Saturday, January 31, 2009

Inauguration--video footage

After having a "snow day" earlier this week, I was finally able to put together the video from the inauguration. Here is our trip to the inauguration...

Here are some of the reflections of the trip...

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Obama Effect: Setting Black children up for failure

As I read this article, Study Sees an Obama Effect as Lifting Black Test-Takers, I winced.

Researchers have documented what they call the "Obama Effect." Researchers from Vanderbilt, San Diego State, and Northwestern administered a 20-question test four times throughout the presidential campaign. When they administered the test after Mr. Obama's nomination acceptance speech and then again after President-elect Obama's election victory, they concluded that the difference between White and Black performance had become “statistically nonsignificant.”

I do believe that having a Black man in the highest office of our country is bound to change the thinking of Black students about themselves, as well as change the perceptions people of other ethnicities have of Black people. However, to say that this effect happens literally overnight is disconcerting. It opens up the floodgates of being able to "blame the victim" and exclaim that Black people are responsible for their own inability to achieve.

Since they provided a test to "high school dropout to Ph.D" students, the research can be read two ways. 1) Having a Black man in the highest office changes people's perceptions of themselves, or 2) Black people have been provided with equal opportunities and simply haven't used their abilities and opportunities to this point. If we go with the second point, which I believe people are bound to do, it has the potential to cause us to sit back, justified, with the inequities of our current system.

I do believe that Barack Obama has caused a shift in our thinking that may have some immediate effects and definitely will have some longer-term effects if we continue to embrace the diversity he brings to the table. But I also believe his presence in that office is our opportunity to recognize the injustices that exist for children of color all over the United States.

President Obama allows us to say to our Black children (and other children of color), "Yes, it is possible for you to become president of the United States." And because of his background and childhood circumstances, Barack Obama provides us with the example that allows us to challenge our kids to dream big dreams and aspire to heights they may not have previously thought possible. For some children of color, that is all they need. But, for others, primarily in areas of concentrated pockets of poverty, where children of color are disproportionately represented, school systems are inadquate, healthcare is limited, and economic development is nearly non-existent, more needs to happen to create true change. Without improving the systems in those areas, and without providing adequate educational skills that will allow them to compete in a highly technological world, it is ludicrous for us to say that just because Barack Obama now stands in the White House Black children should perform better.

We need to work hard to challenge the systems and to challenge people to recognize that our inner cities, our communities of poverty, our segregated minority neighborhoods just might hold the next president of the United States, the next Secretary of State, or the next Nobel Prize winner. But in order for the children in those neighborhoods to develop those talents and achieve greatness, we must include them and their communities in our plans of improvement.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Education funding in the Stimulus--Are we finally looking to our future?!

Though I am passionate about education, I didn't vote for Barack Obama based on his stance on education. Actually, I didn't hear him talk much about education. It disappointed me, but I believed that, overall, he had the right vision so I voted for him anyway.

So, when I saw the New York Times article, Stimulus Plan Would Provide Flood of Aid to Education, I was pleasantly surprised...and actually very excited.

The $150 billion designated for education would more than double the current education spending and would go toward "school renovation, special education, Head Start and grants to needy college students." It's about time we started thinking about education in a much broader sense than "No Child Left Behind."

There are large amounts of money allocated for Title I (used to help improve schools with large concentrations of poor children) and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which ensures services to children with disabilities, including special education). From what I can tell, it doesn't look like the stimulus package is doing much to change the schools' level of resources and innovative implementation (which is what really needs to happen to help our poor schools get up to speed with the wealthier, more resourced, classrooms) but is more about infrastructure, staying on target with what President Obama has suggested since the beginning. It's not innovation and new technology, but I believe it is a move in the right direction. I just hope the states and the individual districts choose to spend those funds in a way that benefits the children.

Another thing that really excites me about this stimulus is it's focus on college. The plan is to increase Pell grants for low-income students by $500 to $5,350 for 2009-2010 and to $5,550 for 2010-2011. College needs to be just as accessible as our K-12 public education system if we are to develop leaders for our future.

