About lambamile

I am a storyteller. Sometimes my stories are fictional. Often they are personal. Sometimes they are about people I have met, spoken with, or read about. Yet I am an artist too. My canvas is a blank page. Words are the paint that animate my sheet.

Sacrifice for My Freedom

IMG_5248Several years ago I had a disturbing dream that left me shaken after I awoke. Yet it’s a dream that has stayed with me.

I had gone for a walk through some wooded hills where others were hiking. I hadn’t strolled far when I spotted three animals running up the trail towards us. I climbed onto a fallen tree, but the tree was rotted and my weight caused the trunk to cave in and I crashed against the largest of the approaching animals—a giant horse. The horse kicked at me, but I was near its neck so began to stroke its mane and succeeded in calming it. The other two animals—a baby bear and a beaver—rambled past. All the hikers ran up the trail, afraid of the approaching beasts.

I moved past the animals and continued down the trail until I discovered an “Alice In Wonderland” playground nestled along the edge of the path. I thought of how I would inform my friends on Facebook about my discovery as I began to explore its premises. I climbed through the playhouse and slid down the slides, thinking that someday I would bring the children I cared for as a nanny to visit. Then I heard a young girl in the basement sandbox of the playhouse singing. Perplexed that she was there alone, I found her and asked about parents. She seemed unaware that they weren’t present and continued singing and playing, immersed in her own world. I had encountered a suspicious-looking man watching me when I was on the slide and was afraid to leave her playing alone. Before I could remove her, however, the man approached us, intent on the girl. I tried to stop him, but he said he would rape me and then her if I didn’t move. So I ran for help.

“So you are going to sacrifice this girl for your own freedom!” the man yelled after me, as I jogged up the hill.

The man was ugly and obese and I knew I could not succeed against him. I also thought that even if he raped me, it would likely not allow enough time for other adults to arrive to rescue the girl and then she would have witnessed the man harming me as well. I ran up the trail, yelling for parents to come to their daughter’s rescue. Three dads and a couple of moms came sprinting and we returned to the playhouse, flung open the door and found the man on top of the girl, just finishing.

The other adults exchanged angry words with the man, but he was smug and unapologetic.

“Look, I also work at Microsoft,” he said, attempting to form allegiance with another dad. The parents let the man go.

“This is not right!” I yelled. “We must report this to the justice system. We cannot allow this man to continue to prey on children like this!”

As the man sulked away, I pulled out my camera and began taking his photo, hoping that I could document his face to show authorities. The playground had noe become an amusement park where many families had come for recreation.

~

When I awoke and pondered the dream, I recognized that the man’s words to me express an attitude towards my life purpose. If I choose to simply enjoy my life and do nothing to prevent and expose exploitation of vulnerable girls, I am in fact sacrificing them for my freedom.

Why is the city of Flint allowed to waste away? 

This week’s guest blog post comes to us from writer, poet, educator, artist and social activist Katelyn Durst. Katelyn is a close friend of mine, writing companion and former colleague at Urban Impact. Her piece opens with the current lead-crisis in Flint, Michigan and spins out to larger unresolved historical crisis this situation represents. Finally, her words ricochet back to our modern crisis of unnecessary deaths  that could also have been avoided. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this piece is that within a month Katelyn will be relocating to Flint, Michigan. Thanks, Katelyn, for sharing your poetry with us and may you continue to use your art to challenge injustices in your new hometown! 

It’s February in Flint, Michigan

And children will make paper heart Valentines

Red, pink and purple paper

With “Be Mine” written in marker

They will hold in their lead-filled tears for now

Save them for a squeaky swing set on a Sunday

For a hospital bed in fifty years

When brain damage has made them a raisin

“This all could have been avoided,”

Said Dan Wyant, former quality of department of environmental quality

This like all forms of hate could have been completely avoidable

Just like the 3,346 lynchings of Blacks in Mississippi

Just like the 10,000 Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, Meskie, Chickasaw, Chakta

Who were forced from their ancestral homeland

Just like the man in blue

With a gun who is gray with lightning

And the yellow thunder that follows

Only seconds behind.

