Will You Let Your Child Die? MLK Day Tribute

portland-mlk-church

First Baptist Church of Portland, only location in city where Dr. King spoke

“Are any parents of the youth here?” our panelist asked, motioning towards Portland’s Pacific Youth Choir seated behind her. “Please stand.” A handful of adults stood.

“How many of you are ready to let your child die?” she asked.

A wiry woman in front of us shook her head “no” as she looked around and sat down, along with most of the other adults who had just stood.

The speaker was Kim Dixon, an African American woman who was one of twelve panelist at the Empowering the Dream event I attended yesterday.

“Many of us parents didn’t have that choice. My own son was a victim of homicide in 2013.”

Pouring from her personal experience, Kim founded a community-lead campaign called Enough is Enough to counter gun violence, gang violence and trafficking in the Portland area.

“Last year alone 285 were victims of homicide in Portland,” Kim said and then read several of their names, lives cut short.

greg

Gregory McKelvey speaking at “Empowering the Dream”

Kim’s challenge to parents of mostly white high school students in the choir highlighted the severity of racial disparity in our nation. Her challenge was a poignant reminder to me of the cost of dedication to the Civil Rights’ movement of our time, otherwise known as #BlackLivesMatter. Moments ago the youth in the choir had been among the first to rise in giving Oregon’s activist and leader in Portland’s Resistance movement, Gregory McKelvey, a standing ovation following his riveting six-minute speech. McKelvey himself understands what his participation in this movement could result in when he told The Portland Observer:

I will die for this. I think that Martin Luther King was willing to die for what he did, and he knew that he probably would. I think that it would be a miracle for me to live my entire life fighting the way that I’m fighting now, and not have something happen.

james-reebListening to the panelists, I asked myself what I’m willing to give for others to live and experience rights and freedoms like I do. My mind flashed back to photos I had seen at the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, displaying images of freedom riders such as the white ally Reverend James Reeb who was beaten and then died.

Another panelist had already challenged apathy that sometimes allures me. She said too many people when confronted by injustice either turn to hate or apathy. As a white person, my privilege allows me the opportunity to plug in as much or as little as I want. I can “go off the grid” and live comfortably or I can get involved with others’ plight for freedom. But for many, unplugging isn’t an option. Every day my neighbors of color experience injustice in ways I never have and probably never will. So when I set off my relatives’ house alarm and the police show up, they don’t so much as ask to see my ID or key to the house. The incident becomes a joke (yes, this really happened last week). For a friend of color, the situation would have likely played out far differently.

Yes, out-spoken leaders get targeted for death, like Dr. King did. Yet systems of oppression are simultaneously targeting our youth of color in the United States today. How much longer will we allow this?  To white readers of my blog, I repeat Kim’s question: “Will you let your child die?” Remember, many parents don’t get to have the option of being asked.

To everyone, leave a comment if you know of organizations like Enough is Enough that are making positive changes to end violence and bring justice in your community.

Why I Want to Create Wealth

rich-dad-poor-dad

Land was wealth 300 years ago. So the person who owned the land owned the wealth. Later, wealth was in factories and production, and America rose to dominance. The industrialist owned the wealth. Today, wealth is in information. And the person who has the most timely information owns the wealth. The problem is that information flies around the world at the speed of light. The new wealth cannot be contained by boundaries and borders as land and factories were. (p.95, Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the rich teach their kids about money—that the poor and middle class do not!)

Chew on that above paragraph for a few days and you’ll start to realize how profound Robert Kiyosaki’s words on finances are to a variety of realms. Think about it: the latest news—the most timely information—has power to sway masses of people that can influence a nation’s election. Yet this is true in a thousand other areas as well. In terms of social good, for example, if victims of human trafficking were equipped with the right information at just the right time, we could significantly reduce if not eliminate modern day slavery.

Kiyosaki’s best seller has given me huge insight into the significance of wealth creation. Most people work the majority of their lives for an employer, sending most of their income to the bank for loans and to the government in taxes. For the most wealthy, however, Kiyosaki points out that no matter how much we try to tax them to redistribute wealth more equally, they always find loopholes to evade the system. So taxes never affect those who are the most well-off. His words came to mind during last night’s Presidential debate. Donald Trump has successfully evaded our tax system his entire life. Yet after watching I thought to myself, “As offensive as I find the man, he was probably right when he accused Hillary’s financial supporters of also tapping into tax evasion loopholes.” The wealthiest people always do.

