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.
I decided I would begin my reading assignment into whiteness by reading the book My First White Friend and writing my reactions. The book is about a black woman writer Patricia Raybon who found that she was consumed with hatred of white people. This created very unhealthy stress in her life. I knew nothing about the book before I found it on the shelves in the Milwaukee Public Library. When I saw the title I thought surely she had meant that a person in high school or event elementary school had made a difference in her life.
How is it possible one could live so late into adulthood wrapped up in hatred? When I compare this to my own experience I found that I had a love hate relationship with white people during my early years. I transferred from an all black school to an all white one in the 4th grade. There were white people in my black neighborhood, although none who I would call a friend. There were all-black middle class and even upper class people around us and some of them were my friends. There was a doctor and an electrician among them. However, our safety was threatened by some angry kids who liked to fight and bully. And their parents were thieves. My mother became convinced that for my sake we needed to move away from this mostly black area just a few blocks away into an all white one.
As anyone who grew up in the desegregation area knows, today’s white ally could become tomorrow’s racist. That was the same era, sometimes known as the baby boom generation, where Patricia Raybon was grew up and became an adult. In later observations I will examine the differences and similarities in our struggles.
We need to look at the problems of inequality, evictions and the crushing of low wage workers as crises of opportunity. We could continue along our current path with low wages, difficult to obtain mental health treatment, pitiful SSI benefits and exploitation by payday lenders, storage facilities and unscrupulous landlords. Or we could try fixing the system. The book Evicted suggests expanding the housing voucher program while at th same time prevent landlords from overcharging people the way they currently do.
Bernie Sanders and many low wage workers have raised the demand for a $15 per hour minimum wage. As I was driving downtown on our horrible main street, I wished that repaving our roads could be expanded to create more jobs. I wished that lead pipes could be removed the same way Madison, Wisconsin did it. That would create jobs.
I wish that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would begin stricter regulation of unfair lending practices. I wish that corporate wealth could be reined in and excess profits could be used for the common good. I wish for a lot of things that I am being told aren’t realistic. And that in the immediate future what will probably happen is the military get all the money it wants and spend most of it trying to fight terrorism. But the real face of terrorism is the crushing of our spirits by poverty, evictions and exploitation. We need a political revolution.
Today I was in a quality improvement session sponsored by Milwaukee County about improving the health outcomes of mental health consumers. The acronym for the project is LIFE which stands for Learning Ideas For Enduring. Various agencies contracting with with Milwaukee County Community Mental Health Division will be tasked with developing an implementing quality improvement projects that we will report on at a meeting in August 2016. As part of the session we brainstormed various ideas. The one that received the most votes was creating a competition for a softball league between the agencies. I’m not certain how feasible that idea is but last summer we had 2 sports themed picnics at our agency. We called them Kicknicks.
We had consumers from all three of our locations attend and they had a great time. I enjoyed myself although I became a little fatigued and had to sit down. The project that our Targeted Case Management Team developed at the meeting was called Walk It Off in which we will encourage the staff to include walking in their meeting with consumers. For instance, we might arrive at someone’s house and encourage the person to go for a walk with us. I already do this. I walked with a new consumer a few weeks ago and she seemed to enjoy it. At the staff meetings, we would report on how many times we walked with consumers. We might also get pedometers for consumers to encourage them to keep track of their own steps and reward them.
We have some staff who are struggling with their weight and began using tools such as fitbit and the agency subsidizes memberships at the YMCA. A few people also work out at the inexpensive health clubs that offer $10 per month memberships. The hope is that the staff and consumers will be happier, healthy and less stressed. What do you think?
I work in two offices where there are a couple dozen going in and out. There are consumers, case workers, delivery people, nurses and others all about. Mondays are the most difficult. There are meetings almost every day and groups being held in the basement or upstairs. Amidst all this we write notes about the visits we have with our consumers. Some co-workers are very social. Even when I am sitting in my office with the door closed typing away they say hello or goodbye. And sometimes they are upset if I come in and go to my office without saying hello. There is paperwork to be done, calls to be made and answered and mysteries to unfold. We seek the answers to people’s behavior so that they can have a life worth living, while accomplishing the goals they have set for themselves.
