Category Archives: Emerging Justice Seekers

Mama Knew Love

Mama Knew Love

Jeremiah Pennebaker
May 12, 2018

It’s a cool Easter Sunday in Louisville, Kentucky and family and friends have filled up this tiny house wearing everything from church clothes to sweatpants. It may be a cool 68 outside, but it is no less than 85 degrees in the house from the combination of body heat and the oven stuffed with fried chicken, baked beans, and my personal favorite: my granny’s mac and cheese. Granny calls me from upstairs to come and give her a kiss. She proceeds to do this every 30 minutes, and each time I hustle up the stairs and give her a hug and a kiss, she brags about me to the other grownfolks. It is a great day with great food and great fellowship.

A few weeks later on April 12th, 2011, my father’s 40th birthday, my granny died. It was all pretty blurry, but from what I remember she was over worked and had a stress related seizure. Granny was working several jobs and had recently taken in some of my younger cousins as a foster parent. She was taking care of her mother, my Nana, and still was saving up and storing things in layaway for me and my siblings. I knew this because she was already asking me what I wanted for Christmas during the Easter cookout. My Granny was doing a lot and when she died it shifted everything for my family.  It especially impacted my father to lose his mother in such a tragic fashion. He always remarks that she was the bedrock of the family and it shows as going back to Louisville has never been the same.

Fast-forward to 2018 and it’s a week from Mother’s Day, and I’m trying to figure out what gift I can get my mother, the new bedrock of the family. What gift can I give to the woman that of course deserves everything? What gift can I give the woman who got pregnant with me her senior year in college and decided to put her wants on pause to make sure that I had what I need? What do I get the woman who spent every dime she had to make sure that Xavier wasn’t pushing me out of the door after my freshman year? If I had enough money, I’d buy her a house and tell her to quit her job like all the newly drafted athletes do. But all I can afford to give her is a nice Facebook post, and maybe a coupon for a spa day. I’m sure I’m not the only one in this predicament with Mother’s Day less than a week away as I write this essay. But I’m also sure that no matter what I get my mother, or whatever anyone else gets their mother, that they will love it unconditionally like they do every year. What I wish I could give my mother above all though, is simply some rest.

The shockwaves of my granny’s death continue to reverberate within my life, and I constantly worry about both my parents as many do, but specifically my mother because of all of the things that she is holding up. I can’t fathom all of the things that she is carrying on her shoulders, and I wish in some way that I could give her some rest so that she doesn’t burn herself out and I lose my mother too soon as well.

In my experience, Black women have been the foundation of many families regardless of the presence of fathers and father figures. This quasi-matriarchal type of culture is the result of the systemic separation and destruction of Black families through slavery and the justice system alike. While the longstanding impacts and results of these things are under constant debate, what I’m focused on is the impact this has on the psyche and the mental well-being of the Black woman.

It is widely know that stress can have many adverse effects on the body and overall health outcomes. Stress greatly increases the chances of heart disease and stroke, and can lead to heart palpitations, and depression in extreme cases. Being a woman in and of itself brings about stress. According to the World Health Organization, “Depression, anxiety, somatic symptoms and high rates of comorbidity are significantly related to interconnected and co-occurrent risk factors such as gender based roles, stressors and negative life experiences and events.” The stress of sexism, social pressures, and misogynist culture have dire effects on the mental health of women by simply existing within this patriarchal world. To continue to pile on race-based stress can kill Black and brown people almost as effectively as the criminal justice system. Situations involving racial microaggressions and/or violence can leave many with PTSD-like symptoms. Even the anticipation of a potential racial interaction can have physical reactions: “Just the anticipation of experiencing racial discrimination can be enough to cause a significant spike in stress responses. A study showed that Latina students who interacted with a person with presumably racist ideas showed an increased ‘fight or flight’ response with higher blood pressure and faster heart rates.” On top of the physical ramifications of this country’s capitalist, sexist, and racist culture and institutions, there are many more consequences for the mental wellbeing of its citizens.