Kiyosaki’s advice is not to avoid paying taxes, but rather than spend our energy complaining about the wealthy not sharing (because essentially they never well), he encourages readers to focus on wealth creation. While reading his Rich Dad Poor Dad book last week, I came across a similar challenge from a vastly different source: a workshop at a Christian conference focused on international development by means of business.

“It’s time to ask, ‘what causes wealth?’” our white-haired facilitator said.

  • Churches consume it.
  • Families consume it.
  • Governments consume it.
  • Nonprofits consume it.
  • Only businesses create wealth.

Kiyosaki had expressed similar sentiments through his cash flow charts: much of what poor people and middle class people consider to be assets actually consume our income. And just like our workshop facilitator said, Kiyosaki emphasized how in government, successful budgeting is combined with spending (a.k.a consuming):

The government ideal is to avoid having excess money. If you fail to spend your allotted funds, you risk losing it in the next budget. You would certainly not be recognized for being efficient. Business people, on the other hand, are rewarded for having excess money and are applauded for their efficiency. (p.85)

Spending as close to the amounts allotted us in our budget to avoid losing money for future seasons is also a common practice for many churches, nonprofits and aid organizations-places often dedicated to fighting poverty. Our workshop facilitator, however, pointed out that “Good intentions don’t end poverty. Enterprise and freedom end poverty.” Many organizations are beginning to recognize this with the development of social enterprise, high-bred fusions of business and non-profit worlds. But we need to keep pushing, beyond providing jobs for people.

“Instead of training job seekers, we need to train job makers,” our workshop facilitator instructed. And he backed his advice up with scripture:

“Remember the LORD your God, because he is the one who gives you the ability to produce wealth,” (Deuteronomy 8:18 NIV)

Naysayers and Detours

Developing seamstress skills at a school for girls in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Young woman develops seamstress skills at a school for girls in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

A friend of mine recently shared a message in which a group of women were challenged to give birth to the dream inside of them, whether that be in the form of a book, a business or a ministry. For me, it’s all three. And they’re all interconnected with my life passion.

Yet I recognize that in writing a book, I will likely face a lot of criticism and even rejection. It’s likely that those whom I desire to help will be among my strongest critiques, because people involved in nonprofit work and international development feel wicked enjoyment from tearing apart what each other are doing. Worse, many in academia devote entire thesis projects to criticizing the work that other people are doing, while never budging from the comfort of their classroom to attempt to help anyone themselves (OK, OK, I recognize that academia provides helpful research and needed scrutiny of the practices). In addition to the content being criticized, I know my writing style will be scrutinized. I could be rejected by countless publishers. The book may not sell. It could be a total flop.

Reading about the topic of detours in John C. Maxwell’s book The Success Journey recently caused me to contemplate potential setbacks like naysayers.At the end of the chapter on detours, Maxwell provided a space for reflection where I acknowledged that while I can form a support network and get constructive feedback from sources I respect, what I cannot control is how others’ respond. And, as all entrepreneurs know, “Making mistakes is like breathing; it’s something you’ll keep doing as long as you’re alive. So learn to live with it and move on.” (p.131) Or, as Henry Ford put it, “Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”

Two lines that stuck out to me the most, though were Maxwell’s “Fear robs us of our potential and prevents us from moving forward toward our purpose in life” (p. 121) and President John F. Kennedy:

“There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”

Girls dancing at slum school in Bangladesh.

Girls dancing at slum school in Bangladesh.

And when the going gets tough, there’s gotta be that “fire in the belly” sort of motivation that’ll propel a person to plug on, in spite of criticism, in spite of setbacks and regardless of the temptation to take the easy street in life. At a writing retreat recently, I penned this poem during a writing prompt exercise that captures the sparks that motivate me to write, to pursue this dream, to go on this journey:

“Shake the dust,” the poet tells us

What things do I need to shake? 

