Integration and Community Schools

Three days a week this school year, I dropped my kids off this morning over by the side door. The man at the door waves hello but does not come to open the doors, he has already learned which mini-vans have automatic doors. I roll down the window so I can hear his music. This man has gotten himself a portable blue tooth speaker and he plays funk classics every morning, just to get the kids’ day started off right. He runs a tiny gentlemen’s school where he instructs the boys to tuck in their shirts and let the ladies go first. He looks the boys in the eye, man to man. He notices and compliments the color of the new bows on top of the girls heads. He is just so good at his job.

My youngest has become especially close with her para-pro. This doesn’t surprise me. Priscilla has been welcome in that classroom since Juliet was there 2 years ago. The para-pro hasn’t changed and she has always been fond of Priscilla. In my girl’s school, when they say that they are a community school, they mean that. If you are part of the community, you are in, even if that means that your sister goes to the school and you hang around when your dad is volunteering in the cafeteria.

This winter I led a coat drive for the kids in the school who needed one. I put a link on the internet in, and in three hours the coats were on the way to my house. I packed them into my mini van and delivered them to a social worker who had been praying for God to provide for the children in her care.

A week later Juliet came home with a new coat. I knew hers was a little short in the arms but we  live in Georgia and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to wait one more year. After outfitting everyone who had no coat, they moved on to the kids who had coats that were obviously too small. My daughter jumped into my van after school totally thrilled “Mom! Look! I got a new coat! It has a heart on it!” She was thrilled. I was horrified.

I could have gotten my daughter a coat. I could have taken care of that. I did not need a hand out. They didn’t see it like that. The community saw me as a member of the family. They had something we could use, so they gave it to us. We all gave and we all took and everyone got what they needed.

I have been in the church my whole life, and I think I have learned more about community at this school than I have at any other church I have attended. I learned how good it was to be able to say “we love our coat too!” when someone thanked me for theres. It wasn’t charity that I gave and they received. It was just a community thing that we all benefit from.

This morning I heard yet another program on NPR lamenting the fact that American schools are segregated. I read somewhere else recently that most people want the schools their kids attend to be integrated. And yet, many choose vouchers and charters and moving into a different district before they will send their kids to a school that is less than thirty percent white. We want integrated schools in theory. We want a better system but we don’t want to do the things that would change the system we currently have. We want schools that are comfortable to us, that work like white schools, but have kids of color in them. We still want to be in charge. We want a community school that values efficiency above teaching boys how to open doors and noticing hair bows.

I am so grateful that I am learning a new way from my kids school, that my girls are being taught this community way while they are young enough to absorb it as simply the way things are done. Where you notice, and care for, and invite in, and welcome, and share. I am glad for the ways my community is patient with me, in learning those things alongside my girls. I too want integrated schools, but I don’t want a white take over of a school that is already beautifully functioning. I don’t want things my way, I want to do better. I want people to join me who want to do better too.

Advertisements

Do You Know What an Innocent Black Kid Looks Like?

It is June 9, and in about half the country school is out for summer. For me and my girls this means pool time at our friends apartment complex and an excessive amount of outside foods (watermelon, popsicles, klondike bars). It means hanging out in our pajamas until lunch time and cheap matinee movies when it is raining. It means less rules and more sleep. It means summer fun.

But this isn’t the reality for very many of my neighbors. In my predominantly black neighborhood, I am only just learning the dangers of summer. For my neighbors summer means more sleepless nights and more fear. Our predominantly black neighborhood is changing quickly, old abandoned houses turn to cute renovated open floor plan funky colored relator peddled property in two weeks or less. They never stay on the market long. Apparently, we’re up and coming.

For me, this means that our “buy as much as we can afford” plan from eight years ago looks like a genius investment, for my neighbors it means their teenage boys are more likely to be harassed on the neighborhood streets. On the first day of summer a kid was traumatized for riding his bike to his friends house. He hadn’t even left his own neighborhood. His mother documented it on Twitter, otherwise it would not be news.

I wish I could tell you that I don’t know how this happens. I wish I could tell you that it is a mystery to me, but it isn’t. At twenty-three and surrounded by black children I found myself reacting as I had been trained. Having mostly seen black boys portrayed as criminals in the media, I interpreted benign actions as aggressive. I wish I could tell you I am the only one. But my neighborhood Facebook page, the Nextdoor site tell another story.

