My Beggar Challenge

“If you’re not going to change your mind, then just agree to one thing: don’t spend $10 on alcohol this week,” the homeless man said.

“OK,” I agreed.

“Or on anything.”

The man had called to me from his perch on a rock wall on the edge of Capitol Hill’s sport field, also known as Cal Anderson Park. When I’d passed the field earlier in the afternoon, a team had been practicing baseball. In previous years I played a few co-ed soccer games on that field. Now a group haphazard group of young people milled about wearing Seahawk jerseys.

“Don’t take this wrong,” he said. I assumed he was going to give me some pickup line or flirtatious remark. He was good-looking and appeared close to my age.

“My name is Sam.”

“I’m Emily.”

“You are very beautiful.”

“Thank you.”

“Could you spare me a few dollars?”

“I don’t give out money,” I replied.

“I don’t do drugs or spend money on women.”

“He does appear sober,” I thought.

“I’ll buy you some food but I don’t give out cash,” I replied.

“Well, you see, there’s a problem with that. All the stores around here know me and don’t like having a homeless guy come in there all the time. I’m 6’ 10” so I stand out, you see, and they look down on a guy like me coming in there.”

“Or look up,” I joked.

He laughed.

“Yeah. I’m a bit OCD about my eating. Every evening I go to the 7-11 and buy a package of Ramen, Doritos and a Gatorade. Then after I eat I have nothing to do but sleep.”

“Well now that you’ve given me your shopping list, I can get that for you.” I knew my do-gooder side was showing. Some might consider this trait generous, others foolish and still others a case of white privilege.

“But it’s not that simple. You see, I’d also like to take a shower and do laundry. I only know of one shelter here and it’s full of smelly old men. I don’t like going there. I don’t like people seeing me as ‘homeless.’ I just want to get my life back. I have only two friends in this city and they let me use their shower sometimes and their address for getting my ID mailed but I don’t want always bother them. Anyway, if you don’t want to change your policy, I understand. Thank you for taking time to talk with me. Many people just walk by. But I think everyone deserves the dignity of being noticed, even if they’re addicted to drugs and laying on the curbside.”

“I agree.”  Though I had to admit I’d contemplated leaving as soon as he asked for money. But the sermon I’d heard that morning had emphasized how God can speak through unexpected sources, and it seemed this man might be such a source.

“Someone gave me one of those tickets and I told my homeboy if I won, we’d get rid of it as quickly as possible. After paying taxes, we’d just give it all away to homeless people. We’d give it away in-person. We wouldn’t go through an organization. The worst is that Union Gospel Mission.”

“The shelter you mentioned going to earlier?”

“Yes. They get so much money. I calculated after paying all their employees and costs, that still leaves $50 million! So where does that money go? To the property owners who do nothing. Shoot, if I won $1.3 billion, I told my homeboy we could buy Seattle!”

“A single house costs about $1 million now,” I said.

“For real? Excuse my language but I just like to say f**k California. Two million dollar flats?!”

“It’s ridiculous.”

“So I prayed to God that if I won I would give it all away. But I couldn’t trust myself with it. And then this morning when I woke up, the ticket was gone. I checked three times today and no one won last night. Well if you haven’t changed your mind, that’s fine.”

“Yeah, sorry, that’s my policy.”

“That’s fine, but then I challenge you not to spend any money this week. I see guys pass by all the time and refuse to give me $10 then spend $200 to get drunk and hail an Uber to drive them and a bunch of girls home. I had to help them in the car, they were so drunk!”

About that time one of the Seahawks  jersey-wearing guys in the park stumbled barefoot down the steps next to us and collapsed on the ground.

“You ok?” Sam asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said as the guy’s girlfriend helped him up.

“Remember this name—Emerald City, like Seattle is the Emerald City,” I said.

“Yeah, like the Wizard of Oz.”