13920662_10154147708395020_1796666940873281490_nKatelyn Durst is a poet and community artist who has been working with visionary youth all over the country for the past 6 years.She has just began a master’s program in urban studies and community arts which employs arts-based community development to transform at-risk communities. Most recently, Katelyn worked with the Children’s Defense Freedom Schools program at Rainier Beach High School, a program that implements a reading curriculum that celebrates diverse cultures and civil rights activism and is written by authors of color, where she worked alongside 9th and 10th graders in community activism and positive identity building. She currently teaches therapeutic poetry with Pongo Teen Writing. Her poetry has appeared in The LightKeeper, The Offbeat, Teen Inc,New Poetry Magazine and is upcoming in Tayo Literary Magazine and The Primal School. In Katelyn’s spare time, she can be found dreaming about starting her own urban farm, baking gluten free cakes and biking her neighborhood.

The Virtuous Woman: A Social Entrepreneur

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Neighbor and dear friend of mine when I lived in Bangladesh

The Bible may not be the first place you’d look for examples of social entrepreneurs-men and women who enter the business world with a purpose beyond making a profit. However, I believe social entrepreneurs existed even back in Old Testament times. When social wrongs needed to be made right, men and women who loved God extended that love by helping their neighbors much like social entrepreneurs do today. Perhaps few have recognized these individuals as “social entrepreneurs” because people have traditionally viewed them as saints. And saints seem impossible to mimic. As Bornstein put it in How to change the world: Social Entrepreneurs and the power of new ideas, “One can analyze an entrepreneur, but how does one analyze a saint?”(p. 92).

One such saint is a woman I have re-identified as a social entrepreneur: the Virtuous Woman of Proverbs 31. As I unpacked each verse, I discovered traits that could be applied to any woman desiring to honor God through her business and social engagements. Let’s take a look, verse by verse:

Proverbs 31:10. A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.

She’s high-value because quality traits define her character. These traits form the foundation of all she does-from caring for others to starting a new business.

Proverbs 31:11. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.

The people she is close to trust her. She handles money and resources wisely. Furthermore, she can be trusted with people,  finances and key information. She is dependable, delivering on what she said she would do.

Proverbs 31:12. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

Throughout her entire life she works for the good of those to whom she is close. She gives herself to this work for the long-term. It is not a passing phase that she tries for a couple of years and then moves onto more interesting endeavors. She offers life and energy to those whom she’s around in a fashion that’s consistent and sustainable.

Proverbs 31:13. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.

She is an ambitious, hard worker. She does not limit her products to one source, but utilizes renewable forms of both plant and animal materials for constructing her products.

Proverbs 31:14. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. 

She will gather resources from distant lands. She is not content with the limitations of local options and is willing to travel to secure quality products. In order to do this, she is aware of what is available in the world beyond local market.

Proverbs 31:15. She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.

Although an ambitious business-woman, she does not neglect her family and the people closest to her. She ensures that her family is well-fed and nourished. She also treats her employees well, even rising early in order to feed them.

Proverbs 31:16. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

By considering her purchases, I infer that she shopped around before securing this vineyard. Besides, she had already made a profit from other endeavors and with those profits, she invests in this new enterprise.

Proverbs 31:17. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.

She has physical strength and stamina and is relentless in her work (nowadays we might denote this as #womenwholift).

Proverbs 31:18. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.

I used to think that a lamp not going out at night was an indicator that this woman never slept. Perhaps, however, this actually means that because she is only buying quality products, she will have the sort of oil in her lamp that lasts through the night.  In the King James Version, trade is called “merchandise.”  Another interpretation could be that she leaves a lamp on for traders who might arrive in the middle of the night.One thing, however, is certain from this verse: Her business secures profits. 

Proverbs 31:19. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

Like Ghandi, this woman is a spinner. She engages in the same basic skill work as any other woman or servant girl of her time and culture would do. In Globalization, spirituality, and justice, Groody wrote, “Gandhi grounded his life on the plight of the poor, and he dedicated himself to living in solidarity with them” (p.  157). The virtuous women seems to build similar solidarity by working with her hands.

Proverbs 31:20. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.

Her business is about more than making a profit so family can live in comfort! She is concerned for the poor and needy and gives of herself to help them. The heart of a true social entrepreneur.