The stimulus will also increase annual loan limits of federal Stafford loans for undergraduate students by $2,000. This will not completely pay for a student's college experience. Even with the $500 increase per student in the Pell grant, though, students will still need to take out loans...which leads to another positive part of the stimulus package...the Stafford Loan.

Stafford loans allow students to take out loans without their parents' credit scores. This is important for those students whose parents are uninvolved or have such bad credit that the student is ineligible for private loans after maxing out their Stafford loan. This is also good because most of the students taking out Stafford loans will be paying them back themselves (without parental assistance). Stafford loans offer much lower interest rates than the private loans that have become such a necessary part of a college education.

The other great thing about the stimulus package is that it will expand Work Study and service opportunities for students, allowing an additional 200,000 students to get paid for work in a field related to either their major or community service. In other words, all of the money being provided is not free. Work study allows the student to gain work experience and understanding, while also providing cheap labor to the university and surrounding non-profits...thus stimulating and helping the economy in more ways than one.

With education, we can begin looking toward our future and planning how to get out of our economic downturn. It baffles me when people like Rep. John Boehner [R-OH] says that "providing ... $140bil in education funding... is not going to do anything, anything, to stimulate our economy, to help our ailing economy."

I don't know where he thinks he got the knowledge that has allowed him to get this far in his career...I would guess it had something to do with a good teacher and a good education.

Short-sighted vision like Boehner concerns me. Hopefully we will have enough others in the House who will be able to see that if we only solve what is right in front of us, we have not really solved anything at all and will be back in this same position sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fearing the police: Which one will protect you?

Why is there so much hostility and resentment to police in the inner city and from the Black and Hispanic community?

Here is a new cell phone video that has just been released on the Oscar Grant case showing a different police officer punching him in the face before the other officer shot him in the back and killed him:

I don't know what happened to cause the police to get involved. I assume the guys might have been causing some trouble. However, I also know that police are not trained to deal with situations by punching people in the face or by shooting them in the back.

I know before I moved in to the inner city I trusted the police a whole lot more than I do now. Even though my skin is white, just by virtue of living here I have had a few police officers talk very rudely to me. Other times, also because my skin is white, I have had police officers be very kind to me (assuming I didn't live here) and try to help me find my way (even though I wasn't lost).

I don't believe that every police officer is bad, corrupt, evil, mean, or racist. It reminds me of something a [Black] friend told me once. He explained that he knows White people aren't all racist. He made his point by saying that perhaps only one in 10 are; the problem is that you never know which one of the 10 you are encountering.

I think it's the same way with police in our neighborhoods. It's not that we don't like the police or don't want them around. In fact, we know we *need* them to keep us safe. There is a part of us that want the police presence. However, there is the other part of us that wonder and worry...perhaps only one in 10 of the police are racist or corrupt; the problem is, we don't ever know which one of those 10 we are encountering.

Unfortunately for Oscar Grant, he encountered the wrong one (or two) police officers. Incidents like these make the rest of us more skeptical and reinforce our distrust, despite our best efforts to believe the police are here to protect us.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Monday, January 26, 2009

Putting the economic downturn in perspective

As I got to the front of the check out line at the grocery store, the lady behind the cash register greeted me.

After she rang up my two items, she asked, "Do you have your [discount] card?" I searched through my billfold to no avail.

"Is it going to affect the price," I asked.

"Probably," she answered.

I kept digging in my purse, then looked up to see what the potential savings might be. It was then that I noticed my total bill was $7.55 for the two, small items I had purchased.

"Oh no, I'm not paying that!" I exclaimed. I had only picked up those two items because they were supposedly on sale. I was about to walk out and leave the items in the store.

"I can look up your phone number," she offered. I took her up on the idea and it worked! My bill went down to $3.18.

"That's nearly five dollars! I can do a lot with five dollars," I chatted with her.

"Believe me, I know," she chatted back. "Five dollars is a lot. In my country, five dollars will feed someone for a week."


"Where are you from," I asked.


I didn't know what else to say. Her thoughts and comment put things in a completely different perspective. Though I'm aware of the realities of third world countries, when she told me that, it stopped me in my tracks.