“Yes, ‘Emerald City Bible Fellowship.’  It’s a church and a community where my office is. You said you want to get your life back. It’s really all aspects—spiritual, social, material…”

“It’s not that I want to get my life back. I have a life here, but what’s the difference between a rich man and a poor man?” he looked me straight in the eye as he posed this question. “Most people would say money. But really it’s lying. I can sit here all day and ask people for $10, $20, $100 and guarantee that 15% will talk to me and give me something. At least I tell them ‘thank you.’ And just like me, many wealthy people spend their days sitting and talking to people. They get their money through lying and corruption. That’s why I understand when Jesus said it’s easier for a camel to go through an eye of a camel than for a rich man to be saved. And I know you are a child of God. And Jesus also said if you feed the hungry and clothe the naked, you have done it to me.”

“You have a lot of wisdom,” I said. “If you come down to Emerald City Bible Fellowship, you can meet other smart people like you. They also give gift cards to people who need it for grocery stores like Safeway and QFC. And there’s a fitness center next door where I work and you can volunteer in exchange for a membership.”

“Now the fitness center is the only part of what you mentioned that I’d be interested in. I need to get my body back in shape. It’s part of getting my life back. Where did you say it’s located?”

“On Rainier Avenue.”

“Where’s that?”

“South of here. See if you go to the end of this street and turn left on Broadway, then follow that to Boren, Boren will turn into Rainier Avenue.”

“So you haven’t changed you mind?”

“No, I’m sorry.”

“Ok. Thanks for listening.”

As I drove home, I thought about our conversation. For other homeless people I have often purchased a smoothie, coffee or even a sandwich. But with Sam I left not giving him anything save a few minutes of my time. He, however, had given me a challenge.

“Could I really go a week without spending $10? Or any money?” I asked myself.

I had just spent over $20 on two hours of entertainment singing karaoke with my friends. Could I go an entire week without spending any more?

“I have a few groceries left. Perhaps I can fudge and use my gift cards from Christmas to buy fresh produce and a few essential items. I’ll have to forego online purchases too. And perhaps cancel plans with friends that involve spending money.”

I decided to accept his challenge…

A Week Without Spending

Monday. I had planned to stay late after work and participate in a class or two at our fitness center. My friend and co-worker (who hosted me at her home for Thanksgiving) spotted me at the front desk and asked how long I’d be there.

“Well, I want to go to these classes but need to round up some grub first,” I said.

“You can have some of this rice.” She handed me a container of leftover carry-out.

“And get some hummus out of the fridge upstairs.” The rice held me over until my workout and the hummus paired with some Rye crackers made a perfect post-workout snack. She didn’t know how grateful I was for the food!

Tuesday. I met up for lunch with a friend who works at the Seattle Urban Academy. She texted me that morning that lunch would be served at 11 AM so I decided to skip breakfast, but my blood sugar was dropping by the time I arrived.

“Lunch isn’t actually until 11:50,” she told me when I arrived. “So let’s go get coffee first.” I ordered a fruit smoothie and offered to help pay with my gift card but she insisted on treating me. I thanked her and afterwards told her about the challenge which inspired a conversation on money and stewardship.

Adding another level of difficulty to the challenge, I recently gave up white flour and sugar. Throughout the week I was astounded by how much free food is created using one or both of these two ingredients. Leftover lasagna in the break room. Cookies before a community meeting. Brownies and hamburger buns at the school where I joined my friend for lunch. I skipped the brownie and decided since within reason I try to eat whatever is served me when I’m the guest (no matter what dietary restrictions I hold to for health). I watched in relief, however, when the man sitting next to me at our table removed his hamburger bun and began cutting his meat with a fork and knife. I decided to follow suit.

Tuesday evening I had plans to boulder with a friend. I used over half of my gift card to pay for the entrance fee, hoping I wouldn’t have to buy too many groceries or anything else before the week was out.

Wednesday. I’d arranged to meet with friends who’ve I’ve literally been trying to see for a couple years. They had invited me over and I had asked what I could bring. Now most people will tell you either “Nothing, just bring yourself,” or make a generic request like a salad, bread or dessert. This friend, however, is the queen of specifics. She asked for Ghostfish Grapefruit IPA, saying I could purchase it at PCC.

“There goes the rest of my gift card,” I thought, “and I’ll be spending it on alcohol!”