The suspicious people being reported in my gentrified neighborhood are almost all brown. The people being suspicious are almost all white. People opening car doors or looking in windows I understand, but every once in a while there is a post about a group of teenagers hanging out. What are they doing? Why are they there? Should we call the police? Sometimes it is just a particularly large or slow walking man the poster is curious about. They have conveniently snapped a picture so we can all take a look, decide if the person walking down the street is up to no good.

It took me a year surrounded by black teenage boys to learn what an innocent teenager looked like. It took me a year to figure out that I was surrounded by innocent teenage boys.

When we moved into the neighborhood eight years ago, a group of boys were on the corner just hanging out. I rolled slowly by as to not hit anyone who made a sudden move and they crossed their arms and mean-mugged me. I thought it was hilarious. I knew what innocent teenage boys looked like.  I rolled down my window and in my best and brightest first day of school voice I introduced myself. “My name is Abby! We just moved in! We live in that brown house over there! It is nice to meet you!” They raised their eyebrows at me and walked away. I saw them on the corner pretty much every day that summer. I waved. They mostly ignored me.

It took me another year to realize that this was a defense mechanism, that the boys guessed that I would see them as a threat regardless of how they acted, so they may as well be in charge of their own destiny. At 16 or so, they were already familiar with nervous white women calling the cops on them for no good reason. They already knew there was nothing they could do to diffuse white fear.

White fear has to diffuse itself.

But I rarely see white fear diffuse itself. Instead it ignores itself, justifies itself, if called out defends itself. White fear is allowed to exist, even if it kills black kids. And I get it, I do. It is horrible and awful to realize that the default thought you have about a group of kids is: criminal. It is really terrible to realize you have this racial bias, even when you don’t want it. But these things need to be faced, because they are actually traumatizing people, sometimes killing them.

I wish I could give all the white people in my neighborhood Facebook groups the benefit of the doubt, in fact I am sure that they really do not “mean anything” by the question about the kids on the corner, but it doesn’t matter what we mean. Actions have consequences.

White women, do we know how dangerous our fear is? Do we know how seriously it is taken? A few summers ago I was walking my overly friendly dog. We walked up my driveway just as a man walked by my house. I turned to say hello and my pit-bull pulled at the leash, I smiled and turned to tell him how friendly my dog was. He already had his hands raised. “Please don’t sic your dog on me.”

I was stunned. As a white woman I am conditioned to believe that I am never a threat, that my presence is never perceived as dangerous. My fear is always justified and I could never hurt a fly. But this isn’t true. My fear has been weaponized against the black community before I was born. My concern is reason enough for a child to be harassed or a gun to be drawn for my protection. If I feel afraid, I am allowed to sic my dog on a man who is walking in front of my house. This is the world that we live in. And when we feel afraid we need to know that.

We need to look at ourselves and our fear. We need to really understand why we are afraid. Do you know what innocent black boys look like? I am asking because I didn’t. I am asking because I don’t want my neighborhood to be a place where my black neighbors are harassed for existing in their communities. I know it is weird and uncomfortable. I know I will be accused of race baiting and blowing things out of proportion simply for writing all of this down. I have decided black lives are worth a lot more than my own discomfort.

It is summer, and teenage boys are out of school, teenage girls are wandering around in packs laughing too loudly, children are biking to their friends house. Everyone is staying out too late. At least, I hope they are. I hope they all get the summer my kids are guaranteed. I know that the world can feel like a scary place, but we need to react with the reality that is: Our fear makes it a scarier place for people of color.

Do you know what an innocent black kid looks like? Do you check yourself before you report something? Are you willing to look at yourself, your motives, your fear? Are black lives worth that to you?

To Juliet, On her Seventh Birthday

Dear Juliet,

Yesterday you turned seven. Seven. You did a lot of growing up this year. You have more grown up teeth in your mouth than little ones. Your pants are constantly too short. Your arms and legs seem to grow at a pace that is only matched by your appetite. You are always hungry. You are just so long.

Yesterday, after cupcakes at school and dinner at the play place with your cousins, and ice cream cake you picked out yourself at the Baskin Robbins, your cousin came home and told your Aunt Jill, “Juliet is a good sharerer.” You are. At seven years old you are exceptionally good at sharing, at including, at kindness. You spend most of your time at your Aunt’s house playing with your baby cousin because he needs someone to play with. You are quick to let people play with your new toys. I have lost track of the number of adults who have pulled me aside to tell me of the encouraging word you told them.