May is largely about Mother’s Day, and rightfully so, but it is also mental health awareness month. Stress impacts people in poverty, women, and people of color, so imagine the impacts of those at the intersections. I can’t imagine the weight carried by people like my mother and my grandmother who hold onto all of these identities and history. I recognize my mommy as one of the strongest people I know, but for how long must she be strong? Why is it that she’s been put in a position that she needs to be this strong? Hopefully one day soon I too can tell my mother she won’t ever have to worry again. Because I don’t always need my mother to be strong, but I need her to be here.

Growing up with a Working Mom

Growing up with a Working Mom

Claudia Brock
May 12, 2018

My mom has been a working mother all of my life. When I was born my mom was working at a health sciences college in Omaha and in my baby book there are several photographs of me having some tummy-time on the floor of her office and of her rocking me in the on-site day care center. When I was in kindergarten my mom founded her own nonprofit, Concord Center: a mediation and conflict resolution center serving families, individuals, businesses, schools and community groups. In her office she has a picture frame with photos of my sister and me the year she started her organization: my early 2000s school picture featuring some missing teeth,  and a picture of my curly-haired, three-year-old sister.

Starting her own non-profit while my sister and I were young children meant creating a family-friendly work environment and flexible schedule were essential. My early memories include playing with my sister in my mom’s workspace, coloring on her whiteboard with dry erase markers, watching Disney VHS tapes on a small television in her office, and roller skating around her conference room table. My mom’s flexible schedule allowed her to pick me up from school and spend time with me in the afternoons. But I also have memories of accompanying my mom to meetings and attending day camp if my sister and I had a school holiday that could not be accommodated by my parents’ work schedule.

I feel very lucky to have grown up with a working mom. As a young girl I benefitted from seeing my mom as a boss, a leader, a collaborator, and a problem solver and learning that being a dedicated mom and an engaged worker were not mutually exclusive. I grew up around coworkers who respected her in both a professional and personal capacity. I am proud of my mom’s career and feel grateful that she and my dad always spoke about their careers as a way to share their gifts with the world, and as something tied to their own spirituality and concern for community- they had vocations, not jobs. When I envision my own future it always involves being a working mother.

While I so admire my mom’s accomplishments I am very aware that she had to make professional sacrifices to be fully available to my sister and me. In fact, it is a national trend for women’s careers to have family-related interruptions more often than men’s careers. These interruptions contribute to the gender wage gap and limit the number of women in top-level jobs.

As with most issues, the rights and privileges extended to working parents have a class and racial dimension. People who make more than $75,000 a year are twice as likely as those who make less than $30,000 to receive paid leave, with only 14% of workers in the United States having access to paid family leave. Balancing childcare and work often lead todifficult decisions for many families, and in particular African American families who, “are doubly penalized by lower wages and higher rates of parental labor force participation.”

The United States remains one of the wealthiest nations and yet the only country in the developed world that does not mandate employers offer paid leave for new mothers. In the U.S., 1 in 4 new mothers go back to work just 10 days after giving birth. So this Mother’s Day let’s ask policymakers for family friendly workplaces; for paid leave, flexible hours, and affordable and accessible child care in addition to making mom breakfast in bed- it’s the least we can do.

The Trump Administration’s Attacks on Immigrant Families

The Trump Administration’s Attacks on Immigrant Families

Sana Rizvi
May 2, 2018

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Trump administration has anti-immigrant policies, considering our current president won an entire campaign on an explicitly anti-immigrant platform. Yet, I am still outraged by the horrific nature of these policies and how they have attacked the very foundation of our society: families.

How can we not be outraged? When did our political leaders forget the value and sacredness of family?

I have heard my entire life that our nation is a nation of immigrants. If that is (at least partially) true, why do we treat immigrants in this country today as second-class citizens? Why do we allow our government to tear immigrant families—people who came to this country for safety and security—apart?