To focus, to write

tech gadgets

beep. buzz. ring. 

alarm clocks

time

deadlines

to-do lists

“When will you come back?”

“We miss you”

“Wish you were here”

Souls that intersect for a season, like a 

rambling wild vine

then are plucked–rooted from the ground–and carried

by the wind to some distant place

the sun rises and sets

and my eyelids grow heavy, doors to my soul

closing off, disconnecting

relax

dream!

It’s time to be set free. Freedom! That’s why I write. Never forget that freedom.

What I enjoy, I did not earn

When will girls all over the world

shake it out

dance

joyfully

live 

be happy

free!

It is for freedom I write

the joy of the Lord is my Strength. 

The Overflow Project

The Overflow Project

Women in Northern Somalia gather water by scooping it from a hole in the ground.

Think about how much you use water. Turn on the sink. Take a shower. Wash dishes. Wash your hair. Flush the toilet. Water a garden. Wash your car.

Yet for many people on the planet, this basic commodity is a luxury. And this lack of water causes doesn’t simply result in dirty hair and short bubble baths. Absence of clean water in many places results in all sorts of preventable diseases. Consider, for example:

1. Water-related diseases cause 2.2 million deaths each year.
2. Each day, diarrhea takes the lives of 2,000 children in Africa, more than any other single cause of death.
3. Safe water, a toilet, and clean hands could prevent 90% of these deaths.

Read more about these stats here

Having lived in a developing country, I experienced first-hand the results of lack of clean water: Giardia, E. coli, numerous parasites, amoeba, and a ten month bout with Hepatitis E. Yet, I chose to go there. People do not choose to be born into a place without access to clean water. My friend Wolt started The Overflow Project to challenge those who have much to choose to simplify, give and change the way we live in order to help others have access to a basic commodity that we so freely enjoy.

simplify poster

The Overflow Project is a non-profit organization changing lives by encouraging simple living and generous giving.

Simplify.

Not only can you simplify by using less water, you can do so in dozens of other ways. The Overflow Project’s website features Ideas for How to Simplify that range from giving up meat to biking everywhere to disconnecting cable. Not only will your life be richer by investing more deeply in your community and slowing down, you free up funds to enrich others’ lives, which leads to the next motto:

Give. 

Once people commit to The Overflow Project’s 50 Day challenge of simplified living, they will find new resources that can be dedicated to helping others have clean water. Whether you save money by taking shorter showers or changing your own oil, you can donate those extra resources to digging wells that will provide access to clean water for entire communities.

The Overflow Project

The Overflow Project brings communities together for collective change to help end poverty by supporting clean water projects in developing countries.

Change. 

As stated on The Overflow Project’s website, “Change starts with the way you live, and when you change, so can your community.” The small changes you make by choosing to live simply will combine with the changes others are making to bring about big differences in lives all over the globe.

Employing Refugees: Interview with Ellie McDermott

World Relief Refugee

Ellie and I were part of the same cohort in completing our Masters in International Community Development. We both shared a passion for social entrepreneurship, which Ellie now implements in her role of Employment Specialist at World Relief where she helps refugees find employment in the United States. You can contact her at  emcdermott@wr.org Thanks so much for being willing to do this interview for A Community Entrepreneur!

1. As you help refugees find employment through your role at World Relief, you’re really developing a community of thriving, self-supportive, contributing citizens. Would you say that’s the goal of your job?  

There are many reasons why World Relief helps refugees prepare for and connect to employment. The most pressing reason is financial self-sufficiency. Refugees receive a limited amount of financial assistance during their resettlement period, so it is imperative for them to be able to support their families financially when this limited period is over.

Improving English, building a social and professional network, and gaining American work experience are other essential reasons why we help refugees find employment.

Refugees come to America to become thriving members in a new community. They come to participate, engage, and flourish. Employment is one significant method through which they can achieve this goal.

2. On the stats end, what is the number of refugees entering the US each year and where are most coming from?

The President sets a refugee admission number each year. The past few years, the President has set the maximum admission at 80,000 individuals. The primary countries that refugees are coming from are Bhutan, Burma, Iraq, and Somalia.*

3. What would you say to someone who complains that refugees are taking away jobs from unemployed Americans?

Many of the initial jobs that refugees obtain are jobs that native-born Americans do not pursue, such as entry-level hospitality and warehouse positions. In my experience, most of the refugees I have helped obtain employment have been competing with other refugees and immigrants for open positions.