“You are doing a great job! You are beautiful! Your baby is so cute! I see you are a good mom!” I have heard all of these things come out of your mouth right to a stranger, and I have seen their faces light up as they look at me astounded. Please don’t grow out of giving strangers compliments. They desperately need to be told how good they are, we all do.

This year, you have decided that you are going to grow up and be president. You were a little worried about who would take care of your kids if you did that. I offered to move into the Whitehouse, your sister promised not to protest you as long as you didn’t do anything bad. You have been discussing with her, very seriously, the laws that you would employ. Mostly, you just think everyone should share, and everyone should be kind to each other, and no killing. That is it. That is what you want the world to look like.

The older you get the more I can see the ways the world is pressing up against you. You are just so innocent. You are just so joyful. You are just so willing to believe the best about everyone, everywhere, every time. I spend equal moments being in awe of this, and worrying about when this spark will be extinguished. This year though I am beginning to suspect the answer is never. You are more resilient than I give you credit for. I think this is just your gift to the world. I think you are just a gift to the world.

All my Love,

Mom

White Women, Can We Do Better?

I participated in the hashtag #thingsonlychristianwomenhear. I finally recognized that God was calling me into the ministry when I was a member of a Southern Baptist church, a church that did not affirm my call because I was a women. Their policies didn’t allow it. It was a confusing time and an especially hurtful blow from people who were so readily affirming me in so many other areas. It was hard. I loved my church, they loved me. But they could not support me in what I was sure God was calling me to do. It felt like they could not totally see me.

Like most social media phenomena that catches on, there were a huge number of women tweeting their own stories through #thingsonlychristianwomencanhear and then some weird male replies about how we needed to stop talking about the church like that….it was weird. And completely unsurprising.

The next part is also completely unsurprising. There were some round up posts highlighting some of the tweets. Almost all of those highlights disproportionately highlighted white women. There were women of color using the hashtag. Mostly, they were not included in the roundups. Mostly they were not heard.

I wish I could tell you I noticed,  but I didn’t. Danyelle at the Unfit Christian pointed it out to me. I was just excited my name was on the same list as some of my favs. Oops.

As white women who are saying, we are told especially harmful things because of our social location in the church, it is imperative that we hear our sisters say that same exact thing from a different social location, one that we in some ways share (ladies unite!) and also one we could never know (hello racial disparities).

Here is the thing that is TOTALLY BIZARRE to me. We say the exact same things to our sisters of color that we completely role our eyes at when men say them to us. When a man tells us they don’t know any gifted women who want in the pulpit, we know it is because they haven’t looked. If you twitter feed was covered in those who looked like you and no one else using that hashtag, you aren’t following enough women of color. They are there. Can you see them?

Y’all, we know WE KNOW how hurtful it is when someone cannot see us because of who God has designed us to be. We know, WE KNOW what it feels like to go into a space knowing you are not really wanted there. We know, WE KNOW how hurtful it is to go to someone and say “hey, will you see me?” and have them brush it off with a shrug and a comment that makes it clear that they will not.

Those of us familiar with this wound should be the first who are able to say I am sorry to those who have inflicted the same kind of hurt onto. We can do better. If we are the ones who are familiar with this hurt, we are the ones who should be the first to recognize when we inflict it on another.

I don’t know how to solve systemic sexism, or racism. I don’t even really know how to get my kids to church on time on Sundays, but I do know that God calls us to do what we can with what we have.

I went on Twitter and started the hashtag #womenofcolortofollow (after first starting one that incorrectly labeled these women. Y’all. I’m not trying to put myself out here as perfect. I messed up. I corrected it. I was not yelled at. I was thanked. We can do this.) If you don’t have a lot of women of color in your life, in your blog role, on your twitter feed start there. Other people have joined in.

White women, here I think is ultimately my question for each of us. Will we use our hurts in being excluded in conversations as a reason to box out other people so we can keep our space? Or, will we practice allowing the ways we have been hurt to inform our hearing hurts our sisters of color? Will we work toward the kingdom of God?

On being whole and taking Prozac

My word for the year is “whole.” I had decided sometime in December that I wasn’t going to get my word for 2017 until epiphany. I would just let it go, and just like that it came into my head. Whole. My word for 2017 is whole. I spent January and February and some of March writing it everyday on my hand. All capital, all lower case, all cursive, big, small, colored ink, blank. Every day on my left hand: whole.