Over the past few months, as advocates fought to keep DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in the news cycle, the Administration took action to uproot our immigrant communities by ramping up detentions and intentionally separating children from their parents.

Here are just a few examples:

On October 24, 2017, Rosa Maria Hernandez, a 10-year-old undocumented girl with cerebral palsy, was arrested by border agents while being taken into surgery. National outrage came swiftly, and it was a rare moment of national spotlight, which led Rosa Maria to be released on November 3, 2017.

A few weeks later, 1-year-old Mateo was separated from his father, who was applying for asylum as a family unit at the same time as several other families. Onlookers who resisted the separation of father and son were forcibly told by the arresting officer that doing so would hurt their own claims for asylum. The four children taken during that encounter were then processed as unaccompanied minors and sent to foster care in separate states.[i]

In March, a Congolese woman was finally reunited with her 7-year-old daughter after being separated from her for several months by almost 2,000 miles, a situation DHS Secretary Nielsen herself could not rationalize.[ii]

These are just a few recent examples, but the everyday reality is that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is systematically seeking to separate parents from their children. [iii]

In Islam, heaven is under your mother’s feet and looking at your parents with love is considered a form of worship. Woe to those who tear children away from heaven.

As a person of faith, I am deeply troubled by the leniency our collective conscience has allowed to those who tear families apart in the name of national security. Family separation has gone from a once-abhorred policy to being a common state-sanctioned practice.

Two recent ICE directives have made this possible: The first instructed agents on how to separate children from their parents, removing key elements of earlier policies that allowed prosecutorial discretion to provide assistance to parents who need help retaining their parental rights in immigration courts. The second changed an ICE policy to begin long-term detainment of pregnant women, despite multiple lawsuits and reports of miscarriages occurring from the conditions of detention.[iv]

One of the most memorable verses in the Quran asks “Was not the earth of God spacious enough for you to flee for refuge?” (Quran 4:97) Every time I read it, I am reminded that we erected strict borders, even though God asked us to never turn away people who come to your door in need.

What excuses will we make in front of God when asked why we treated our neighbors as criminals and increased their suffering when they came to us for help? What will we say when we are shown the children who fled to a country they did not know and were torn from their mothers?

[i] “Five Outrageous ways ICE Separates Families” Amnesty International USA. Dec. 18, 2017. https://medium.com/@amnestyusa/five-outrageous-ways-ice-separates-families-fe0452653272

[ii] “Durbin says Homeland Security admits separating Congolese mother and child ‘a mistake’” Chicago Tribune. March 7, 2018. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/huppke/ct-met-congo-family-separated-immigration-huppke-20180307-story.html

[iii] Our friends at Hope Border Institute recently published a report of asylum seekers at the El Paso Sector of the border being deterred from entry through cases of family separation and the horrific conditions of detention, find that report and more resources here: https://www.hopeborder.org/sealing-the-border

[iv]  “Detained  Women Suffering Miscarriages Due to ICE Negligence, Activists Say” NETA February 12, 2018 https://netargv.com/2018/02/12/detained-women-suffering-miscarriages-due-ice-negligence-activists-say/

Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

Mary Cunningham
April 30, 2018

“He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying: ‘Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.’ ” – St. Bernardine of Siena

On May 1, we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. Pope Pius XII established this feast day in 1955 to honor St. Joseph and celebrate the Catholic Church’s commitment to the dignity of labor. St. Joseph cared for Mary, his wife, and Jesus, his son, through his work as a carpenter, representing for us the ideal of dignified work and faithful contribution to the common good. His example reminds all workers to participate in God’s continuing creation each and every day through our own labor.