4. What have been some of the most unique or surprising skill sets you’ve found refugees to possess? Have any of those skills been marketable?

Some of my clients come from urban environments; others have spent nearly their entire life living in a refugee camp with very limited opportunities. What I always remind prospective employers is that the refugee experience is incredibly diverse.

However, a privilege of my job is getting to help recently-arrived refugees identify the strengths that they bring to America. When I’m helping a newly-arrived refugee prepare their resume, sometimes it takes creative question-asking to identify the rich transferrable skills that they bring with them.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of some of my clients’ resumes is the breadth of work they have done. There must be different perspectives of work in different cultural contexts. For example, sometimes clients will tell me that they only had one job before they came to America, say, at a bakery, but when I ask follow-up questions, I learn that they also used to fix their friends’ cars, repair air conditioners, interpret, and drive a taxi!

5. Finally, now’s your chance to dream a little. If you were to start a business with the intention of employing refugees, what would it be?

A bakery! This probably stems from my love of baking, but also would provide a variety of positions suitable for various language and skill-levels, as well as opportunities for employees to share their culture through food.

Employees with very little English could successfully perform packaging or dishwashing positions because these positions require little to no English language skills. Additionally, production workers can complete tasks such as operating mixers and slicing machines.

Employees with previous experience could work as bakers. Those with higher-level English skills could work as cashiers or baristas. As employees gain experience and increase their language skills and understanding of the company, they could move into supervisory positions.

If we were a really big operation, maintenance mechanics could maintain and repair machines. Customer service representatives would manage accounts throughout the city. Delivery drivers would deliver our delicious baked goods to grocery stores and other cafes.

Of course, in my dream, the bakery would feature baked goods and beverages from around the world and would also function as a community center that features refugee art, music, English classes, and more!

6. Anything else you’d like to share? 

Our refugee neighbors bring such a rich diversity to our communities. In my work with refugees, I have learned more about the richness of hospitality, work ethic, perseverance, and generosity. I am deeply blessed to do this work every day.

Meet a refugee! Invite them over for dinner! Learn how to cook new foods! Visit new places together and experience your community through the eyes of its newest members!

I promise, you will learn more than you could imagine.

*”Presidential Memorandum – Annual Refugee Admissions Numbers” http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/09/28/presidential-memorandum-annual-refugee-admissions-numbers

Lake of Tears

Rangamati

“When you destroy the earth, you destroy yourself. This is the common thread in indigenous people all over the world.” ~ Melina Laboucan-Massimo

Electricity by means of hydropower on the surface appears to be a good thing. For some places, like the town of Harsud, India, however, the implementations of this decision resulted in devastation of their lives without decent compensation. Arundhati Roy recaps the saga in her well-known piece called “The Road to Harsud.” This story resonated with me because a similar situation occurred in Rangamati, the hill town where I lived in Bangladesh. There, a dam was built to provide power for mainland Bengalis at the expense of 100,000 indigenous residents who lost their land. Local residents to this day call the resulting beautiful body of water the “Lake of Tears”. Most were never fully compensated for their land as they had been promised and 30-35 thousand people whose homes had been submerged immigrated to India.

When I read Roy’s work, it made me angry on many levels, including:

1. Government’s waste could have increased current power supplies more efficiently than destroying a town, villages and natural beauty.
2. The callousness towards minority people groups. (Note: “adivasis” means indigenous people; adivasis were also the victims in Rangamati). “A house collapses on four labourers. When they are extricated, one of them is unconscious and has a steel rod sticking into his temple. But they’re only adivasis. They don’t matter. The show must go on.”

3. Discrimination against the victims based on wealth. While the rich could bribe their way to compensations (even a barn would qualify as a second house), the masses of impoverished people were slighted.”Essentially those who are landless—fisher people, boat people, sand quarriers, daily-wage workers and those who are considered ‘encroachers’ do not qualify as project-affected and are done away with.” What was called “Better Management” actually destroyed communities.

