The Cost of Poverty Experience

advocacy, assumptions, blacklivesmatter, corruption, Faith, God, hope, humanity, Racial Reconciliation, testimony, Transformation

Recently I decided to participate in a poverty simulation with Unite Greater Dallas. It was called COPE, The Cost of Poverty Experience. I was given the role of a 10yr old AA boy. My character(who is a real person) has African-American mother and father.  His mother is a stay at home mom and expecting another child. His father is employed and rely’s on public transportation to get around. The family can only afford a one bedroom apartment so therefore my character sleeps on the couch and to top it all off has ADHD and is beginning to act out.

*From this point on I will type as if I am in character.

We were told to get in character as much as we could. All of the families where taking an hour of our day to fast track what it is like to live a month in poverty. We were given folders which outlined our assets, expenses and activities that needed to happen that month. For instance, my families assets where a T.V. and Stereo. My mother had to go to a prenatal appointment, both of my parents had to make it to AA and they had to get my ADHD medication.  That’s just a few of the responsibilities my parents had. Each 15min equaled one week in the life of my family.

The first week I had to go to school first. Meanwhile my parents were running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to pay bills, purchase bus passes, work, buy groceries, go to AA, Pawn shop, prenatal ect. I was let out of school 6min into the “week” and told to go anywhere. I chose to go home and wait on my parents to get home. As soon as they got home they were trying to figure out a plan to get through the next week while assessing what they did and did not accomplish. I just sat there.

*The facilitator got everyone’s attention and asked who fed their family that week. Out of 10-15 groups only 2-3 families raised their hand.

The next week I went to school again and instead of waiting until I was released I left early. I went straight to the food market and stole a banana. I was then arrested for stealing. Time was up. It was time to go back home and prepare for the next week. I let my parents know that I was arrested and they continued trying to figure out what to do for the next week.

*The facilitator announces that it is spring break.

My parents look at each other and are like “what are we going to do with him?”. They are planning to pawn the stereo and the t.v. so that they can pay the electric bill and then realize that they shouldn’t pawn the t.v. because I’ll need something to keep me occupied. They figure out the plan and in the meantime are “gifted” with a free voucher for my ADHD medication.  Let week three begin.

Well, while they are trying to pay the electricity I am left with nothing to do so I take it upon myself to find something to do. I stole food from strangers(wasn’t caught), smoke cigarettes with the local dealer. My dad catches me on the street and took me home. He gives me a lecture on drug usage and I throw it right back in his face. I get back out and steal money from the local store and then I am arrested…..again. My mother noticed that I was in jail and comes to try to get me out. Due to my parents not showing up to my last hearing(because they were unaware) they could not get me out and CPS got involved. TIMES UP!

Week four happens…..

By then end of the month I was arrested twice, only my father made it to AA, my mother had to choose between going to her prenatal appointment or getting my  ADHD medication because each required a co-pay that they could not afford. She went to her prenatal. CPS was involved. My dad tried to by alcohol but they were closed when he went. I remember my mother telling me to go the faith center after school in week four. I did not. Why? Because at this point I did not trust adults. I kept getting in trouble for doing things that I felt I needed to do. I was hungry and my parents needed money. I was off my meds for the entire month and there was not a single fun thing that I did with my parents. I felt like a burden and I’d be even more of a burden once my sibling was born. I even remember how if felt hearing my parents rejoice when school was back in session. They had somewhere to put me.

*I’m stepping out of character now.

Each time I was arrested I was bawling. This wasn’t an act. Like I said, the character I was playing is an actual child. That alone is what pierced my heart to the core. As I described my experience I could not stop crying. My husband and I have worked with at risk youth for over ten years. We know what they are going through. We know youth who have gone to juve. We hear their pain and we have walked with them. But this…..

This situation broke me. 

I saw a child who felt alone but I also saw parents that LOVED this child but had to do what they had to do just to survive. I saw parents who are battling addictions and the system only perpetuated it. I didn’t mention and we did not know, but we, as an African-American family were treated differently. The people who played my parents where white but we all had to wear red bracelets which signified that we were an African American family. The people who played “resources” had to treat us with various biases. We did not know this until the end.

I chose to participate in this experience because of Abide. As I’ve been looking more closely at my community I realize that things must be handled even more delicately and the people must be central to any programs in place.  South Dallas has a history that is filled with a tremendous amount of pain via segregation, racism, corruption and sheer hatred of its people.  Dallas has a treacherous history of KKK involvement and Fair Park(an entertainment hub for people in DFW) has a history that screams of White Supremacy.  But this is the history and history impacts our future. So as I look at the past of my community I can see better how to serve in the present. One way is through relationships. Breaking patterns of distrust is a key element here and I know that it’s going to take a solid foundation in biblical truth that will help guide us.

