Trapped by debt

I have been reading for the past several hours stories about people trapped in debt by payday lenders, title loan lenders and aggressive student loan collectors. The worst case of student loan collection was in New Jersey where a mother received a notice after her son had been killed that she was liable for his student loans.

The state aggressively pursues people offering little information about loan forgiveness and instead sends collection agencies to turn your life upside down. There was also no limit on the amount that a family could borrow, way beyond their ability to pay. As a last gasp some people declared bankruptcy, which could not eliminate the debts, but it greatly reduced their payments.

The stories of payday loans were equally as horrific. I noted that some unscrupulous lenders affiliated themselves with Native American tribes to escape state regulations. And some of them began to mutate as soon as one loan product was outlawed another sprang up. Like the installment loans which offer longer payment plans but interest just as high as their predatory cousins, allowing the crooked lenders to squeeze even more money out of workers.

I consider payday lenders a kind of guinea worm sucking up workers’ blood. And being trapped by payday loans, title loans and high student loan interest could lead a person to desperation. I am going to start following the good guys in this battle and seeing what ordinary citizens can do. The guinea worms have set up fake grassroots organizations to comment on proposed federal regulations and they spread money around to democrats and republicans in campaign contributions. Remember, always follow the money. When crooked politicians say there’s already too much regulation, find out where their cash is coming from. Stand up.

What I saw with the Unitarians

Today I was at the First Unitarian Society at the invitation of my friend Mary, who had joined the church a few years ago with her husband John. We had seen them at a coffeehouse after an unsuccessful attempt to find the park where a black lives matter protest was being held. I searched and searched and all I could find was Ahmed Zolkowski, who was not black nor looking for a protest and only added to my general confusion.

I went home and told Liz my story and she said, let’s go to the coffeehouse. It’s cooler there and it will help your brains recovery. We left the cat home. He was texting his friends and pretty much ignoring us, anyway.

cute cat

 

The coffeehouse was deeply air-conditioned while the outside and the rest of Wisconsin was steamy. The shock initially made me want to retreat outside but I adjusted. After a beer, here come these two ne’er do wells with beers. The people I had been searching for. They said they had marched inside a shopping mall and made people uncomfortable. Children asked their parents, what does black lives matter, mean?

 

scary doll

 

We got to know each other and discovered that we had a lot of the same progressive values. In fact their personal lives suggested that they might have been the perfect couple for us to meet. And they also told me that there would be an interesting speaker at the First Unitarian Society and that subtle changes had taken place this past year that I was completely unaware of. Where did the Black Lives Matter Initiative come from, anyway?

I came away from today feeling more enlightened and wondering what I should do with this information. I have a habit of being totally present or fully gone. The church was something I had joined when I was living downtown. Now that I had moved far away, I needed more of a draw. Perhaps it is friendship. I’m not sure whether people were friendlier today but the speaker from the Unitarian Universalist Association said that the churches often aren’t very welcoming. Since I am not there to read the bible or fear god, then maybe I need a more personal connection. Knowing that there are other oddballs from my generation around protesting.

Crossing the divide

 

 

child friends

In the ideal world we would begin like the picture above and keep seeking out a wide variety of people to be in our lives. I have talked about Patricia Raybon’s book My First White Friend which centered on her experience as a child of integration and the change that came over her when a young white girl started talking with her. Raybon continued to experience isolation as an adult. After a career in journalism, she began teaching at a mostly white state university in Colorado. There she met and quickly married her husband, a very light skinned African-American.

In her classrooms, she was surrounded by a sea of white faces. But I did not get the sense that she was talking white her white co-workers either faculty or other staff. How where they responding to her? Did  they think she was too angry? Did they tell funny stories?

The idea of reaching out across the life span made me get back in touch with my best friend during a turbulent time in my life when I was underemployed and wondering what to do. We both ended up going back to school to become librarians. I sent her a message reminding her never to underestimate the power that friendship can have. She didn’t show me the answers but with her help I was able to find my way.

Now in my mid 60’s I am hoping not to end up like one of the characters from I’m Not Rappaport. Ossie Davis, the African American old man was stuck there on a park bench with an irascible, foul tempered old white man, played by Walter Matthau. It was an entertaining movie but it would not be a life I would choose. Let’s have a nice tossed salad of people in our lives.

 

 

Helping our allies

many different colors

 

When I returned to the website of the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee I saw information about events that the church made been organizing around the issue of Black Lives Matter. And so I felt more motivated. And I went for a walk.   I had read that everything political starts with a personal choice. There was a movie on PBS by a man who lost his father to diabetes and his father was around my age. My heart skips a beat when I hear that people in my age group are dying from preventable diseases. The best way I can act as if I believe my my matters is my taking care of it.

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Today I am proud to say I met my fitness goals. I am taking good care of the body my parents gave me. Almost as important, I sent a text message to a dear friend whose support helped me through a difficult time in my life. I said never underestimate the power of friendship. Patricia Raybon talked about the need for interracial friendships. I think this is something we need throughout our lives. We must maintain empathy for people who look and speak differently from ourselves.

It is true that we share different parts of ourselves with the people we meet. At the all black office where I am located most of the time, I talk with them about the Fondy Market a place where we can meet positive people including those who look like us. This is important because unfortunately in mental health, we are often dealing with people who are at their worst. That is why we need their help.

At the church I am a quirky older man who pops in once in a blue moon.

But what  am I to you and why are you reading me?

 

How to make black lives matter at a white church?

smiling black girl

 

I have been noticing that some white churches post signs and organize events that proclaim Black Lives Matter. Today I was at the First Unitarian Society in Milwaukee for the first time in several months and a couple I had seen during my last visit was there. It so happened that the husband is an expert on gang interventions I had heard about many years ago. His wife, who seems to be one of those people who creates a niche for herself wherever she goes, is one of a group within the Unitarian Universalists who are of a social justice ministry. In the church, she is doing Black Lives Matter events and it just so happened that today they had organized a silent witness.

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I joined in representing formerly young gifted and black individuals. Most of the responses from passers by were positive. In addition, today’s donations were being shared with an organization that works with inner city youths. This is part of being allies. But how does this sound to you as a reader? How are mostly white organizations and churches witnessing? Do black lives matter to you or are you irritated by the expression? Do you yell back All Lives Matter twice as loudly? Who is it you are attempting to drown out?

Although my job is not specifically to fight racial oppression, African-Americans and other people of color with mental illness are at extremely high risk when they encounter the police. With our help, perhaps they will live longer, more productive lives. Their lives will matter, too.

 

 

A sign of optimism

The PBS Newshour said that Dallas was actually leading America among major cities in reducing the number of police involved shooting of citizens.I want to look at some of these figures.

Do brown people make a difference?

After I wrote a blog post earlier this afternoon I happened to see a few pictures that interested me. I saw a picture of the police chief, whose name is Brown, and discovered his nice dark complexion, the same as mine. When I checked some other pictures of Dallas police comforting people I saw the same thin. That if twisted young Micah Johnson had wanted to start a race war, he had come to the wrong place. Maybe. When I was growing up, my friends and I spoke of the police as an army of occupation. I never recall seeing a black or brown person wearing a badge of any sort. There were no black teachers in the white high school I attended.

In the past few fear, African Americans have gained some positions of power and authority. Mayors, governors and lo and behold, our two term president. I would be interested in knowing how the criminal justice system has changed in Dallas with Chief Brown. For change to take place, we need to evolve from an army of occupation to a family of cooperation. What do the statistics tell us?