As I reflect on St. Joseph the Worker, I am reminded of the teacher strikes emerging throughout our country in the past few months. Beginning in West Virginia –and growing to Colorado, Kentucky, Arizona, and Oklahoma– teachers are uniting to demand higher wages and better conditions for the schools where they teach. The teachers rallying are from states with some of the lowest salaries for educators in the country. They are calling for more state funding for public education, which is currently inadequate.

In a pivotal move, teachers are leaving their classrooms to go on strike. In West Virginia, the teachers hoped to point out not only inadequate pay, but also changes to PEIA (Public Employees Insurance Agency), a health insurance company that covers state employees. They also wanted to highlight the large number of teacher vacancies (700 in West Virginia) resulting from poor school conditions and low teacher pay. In Colorado, teachers rallied at the State Capitol for various reasons, among them fear of changes to retirement and pension plans. United for a common mission, these teachers have gained national attention, and in some cases, secured greater education funding.

Like teachers, workers across professions are joining together to demand just wages and benefits for their work. At the Christian Care Home  in Ferguson, Missouri, healthcare workers participated in a 104 day-long strike because the nursing home mishandled vacation and violated  the contract for time off  for its employees. Around 65 full-time employees and 25 part-time workers participated in the strike, which eventually led to a 20 cent an hour raise to $9.85 an hour. Christian Care Home also agreed to cover health insurance rates and cover payouts for unfair labor practices. This is another striking example of what it looks like to take action to secure dignified labor.

As we celebrate St Joseph the Worker today, we recall all workers who have experienced injustice and sought better working conditions for themselves and those around them. The teachers going on strike, and all teachers across the United States, are shaping our education system and forming the young women and men who will soon enter the workforce, and serve as our politicians, engineers, and innovators. Their contribution to the common good cannot be understated. All workers deserve dignity, fair compensation, and safe work environments that allow them to shape our shared future and contribute to the common good.

Striving For Holiness In Our Advocacy

Striving For Holiness In Our Advocacy

Mary Cunningham
April 26, 2018

In his recently-published apostolic exhortation “Rejoice and Be Glad,” Pope Francis explores what it means to be holy in a world often tainted by egoism and a disregard for the marginalized. He calls us all to follow Jesus in order to embody His holiness and live out His mission in the world. In one section of the apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis lists the “signs of holiness in today’s world:” Perseverance, Patience and Meekness, Joy and a Sense of Humor, Boldness and Passion, Community, and Constant Prayer. What do these mean, and how do they apply to our own lives and our advocacy?

Perseverance, Patience and Meekness

“They do not desert others in bad times; they accompany them in their anxiety and distress, even though doing so may not bring immediate satisfaction.” (#112)

Working for justice can be draining. I am always amazed by our lobbyists who constantly advocate for policy goals that may or may not be realized. It is difficult to measure how much one lobby visit or one conversation can influence a policy maker. While our lobbyists might not feel immediate satisfaction from their actions, they continue to do this work because they are hopeful that through advocacy we will move towards a more positive future. As we continue in our work for justice, it is important to look towards our ultimate goal to avoid being weighed down in moments of distress.

Joy and a Sense of Humor

“Hard times may come, when the cross casts its shadow, yet nothing can destroy the supernatural joy that ‘adapts and changes, but always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.’”  (#125)

In our political climate it can be hard to find joy, let alone a sense of humor. The current administration makes daily decisions that threaten the livelihood of our sisters and brothers both in the United States and across the world. In the face of this adversity, it is important to cultivate the inner sense of joy and positivity we need to move forward.

At NETWORK, I find joy in my co-workers, who find time to engage with one another in meaningful ways even when they are bogged down with hill visits, or grassroots organizing. I also find joy in the hope that our work will contribute to promoting the common good and dismantle the oppressive systems currently in place.

