Well, I did not burst into flame

Nor was I cooked and eaten by hungry people.  What I was asked how our Black lives matter meeting went, that was my response. One and one half days have passed and I am still alive.  We have begun the trip and are fairly civilized. The group includes people who are fairly active in matters of racial justice and me. For me, racial justice lately has been the ability to earn a living without fear of eviction and having the same benefits as my co-workers. For people who don’t know, being a peer support specialist is my fourth or fifth career and it is the one the has lasted the longest. I have been a librarian, a cooperative developer, a grant writer and a day care worker. Since those other careers faded away, one can conclude that either I was not especially skilled or I am better suited for what I am doing now. These jobs sometimes paid decent money but unfortunately did not last more than a few years.

Peer support has often been a low paying career in which I had to fight to earn a living wage. I am wearing the first pair of glasses ever bought with company provided vision benefits. Either my previous jobs didn’t have vision benefits or I didn’t use them. Making my life matter meant a lot of pain and struggle to survive. There was also a lot of acting out and fairly embarrassing behavior that ruined relationships. My current life is the most stable I have felt for a long time.

I now feel as though I have something to offer such as the value of my experience. I know what it means to feel ashamed that you need to depend on your family for support well into adulthood. I know about having your payroll check bounce. I know what bad and good employers are like. These are all things I bring to the struggle to making black lives matter in Milwaukee. I was the only African-American at the table for our first meeting at the First Unitarian Society, a situation I hope to change. I hope to venture out and become a part of some of the struggles my fellow members have been involved with and make a difference. I will share my vision, now that it is clear what I can see.

Forgiveness

 

 

An important step in the process Patricia Raybon took on her healing journey was forgiveness. She had to learn to forgive those real or imagined slights she may have received from white people. She had to stop hating nameless people because there were health consequences for holding onto it. And she had to start forgiving her father who relentlessly drove her to excel. For him it seemed as though nothing was quite good enough. Maybe he didn’t tell her often enough that he loved her. Indeed, it seems that he did the things a loving father would do. Many people will be incredulous reading this and wondering are you serious? I wish my father had pushed me.

I listened to the TED hour about nudging people to push beyond their perceived limits to be able to achieve more and Patricia’s father was a textbook example of this concept. I also listened to a talk by researcher Carol Dweck about her work on the concept of fixed mindset versus growth mindset. Clearly Patricia’s father helped to instill in her a growth mindset being being able to take on bigger challenges.

How do you forgive such a man?To quote from an Aretha Franklin song, oh what a man, what a mighty good man.In my family the role of Patricia’s father was played by my mother. And I have my own forgiveness journey to travel.Patricia relied upon her Christian faith to provide answers and guidance. I will look for answers outside of the church such as a book by Barbara Flanigan Forgiving the Unforgivable. I am not the person I was before I started to read and explore and I am not the person who I will become. The excitement is in the road ahead.

Please, feel free to share your thoughts.

Our whiteness discussion at work

Today was the day after our big training session at work about the impact of whiteness and white supremacy. I mentioned in my previous post that the agency where I work is the only black owned county contracted agency for mental health. There are probably more black owned substance abuse agencies, which might be work exploring as an issue. Our agency began very small more than 20 years ago before the issue of whiteness was ever discussed. Some things you would be inclined to ask is whether there is a difference in mental health outcomes between black and white agencies. You would also have to look more closely and see that there is a very diverse group of workers at our agency. And we have the same diversity within our consumer population.

Racism has been an issue and consumers and their families have expressed preferences based upon race but not the way you would think. One of the most interesting cases was a couple of years ago when the very dark skinned family of one of our people said that she preferred a white case manager. Now, all of those adjectives were used for a reason, to help clarify for the reader what was happening. All of the workers in that office, including me, were African-American.

There was nothing we could do, including consulting with the Milwaukee County staff, that convince the family that working with our black workers was a good idea. The consumer ended up being transferred into an agency where I was told the family found all the whiteness their hearts desired.

I may be encountering racism from the other perspective soon. There may be a person who has a similar preference for white people coming our way. Let us see how this encounter turns out. Stay tuned, America.

yin and yang

 

Dear white people

Today was a day away from our mental health consumers as the Milwaukee county mental health and substance abuse contracted agencies attended a session designed to educate us about white privilege. The presenter was a very dark skinned man named Dr. Eddie Moore. The presentation is part of a year long series by the change agents program designed to help improve outcomes by making us more familiar with the concerns of living in an increasing more diverse society. Dr. Moore had grown up in a black neighborhood , became  addicted to drugs and remained involved with them until his first job after completing his bachelor’s degree. He didn’t clean up his act until he was forced to do so by his employers with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Dr. Moore is in an interracial relationship and lives with his wife and children in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He is an experienced presenter and he and his wife own their own businesses.I was active on social media throughout the session, first complaining about hunger, then being disappointed by the quality of the food. I was sitting at a table with the staff at our agency who work for one of our other programs so I only see them at our Monday staff meetings.