Proverbs 31:21. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

She is prepared for life hardships and challenges. She is not intimidated by seasonal changes or nature’s difficulties. Boldness defines her outlook even for the more difficult seasons.

Proverbs 31:22. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

She dresses in a way that garners respect. Silk and purple were items only nobility could normally afford perhaps because they were imported from faraway places or possibly simply because of the silk-making process at the time (Good, p. 959).

Proverbs 31:23. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

She will only be closely connected to those who are also respectable. Conversely, by association to her, close relationships, such as a spouse, automatically gain respect.

Proverbs 31:24. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.

She produces quality products and keeps her merchants well-supplied.

Proverbs 31:25. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.

Strong character enables this woman to be hopeful and optimistic. She is not anxious but can smile because she has prepared for the future.

Proverbs 31:26. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

She does not waste words gossiping, but considers others when speaking. Her words are both kind and intelligent to all she’s around, whether training employees or networking with other entrepreneurs.

Proverbs 31:27. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.

She is responsible with all that she has been entrusted. She is not lazy but equipped herself to manage her household.

Proverbs 31:28. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.

She has not neglected family in all her business endeavors. In fact, those closest to her are first to praise her.

Proverbs 31:29. Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.

She does not settle for meritocracy.

Proverbs 31:30. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

She is not defined by outward appearances but rather her relationship with God.

Proverbs 31:31. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

She deserves the reward she worked hard to earn. She will receive civil recognition. She does not praise herself; others do that for her, as do her good works.

Travel By Number: How Each Enneagram Type Approaches International Development

During my most recent excursion outside the US, I was drifting to sleep one night and musing on how each Enneagram type approaches international development, as well as traveling abroad in general (yes, these are the types of things I think about when trying to fall asleep). Aggregated here with memes for your enjoyment. If you know your type, let me know how well my descriptions match you!

fair-trade-hipster

Type 1: I’m here to help right all that’s wrong and bring about justice—but I’ll do it in the proper way, unlike my forerunners and many of my colleagues.

Souvenir: T-shirt with catchy slogan expressing my sentiments of the world (ideally created in a Fair Trade factory).

hug

Type 2: I’m here to love on everybody—so many people in the world just need love and I’m here to serve them in any way possible.

Souvenir: Photo of me with a child.

leader

Type 3: I’m here to start a movement lead by local, indigenous leaders—though it had better be successful or it won’t look good on my resume.

Souvenir: Gifts for my team of family and friends made by members of the organization I helped start.

hellicopter

Type 4: I’m here to explore the arts and music, the poetry and ancient philosophies of this civilization—and if I come across the dark, morbid side of their arts, that’ll inspire my own creative expressions even more!

Souvenir: Several unique statement pieces of clothing or jewelry to incorporate into my wardrobe.

bookworm

Type 5: While I’m here, I will learn everything I can about this culture and civilization—the history, politics, languages, religions, sports and popular opinions about all of the above.

Souvenir: Book purchased at historical museum or replica of ancient artifact.

safety-first

Type 6: I’m here to do my job well like I’ve been instructed. Please don’t ask me to leave home after dark though because it probably isn’t safe.

Souvenir: Item I could have purchased at home but got for a fraction of the price here.

adventure

Type 7: I’m here for the adventure and the more bazaar it gets the better! I’m here to experience it all—the risks, the fun, the excitement!

Souvenir: Gift from a local friend I just met yesterday.

water fight

Type 8: I’m here to fight injustice! And I will do anything to defend protect my family of local friends who now look to me as a parental figure.

Souvenir: Prize I won in a game or competition.

my people

Type 9: My main goal is to blend into the local culture as much as possible so as not to be conspicuous or create waves. Please teach me everything I need to do in order to be sensitive to people here.

Souvenir: Local clothing worn while there to blend in.

What If He Was My Brother?

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White privilege. 

It took two days before I heard

For others it was a passing news blurb

Meanwhile neighbors of color are scared to walk out their door

Afraid of violence more than ever before

 

White privilege. 

We gather and talk of the weather

While our brothers and sisters get slaughtered

We can avoid taking sides with the government

But for people of color, this ain’t simply an argument!