I want to be whole.

I gave up negative self talk for Lent. I announced it cheekily on my Facebook page and invited everyone to join me. Only, I couldn’t. I could not give up the voices in my head telling me I was not enough, telling me I would fail, telling me that everything was too hard and I was too soft and I just could not keep up with my life so why try? Praying it away wasn’t enough.

How do you commit to being whole when every third thought you have is that you are irreversibly broken?

When I went on vacation with just my husband and still could not shake the feeling that something was coming for me, that I was not enough (Y’all all we had to do all day was wander around and eat, how could I not be enough?) I knew I could not do this on my own. I called from our hotel room to take advantage of the free student counseling through my school. I got in the next day, and the day after that I got a psychiatrist referral, and the day after that a prescription for Prozac.

I gave myself permission to take it for two weeks, be incredibly gentle with myself, and just try to maintain C’s. I told some of my professors. My preaching professor, who I have ridiculous amounts of respect for looked me dead in the face and reminded me that my wholeness was more important than any grade I could get. I knew this, but being reminded was certainly God’s grace to me that day.

I am almost at the end of my two weeks. My appetite is kind of off, and I feel a little shaky at the wrists, but I am not so scared of life anymore. I am able to see that some of my thoughts (like they are going to kick me out for incorrect citations) are maybe not totally rational, and that maybe there is no need to hold myself to an impossible standard then berate myself for not attaining it all the time.

Monday after school I was able to take the girls easter dress shopping. It was hard, but not impossible. After we picked out my dresses (they really wanted me to get a pink lacy one, I declined. Dresses with rhinestones were also quietly vetoed) and I tried them on. (Priscilla says: That one is cute but so not you. She was right. It was returned to the racks.) They wanted the same experience, so we collected three dresses a piece and tried them on and chose.

I know my plate is always full, but I would not have had the space for this without meds. Of that much I am sure. It was a big win. I could follow today in systematic theology without talking myself down. I am not as anxious that I will fail out of school.

A week ago today I planted seeds as an act of prayer. It wasn’t my idea, these seeds of hope. I was too far in the dark. I am too used to killing off plants. I took this little pot and put it on the window. I would have told you that I forgot about it but I must have been looking at it every day because I noticed when it sprouted. My seeds of hope sprouted. There are four of them now, and they keep getting taller.

I am not fully healed. I think I am headed in the right direction but there is still some work to be done, some blood tests, some checking in, probably some therapy. But there are seeds of hope. I can sort out the thoughts as helpful and not. I can take my kids Easter dress shopping. I can do my assignments without talking myself down. These are all good things. I can nurture this grace that is growing inside of me. I can feel it growing. I am working my way toward whole.

 

If the Yoke Ain’t Easy

I am over at She Loves today writing about quitting. This season is hard. I mostly feel like I am treading water. I mostly feel like the waves are coming anyway. Five weeks until the end of the semester. I got this. I hope.

At the same time that I know I am overwhelmed just in my day to day I am also overwhelmed by the pressing needs of my community, my state, my world.  I am paralyzed by this more than I care to admit. I do not have a life that I can be paralyzed in. The Lord is working this out with me.

 

Everywhere I look there is work to be done. Everywhere.

My kids’ school sends home fliers asking, always asking. For wipes, for Kleenex, for dry-erase markers, for paper. They need chaperones and cupcakes for the Valentine’s Day party. They need time and resources and they are doing good good work, and I want to help. I do. But I only have so much time and resources. If I am totally honest I would much rather fill out a grant application for a teacher than chaperone a Pre-K Valentine’s Day party.

My church is doing good good work. We have a breakfast ministry and a community closet. We have an arts ministry and a partnership with a village in Haiti. We have about 60 kids who scuttle off to Sunday school every Sunday. We need greeters and parking attendants, and people to make the coffee. Who will cook? Who will serve? Who will fold clothes carefully into bags or teach children about how much God loves them?  We have a congregation who are all right around the same age as me. We are all in our tired thirties. Who has the time? Who has the energy? Someone needs to do it or the church won’t run.

You can read the rest here.

On Being Frozen and Learning of Abundance

I.