Arriving home from bouldering I found a message from her asking to postpone our time together until the next week. I was disappointed to yet again not see my friends but thankful I wouldn’t be blowing more than $10 on alcohol this week! So instead on Wednesday I pulled out the leftover turkey and carcass that I had frozen Christmas Eve and made a simple stew with celery, one carrot, broth and seasonings. I ate two bowls for dinner and drank a cup of tea.

Thursday. I had oatmeal for breakfast and ate leftover soup for both lunch and dinner. I’d heard a rumor that we might be treating our director for lunch instead of having a weekly meeting, but everything rolled as business-as-usual. That evening a friend joined me for a ZUMBA class at the gym.

Friday. Breakfast and lunch mirrored Thursday but I was out of anything to accompany the soup. By 3:00 PM I was hungry again. I asked one of my co-workers if she wanted to grab sushi from the grocery store nearby and she suggested going to a sushi restaurant farther away. I knew that would cost more than I had on my gift card and take much longer. So I held off on grabbing anything but by 5:00 PM I was hangry and unable to think clearly. I realized I had another gift card for Shell gas station which was just a minute away. I checked the card’s description and found I could use it inside as well as at the pump. I dashed to the station and bought a small package of cashews for $2. As soon as I sat back in my car, I ripped the package open and it exploded all over my car. I collected them and found altogether they only made a handful. I realized that people like Sam often only have access to convenience stores where healthy options are limited and expensive. I wondered what he would have purchased if I had given him my gift card?12511308_994419173939742_2069857518_o

Back at the office I was still feeling ravenous so decided to down a fruit-flavored beverage that our water delivery guy had left for our staff. Even though the label claimed 0 grams of sugar, I knew it would make my stomach feel bloated, but needed a burst of energy for my final hour of work. The beverage had the expected results: helped me focus AND gave me a bloated stomach.

I arrived home close to 7 PM and ate another bowl of turkey soup plus toasted my last piece of whole wheat bread. Then I showered and headed up to a close friend’s house in North Seattle where I’d planned to stay the night. She and I decided to go listen to a musician I had met on an airplane perform at a coffee shop. The show was free but out of courtesy to the shopkeepers, I thought I’d buy at least one item using my gift card. But my friend offered to get mine so I accepted. We ordered a large plate of nachos to share. As we dug into them, I told her about the challenge.

“Well it’s a good thing I bought your nachos!” she said.

“I could have used my gift card,” I replied and realized how much I dislike depending on others, accepting them paying for my food even when it’s a good friend who offered. I think I got a sliver of the feeling Sam must experience when strangers like myself offer to buy him food. I also ate way more nachos than necessary because I was tired of being hungry and I didn’t know if I would have options without white flour and sugar at the retreat we were attending the next day.

Saturday. My friend served me a scrumptious bowl of steal-cut oats with lots of toppings. I mixed in peanut butter so I wouldn’t become hungry within an hour plus topped it with berries and coconut shavings. The remainder of our day was spent at a retreat which I had pre-paid for weeks ago. Our registration covered all meals and snacks and I was excited to see they served us healthy options. I again found myself overeating so thankful to have access to plenty of nutritious food. They even sent us home with Ziploc bags of leftovers!

Sunday. I made it through the week spending only money to buy a bouldering day pass and a bag of cashews, both with gift cards (< $20 total). I wondered if I should find Sam and tell him I had taken him up on his challenge. But in the end the challenge w
as more for me than him. Yet it’s a challenge that millions on our planet face every week not by choice but my limitations, whether born into a caste system that keeps them in a day laborer position earning less than $1 per day or living in a city where the cost of housing and transportation leaves little left for necessities like food. Sam shook my comfortable life a little with this challenge. Yet like other times in my life when I’ve been in financial crisis (due to health and school loans), I had a safety net of friends and family–community who came around and lovingly offered enough to get by. And I wonder if our world was more interconnected, could we eradicate hunger and extreme poverty? On this weekend that we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr., I’m inspired to dream of what could be.