“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” – Romans 13:8

And just as it took generations of oppressive systems to create this beast, it will require a tremendous amount of time and patience to heal a community that has suffered much trauma. But let us not put God and His capacity to bring about restoration in a box. I have much hope for Sunny South D. The poverty experience did what is should have done. It broke me and it should break you. My hope is that our hearts will break for what breaks His so that we may be driven to seek racial conciliation and the physical, financial and spiritual restoration of our city. My hope is that God will use the people of South Dallas(fellow image bearers of Christ) to heal the hearts of those in positions of power and cause everyone to pursue further introspection of ones own heart.

Someone asked me recently, if I could share one thing about South Dallas, what would it be? Today my answer is that South Dallas consists of your brothers and your sisters who are worthy of dignity, love and respect. We are image bearers of Christ and we must not be forgotten or looked upon with pity. We are Sunny South D a place where hope lies and dreams can come true. We seek gospel centered justice and that power lies in not us alone….but you.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.  – Romans 12:3-8

 

#recess

Every person who works with people needs to experience COPE. Every teacher, politician, government employee, healthcare worker…everyone. Please find one near you and register. http://www.unitethechurch.org/cope

Remember that we can take a vacation from work, a break from reality but you cannot take a “break” from poverty.
https://www.dmagazine.com/frontburner/2015/07/dallas-fort-worth-has-the-worst-income-inequality-by-neighborhood-in-the-u-s/

Am I a house negro or a field negro?

activism, advocacy, blacklivesmatter, Consistent Life Ethic, corruption, feminism, pro-life, race, Racial Reconciliation, racism, Transformation

Am I a house negro or a field negro?

I will boldly say that I am neither.

I stand in a position that is often times…..lonely.

A position that on one hand those who hold a form of privilege by having white skin are offended by my blackness and on the other hand the very brothers and sisters that I fight for, question my blackness. I’m either “aggressive” to some or a “token” to others.
Well, damn.

As my girl Destiny said…

“Oppression is oppression is oppression. Anytime we dehumanize members of the human family, it is dangerous AF.”

It is….

So what are we going to do about it?

I refuse to live in the echo chamber of pro-life politics which fuel the policies that have little regard to the actual PEOPLE affected by those policies.

And I refuse to be in the field screaming, “YES! LET MASSA’s HOUSE BURN!!!!”

NO.

Don’t be fooled by my pro-life feminist stance. I stand in a position that highly respects those who are fighting for the lives of the unborn AND respects the many black women who are fighting for reproductive justice.

Don’t peg me as someone that’s ignorant.
I’m just a unicorn who actually is more interested in building bridges and finding common ground.

I’m going to scream this…

PRO-LIFE ACTIVISTS! THERE IS MUCH TO BE LEARNED FROM BLACK FEMINISM AND REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE ACTIVISTS!

PRO-CHOICE ACTIVISTS! THERE IS MUCH TO BE LEARNED FROM MEMBERS OF THE PRO-LIFE COMMUNITY!

PRO-LIFE, PRO-CHOICE, BLACK, WHITE, LATINX, DEMOCRAT, REPUBLICAN ETC. THERE IS MUCH TO BE LEARNED FROM THOSE WHO UPHOLD A CONSISTENT LIFE ETHIC!

Back to me….

What I am doing is standing in the middle attempting to be authentically me…

And that me is a black woman breaking free from the influence of white supremacy. A Black woman who will call out bigotry and racism, a black woman who is constantly seeking to understand MY culture and MY history and the impact the past has on the present. A black woman who seeks to dismantle systems fueled by hate and create a world where every.single.human being is valued.

A black woman who can forgive and think independently from the tribe.

Today my pastor had a great word coming from Colossians 3:12-17

“12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

How do we bring about change? How? Without compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience we may as well keep doing what we are doing.
The divide will continue and people will die.

I’m sitting in the middle with the complete understanding that without Christ…

I’d be in the field.

Don’t get it twisted. There is such a thing as righteous anger. I’m choosing to combine the rage that the field produced, with the compassion, kindness humility, meekness and patience that only Christ can provide. This combination shatters walls of oppression and only then will we see radical unifying change take place.

Listening to respond does nothing. Listening to understand saves lives.