Boldness and Passion

“God is eternal newness. He impels us constantly to set out anew, to pass beyond what is familiar, to the fringes and beyond. He takes us to where humanity is most wounded, where men and women, beneath the appearance of a shallow conformity, continue to seek an answer to the question of life’s meaning. God is not afraid! He is fearless! He is always greater than our plans and schemes. Unafraid of the fringes, he himself became a fringe (cf. Phil 2:6-8; Jn 1:14).” (#135)

Going to the fringes requires a willingness to enter into moments of discomfort and leave our own privilege. One of our goals at NETWORK is to engage in dialogues and actions surrounding racial justice. As a white person, I often struggle with these conversations. I try to make sure I am being respectful in the language I use, while also acknowledging my own privilege, which can be uncomfortable. In the advocacy space, it is important not to let our fears overcome our passion. We are human. God calls us to enter into difficult conversations and to be bold so that justice can be advanced. Complacency is resignation. As Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.”

Community

“Contrary to the growing consumerist individualism that tends to isolate us in a quest for well-being apart from others, our path to holiness can only make us identify all the more with Jesus’ prayer ‘that all may be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you’ (Jn 17:21).” (#146)

It’s a human tendency to think we can do everything on our own. Sometimes it feels easier to do it that way instead of consulting our sisters and brothers for help. However, in our work for justice, we must always seek out our neighbors. Our Grassroots Mobilization team constantly puts this into action by building advocates teams across the United States and mobilizing them to be active voices in their communities. We also see this sense of community in our spirit-filled network at NETWORK that participates in action alerts, webinars, and more. Without them, out work would not be possible.

Another key part of advocacy is building relationships with other organizations advancing justice and lifting up the work they are doing. At NETWORK we work on our Mend the Gap issue areas, but we can only cover so much! Without the great work of our partner organizations, the uphill battle towards economic and social justice would be a lot more challenging. When we recognize the value of community, we are all able to combine our unique strengths to work towards a common goal.

Constant Prayer

“Trust-filled prayer is a response of a heart open to encountering God face to face, where all is peaceful and the quiet voice of the Lord can be heard in the midst of silence. In that silence, we can discern, in the light of the Spirit, the paths of holiness to which the Lord is calling us.” (#149)

Pope Francis emphasizes the importance of discernment by asking, how do we faithfully follow God? Being in prayer with God means being in conversation with Her and asking where do you most need me? Although this can be unclear, only in talking to God can we ensure that we are doing all we can to live out Her mission.

A huge part of our work for justice requires listening and bearing witness to what is going on around us. We must occasionally set aside doing and focus on openness: letting God’s will enter our hearts and our minds. We have to remind ourselves of why we are doing this work. Only then can we ensure we are truly living out God’s call for us.

Overall, there is a lot to take from the pope’s apostolic exhortation. Pope Francis assures us that we are all called to be holy in our own unique way. The “signs of holiness” are the means through which we can animate our advocacy and achieve holiness in our lives.

Caring for Our Gift

Caring for Our Gift

Hannah Mullally
April 20, 2018

“We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.” -Pope Francis, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.

To me, these words from Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home encompass the importance of incorporating environmental care and justice into faith. We are of the earth; we are made from the earth; we depend on the earth. In forgetting this, we lose sight of our duty and responsibility to care for the gift of earth which sustains us.

The first Earth Day in the United States on April 22, 1970 brought the idea of care of creation into the mainstream. When we celebrate Earth Day this year, we continue the fight to be responsible stewards of our home while also recognizing the additional issues into which environmental justice reaches. We cannot discuss responsible environmental care without acknowledging how environmental degradation first and foremost impacts those with the least privilege. This degradation is especially unjust because those contributing the most to it are the privileged of the world. Recognizing the connection between environmental justice and human justice brings new meaning to Jesus’s words, “Whatever you do to the least of my people, you do to me.” If we contribute to environmental degradation and allow disrespect toward our environment, we are hurting the most vulnerable among us and therefore the very Being who gifted us this Earth.

