Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thanks be to Honey - [Cody, UHW staff]

I had a blast from the past today, and it rocked me.

I saw a kid (young man) standing down the hall from our office at the Youth Enterprise office door looking for staff (office was closed). I went out to help him find who he was looking for...and then we had one of those unspoken "Hey, I know you" moments of recognition. It took me a minute to place him, because the last time I saw him he was about 10 years old.

"Hey, Cody." He placed me first. I was still playing through my mental list of neighborhood kids I had met over the years, but my "search function" is awfully slow. Then it was Johnny.

Johnny was the kid who lived downstairs when I first moved into south Minneapolis as an Urban Neighbor in an Urban Homeworks house. He was one of the first kids that went from being a "statistic" to being a living, breathing example of "a poor black kid." His mother, "Honey," was a hardworking single mom, had 5 kids (all from the same dad) ages 5 to 15. I remember the mornings when she would have to take a taxi at 5:30 AM to the 'burbs for her job. She asked if we (the clueless 4 white guys and 1 not-quite-as-clueless Asian guy) could check in on them in the morning, to make sure they got out the door for school. So we did. Usually Johnny and his little brother, "Q", would be up and at it already at 7 AM, eating their breakfast. Johnny would be ironing he and Q's school uniform. Feeding his brother, ironing his clothes, getting ready to go to elementary school, at age 8. Meanwhile, his mom was 15 miles away, trying to concentrate on her telemarketing job:
"Did the boys get off to school, with food in their tummys?"
"Did they remember to iron their clothes? I don't want my boys looking shabby."
(Because she was so exhausted each night that it sometimes didn't get done).
"Did they turned off that iron so that the house is still standing when they get back from school ? (She'd still be at work).

What a clash of realities. When I was an 8 year old kid, growing up in the sheltered lap of middle-class white America, my mom's biggest existential concerns [God bless her] were whether or not it was safe for me to ride my bike to school because the road shoulder was not ideal in width, or if I'd crack my head open jumping my BMX bike off of homemade jumps (I'll give her that one).

After Johnny and I chit-chatted a bit, caught up on the "what's so-and-so been up to" stuff, we parted ways. Then it hit me. When I got back to my office, I felt a stirring…an excitement, a joy to see Johnny again and even more so because he is involved with something really good (Youth Enterprise's mission is "equipping youth living in urban communities with relevant life and business skills grounded in the hope of Christ"). But entwined with the warm-fuzzies was a deeper hard-to-describe , odd feeling. Not a whole lot different than that stuff that churns around in you when you run into an “ex”...when you know there was/is a shared history or connection in which you both shared some really good stuff. And some really NOT so good stuff. Things did NOT end well with his mother and the family.

Urban Homeworks (we) had to ask her to leave because she had relatives dealing drugs out of the house and would not (or could not most likely) put an end to it. We tried to do everything "right": she was served an eviction notice, with ample time and options. Yet, when it came down to the midnight hour (literally), the last minute of the last hour of her tenancy, our staff had to go to her house with a police escort because Honey had made quite a few threatening statements prior that. And we knew her well enough to know that she was not bluffing. And I don't blame her. She was the mama bear and we were kicking her and her cubs out of their den, regardless of whether or not we were "right" in doing so.

I cut my “urban teeth” on those first few years in that Urban Homeworks house, and I can’t separate it from that family. I hope I didn’t leave too many bite-marks in the process. Those years kicked my butt in many ways…but for the better. And I have a feeling it might have kicked their butts too…but I dread that perhaps it wasn’t for the better. Those years, and that family, lit the fire under the cauldron of my own racial attitudes, white privilege stuff, arrogant classist assumptions, etc. Since then, this white-boy's cauldron has reached the boiling point. The dross is slowly rising to the surface, I am refining. And in many ways I am NOT the same Cody I as an Urban Neighbor. Thanks be to God…and thanks be to Honey.

I got Johnny and Honey's number. I really want to call Honey, to tell her how much I have grown because of her, through her. But I can't help but wonder...was my growth was probably at her expense? And thats why when I think about doing it...the stirring inside begins again.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

One Semester of Spanish - A Love Song

Census Bureau researchers found that by 2050 the Latino population of the United States will triple, and one in every four Americans will be Hispanic. Better start practicing your Spanish, my friends.

Check out this link for your first "Spanglish" lesson. It'll make you laugh...

Sins of my Skin [Siri N., Urban Neighbor alum]

I grew up in a small town in southern Iowa, where pigs out numbered the population. I was blessed to be surrounded by hard working, blue collar, family orientated people. Though the reality of my home life went more like an after school special, full of yelling, hitting and confusion. I grew up with few friends but being a poor white kid I was able to feel comfort with the few kids in my school that believed different than the town-wide Catholic God, or those who lived across the track in the projects. And yes, as the stereotypes say most of the kids in our projects were kids of color. But for me the Lord had placed on my heart at a very young age the understanding that Jesus died for everyone no matter the so-economic standing, religious beliefs or color of skin.

As I grew up my heart for the city and my desire to explore new cultures grew. So I moved to Minneapolis to attend college, though the first college I picked I found that the culture I had been brought up in just followed me up to the college. So I still felt a large hunger in my heart to be around ‘All of God’s people’ and that is when the blessing of youth fell into my lap. I was able to volunteer for a youth group in St. Paul full of kids that skin color had no similarities to mine. I began to see that it was in voices of these children's experiences and realities that laid the true work of Christ. At this time I was just a youth worker who loved kids and camp, race was not as apparent. But as time went on and as I experienced my current job, God began to show me the very subtle, destructive divide between the white and blacks in our country, in our state, in our city; actually on every block in North Minneapolis, "Jesus prayed that believers might be brought to complete unity—a process of which we are a part of (John 17:20-23)"

I moved to north Minneapolis about seven months ago and have worked at my current job for almost two years in that time I have been blessed to see the world from the eyes of the beautiful children of North Minneapolis. Their stories entail drug abuse, poverty, physical abuse, hunger, stress and racism. They also entail strength, insight, love, compassion and an understanding of the world many of us will never have. Through their lives God began to show me that "Love for God and others is a continuing ‘debt’ we spend our whole lives paying off (Rom. 13:8)." I cannot fix the sin of those before them but I have begun to see that I can apologize for the sin of my skin. There are chains on the ankles of these children and on mine because of the sins of my forefathers and with the Love of Christ I have begun to see that no amount of ignoring, money or programs will break these chains that are holding us all down.

I grew up a poor white girl in southern Iowa, and I have been able to get a great education, get any job I have needed or wanted and have lived in many unseen privileges. I was able to change my background through an education and a good job, but for the children in the North Minneapolis they will never be able to change the history of oppression and prejudice that has plagued their skin just by getting a better job or nicer things. Their skin color and all that lives with it will follow them every day. That is why I believe as a white American I must acknowledge my privilege, ask forgiveness for the cost it has had on my fellow brothers and sisters and continue to speak the truth through Christ Jesus. I believe that one day through the grace of God the children of the North Side will have a chance to step out into a world that no longer defines them by their race but rather by the image God made them in.