#recess

So you mean with a consistent life ethic you must be consistent?

activism, Consistent Life Ethic, Faith, God, Jesus, Racial Reconciliation, Transformation

Yep.

Holding this ethic can be tough if you’ve been trapped in an echo chamber of religious and political rhetoric most of your life. But once the layers of revisionist history had been torn from my eyes and I saw the beautiful history that had been hidden from me and many others, I began to see life differently.  I see Christ even more fully, I see Christ as JUST. The true SJW…only His justice extends into eternity. I see a God who has given us all the tools we need to be consistent. To uphold his values AND love our neighbors.

You’d think, ‘how difficult can that be?’. Well, for many, religion has people worshiping and idea wrapped in nationalism, colonialism, racism, hedonism and dare I say capitalism(all the ism’s)….instead of Christ.

Christ is JUST. It’s all over the scriptures.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all who are oppressed – Psalm 103:6

As I walk into the calling on my life it is becoming more and more clear that JUSTICE is central in the gospel message. So when you see this outpouring of pro-life activism sandwiched with social justice it is because of the gospel. The gospel which inherently is calling us all to be CONSISTENT.

What does it mean to be Just? How will you seek justice for your neighbor? Who is your neighbor? Would you listen to your neighbor and hear their story? Would you invite them to dinner? How about this, if you know your neighbor is hurting would you help them? If you do, is it self-serving? Does it give you all the warm and fuzzies and make you feel good? Now ask yourself this…what does it mean to be consistent? Let that question stretch you in ways you never imagined.  Then let the gospel soften you and help you work through it.

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
– Galatians 5:14

My hope is that as we grow in the Lord, our hearts will continue to break for what breaks His. It’s painful…but as He performs open heart surgery to revive us, He’ll fill us with the unmerited favor He pours on us daily so that we may be equipped to pour it right back on others.

For insight on what I speak on check out my latest Q & A with Charles Camosi with Crux Magazine Pro-life and Racial Justice

 

My Transformation

blacklivesmatter, Faith, God, hope, humanity, hurt, institutionalracism, pain, Racial Reconciliation, relationships, Transformation

In July I had an anxiety attack that landed me in the E.R. It was brought on after listening to the amazing women of a podcast called Truths Table. The episode was called “Strange Fruit”. I had also been reading up on a lot of information on racial injustice. I remember the subsequent days vividly. My breathing was shallow, chest felt tight and just not right. These episodes lasted for a couple of days until I found myself in the E.R. This was the beginning…the beginning of me understanding my transformation.

If you have read any of my previous blogs over the past year you will see that I have gone through an identity crisis of sorts. It’s been an incredible year. I’ve been exposed to so many different people and I’ve been given a platform that I never asked for and certainly never expected. For some reason people have found that I have a message that is worth hearing.

I’m going to spare you the details of my past, but in a nut-shell, the identity crisis that I speak of comes from a past that was filled with a colonized, revisionist and hidden history that created a woman who did not see color and wondered up until four years ago why there was a Black Breastfeeding Week or black anything for that matter. I was clueless when it came to systematic inequalities and institutional racism. I lived in a bubble and I most definitely was not #woke. Not at all. I was just as blind as the many ytpipo that so many talk about.

But I woke up.

The past few years have been a roller coaster emotionally. With so many POC dying at the hands of people who are supposed to protect them, I’ve become desensitized to news of another death of a person of color. None of it surprises me. At times I am enraged. The more I learn about the history of my brothers and sisters of the diaspora and the senseless deaths of black women and children at the hands of careless medical practitioners who hold implicit racial bias, the more driven I become in doing something about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I have had some very dark moments. I pride myself on my bridge building reputation but I must be honest. There are times when I want to be just like some people who I know. I want to throw my hands up and say to all white people,           “I DON’T NEED YOU”.  But it’s only by the grace of God that it has not happened, and it won’t. Why? Because I don’t believe that any one person is beyond redemption and I believe that racial reconciliation is yet another beautiful representation of Christs love for His bride…the church.

I was telling my girl Destiny that not a day goes by without me thinking of my race. She asked me if I wished I could go back to how things use to be and I said, “No”.  I said no because in the past I was like the walking dead, completely unaware, and with that lack of awareness came a tremendous lack of true identity, empathy and compassion.  You see, before I was conditioned to think and be a certain way, but now it’s like….damn.

Where do I begin.