 

More shots ring out in retaliation

In response to a system we’ve taken for granted

Built in our favor, we called it good

Until police lay dead on the ground where they’d stood

 

Then we ask…

“What if that was my brother

Shot and killed by a sniper

Blood oozing in the streets

From his head to his feet?”

 

Yet what if he was my brother

Only son of my mother

Reached for a wallet

Then the cops shot it?

 

The contrast in outlooks is black and white

As stark as it was during the Civil Rights

White privileged people—we live in our bubbles

Can’t even see how our brothers and sisters suffer.

 

We can be silent when we don’t feel the pain

During outrages of expression, we quietly refrain

When we don’t question one another

With, “What if he was my brother?”

 

To Buy Can be Better Than to Give

IMG_7900My uncle booked a group table at the event I had invited him and my aunt to attend. When I offered to pay for my seat, but he said, “I’ve got you covered. Give whatever you want as a donation to the organization.”

We were at a Nepali fundraiser dinner for Friends of WPC Nepal, an organization dedicated to helping end and prevent human trafficking along the Nepal border. The founder is from a border town herself and growing up watched many of her childhood playmates leave for “opportunities”beyond their small town, only to never return.

At the back of the room was a display table where the founder and her daughter were selling beautiful, high-quality jewelry made by women in Nepal. The jewelry enables Nepali women to have employment in a solid community and prevents them from being trafficked into the sex trade. I thought about how much money I had allocated for this night and toiled between writing a check or purchasing a piece of jewelry.

A little personal background: I don’t enjoy shopping and rarely spend money on clothing, let alone jewelry. I’ve largely adopted my parents’ and grandparents’ model of thrifty living and generous giving. However, as I’ve become more aware of systems of commerce and the people impacted by those systems, I’ve realized that buying cheap clothing in order to write a larger check to a charity working against human trafficking is counter-intuitive when the cheap clothing was made by slave (or underpaid) labor. Or pinching pennies to purchase inexpensive chocolate so that you can have more pennies to donate towards an orphanage is hypocritical when you consider that the cocoa was sourced by child labor and conditions that harmed both people and planet leading to the need for an orphanage!

Furthermore, earning something causes people to value it more and feel greater self-worth than receiving a handout. Earning money can give people the ability to make choices previously unavailable to them, fosters self-esteem and provides opportunities that would not otherwise exist. As the founder of Sari Bari, an enterprise in Kolkata, India, which enables women to leave the sex trade by providing seamstress work, wrote after the first distribution of pay checks to the women, “a job does what a hand out can not…it gives hope and belief in self” (Power of a Paycheck). Case in point: before starting the Sari Bari business, the ministry team had worked for several years in the red light district, but during that time only one woman had left the sex trade. Yet since they began the Sari Bari business in 2006, 117 women have left the trade to find freedom and new lives!

In With Justice for All argued, John Perkins wrote, “Far more than they need our money, the poor need us—people. People with skills who will work with them and teach them how to become self-sufficient” (p.13). I strongly believe that providing people with dignified work is one of the best ways to end poverty and prevent human trafficking. Because of this, I chose to purchase a necklace rather than make a strict donation. Also, I chose it for myself in order to wear it as a conversational starter and promotional piece. When people ask about my necklace, I can tell them about Hetauda House, a place of safety for at-risk girls in Nepal.

I am not against gifts or donations, but sometimes it can be healthy to weigh all options. In this scenario, I felt like buying was a better investment in a cause I believe in than straight up giving.

Note: a few of my other favorite social enterprises that do similar work include the following:

If you know of others you’d recommend, leave a comment.

 

Prayers From Prison

Prayer-in-PrisonAn older, obviously intoxicated man carrying an open beer can blocked our path on the sidewalk. I was strolling back to Rainier Avenue Church with members from my community development team, having just enjoyed dinner at the new Poke’ restaurant in our neighborhood. I avoided eye contact and was about to skirt my way around this “drunk” when my friend Carlotta greeted him.

“Why hello! I’ve missed you!”

His eyes lit up, recognizing his friend.

“I’m gonna come back and pray for you all,” he said.

“Ok. We’ll look forward to seeing you.”

After their cheerful exchange she remarked, “He’s such a sweet man. He comes every Sunday before church and prays with us and for our congregation.”

Wow. I don’t come arrive Sunday mornings to pray for my church. I barely make it on time for the second service most weeks!