As our "economic downturn" continues to get worse, I hope we recognize how many others (here and thousands of miles away) are struggling in ways we can't imagine...and I hope we realize that their struggle should be ours as well.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Change has come to the United States of America

Right before the inauguration, I received a text from a friend. She was extremely frustrated at her family's inability to understand the significance of Barack Obama being elected president. I believe the question posed to her was, "What's so historic about this election versus any other?"

Like her, I was at a loss of what to say. How do you explain something so historic to people who truly can't comprehend the significance?? How do you explain that 43 other presidents, the highest leaders of our country, look exactly the same--in gender and skin color--and how that impacts the dreams and ambitions of those who don't look like that?

Understanding our White privilege is hard. Being White, it never mattered to me who was president, what my teachers looked like, what shows were on television, or what dolls I was given. It never mattered because they were all White. There was no reason for me to think about it.

On the other hand, had I been Black, I think I might've been more aware of the fact that no one looked like me. I might not have said anything, but if everything I ever saw were White people in those positions and on the store shelves, I'm sure it would have crossed my mind and affected the way I saw myself in comparison to others. (To help understand and visualize what it's like to be in the minority, check out the movie White Man's Burden.)

Barack Obama's presence in our highest office challenges us to adjust our sense of what is "normal."

Ever tried to find Barack, LaQuisha, Shatavies, or Takisa as one of the names on keychain or a pencil? It's much easier to find Janet, Dave, Susie, or Michael. Will that begin to change?

Watch primetime TV on ABC, CBS, and NBC. How many shows are centered around African-American families? What about other cultures? Now count how many are centered around White families or White people. Will that begin to change?

Some changes are already happening. The Ty company (the one who makes beanie babies) just came out with two African-American dolls named Malia and Sasha. Out of the 30 dolls in the collection, these two are the first African-American dolls. Until now, the company obviously wasn't concerned about deviating from their all-white lineup.

Barack Obama's position as the highest leader of our country causes us to be much more inclusive and representative of our entire country. Barack Obama is intelligent, well-educated, a family man, and one whose many experiences touches upon and connects with every one of us.

Barack Obama challenges the stereotypes our society has created of black men and their families. His presidency is not just about typical presidential duties; it's about how his culture, background, and new generation mindset allows him to interact with people. It is that leadership that sets a tone and makes him a very important and historic president.

The shift of January 20, 2009

Now that I've gotten back from the Inauguration and recovered from spending 74 (nearly consecutive) hours on a bus, I have recovered enough to reflect on my experience...and I realize the profundity of this moment in time.

On Inauguration Day, as we got off of the shuttle to head toward the Mall, we had no orientation of where we were or where we were going. It didn't matter. We had no choice but to move with the throng of people as we all shuffled toward what we could only assume was the right direction.

As we walked, the National Guard were posted every few feet, ensuring that we remained orderly and in the right direction. I couldn't help but think of the irony of that moment: Huge crowds of people were walking toward the inauguration of our first Black president. More government forces were on hand than ever before. The same forces that were inappropriately used by government officials to prevent the integration of our public institutions 52 years ago were now being used to protect. It was simultaneously a disturbing, yet comforting and joyous feeling for me.

On that day, I felt we had a new and hopeful beginning.

This beginning does not mean we are a "post-racial America," as some have suggested, nor does it mean that as of January 20, 2009 at 12:00 p.m. EST every Black child and every Black parent has "no more excuses" and will (or should) immediately be ideal parents and students as others have commented. It is not possible for change to happen with a snap of the fingers or an oath of office.

However, there is a feeling of change. And the great thing to me is that it is happening at the top and setting the tone. But what is even more important is that the tone that is being set at the top was chosen by us. As Barack Obama told us back in February, "We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." (February 5, 2008)

We had to make the decision to no longer be a country where the national guard prevents instead of protects. We had to make the decision that people of all ethnicities have important insights to contribute to this country. We had to decide that we want to be a country of hope instead of fear. We elected a president who chooses to listen to people. We elected a person who values opinions.

We decided that.

Today, we are not perfect. We have a ways to go. But if we can continue to believe that "we" are the ones we've been waiting for and "we" are the change that we seek, then we have a bright and hopeful future, no matter what struggle comes our way. I am excited about that.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Pilgrimmage to DC

I want it all!