Prayer March

Every time the kingdom of God advances forward, the kingdom of darkness pushes back. Yet when we allow room for God’s spirit to move among us, something good, even something beautiful, can birth out of tragedy. The way our community rallied around the owners of King Donuts through gestures like this prayer march is just one demonstration. On a personal level, I wrote this recap immediately following the march, then one week later (before making final edits and hitting “publish”) I flew to visit my then boyfriend in southern California. The relationship ended violently and threw me into a season of personal reflection and prayer. I wrote more profusely, more personally, more powerfully than ever before. I began to share that writing with sisters who had gone through similar crap and they resonated with the words. Nearly every time I share people say, “You gotta publish a book.” And that’s in the works. I will be sharing snippets  on here as well. Now for the prayer march recap:   

Prayer March Core Planners

Half of the COP (Core Organizing Planners) team.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Exactly one week ago, I met in the upstairs of a townhouse with half a dozen other millennials to plan a prayer march for south Seattle. We had in hand a half-page flyer, the blessing of two local senior pastors and the vision to pray for peace with and for our community. Around our third meeting, someone dubbed our group in a text message the “COP” (Core Organizing Planners) and the acronym stuck.

We met several times throughout the week, drawing posters, revising the schedule for the march and bathing the event in prayer. Stir for change was in the air. I imagined our setting resembling upstairs rooms of the past where a handful of change makers gathered resulting in movements that would alter history. Not to equate ourselves with monuments of history–yet–but this group of young leaders has a kind of passion and energy that stirs your soul! In between prayers and plans, we discussed topics ranging from the civil rights movement to globally uniting suppressed people groups while John Legend’s theme song from Selma played in the background.

Families at Rainier Avenue Church

Families at Rainier Avenue Church make signs for the Prayer March.

We divided up our to-do lists and I took on notifying the Rainier Valley Post, taking flyers to the Catholic Church and creating the Facebook page. I was amazed by how quickly word spread about the march. At Rainier Avenue Church on Sunday, Pastor Peter invited our congregation to participate. That afternoon, I created the Facebook event and people began RSVPing and sharing the event immediately. By the day of the event, individuals and pages had shared the Facebook event 18 times and invited over 900 people on that medium alone. Meanwhile, people rallied to get the word out, handing out flyers and inviting friends. Both the Rainier Valley Post and South Seattle Emerald featured the prayer march on their event pages. Rainier Avenue Church created signs for the march during our Wednesday Community night that lots of families and children helped with. Having just participated in the BlackLivesMatter march the week before, upholding the value of people of color leading movements in their struggle for justice was at the forefront of my mind. During the week of preparation, I reflected on my role as the creator of the Facebook page:

“Part of me wonders in planning this march if a person of color should have been the one to create the Facebook page. I feel honored to be part of the core planning team and humbled to leave in this effort. But then it is less a movement of people of color and more a movement of people of God coming together in prayer for peace.”

prayer march flyer

Prayer March Flyer

Those who participated in the march reported a strong sense of unity and God’s presence. I ended up taking on more of a support role so was less present for the actual prayers and march than I had originally anticipated.

The night before the march, the COP met with Pastor Peter to make final preparations. They decided since I wasn’t leading a prayer to assign me the role of collecting money to give the owners of King Donuts. The morning of the march, I recruited another young woman from our group to help. We stood on either side of the parking lot holding open giant manila envelopes for people to drop bills into as they left the initial rally and began to march. As soon as the crowd left, we scurried into the office, counted the bills ($700!) and hurried to catch our group. We caught up with them at the first prayer stop, gathered into a grove of trees on the side of the road. Scattered among the foliage, we didn’t look like that many at all. At the next stop, we hurried across the street to the bank to exchange all the small bills for a handful of larger ones. While there, we met up with a friend who gave another generous gift. Returning to our group, Pastor Peter made another announcement reminding people to give. Another $500 came in! We hurried back to the bank and on the way ran into Marcus Green, editor of the South Seattle Emerald. He asked us a few quick interview questions then we popped inside the bank, counted quickly and ran across the street to the donut shop just as Pastor Peter was heading inside to give our gift to the owners.

With all the scurrying, I didn’t feel like I really got into the spirit of prayer the way I had anticipated. However, I believe that giving is an act of worship, just as much as prayer is. And this gift in particular was a tangible way to help our neighbors.