Viewing care of creation through the lens of Catholic Social Justice makes it clear that this is an issue of justice we should be fully invested in. This is not an issue of political persuasion, but a component of human and environmental dignity that Catholics and non-Catholics alike should fight for. Unfortunately, today there are powerful individuals who claim to speak from a place of Christian morality while simultaneously expressing disdain toward the idea of environmental justice. The profession of respect for life and humanity these influencers make falls woefully short when it does not include clean water, air, and soil for every person on this earth. As fellow Christians, we must remind these individuals, and ourselves, that care of creation is a central component of our belief system.

Although working towards environmental justice can feel like a daunting challenge, for me it is a straightforward effort at its core. Care for creation simply means respect for our earth and by extension ourselves. We are a part of the earth, “we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies made of her elements,” and we are stewards of humanity and the Earth. Let us become the stewards of our gift we are meant to be. Let us make our Creator, our Giver, proud.

Hannah Mullally is currently pursuing her Master’s of Science in Wildlife and Fisheries at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She earned her Bachelor of Environmental Science from Creighton University in 2016. Hannah aspires to work for a conservation non-profit organization where she can communicate the importance of environmental stewardship to the public and work to conserve the beautiful natural places of our planet. She also hopes to integrate environmental justice into her conservation work and advocate for the right of all people to live in a healthy world. When she is not working on research or advocacy, Hannah takes advantage of living near the Great Smoky Mountains by hiking, backpacking, and biking.

Prodigal Son

Prodigal Son

Jeremiah Pennebaker
April 12, 2018

“I hope you gettin’ in that Word!” I can hear my Pops telling me every time I pick up the phone to dial him, and I’m flooded with premature guilt because I am in fact not “gettin’ in that Word.” I can’t really remember the last time I really sat down and had a dedicated devotion or spent intentional time studying the Bible. Don’t tell my dad that – it’s looks bad if the pastor’s kid is skipping out on Bible study. It’s not that I’m rejecting the gospel or trying to rebel against my parents, but it’s more so just a disconnect for me. I feel much more faith-adjacent than I do faithful. I have a desire to be faithful and to understand what it means to have a relationship with God, but I feel that I’m living in a strange and distant land far from the luxuries of “The Kingdom.”

I spent all of my formative years in the church. Travelling to different churches across Louisville, I heard my dad speak fervently and passionately about Jesus and put together sermons that would “hit you on the way home” and really make you think. There was one point in my adolescence that you couldn’t tell me that my dad and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. weren’t the same person. I was all in for this Christianity and faith stuff. I was involved in any aspect I could be with the church, even to the point that we started our own gospel rap group (I still cringe when I remember some of my “raps”). We had a church of our own, we had worked hard and gotten a building, membership was growing, and I was convinced that we were supposed to be the next megachurch… until we weren’t.

It still feels like a blur, but the disconnect happened in 2011 when we lost the church amongst a series of unfortunate events for my family. I know so many stories in the Bible discuss how the believers and the disciples struggled, but their faith remained or that God showed them the way. But that hasn’t been my experience. My experience has been watching my parents grapple with debt and discouragement while clinging to their faith traditions. Around the same time, I began learning about how faith has been used as propaganda for domination since the beginning of time. My experience has been attempting to reconcile my beliefs with a world that I’m constantly learning is much more nuanced than black and white or good and evil. I’m trying to reason with all the things that I think versus the things I know, all the while I feel my relationship with God fading away. It feels like the disconnect grew into a gap and then that gap into a chasm. To me Jesus went from a friend to the friendless to that friend on Facebook who you don’t talk to anymore, but they’re always reposting inspirational quotes.

Despite all of this confusion, I’ve never necessarily left the faith space. My passion for justice has led me to being in several faith spaces. I went to a Jesuit college where I was heavily involved in the Center for Faith and Justice, and I currently work for a Catholic non-profit, but there’s still this chasm. I recognized this when I was asked at NETWORK, “How does your faith inform your desire to do justice?”. To be honest, I’m not sure how it does. My desire to do justice comes from my frustration with injustice, but I’m not sure where my faith comes in outside of “be a good person and you get to heaven.”