After figuring out how to get used to the cramped space, with every seat on the bus filled, I have settled into the journey with our 3 charter buses...about 150 people...where even the 'bathroom break only' rest stops take a while.

We have passed Nashville. It's about 10:00 pm. Half of the bus is asleep and the other half is watching Batman.

The closer we get to our destination, the more anxious I get. I want to take it ALL in. I don't want to miss anything...but I'm on a bus!

I've gotten a Tweet from an African-American friend in Dallas who is impressed with CNN's coverage. (I want to see what they are saying!)

A White friend in Missouri IM'd me to tell me she cried along with the people interviewed on Dateline as they discussed the hope that Obama has inspired...and how it took Black AND White to get to this point. (I wish I had Tivo'd Dateline.)

Then my friend, Katwy, called. He's from New York and I only know him because we met in Denver at the convention. He's in DC and has attended different events over the last two days, including the concert on the mall tonight...which he said was amazing, shoulder-to-shoulder, and probably 500,000- 1 mil people there. (I want to be the middle of it all!!)

Each friend from different backgrounds, different cities, different experiences. Yet, each one is relishing each moment leading up to Tuesday.

But I also realize that this bus ride is my pilgrimmage. Just like the other potential 4 million people, I am on a journey. Some will arrive via expensive flights, complete with $25,000 tickets to get into events. Others of us scrounged up $350 and will stay in Philadelphia just so we can be there on that day.

That is the beauty of this trip--Rich, poor, young, old, people off all nationalities, religions, political persuasions, and sexual orientation...We will all be there *together*. We will all be there to soak in the HOPE for our future.

I hope to situate myself in the best position to soak in the moment...but I also realize that moment is whatever is in front of me. Right now that is a bus full of people resting up for the big moment.

Get on the Bus

I'm not sure what this post will turn out like. I'm blogging from my phone. I've never used the internet on my phone, and I don't pay for internet. The only thing I can figure is that the t-mobile lady took pity on me and gave me some perks, knowing I was going to the inauguration and my phone was messed up.

We left this morning around 6:30. I am one of the few white people on this trip, which isn't that unusual for me...but on this trip, I don't know most of the people. Several have asked who I'm with. They think because I'm white with a big camera that I'm reporting for channel 8 in Dallas.

I never know how to answer that question, 'Who are you with?' It's usually asked when I'm the minority in a blacks and whites, alike. (I suppose there has to be a reason that black people and white people would come together on equal grounds.) I usually end up with a perplexed look on my face and say, 'Myself!' Honestly, the question irritates me. I mean, why do I have to be 'with' somebody or something?

I learned about the channel 8 deal today when my friend chuckled and informed me a lady was very skeptical, wondering why I was taking so many pictures and video. Luckily, I do know enough people on this trip who help me by doing behind-the-scenes explaining, 'Oh, her?? That's just Janet. She's cool.' I am very grateful to them for that help.

It is because people of different cultures rarely come together on equal footing that I journey on this trip to a most historic election. It is even more powerful to me that I go with a group, most of whom do not look like me.

I journey to be a part of CHANGE.

In 2009, the way a person looks still often determines the way people perceive a person's status and position. I hope that this is the start of a new day.

However, it is not Obama becoming president that will do this; it is the HOPE that Obama inspires. It is the way he models his values, the very nature of who he is, and who he challenges us to be that will (hopefully) inspire US to be the change WE want to see in the world.(Ghandhi).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

60 hours on a bus...10 hours in Washington D.C.

It's 8:20 on Saturday night. 2 1/2 days before the Inauguration of Barack Obama.

I learned of my trip to Washington D.C. only on Tuesday of this week. We leave tomorrow morning at 5:00 a.m.

Despite what I feel like is an over-busy life these days, with my last-minute decision to go on this trip, it's amazing how I've kicked it into high gear to be able to go on mini-shopping sprees because I am hoping to capture the swearing, parade, and people in any way possible--video, audio, or visual. I actually have no idea what *is* actually possible. I have no tickets and will only be in D.C. for a mere 10 hours on Inauguration Day. I don't know if it is possible to be a part of the parade *and* see the swearing in on the jumbo-trons. I have no idea what the crowds will be like and how easy it will be to walk around. But it doesn't matter. I will be there.