Too often we disregard people before we even give them a chance to speak, as I did the “drunk” I passed on the sidewalk. Yet if we paused to listen, we might not only have an opportunity to bless someone but to receive a blessing ourselves. I have found this to be true from the most surprising sources.

IMG_3002For example, last year I began writing letters to a friend I’ve known since childhood but hadn’t seen in over a decade. This friend is incarcerated. Controversy surrounds why he’s where he is. Perhaps he was guilty. Perhaps innocent.[1] The fact remains that he’s a human made in the image of God with a thirst for connection to people, to friends, to his Creator.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus spoke of how one defining quality of the sheep—those who make the right choice and inherit eternal life—was that “I was in prison and you came to visit me” and then explained that when we do it “for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”[2]

My friend lives several states away from me so visiting isn’t realistic. But I can visit in the form of a letter. So every month or two, I send him quotes from books I’ve been reading, verses of encouragement, stories from coworkers who serve in our judicial system and general life updates. He replies when he’s able to since he doesn’t always have money for postage stamps. Our correspondence isn’t romantic; my friend has a fiancé. No, he’s starving for spiritual companions. In fact, he has told me aside from parents and a grandmother, no one writes him now that he’s been locked up for a couple years. Ironically, many who support prison ministry to complete strangers have dismissed him as a “hopeless case” and finally getting what he deserves. Perhaps if he was a stranger to them, they would offer more empathy, more hope, more encouragement.

But the encouragement isn’t a one-way street. In spite of his struggles, depression and constant relocation, my friend always asks how he can pray for me and I’ve experienced acute answers to those prayers. In my most recent letter from this friend, he closed saying, “I pray for you every day.”

Wow. Few people say this to me. Fewer yet do it. Other than my parents and perhaps a couple grandmas, I suspect no one prays for me every single day. Honestly I don’t pray for anyone on an ongoing daily basis like that.

I am continually amazed not only that prayer often comes from the most unexpected sources but that those very sources put me to shame by the regularity of their prayers. I guess that’s because desperation drives us to God. Or as Jesus put it, “People who are well do not need a doctor, but only those who are sick. I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.”[3]

~

[1] The fact that he’s a person of color in a slanted justice system makes me speculate that even if guilty he’s facing harsher treatment than he would were he white. But that’s another topic for another blog post. For those interested in a comprehensive, well-researched work on race and the US justice system, please read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

[2] Matthew 25:36 & 40

[3] Mark 2:17, Good News Translation

If My Hosts Were Refugees

footwashing

Receiving a phone call from my director while my Bengali sister was washing my feet.

“When tragedy happens we look for someone to blame,” my pastor said this past Sunday, reflecting on Orlando’s mass shooting that occurred the night before and imploring us to pause to grieve the lives taken. Yet blame is the easiest thing to do. It’s what the religious leaders during Jesus’ time on earth were all about: catch a woman in adultery and blame her. Find a man born blind and blame him or his parents for sinning. The list goes on.

One community that’s receiving blame after this incident is Muslim immigrants and refugees.

We blame our fears and we fear what’s unfamiliar. Among communities of faith, some might discourage encounters with people holding worldviews different from their own because such interactions could result in questioning or even rejecting their beliefs. For me, however, engaging on a deep level with people holding beliefs varied from my own has actually expanded and deepened my faith. Living several years in Bangladesh gave me insights on stories from the Bible that I would have never recognized had I stayed in the United States. Furthermore, my Muslim friends taught me about reverencing God, showing hospitality to strangers and praying in a disciplined fashion. To this day I still pray with my palms facing up, a position that indicates receptiveness to receiving God’s blessing.

A couple stories from the book I’ve been writing offer additional glimpses into the spiritual insights I gained from my experience of living with a Muslim family in a country far from my own:

Daisy*, the younger of the two daughters, was an energetic artist with a zest for life. Her older, more docile sister Nadine* would tease us and say that Daisy and I were “dushtu bons” (naughty sisters). She sometimes accompanied me to the English service at the Assembly of God church and after one service asked me to explain the meaning of the word “fellowship.”