Who were these power planners? Dubbing ourselves later in the week as the COP (Core Organizer Planners), we represented Urban Impact, and at least 5 different churches. Demographically, the twelve of us broke down to four guys and eight women, of which seven are African American, two Asian, one Latino and two Caucasian.

I knew this week’s march would be a contrast to last week’s political protest. For one, it was a gathering of families, both literally and spiritually. Participants of the prayer march were more inter-generational than those involved in the political protest had been, ranging from babies strapped onto their parents to seniors we pushed in wheelchairs. On a community level, many participants knew each other from worshiping together, working together, living and playing in the same neighborhood. At last week’s rally, however, I felt disconnected from the other participants. Perhaps others felt less that way, but for me the rally felt like a conglomeration of passionate people who protest every other weekend as a hobby plus a few devoted to the cause who stayed to the very end, many of whom it has personally affected in a deep and terrible way. After the rally, the organizers told us to walk in groups for safety. My friends had left by that point so I tagged along with a few of the other participants, but they didn’t look back at me or acknowledge my presence. I was cold, from marching in the January rain all afternoon so ducked inside an Ethiopian restaurant. A few minutes later, a couple of women I thought I recognized from the march came in too. I contemplated approaching them and asking if that’s where they’d came from, but felt like with the rally over, we were no longer part of the same group so it would be strange to join them. Put simply, I didn’t feel the same sense of camaraderie there as I did at the Prayer March.

Pastor Peter with his children

Pastor Peter with his children

One of the most beautiful aspects of the prayer march was how it brought together the community of faith in South Seattle. Having volunteered with the community development team at Rainier Avenue Church for over three years, I was encouraged to see so many people from different places unite–something we’d been longing for. And participants of the prayer march represented over a dozen congregations in Seattle. As one participant said:

“I love to worship with other people from different churches…our recent sermon was about fellowship and community…this event has truly demonstrated that message I think…I am glad that we are friends even if we go to completely different churches..but we all believe in one God.” ~ Mia

Talking Blood: Black Lives Matter Protest

Black Lives Matter

The organizers called me an “ally” because I am white. As an ally, I was instructed to line up behind the people of color. I was at a Black Lives Matter protest for police accountability that gathered around noon on this rainy, cold Saturday in January at MLK Memorial Park. Organized by women of color for systemic change, they lead the march to our Seattle detention center where the city plans to spend $210 million rebuilding and expanding so they can lock up more of our youth. Statistically, this will mostly hold youth of color; currently, for example, black youth comprise 8% of the state’s youth but 42% of our detention center. And recent events have shown us that the school to prison pipeline is becoming a school to graveyard pipeline. Black lives that have become a hashtag should have received justice (and many more deaths go completely unnoticed).

Police escorts in front of the Seattle detention center.

About 20 police escorts line in front of the Seattle detention center.

Caring about this injustice is something that my community of faith, and primarily my friends of color, have made me aware of in recent years. So I was surprised when a group of non-religious white friends (whom I affectionately refer to as my “hippie circle”) invited me to the event. I was even more surprised to see that the majority of the 200-300 participants who showed up to protest were white. The organizers expressed appreciation for us allies who were showing solidarity, but emphasized that the movement should be lead by people of color.

Earlier in the day I had tried to imagine what our world would look like had the people of Africa risen to prominence, conquered North America, and enslaved my ancestors from Germany and England…then hauled them here against their will to work their farms and businesses without pay. What would it have looked like to grow up in a country where for 200 years black men were the prominent figures in media, newspapers and history books? Where the justice system was created by black men to the disadvantage of a white minority and where I was always considered “the other,” or not even considered at all. Where I had trouble finding hair products that were not designed for curly hair and the food I liked to eat was considered “ethnic” and the music white people produced was considered part of a subculture. But to be honest, even with my vivid imagination, I couldn’t fully imagine that as a reality. So when the organizers of our protest asked that we “allies” line up in the back, I personally was not offended. I was getting only a tiny taste of the way we white people have for centuries treated our brothers and sisters of color.

hands up don't shoot

Bi-standers joined us when they heard our slogan “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”

“Hands up, don’t shoot!” we shouted as we marched. The response of most African Americans we passed was an instantaneous motion of flinging their hands in the air as well. Drivers gave short honks of support or punched their fists in the air in agreement. Meanwhile, most white people we passed simply stared back or looked annoyed that we were disrupting the roads. At intersections, the organizers ordered us to block off traffic.