4. Lack of social concern for the 249 villages plus the town of Harsud that became submerged due to the installation of the dam. People lost everything—their homes, their livelihoods, their communities—at the expense of one powerful company. Perhaps most horrific is that the World Bank praised this company’s work!

5. Lack of planning and calculations for desired outcomes. Just one of the statistics Roy found was that in order to irrigate 1,23,000 hectares (303,940 acres) of land, it would submerge 91,000 hectares! However, 30,000 of those hectares were already irrigated!  This would mean only a net profit of 2000 hectares irrigated!

To my Chakma, Tripura and other adivasi friends in Bangladesh, I want you to know that “Amar mon khub karap!” I have not forgotten about you and I hope that someday you will have and see the beautiful ranga mati restored.

This is Why We Live Here

“Don’t go to any of the local establishments,” the police woman told us who had come to file a report about our break-in. “Eat in Columbia City. [the gentrified section of South Seattle] This neighborhood around you has too much going on.”

She had just finished a discourse about how awful our neighborhood compares to North Seattle where she formerly worked, how crime is common and law enforcement under-staffed and over-extended…basically confirming all the things we had suspected.

“But this is why we chose to live here,” I told her. “We are involved with churches and part of a community development team down here.”

The cop was astounded.

“I thought you might be Jesus-lovers when I saw all the quotes and scripture on your walls,” she said.

By the time our conversation ended, we’d made a new friend. She wants to go to church with my housemates, and we want to go on ride-alongs with her. We’re learning more about our neighborhood, about perspectives towards law enforcement (many people here are scared of them), about ethnic tensions, about class divisions. We’re also experiencing what it is like to live in community, to support one another, to love and care about each other.

This desire extends from the example of Jesus.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).

As a book I’ve been reading this weekend puts it:

“In the person of Jesus, the Word literally ‘tabernacle,’ or moved into the neighborhood” (Huckins, Thin Places, p.19).

So when the neighbors or our friends or even my own mother ask if we plan to move, our answer is a solid “No. This is why we live here.” We knew when we moved here that living in this context would bring challenges. We’ve already experienced some of them. We regularly heard about people getting burglarized from neighborhood reports and social networks. Yet it’s one thing to hear and read about crime, another thing to experience it firsthand. Through this experience we’ve formed stronger connections with neighbors who are helping us and solidarity neighbors who’ve been victimized as well (we are at least the third to have a break-in within the past couple of weeks). We’ve also felt solidarity with people in our churches who have experienced the same thing  (between our two churches, nearly a dozen households have been burglarized this past year).

“When we submerge, we move from being passive observers to active participants. We become residents who are engaged in the deeper realities of our cities and neighborhoods as we find ourselves in the places others may never have seen, experienced, or even known existed” (Huckins, Thin Places, p.49).

While those realities can be hard, we do not shy away from them. Sure we are taking precautions to prevent this from happening again. We are becoming more street-savvy. But we are staying, and growing, and meeting more neighbors (and even the police!), and eating at local establishments, and drinking chai at Somalian cafes, and shopping at the grocery that sells bulk spices next to toilet plunges, digestive biscuits across from prayer rugs. We’re listening, we’re observing, we’re taking in where we live.

“When we submerge, we resist the temptation to drive by the ugly or unglamorous realities of our local context”  (Huckins, Thin Places, p. 50).

We do not have all the answers or solutions for our community. We also are learning. We are being stretched.

“Submerging cannot be accompanied by thoughts that we are simply trying to go out and save everyone from their problems, but must be done in a posture of humility that acknowledges that we are as much in need of restoration as those we seek to serve” (Huckins, Thin Places, p. 59).

With the absence of my laptop, I’m re-evaluating my priorities (borrowing my housemate’s work one to write this post). Lent season is almost over, but I’ve asked myself: what if other than bringing my work laptop home for a specific task or project, I live without one for a month? How would I spend my time? Has my time spent surfing the web, watching YouTube and DVDs been an investment in anything substantial? Without it, maybe I’ll spend more time investing in REAL relationships, rather than giving a passing wave (like the ones I mentioned in my last post).

“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:20)