“It’s like when you’re worshipping and you feel connected to God,” I tried to explain. She looked at me confused. As I was reflecting on our conversation later in the week, Revelation 3:20 came to mind:

“Look! I have been standing at the door, and I am constantly knocking. If anyone hears me calling him and opens the door, I will come in and fellowship with him and he with me.”

I thought of how Daisy and her family demonstrated hospitality to me, a trait prominent in Muslim cultures. My western mind was blown as I realized my understanding of “fellowship” had been limited and shaped by my religious experiences and had deviated from the original Biblical context. I excitedly shared the verse with Daisy and my insight into the meaning of this word that she had been so wonderfully displaying to me.

Another evening I shared the Last Supper story about how Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.

“You all have been doing so much for me,” I said. “But Jesus taught that we should serve others. And in his day, people wore sandals and had very dirty feet, much like here. So I would like to wash your feet.”

“Oh no! You can’t possibly wash our feet!” they exclaimed.

I was their honored guest and a foreigner at that! They insisted on washing mine and I eventually agreed on the terms that I would get to wash theirs in exchange. It was a beautiful, sacred moment and gave me insight into the depth of shock Jesus’ disciples must have felt when their leader washed their feet.

~

Yet should friends like Daisy and Nadine find themselves in the United States, I cannot promise they would receive the same level of hospitality. Should they with their brothers and mother come to my country, the United States of America, would anyone invite them to their home? For many refugees and immigrants, they never get offered a drink of water, let alone someone giving up their own bed and washing their dirty feet! Fear causes us to suspect, rather than welcome. Biases presume that newcomers arrive only to take with little to offer. And simple busyness prevents many of us in the United States from engaging deeply with anyone, especially our newest neighbors in town!

Although I haven’t blamed these communities, I’ve still found myself making stereotypical assumptions. For instance, two weeks ago my pastor showed a video of a brief interview with a refugee family whom we at Rainier Avenue Church are welcoming into our neighborhood. As the father told his story, the mother sat in silence, hushing their children. I assumed she knew little to no English and had no formal education. Imagine my surprise when the interviewer turned to her and in English more fluent than her husbands, she told of how she had a degree in computer science and had worked at a university in Baghdad. Assumptions busted! She and her husband have so many talents to offer—from education to experience. Yet how well will we welcome them? When they apply for jobs, will we turn them away? When they ask for a place to sleep, will we tell them to get out of our already-crowded city? I am grateful to organizations like World Relief that are helping families like this one get connected to housing, jobs and most importantly people. And perhaps in welcoming new friends the way they would to us in their country, we will experience deeper understanding of each other and of God. For in the words of a twentieth-century prophet:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.
Hate multiplies hate,
violence multiplies violence,
and toughness multiplies toughness
in a descending spiral of destruction….
The chain reaction of evil —
hate begetting hate,
wars producing more wars —
must be broken,
or we shall be plunged
into the dark abyss of annihilation.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Strength To Love, 1963

*Names changed to protect privacy

Neighborhood Dreams

Rainier Valley Heritage Parade 2015

This guest post comes from Lauren Squires who volunteers with me on the Community Development team at Rainier Avenue Church. She recently shared this vision with our team, a group dedicated to our South Seattle neighborhood of Hillman City. An Urban Planner, Lauren sees community development through holistic lens that consider issues like sustainable transportation solutions alongside human equity and economic capacities. Her vision was inspired by an activity she participated in at CommonLife’s monthly neighborhood gatherings known as Fellowship of the Neighborhood. Thanks, Lauren, for sharing your thoughts; through shared vision and collaboration, such a dream can become a reality!

After a busy day at work, I hop on my bicycle to ride home up over Beacon Hill to Hillman City from downtown. Catching glimpses of the vistas, the Cascades saying goodnight to the Olympics as the spring sun settles behind. I wave, nod and smile to folks as I wind through the neighborhood streets.

Dropping down into the heart of Hillman City, the intersection of Rainier and Orcas is buzzing with people. The streets are closed for a neighborhood festival and block party. The people of the neighborhood have taken over the street. Vendors from the Somali market are cooking food and brewing chai, selling to the neighborhood from tents. Muslims from the mosque and Christians from Rainier Avenue Church work shoulder-to-shoulder to paint a mural in the street at the intersection of Juneau and Rainier. Women at Spinnaker Bay are pouring pints for a boisterous crowd in the beer garden set up in the street, tempting the dedicated CrossFitters tossing medicine balls back and forth just 10 feet away. Women are lined up along the sidewalk getting their hair braided, watching to the people groove to the band playing in front of Tarik’s restaurant and community culinary school recently opened in what use to be Maxim’s Gentleman’s club.