On one hand I’m a very rational person. I can rationalize a lot of the reasons that I should and could create this relationship with God. I can rationalize and recognize how my foundation of faith has led me to my passion for social justice. I can rationalize that the racist, sexist, and homophobic interpretations of the Bible are not the only context in which “that Word” can be understood. I can rationalize and recognize who I believe God is and recognize and validate my friends who are LGBTQIA+. On the other hand, I’m an unashamed hopeless romantic and I can recognize when that connectedness of a relationship is there and when it isn’t. I can recognize my feelings whenever I’m in a space trying to explain my faith or talk about God. And I can recognize that my heavenly father (or mother) feels more like a step-parent. It’s those things I haven’t been able to reconcile, and maybe I’m not supposed to. I just hope that God’s still waiting on me to come home if I ever do figure it out.

Returning to Others This Lent

Returning to Others This Lent

Mary Cunningham
March 22, 2018

“Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” – Joel 2:12

I have always been struck by the phrase “return to me” in Joel. In fact, I worked on a Lenten reflection guide during college bearing that very name. And yet, it was not until this year that I started to grapple with what the phrase really means and how it applies to me personally. Perhaps by working so closely on a project called “Return to Me” I felt I already fully understood the phrase, giving myself a pass to engage more deeply.

I tend to think of Lent as a personal practice, a way to evaluate my own faith life and identify where I can do better. While this is certainly important in returning to God, this Lenten season, that phrase took on a new meaning for me. As I began my Lenten practice, I realized that returning to God does not just mean focusing on my own prayer life; it also means returning to others.

I moved to Washington, D.C. at a pivotal moment in our nation’s history: a new president was elected who has a blatant disregard for the poor and marginalized. We were in new and unchartered territory. Now, working at a lobbying organization, I am often overwhelmed by the deluge of bad news. I constantly question if the work I am doing is making a concrete difference. At the same time, I’ve never felt like I was in a better position to change things.

This year at NETWORK one of my responsibilities was researching and compiling our Lenten resource on 21st Century Poverty. Working on this guide, I realized the importance of being both a witness to the suffering in our world and present to my neighbors. This takes place on both a small and large scale. Who are the people I interact with every day who might silently be suffering? And who are the people that I may not see every day, but who struggle from food insecurity, lack of housing, or low wages that keep them in poverty? I realize that I cannot complete alleviate anyone’s suffering, but I can be more attuned to it and help by asking myself, where can I return to others?

For me, Lent is coming to God, in my own brokenness and in my sadness at the brokenness of the world. In doing so, I am able to see where I can invest my energy and return to others. Then, the approach of Easter brings a promise of spring and new life for the world, where by returning to our neighbors, we return to God.

 

Peacebuilding in Polarized Times

Peacebuilding in Polarized Times

Claire Guinta
March 15, 2018

In February, Sister Simone came to Marquette University to speak about “21st Century Poverty and the Challenge of Healing Our Nation.” Hearing about current divisions in our country, it struck me how connected polarization is to the isolation between different economic groups and the assumptions we make of “the other.”

During her talk I thought of isolation I see around me. I am a senior at Marquette, a Jesuit University that “strives to develop men and women who will dedicate their lives to the service of others, actively entering into the struggle for a more just society.” Yet, through perceptions of poverty and violence, there is often an “othering” of those who live in the Milwaukee neighborhoods directly surrounding my campus. These assumptions create barriers between us in the “bubble” and those living just a few blocks away.

“Individualism and polarization are driving us apart because we don’t know each other’s stories,” Sister Simone Shared, “And we don’t see this. So, what do we do?”