I have purchased extra batteries, chargers that don't need electricity so I can keep all my electronics going, and even have an extra cell phone (mine suddenly decided to go dead at random moments yesterday...making me panic, thinking I will be in the middle of a potential 4 million people with no phone!).

I will be riding a charter bus that is caravanning with two other buses...a total of about 150 people. We will have a whirlwind trip with about 60 hours on the road and only about 10 spent in Washington D.C. ...but that is the adventure and the excitement of joining in this new movement.

Sunday, January 18, 2009
4:00AM Arrive at True Lee Baptist Church
5:00 AM Leave Dallas

Monday, January 19, 2009
9AM-10AM Arrive in Philadelphia PA
10AM-2PM Check in Hotel
2PM-5PM Tour of Philadelphia

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
3AM Leave Philadelphia –travel to DC
8AM Arrive at designated Parking Space-DC
Noon Attend Inauguration Ceremony
6PM Leave Washington DC

As I get ready for my trip, I would like to hear what you want to know. What questions would you like to ask people who attend? If you were there, what moments would you like to capture...or if you're going, what are you planning to capture?

Getting ready for Washington

...practicing how to use my technology so I can get good shots, clear interview, and nice video

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Inauguration update

Testing out the equipment...

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service

What is it with our country??

Last night my friend in Missouri expressed her frustration over going to the gym, as she regularly does. "I hate all of these New Year's Resolution people!" she grumbled. Because of the New Year's Resolution crowd (that only comes the first of the year), she couldn't do her regularly scheduled routine on the treadmill.

As we were talking, I realized that it's not just New Years...our whole society is about one-time events.

At Christmas, everyone wants to give to the poor.

At Easter, everyone wants to go to church.

At Spring Break, Christian colleges want to take groups to "serve."

At the After-School Academy, we get offers that people want to teach a one-time class.

And Monday will be Dr. Martin Luther King day, which has been proclaimed a National Day of Service.

Now I suppose that one-time giving or one-time exercising or one-time serving is better than nothing....and, who knows, perhaps for a few (one or two??) it results in a long-term dedication. But, let's be honest. We are a self-gratifying society. We do these one time events for ourselves...not for anyone else. And when we are focused on ourselves, it doesn't last.

Take exercise. New Year's resolution..."Lose 10 lbs." with the implied " I can look better" ...instead of "focus on my overall health for the benefit of myself and others who love me and want me around in 30 years."

Easter. "Attend church." (it relieves guilt, I suppose...but I don't think the intention is really about deepening a long-term faith)

Christmas. "Deliver gifts to the poor and teach my child how to give to the 'less fortunate'." (have you ever thought about what it sounds like if you were to knock on someone's door to say, "Hi, I wanted to deliver gifts to the poor. I wanted my son to see you so he could see how fortunate he is.")

MLK Day of Service. "Go to a rough neighborhood...preferably a street named after MLK...because it will more than likely be in a run-down area (which makes no sense at all to me, but that's a completely different topic) and offer to pick up trash or paint houses or something."

I'm sure I sound a little cynical, but let me be honest here. Being in the non-profit world, I've heard people get frustrated when their offers to do one-time service are turned down. The leader of the group or the church leader will say, "You've got to let people come and serve. That's how they begin donating. That's how to get them involved. They want to connect with people. Don't just give them administrative tasks."

I agree with connecting with people. But I know those leaders haven't been on my end. For one, in the last two-three months, I have had probably 15 or more people say they wanted to volunteer at our After-School Academy...and seemed truly excited about it. I have set up special orientations to accomodate them. Each time, maybe one person shows up to the orientation...and some of them don't return after the orientation. I know...a few is better than none...believe me, we recognize that, which is why we continue creating special orientation sessions. Secondly, allow the people who are there all of the time to be involved with the children. When people come in randomly to volunteer, it's like having grandma over for the day...and we're left to do damage control after she's gone. The kids are there all of the time. They need people there all of the time...not just once out of a year. So, if you don't plan on coming regularly, please be willing to do the administrative tasks that we don't have time to do because we're busy structuring and keeping programs running.