“We intend to inconvenience people!” they shouted. I could tell the vehicles’ drivers were perturbed to be stopped in the middle of their journeys and I couldn’t blame them–I would be too! But I understood what the organizers were emphasizing: privilege and comfort must be inconvenienced in order for people to stop and think and consider that black lives matter just as much as the busy lives of us who still live do.

Blocking the traffic circle.

Blocking the traffic circle.

At the second intersection, we blocked off an extra exit from the interstate. This was the busiest intersection we blockaded during the protest and lasted for probably 10 minutes. A couple minutes in, cars began honking and a few illegally drove through a nearby business parking lot.

“Let’s block them off!” someone said. I headed over, thinking others would join me. A car loaded with young white guys rolled down their windows and hollered profanities at us as they rolled past. Another car was about to follow but I stepped in the way, yelling “Wait! Stop!” A righteous anger overcame me and I yelled at impatient people in their cars, “Black lives matter! Stop and think about that for a minute. We all need to stop and think about this!” Some people cautioned me that I was outside of the main road but a guy who was videoing the scene from his phone said not to worry because he was capturing it all. A couple minutes later a young guy sauntered over; I thought he was coming to join me but he just cautioned me not to get hurt standing there by myself and I told him “Well, then stand here with me!” He said he needed to be back in the circle for something but that we would be there for awhile longer, for 4 minutes for a die in (I later realized he was a First Aid medic).

die in

Organizers lead the die in, 4 minutes of silence.

About that time an older man joined me and got to his knees, along with most of the crowd. As I did I prayed that Jesus would give me strength. My legs were wobbly but I remembered our prayer time from yesterday and thought of Abel and Martin Luther King Jr and innocent black youth who have died. I knew if I was hit or injured, it would be for this struggle all have shared for justice for humanity. The courage to stand there alone could only come from God and I began to pray that God’s kingdom would come and will would be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

Praying during die in

Standing, praying

I thought of how yesterday we were praying at my office for racial reconciliation after a staff-wide conversation the day before on reflections from Ferguson. Someone had mentioned during that conversation that we would always have conflict on earth–conflict that started with the first two brothers, Cain and Abel, one of whom killed the other one! Someone else spoke about how the death of youth like Michael Brown is especially angering because it was the result of the color of his skin. In similar situations of conflict between police and young white guys, less violent methods have been employed, whereas many of our youth of color have simply been killed, unjustly, on the spot. These young men can no longer speak at all!

Martin Luther King Jr. Quote

During our prayer time I meditated on the story of Abel. God spoke to me from Hebrews 11:4 which says:

“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”

And in Genesis 4:10:

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.

This young man continues to shout to God and to humanity, his blood screaming to God from the dirt, his story teaching us today that injustices do not go unnoticed.

After the march, I concluded the day watching Selma. The stone-cold expressions depicted on the faces of the police in the movie, preventing Black people from voting in the 1960’s, were almost a mirror reflection of the nearly two dozen police I saw lining in front of the detention center earlier. The hatred remarks of the young white guys who drove by our traffic circle could have just as easily come from the mouths of the white people of Alabama over 50 years ago. Most disheartening was the fact that the only online news coverage I could find from the event was a piece about how traffic was disrupted with comments like:

“so just use a few fire hoses from fire trucks and hose them all down black white or what ever . just get the road ways clear”

And

“Just run ‘em down…..Black Lives Splatter.”

Even here in a city that prides itself in being progressive, I am appalled by how much racism continues to choke us. May the blood not splatter but speak!

Note: photos for this piece along with additional images of the day can be found here.

Community Fitness Center

Ladies Night at Gym

Ladies Night at Gym

It’s been nearly five months since I began working at Rainier Health & Fitness and I would be amiss not to feature it on my own blog. As stated in the tagline, the gym is dedicated to “encouraging healthy lifestyles, strong bodies and authentic community through an accessible and high quality fitness center.” What makes this place different from other gyms? At RHF we aim to foster community and racial reconciliation, emphasize overall health rather than bodybuilder appearance and offer our services at affordable rates.