Nothing is mine.  My true culture was beaten out of my ancestors. My last name comes from the people who owned my family. I had my beautiful thick and long hair relaxed as a child because my God given hair was too difficult to manage(society). That’s just .00001% of what I could share about me. What about all the black women injured or dying in childbirth at 4x the rate of all other women, or black babies dying at 3x the rate of others before age one. What about redlining, black cemetery’s desecrated to build shopping centers (Lemmon Ave.), black communities moved to flood zones(West Dallas and Bonton)? Food deserts? How about the fact that if it weren’t for my ancestors, this country would not be what it is economically. Yet, what do we own? And I still get people mad because I want to support black owned businesses? Ya know, like we are on even footing. If only we would just work hard. How about the prison industrial complex aka The New Jim Crow?

Oh and #thesunkinplace…..I have found myself in it often this past year. It’s a horrible place to be and it plays a major roll in the struggles I’ve had.

I listed those things because I want you to know where I’m coming from.  I live in the south. As I reflect on my history, it’s not golden. When I go on road trips my mind literally looks out at the trees and imagines the strange fruit that once hung from so many that are still standing.  That’s MY reality.  So yes, I get mad. But more than anger I get filled with a pain that is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. My mind has been overloaded with so much that it came to a point where my heart literally hurts.

But now…

Everything above is raw, but the reality is this. My identity has always and will always been found in Christ. Now, I know I may have lost some of my atheist and agnostic friends, but the thing is,  if you have known me… you know that transparency is EVERYTHING to me and transparency is what you will get. The past couple of months God has been doing something in me. Calming me…slowing me down and helping me to see that there is a reason I was blind my whole life to injustice of so many kinds. It was so that I can hold compassion in my heart towards those who are still walking in darkness, as I did for so long. It was so that while each layer of ignorance is stripped from me, I can then still remain humble. It was so that I can truly feel what he feels.

May my heart break for what breaks His.

My heart is broken, but my will is strong.

 

I’m still healing, in fact I’m certain I will always be in a state of healing. But as I learn to navigate this world in a constant state of transformation, my hope is that I become a woman who seeks radical racial reconciliation that results in bridges built and walls of oppression torn down.

My prayer is that hearts are healed, lives are transformed and God will use His people to bring Shalom to my community and beyond.

#recess

words

 

Build A Better Us – Pursuing the Extraordinary, Marriage Conference

marriage, relationships, Transformation, Uncategorized

I must admit, when I learned of the Build a Better Us(BABU) marriage conference, I was in a funk. It was one of those days or weeks where I was SUPER cranky. I flat out told my husband that if he cared about our marriage he would register us.  I had full intention of letting him take care of it but then the part of me that has a hard time relinquishing control kept forwarding him reminders of the event, then little messages telling him how great the conference would be for us and then I just flat out asked him if he registered us….so much for leaving it in his hands huh? I’m laughing at myself now.

I am writing this so you all have a proper understanding of just how trans-formative this conference was (without giving away any spoilers….I know, I know….good luck with that right?)

#realtalk

The conference was amazing. I had an idea of what it might be like but it was nothing like I expected. Not in the slightest. In fact, I wondered where it was going at first but then the pieces started coming together and it left me incredibly encouraged.  Have you ever experienced something and then it takes you a while to realize the impact it has had on your life? Well, this was my experience. My husband(Ramon) and I discussed and reflected on our time but there was something inside of me that was itching to get out. I had to write my testimony. You see, I have shared my story many times but this time was so different. After I wrote it I asked my husband to proof it and get his thoughts. What I found so wonderful was his incredible support in me pouring out my mess for the world to see all while he was included in that mess. That is another blog entry though. This one is about Build a Better Us.

Build A Better Us focused on the transformation power of the gospel and it truly changed me. This conference revealed a part of me and my past that I had not put together. It helped me to reflect and in that reflection I have seen healing beyond what I have experienced in the past.

This is no secret, because BJ Thompson presses this point often on Twitter….

I am a mess.
Yet deeply loved by God.

I want you to let that sink it.

If that is the only thing you learn from the Build a Better Us Conference, then that is enough. For that alone can not only transform you individually, but it can transform marriages and all kinds of relationships. Let go of expectations and allow yourself to experience a conference unlike you have ever experienced before. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Unpack the baggage and peel back the layers that may have been holding you in some form of bondage.  I am thankful that my husband registered us for this conference and I’m beyond thrilled that I have been able to share this message outside the context of marriage, but also in unique unexpected relationships that beg to ask the question “How do we build a better us?” Agh! I’m screaming with joy!

 

#recess