This is the epitome of neighborhood flourishing: to ride my bike home from work without my heart spiking once from a close call through a network of neighborhood streets and safe crossings—all the while recognizing faces and exchanging smiles. To be engulfed in a neighborhood gathering, surrounded by others that call this place home or who just pass through regularly for business and have stuck around for the evening. To see each community member’s presence and contribution celebrated and cherished. Each has a valued place at the table. Unity across race, age, income, creed and even transportation mode.
I scan the throng of neighbors eating, chasing toddlers, deep in conversation with each other or just taking it all in, as I am. I weave down the crowded sidewalk to lock up my bike. As I walk past DADS’ open door, inside I see OGs watching a basketball game with their sons, mentors coaching their younger brothers and a father changing his baby’s diaper at the front desk. If I would’ve seen these men anywhere else, I would’ve assumed the worst of them based on their clothes, speech and swagger. But those assumptions have been proven wrong too many times now. When I walk the streets of my neighborhood, it’s characterized by openness toward each other, assuming the best of one another, a leaning in and positive inquisitiveness about our difference instead of a pulling back.

~

What would it look like if your neighborhood was flourishing? Tell us in a comment.

Lauren Squires_Head Shot

Lauren Squires, Urban Planner

Lauren is an urban planner, active transportation specialist and community advocate enthusiastic about inclusive, livable places. A strong team member offering a range of strategic planning, policy development, bicycle and pedestrian design, facilitation and writing skills, at MIG|SvR Lauren works on projects ranging from complete streetscape concepts to multimodal transportation planning to community planning projects focused on health and equity. Lauren is passionate about urban systems and engaging complex issues to enhance quality of life in Seattle. A Rainier Valley resident, she regularly collaborates with diverse communities on neighborhood planning initiatives such as Rainier Valley Greenways. Lauren currently serves on the Seattle Planning Commission.

Remembering the Women Who Sacrificed Their Bodies (Not Their Lives)

Freedom comes at a cost. Blood. Sweat. Tears.

Yes, soldiers have died for the freedoms I enjoy as the result of my citizenship today. But today I want to acknowledge the unsung women who gave their bodies wherever “our boys” have gone. The women who served as “sex toys” and “entertainment.” Their government and poverty may have forced them into the trade, but the flow of cash and presence of US troops created a steady demand in many cities that has escalated today. Take Pattaya, Thailand, for example. According to Not Abandoned founder Jeff McKinley

“Only fifty years ago it was a quaint fishing village and relatively unknown. In 1959, US military soldiers on R & R in Thailand made their way to Pattaya and with them ushered in the beginning of the sex industry that Pattaya is known for today.” (Why Pattaya, Thailand video)

Today 200,000 of the city’s 500,000 inhabitants work in the sex industry, serving mostly foreigners who patronize its 22,000 bars.

Pattaya is just one of many outposts where human trafficking has exploded as a result of US troops’ presence. In a short, ethnographic  documentary I watched this weekend, the narrator described the history of why Asian women are fetishsized and exotified by many American men:

This narrative of the exotic submissive Asian woman got further reinforced over the course of the twentieth century during America’s wars in Japan, Korea and Vietnam. After World War Two, approximately 200,000 Japanese were enslaved by the Japanese government as prostitutes for American soldiers as part of the Recreation and Amusement Association. This practice of organized prostitution continued through the Korean and Vietnam wars with 85 percent of American soldiers reporting having saw a prostitute. (from MTV’s Facebook post Why are Asian women “SEXY” but NOT Asian men?)

This is NOT a piece of history I learned from the conservative Christian curriculum that comprised my elementary through high school education. Though I doubt it’s in most secular education either. We like to cover up dirty details of the past like that. Admittedly, members of my own family have been part of this demand. But if our discourse on sacrifice and freedom were honest, we would highlight this cost of freedom too.