this attitude isn't lurking in our hospitals, but we know it is. The problem is not whether the immigrant population is receiving proper medical treatment, but the way in which we are administering it. By simply adopting the idea that "we are doing them a favor," medical systems create a barrier far greater than that posed by language difference. As a furious patient once told me after seeing her doctor, "I come here for help, not to be treated like a child for not knowing English."

What will happen in a couple of months when my grandmother returns from Guatemala, feels ill again, and goes back for treatment after having received medication and possibly even a different diagnosis from other doctors? As both her granddaughter and a medical student, this concerns me. To be sure, the immigrant population has to learn to trust the American medical system, but that trust must be earned. For their part, as the demographics of their patient population continues to change, American physicians must recognize that earning trust takes more than cold competence. No, their patients from the South will not expect their stomachs to be massaged and wrapped in ombligueros. What they will expect is to be treated with dignity and respect.


Kimberly Aparicio is a first-year medical student at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and a 2006 graduate of Southern Methodist University, both in Dallas.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

"I don't want to do this anymore! I want to go back to my little church!"

Progress is long, hard, and tiresome.

Hope sometimes seems far-fetched and destined to be dashed.

On our 4th month of Town Hall meetings in the much-neglected Rochester Park neighborhood, I think we are all beginning to feel that the honeymoon period is over. The "easy" fixes have been accomplished and now we're back to the same 'ole, same 'ole responses:

"We don't have the money."

"Turner Courts will be torn down in a few years anyway so we can't sink money into it."

"If the residents would do their job..."

"You guys need to...."

Residents of Rochester Park have taken the time to initiate the Town Hall meetings and have gone door to door relentlessly trying to convince people to have faith in the process just one more time. They have stepped out to build relationships with each other and have moved beyond their comfort zone to build relationships with the different city entities...only to feel like they're being told in so many words by a few, "It's your fault it's like this. You guys aren't doing your job."

The issue on Saturday that began creating a heated situation was when we started talking about police issues.

Residents have been reprimanded for not calling 9-1-1 enough to report incidents (anything from shooting to kicking doors in to setting cars on fire to indecent exposure), yet when they do call 9-1-1, they often have frustrating experiences because the police who show up (oftentimes 45 minutes to hours later) explain, "There's nothing we can do."

It amazes me how much the residents are blamed, regardless of their willingness and attempts to make things better.

It frustrates me to no end to see how hard they work and how much faith they are willing to put into the process (despite the lack of resources and priority they have seen over their lifetime in that area) for them to be treated like they are the problem instead of the solution.

The problems in the Rochester Park area run so deep and have been going on for so long that these issues are much bigger than any one person or one entity can solve. It's nice that Dwaine Caraway, our city council member, attended our first three town hall meetings, but the issues are so much bigger than him. It's nice that the police have worked with Mr. Caraway to beef up police presence, but it's only going to work if the police are respectful to the residents trying to work with them and if they are looking at a long-term plan. It's nice that Mr. Caraway has initiated health inspections of the local corner stores (which, evidently, hadn't been done in months...or maybe even years!), but since they are the only two stores/businesses in the entire area, until the store owners have motivation to dust their shelves, monitor their expired foods, or make their business presentatable, residents will continue to have sub-standard stores.

The solutions offered so far are not inconsequential. In fact, they are very much appreciated. But they don't solve the issues of the neighborhood over the long haul. Not yet, anyway.

Listening to all the talk surrounding Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, I think King would understand exactly what we are dealing with. King recognized that poor people were not being heard and they were not valued. The Poor People's Campaign was his beginning attempt at bringing the issue to the forefront...and some believe he was assassinated for pushing that issue. Promoting equity is costly. It challenges power structures; it affects pocket books.

Taylor Branch, in his book At Canaan's Edge, tells how King got frustrated at one point and shouted, "I don't want to do this anymore! I want to go back to my little church!"

I empathize with King. Sometimes I think it would be nice to go back to my quiet, rural town in Missouri.

In some ways, we are no further along today than we were in 1968. In many ways, we are fighting the exact same battles King fought then. But though he may not have reached the "mountaintop," he challenged the system. And as a result of his work, things did change.

Though the residents in Rochester Park are meeting with resistance from some and "explanations" for why they should accept sub-standard conditions from others, residents are pushing back.

The residents of Rochester Park may not reach their "mountaintop" either, but I have hope that their hard work will challenge the city to think differently about the people and the area that it has chosen to neglect for years.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The need for community

Walking out of the taqueria, a man hollered from across the parking lot.


When I didn't turn around, he hollered again.

"Eh! Habla espanol?"

"Solamente pocito," I explained.

He launched into a long explanation (all in Spanish) that I only partially understood. However, it was clear that he was asking for money.

Every time someone asks me for money, I struggle.

Part of me wants to hand over money, part of me thinks it best (or should I say easiest) to defer to our food pantry, part of me is offended that someone would think that they can not work and then ask me for my hard earned money.

But the nagging feeling when I leave, whether I've given money or not, is the fact that I truly don't know what that person is going through.

Is he a drug user? ...How is he ever going to get help with his addiction?

Is he undocumented? ...How do you find work when you're undocumented?

Did he have a felony? ...Has he lost all hope because of the difficulty of getting a job after being released from prison?

Is he really trying to find a job and can't, but has a family to feed?

I have no desire to enable anyone. But I want to help if the need is legitimate.

As I walked away from the man, I couldn't help but wonder who his "community" is. Does he belong to a church? Who does he know in his neighborhood? Is he connected with other friends and family? If he's not working, does he volunteer anywhere? Who does he talk to? What resources does he have to help him work toward improving his life?

Where do our community systems break down?

In many urban communities I know, the goal often becomes safety and self-preservation...and thus isolation. After all, rumor has it that inner city communities are "bad." So, they (just like the rest of us) buy into the rumors and believe that everyone around them falls into the "bad" category. order to stay away from "riff-raff" they stay inside and rarely talk to their neighbors.

The reality is that there are other good people in the neighborhood who want good things for themselves, their community, and their children as well. The only opportunity for relief in urban communities, we have been convinced, is for people from outside of the community to go in and teach, help, etc.

I can't help but think a more effective approach for people wanting to "help" would be to focus on assisting in organizing communities--connecting with people in the communities...and then helping them connect to each other. Connected people...organized people...are relational, help each other, hold each other accountable, and challenge the systems that oppress them.

People in the community have a better idea what is wanted and needed in their community. Are we listening to the community?


As I walked away, I saw the man approach the next person. Though I could make assumptions about who he is and his ambition, work ethic or lack thereof, I continue to wonder...

Do people in the community truly want hand-outs...or is that the only way they feel they are able to meet their needs?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Courage and justice

What keeps people from speaking out against injustice?

What causes others to speak out?

I've admitted my own silence before. Somehow society has convinced us that speaking out is something to be afraid of.

Shouldn't we more concerned about how people's lives are affected when we *don't* speak out?