I spend a lot of my time alone, in my office, and concentrating. I say little quirky things which some people understand about me. I am not the one driving down the street with the radio blasting. In fact, half the time, the radio is off. And I haven’t figured out how to work the cd player. I identify with some of the quiet people who come to me. I married a woman who respected my need to sit for hours in the quiet.
It’s not rudeness but something I understand about my personality. When I go to a noisy place like a barbershop, I rarely say much, because I don’t want to add to the din. The noise from the hour or two helps prepare me to return to my lair. Yes, one of my favorite songs was Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence.
If one of my readers was here, we would be sitting in silence while I typed. I am the quiet one.
My biggest complaint when I lived in Vets Place Central was the noise. With 5 people stuck in a room, you can imagine how impossible it was to be alone with your thoughts. Practically anywhere I went in the building was filled with at least one other person. I escaped as often as I could.
In our report to Milwaukee County regarding the impact of peer support on our agency, we mostly counted numbers. I had worked with X # of people and made referrals in certain areas. In the next phase they will look at the number of people being assisted but equally important will be the results. I ran around and got people excited about DVR, but now, we some some who are coming off the waiting list. I will be working on higher level activities like working with vendors. I would like to see some people get jobs with my assistance by June. And we will be able to look at what resources they were able to access. Milwaukee County made give us more resources, too, that make an impact on our work.
Education is another major area where we should begin seeing some results. There could be a new category: number of students enrolled in various programs. Ideally we will have people at more than one MATC based program. And they will probably consider retention at some point, as well. Do the people who started during the winter engaged in serious recovery efforts continue into the spring and summer? And do those efforts deepen? Quantity and quality of effort. These are things I will be looking forward to measuring. I must be a nerd.
I just listened to the National Public Radio story about the federal suicide prevention hotline for veterans. Faced with a growing suicide rate of veterans and active duty personnel, President Obama called for increasing the telephone support available. we were losing more active duty troops to suicide than the number being killed in combat.
When I visit the VA the signs are everywhere promoting the hotline. Veterans are encouraged to Call the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255 and Press 1) or chat online. Suicide has emerged as a greater threat to our military than terrorism as people weary from repeated deployments and family stresses take their own lives.
In a very real way this can be seen as blowback from the global war on terror which includes the longest war in American history. I know that the blowhards in the Bush administration who championed the Iraq and Afghanistan wars never gave a second thought about the impact of these wars on the troops and their families. They were brazen in their ability to ignore cries from across the globe to stop the wars before they began.
And now, after 4 years, these are President Obama’s wars. We have the low grade occupation in Iraq with so-called advisers and then there is the increasingly unpopular Afghanistan War that he thought that he could win. He too ignored the maxim of never fighting a land war in Asia. (The night shift arrives and the calls keep coming)
I think about the despair that must have carved holes in dozens of lives from returning combat veterans who were horrified by what they had done and witnessed. The upcoming battle over the nomination process for the secretary of defense will provide another opportunity for those who seek to continue the bloodbath to voice their opinions. They will say that the president must be prepared to back up the feverish rhetoric on Iran with the very real threat of launching an attack on people who pose no threat to Americans. And the secretary of defense must share that same passion for war.
At work last night in the mental hospital I heard Bob Dylan’s song Blowin in the Wind. There were those chilling words “too many people have died” referencing the wars we had fought up to that time. And yet a new generation has come and the wars keep coming and so do the calls to the suicide line.
The center piece of the NPR story was that the night shift had arrived and began taking calls but the real center piece is the failure of American foreign policy to negotiate, understand people in other countries and the limits of our ability to impose our way of life upon them. Those who suffer the consequences are the soldiers and their families. we can reduce the number of calls by ending the wars.