I guess it's just tiring. And I guess that's part of being in a non-profit where we have to be dependent on volunteers...and part of being in a society that has been taught self-gratification.

So, I guess as we move into the Martin Luther King Day of Service, I don't want to discourage anyone from serving. But I would challenge you to ask yourself, "Who is this benefitting?" and then think through what Martin Luther King, Jr. was all about. Wasn't he about efforts that took a much longer time and effort to accomplish...efforts that weren't about themselves, but about the good of the much larger community?

Civil Rights was about personal sacrifice. The Montgomery Bus Boycott ...the Selma to Montgomery march (please click here to watch John Lewis's moving account of crossing the Edmond Pettis bridge)...the effort to gain equality for the Memphis Sanitation workers...the freedom rides...the March on Washington. All were about long-term solutions...and all required time, effort, and personal sacrifice.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was about efforts that would result in systemic changes that benefitted people long term. How can we emulate that as we move forward in 2009?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

"Senseless" rioting??

As I talked with a friend, I could hear Anderson Cooper speaking from the CNN news room in the background. But it was the glimpse of the rioting being shown that caught my attention. As I watched closer, I realized that the rioting was in response to a video that I had seen a few days ago.

As the CNN news report showed people jumped on police cars, the reporter talked about the rioting being "senseless and all caught on camera." Perhaps it was just a poor choice of words on the reporter's part. But "senseless" rioting? Really??

I just finished reading a book called Blaming the Victim. It was written in 1971. As I read the book, I was compelled to write several times in the margin, "same as in 2008." I thought about the book as I watched the video above and listened to the CNN reporter.

One chapter of the book is entitled "Counting Black Bodies" and talks about the response to the riots in the 60s. One of the quotes in the book seems particularly relevant and applicable to this very situation.
"...almost every disturbance is initiated by police action that the community finds offensive and intolerable."
However, it's interesting to me that the book also surmises that, despite the police fatal brutality toward people of color,
"the predominant focus of violence by residents is against property, rather than persons..."
Unfortunately, police violence is against people rather than property.

The CNN reporter called the rioting "senseless." Allow me to refer to the 1971 book again..."A white surburbanite finds this [rioting] hard to comprehend; he might find it easier if, once or twice a year, a teenage son of one of his white neighbors were found dead on the tree-lined street with a police .38 bullet in his back."

From what I've heard from reports, the young man was being arrested for fighting on the train. Arresting may have been an appropriate consequence for his actions. Killing him was not.

I've also heard that the officer may have meant to reach for his tazer (though the video doesn't seem to show a lot of struggle from the young man...and the man was unarmed). Post-incident, the officer is refusing to be investigated and has resigned from the force. Perhaps that officer recognizes he made a fatal mistake that affected a young man's life as well as an entire family. Giving the officer the benefit of the doubt, let's say he's a nice and good person. However, being a nice and good person is not enough.

The reality is that in 2009 we still allow our fears to be attributed to an entire group/race of people instead of channeling our fears toward certain individuals. As a result, one [more] unarmed young black man is dead.

Blaming the Victim was written in 1971. This is 2009, yet sometimes I wonder just what it is that we've learned over the last 38 years. Though I know in some ways we've made progress, there are so many ways we haven't. Watch the video. Read the book. Then talk to me about progress.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Reflections of insignificance

As I walked into Albertson's, I could see a man out of the corner of my eye. I could see he was looking at me. He was unshaven and slightly unkempt...I would assume homeless. I continued walking toward the store, looking straight ahead and continuing my phone conversation.

"Hey," I heard.

Here it comes. Someone hitting me up for something...again. I kept walking and talking.

"Janet," he continued.

I turned my head and had to focus a minute. His face looked familiar, but he was much skinnier than I remembered. "Jonathan*!" I exclaimed, and gave him a hug.

I ended my phone conversation so I could talk to him.

"How was your Christmas?" he asked.

"Pretty good. Yours?"

With a shrug of his shoulders, he replied, "It's over."

I hadn't seen him in a while so I asked where he was these days. "Here and there," he explained, but then went on to tell me how he had found this fenced in overhang behind XYZ restaurant that was a covered area that provided safety and protection from the weather. He asked if I would mind picking him up a few things while I was in the store. "Sure!" I replied.