As an arm of Urban Impact, a faith-based non-profit dedicated to breaking cycles of poverty through community development, Rainier Health & Fitness is a social enterprise that aims to make quality fitness affordable for our neighbors. All of us on staff believe that God desires restoration and wholeness for creation, and a big part of that is physical health for humans. A major factor that keeps people in poverty, however, is lack of health. When people are unable to work, they and their families continue to struggle in the cycles of poverty. We simultaneously seek racial reconciliation that’s lived out in an authentic community, a purposeful intention of being located in the heart of one of nation’s most diverse zip codes.

How do these ideals play out practically? RHF has reduced rates and a sliding scale so people with lower incomes can afford to sign up. They can alternatively volunteer three hours each week in exchange for membership. In order to keep the emphasis on health rather than appearance, the walls do not have mirrors on them. Twice a week, the classroom is curtained off for a “Ladies Night” so women can workout in a separate space from men (while many women from all backgrounds appreciate this gesture, it particularly appeals to women from East Africa).

I love getting to be a part of this gym and community which lines up with my passion for community development and holistic health.

Dream Speech

I Have  a Dream Speech

I wrote this piece over a decade ago as poetry for a creative writing class. Last night I performed it as a spoken word for an arts fest a friend of mine hosted. When the speaker talks about joining hands and singing, I played the tune on my harmonica and everyone present joined hands and sang together.

August 28, 1963. I go wi Roslyn and thousands mo

to the capitol

it be az hot dere az my home in Georgia

Nobody seems ta mind, though, ‘cuz weze here fo a reason.

Crowds cum, blacks peppered wi white

like cotton sprouten’ in de fields

hefty faces, brittle agin’ de sorghum brown dirt

Weze hear de young, Baptist minister

Talk ’bout howz ones day

weze all gonna live

happy and nobodyz gonna look down

at nobody elze, cuz weze be family

Den he says weze a gonna join hands

an’ sing;sing de ol’ negro tune “Free at Last”

an’ I’ze seez dis lil yungun’ waggen’ dat Mammy’s sign

she’z no bigger dan a jackrabbit

probly can’t read no write

no idea wize shez here, but I knowze–

weze here fo de likes o dat yungun’

an’ lotz mo whoze feet ain’t touched dis shor

but wen daze do, daze a gonna live free like de rest o deir peers.

Yea, “Thank God Almighty, free at last!”

Prayer and Prejudice

black-hand-white-hand-praying

We had arrived at the Little Rock airport over an hour prior to my boarding time and since it wasn’t crowded, I knew it wouldn’t take long to get through security. Since it would be my last hour together with my parents for awhile, we decided to get a bite to eat somewhere. The only establishment outside the airport premises and within a 20 minute drive was a Waffle House, or as my mother likes to phrase it, “Awful House”. We decided to risk the gas and grease so that I could fully round out my visit to the South (note the sarcasm).

As we parked next to Awful House, I noticed an older,Caucasian woman smoking a cigarette near the dumpster–an employee on break. Stepping inside we were welcomed and seated by a bubbly African American waitress. She was about to take our order when the woman I had seen outside pushed her aside and muttered, “They don’t want you. They want me because I’m white and your black.”

I was stunned, and thought to myself, “Actually I don’t prefer you because you were just smoking a cigarette and need to wash your hands.”

As she served us our grits and OJ, this older woman complained about a crook in her neck from a recent move.

“Can I pray for your neck?” I asked, right before we headed out.

“Sure. Go ahead.”

As I was praying, something powerfully miraculous happened. It wasn’t that her neck was instantly healed. Something else happened. Something that was healing centuries of hurt. Another person had joined me in placing their hands on her pain and praying for her. I thought at first it was my dad. But when I finished praying and looked up, it was the woman who had seated us! The very woman whom she had moments earlier made racial slurs towards.

Wow! Witnessing moments like that are what give me hope for racial reconciliation on our planet. Here in front of me was an example of “turning the other cheek,” of retaliating a revile with a blessing. Of choosing prayer and healing over hurt and hatred.