I wore black the day after the election. Black pants, black tank top, black blazer. I wore my darkest lipstick. I didn’t know what else to do. I had a class to go to. We met in the youth detention center. I had things to do, and people to see, and Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited to discuss. But I also desperately needed to mourn. I desperately needed to show on the outside the despair on the inside. I woke up in a foreign land, one I thought I knew but no longer recognized.

I don’t know that the darkness has lifted for me. I wake up in a start a lot. I have been having a lot of trouble sleeping, (especially if I don’t limit my Facebook scrolling). I never really know what is coming next. Sometimes it is the thing that breaks my heart, but often it is the reaction by a church I feel I no longer know. I thought you taught me to love my neighbor. I thought you wanted me to make big sacrifices for God. It is like coming back to my childhood home only to find not just the furniture re-arranged, but also the walls.

II.

I have been invited to more Facebook groups than I can count. Women of the Resistance, Georgia Blues, Ten things in Ten days. I see them. They are all doing good work. I want to do that work. I want to flip my county and resist, and do ten things in ten days. I want to be a part of the change I need to see in this world. I want for things to be different. But mostly, I scroll through my Facebook feed and feel afraid. I think about how there are other things to do, make dinner, write my paper, go to a protest, call my senator…again. I could paint post cards and sell them and donate the profits to the ACLU or the Refugee Relief Fund or even to the social worker at my girl’s school. We need shoes, and snacks, and paper. I should do all of those things. Instead I sit on the couch frozen until my kids remind me that they are hungry. I pull the bag of  chicken nuggets out of the freezer and pre-heat the oven. I decide that and an orange is good enough for all of us. Again.

III.

I sit in the back of the church scrolling through my social media feeds. I know this is sort of rude and inappropriate but I can feel myself coming unglued and I do not want to break apart in the back pew. Again. I get a text from my friend. She is about to go to the front and tell us about the work she has been doing. Can I record her? I hold my phone and watch her explain to the congregation about answering a post on social media from her bed. Yes, she could take her youngest to an apartment complex and tutor a woman who has come to America as a refugee. Yes. She could do that. I laugh with her as she explains her anxieties, how she is terrible at small talk, but they don’t speak the same language so that is a non-issue, how kids and moms are the same in some ways across all cultures, how saying the same word over and over again becomes ridiculous no matter the cultural barriers. I watch her and there is just a flicker of hope inside of me. I don’t need my screen because this knowledge grounds me: This thing matters. Going to a woman’s house and teaching her the words for her groceries matters. My friend is doing the work of the Lord, every day she goes into that house, and also right now, her testimony does holy work in my heart.

IV.

I sit on the couch of a friend who has moved to the opposite corner of the country than me. It is a rare thing to find a couple whom you adore in equal parts. We have managed to maintain our friendship despite the distance. We are talking about the contrast in the messages we grew up with in our evangelical youth groups. We are talking about the ways we feel abandoned in the adult versions of a belief that we were given as teens. Do you think it is because we were too fast or too slow? he asks. Neither of us are people who are used to not understanding. I drink some wine and think. Both? I respond. We were fast in understanding the implications of that message, maybe better than they did. We were slow in the ways we believed that they believed what they were telling us as surely as we did. Now we are drinking wine together, silently, wondering what land our faith has left us in.

V.

I was taught to look for my Esther moment, for my such a time as this. And I feel like I am in a foreign land, and I am shocked by the cruel and unjust decisions of my leader, and I wonder if God has abandoned us because of our hard hearts. Where is Moses leading us out of this mess? Where is Esther, born to subvert the king she sits next to? Where are the prophets doing weird life as performance art in the name of God? I know these things are supposed to have 5 parts, but this story isn’t over.

VI.

I ask these questions moments before I get into a car with someone I have known since 22 to meet with women I have only ever met on the internet. I come wandering, wondering, empty. I come to meet with women who mostly feel the same way. One by one they stand up and say the things they are doing, are feeling, are called to. Each one isn’t a whole lot, until it is. Until you have had your head held by a woman who spent a whole year learning to be present, until you get an eye brow raise and a ‘let’s try it’ from a woman who has spent years learning to say yes her dream, until you get thanked for following your calling to seminary by a woman saved your faith so many times you lost count. These things that you felt in your hands don’t matter, in other people’s hands it is broken open, like manna from heaven, like fish and bread. Maybe all you have is so small that you want to just go back to bed. Maybe you do it anyway. Maybe it is enough.