He started explaining how he had figured out how to make his meals work as cheaply as possible and began telling me the few items he needed. I didn't see the point (or the dignity) in leaving him outside while I purchased food so I asked him to walk with me and get what he needed. We chatted and caught up as we walked through the store. He explained his purchases. A loaf of bread...the cheapest brand. A package of individual chip bags because he can eat a bag in a sitting and the ants don't get to them. A 12-pack of sodas for the same, he explained, the canned soda doesn't go flat. Preserving meat is a little tricker, he explained. He picked up a package of hot links and informed me about the lasting effect of the sausage. He said he could make two packages last a while and asked if it was okay to get two packages.

After buying the groceries, he asked if I would mind dropping him off at a location around the corner. He explained that a guy was allowing him to store his stuff in a back shed...but the man was real particular about him being discreet so he didn't want me to take him all the way to the house. Jonathan chuckled at his own situation. "Some homeless-looking guy walks toward this house, but he's not stealing anything, he's actually taking groceries in! How can you be discreet about that?!" he wondered aloud.

He wished me a Happy New Year and said he would come visit our new After-School Academy as he unloaded his stuff and proceeded to walk down the street to his storage area.

As I drove off, I realized that to anyone else that may have looked like a good deed--lady walks into the store, says hi to a homeless man, buys his groceries, and takes him home...a good deed during the holidays.

To me, however, it was reason for thoughtful reflection about the way we see (or don't see) people who are "insignificant" to us.

My personal "policy" most of the time is that I don't give money to requests from random people. I try to stay focused on the kids and teenagers I know who are working toward some personal goal(s). But it's not people like Jonathan's fault that I don't know them. It's my own fault.

As we enter the new year, I need to reflect on my own efforts toward meeting and interacting with those who would, otherwise, be "insignificant" to me.

*not his real name

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Hope for the New Year

Last year I "resolved" to have wishes instead of creating ambiguous resolutions that last for a day. This year, I still refuse to create a resolution I probably won't keep. But I will go one step beyond wishes. As we enter a new year, I have new hope.

Everything around me seems to be leaning toward coming together--listening to each other...learning from each other...accepting each other for who they are...and challenging each other to move beyond.

On January 20, we will have a president who has lived in different countries and whose skin color has caused him to experience life in the United States differently than any president who has gone before him. His presence has brought out hatred and evil from some. His assumed political views have created excitement and frustration from both sides. His religious associations have caused people to question him from the "right" and the "left." ...but his unifying talk and consequential actions are demonstrating a much longer term vision for bringing people together.

I find it interesting that the state of our nation is also causing people to become interested in other cultures and countries besides "America." Several friends (including myself) have expressed a desire to know more about the people and the culture of the areas where our friends and family are engaged in a war and are, thus, reading more and paying a little more attention to international news. There seems to be a desire to understand more about the middle eastern cultures and are finding out what life is like for other people in other countries and of religions other than Christian. It seems we are beginning to notice that our Iraqi, Muslim, Indian, Pakistani, Shia, Sunni neighbors exist here in the United States.

The other day I watched a documentary called Beyond our Differences.

As I listened to people of various religions, cultures, and ethnicities speak, I was inspired yet again with a sense of hope for our new year. In the documentary, Desmond Tutu quoted the Prayer of Saint Francis:

Oh Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

I remember singing a song like this in college...however, I remember that when I sang it, I thought about it as an action, something I could do for others, and not an application to my own life. In my religious upbringing, I was taught that I could take peace to someone else--the destitute people in Africa...the poor people in the inner city...the down and out in disaster areas. In my mind, it was "them" who needed me to teach them more about peace. I knew I was qualified because I didn't fight or intentionally harm people. I didn't think the song applied to me personally. It never occurred to me that there were ways I could change my own life to better embody that peace.

I never thought the true spiritual role and responsibility to carry peace within would be to make myself conscious of words that could be racially offensive, to educate myself about laws that disproportionately hurt people who are poor, to listen to people's stories of injustice, and to work with people to change that injustice.

This year I have hope that many more people will join on the path of seeing, understanding, and appreciating differences...and then going beyond them. I look forward to that in 2009.