I would estimate that 30% of the attendees were people of color. This included agencies and staff of Milwaukee County. Ours is one of the few agencies owned and operated b African-Americans so it was a little tricky taking about the ways that our policies may have been influences by the concept of white supremacy. There is also the problem of introversion versus extroversion. I was sitting next to a small quiet young woman waiting to break into the conversation at our table which was dominated by the more talkative people.

The program included an action plan which started with educating ourselves about the issue . I went to the library and checked out Color Blind Racism by Leslie C. Carr, My First White Friend by Patricia Raybon and Whiteness a Critical Reader.

I also admit that as an African American worker I have a certain amount of privilege regarding the consumers I assist. However, that is a topic for another discussion.

 

retirement

 

The devil is in the details

There is a mind numbing array of details in Evicted. the stories of the negotiations carried out with the few consumers who go to Room 400 of the Milwaukee County Courthouse. And the racial breakdown I mentioned in an earlier post. Eviction is eating away at neighborhoods.  The evictions follow people through the courts and the credit bureaus and have a ways of snatching people back down into the gutter when they attempt to make something of their lives, get better jobs, buy cars and otherwise re-establish themselves.

There are the rent collection agencies ready to try and garnish. There are the Eagle Movers with their huge business going through poor neighborhoods. And there is the feeling that never goes away the humiliation of the eviction. There are the huge percentages that rent takes out of people’s income 50% or more. And of course there were the words of the landlords pleading their cases in front of court commissioners.

It is ironic that Milwaukee has experienced a boom in luxury apartments and condominiums. Commerce Street is filled with ugly buildings too expensive for the people I have been discussing. What used to be a leisurely ride along the street has become treacherous with cars lining either side of the narrow street.

There are more such monstrosities downtown. The city has gained in tax base. So, to hear of poor depressed areas sounds eerily like you’re discussing the 2 Americas that were predicted long ago. The growing housing gap between rich and poor was not mentioned in the recent elections for mayor, common council or county executive. I tell people that they need to wake up and make certain to vote for these various circuit court judges because you might face them one day.

But when you’re struggling with every day details of life, it seems hard to absorb something that seems so remote. “Hey children, watch that sound, everybody look what’s going down.” For what it’s worth, still relevant today.

the-great-depression-african-american-children

 

Sundays for the non-religious

follow your path

 

 

I have been scanning my picture collections to find the right things that match my words. After much searching, I chose the cartoon above expressing a sense of independence and freedom. I was inspired by a story in the latest edition of the Freethought Today which had an essay from Thomas Sheedy, a high school student who fought to get a non religious student group approved at his high school. Sheedy delivered a speech on October 10, 2015 at the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s 38th annual convention in Madison, Wisconsin.

Sheedy is a 17 years old student from New York State. After spinning his wheels for a while and getting nowhere he got the FFRF involved and before he was approved and on organizing meetings. For his hard work, Sheedy received an award for student activism.

I sometimes read stories from non-religious people who feel very isolated because they are surrounded by so many intolerant people who want to literally bring them to Jesus. I have foolishly entered into relations with religious women “looking for love in all the wrong places” because I found them attractive and it was discouraging to find someone who was more suited to me.

I think in the long run it is better to look for the progressive, and atheist people in our communities. They are out there. Reading in the library, jogging down our streets, canvassing for candidates, or reading The Humanist. We will just have to keep following our beliefs and remember that we may inspire people we don’t even know.

 

 

 

 

Are you excited about the end times yet?

I  have heard that there are Christian evangelicals who thinking about the so-called end times in which there will be a major battle between Christians and Muslims. When I worked for a progressive agency years ago one of my coworkers discussed this idea. I was scared and repulsed by the idea.

In a fight between two religious beliefs I would choose neither one. I’m not surprised that the so-called Islamic State is drawing on the idea of the big war between Christian and Muslim forces in their version of an end times. Humans, for your own sake, you must choose neither. Atheists don’t start wars and we don’t enjoy blowing ourselves to bits.