She proposed four simple ways each of us can be a part of revitalizing community and reclaiming hope:

  • Virtue of curiosity: Have a holy curiosity to build community with folks we don’t know. Listen to other people’s stories.
  • Virtue of sacred gossip: Share those stories that you discovered. It brings us together and spreads knowledge.
  • Virtue of joy: Joy is in the relationship, joy is in the discovery, joy is in being woven together in community.
  • Virtue of doing your part: Don’t try to do it all—we are all one part of the body.

Through my own journey I have seen how these virtues can transform an individual and a community. As a research assistant with the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking, I went door-knocking in the neighborhoods surrounding campus to collect survey data used to inform community initiatives. My first day door-knocking, I stepped onto the streets that had been described like the “shadowland from the Lion King.” I wrestled with that image in my head and tried to leave my assumptions behind. Quickly, I realized that the neighborhoods surrounding my campus were home to a diverse group of people (racially, economically, religiously, culturally). People were excited to share their opinions about their community and ready to see new community initiatives. When Sister Simone said that “hope is a communal virtue,” I thought of the people I met door-knocking.

When I returned to campus, I shared the survey results with the data team, but I also shared their stories with my friends. I found joy in making the connection with the neighborhood residents, but also in sharing what I had learned. It didn’t solve any headlining issues, but I was a part of a team working to revitalize a community. By making connections with “the other,” my assumptions faded away and were replaced by stories.

So, when I approach peacebuilding in these polarized times, I will be sure to have some holy curiosity, engage in sacred gossip, practice the virtue of joy, and seek out how I fit in to the greater picture.

Glaire Guinta is a senior at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she studies International Affairs, Spanish, and Peace Studies. Throughout her university career, Claire has been involved in various activities supporting immigrants and refugees, including trips to the borderlands and providing interpretation services in Milwaukee. She currently works at the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking.

A Muslim and Black Woman in the Workplace

A Muslim and Black Woman in the Workplace

Aichetou Waiga
March 12, 2018

It was Saturday afternoon and I was well into my weekend routine of pajamas and catching up on my favorite daytime talk shows on YouTube. The day’s topic of discussion? A recent question posed by The New York Times: “Should you be yourself in the workplace?” I chuckled the moment I heard the question. I’ve never dedicated time to reflect on it, but it was already deeply rooted in me and in most women of color: being yourself in the workplace is simply not an option.

I know it may seem ridiculous to write about racial identity in the workplace in 2018, in a supposedly progressive America where more and more companies are celebrating and embracing diversity. However, I find that diversity in the workplace typically means a two-hour conference on race that leaves white people nervous to offend anyone, and people of color feeling dissatisfied. Diversity is much more complex than that; it should be a long-term commitment to hold people accountable for the ways company cultures lead to a lot of discomfort for the one-in-twenty person of color on the team. We could have endless conversations about what’s offensive and what to avoid saying, but the truth of the matter is that I can’t run to management every time a coworker says something inappropriate or offensive to me; I’d literally never get anything done. Furthermore, I don’t want to reinforce the stereotype of the “angry Black woman.”

I wasn’t always so wise though. I was under the impression that workplaces who value diversity would also want diversity of thought. I thought my disdain for Trump would be appreciated, if not celebrated. I thought my mourning of Philando and Trayvon would be understood. But that was not the case. Instead, I was summoned to a meeting with managers who were confused at the idea that someone would want to be themselves–that a person of color would be so bold as to carry their political views and emotions to their desk.  I was equally baffled that a company that celebrated diversity and wanted people of color as part of their culture would expect their workers to be “normal” when something so tragic happens within my community.

That was my awakening. No matter how much a company celebrates diversity, Black women must still water down our identities. These companies want us to be ourselves just enough to add some color, (and to be able to say 6.4% of their employees are African-American) but not so much that white people get uncomfortable. We as Black women have to master the art of code-switching, of learning to speak office language so as not to be deemed “ratchet” or unprofessional. We must know whiteness so well so we can be delicate with it. I find that white women—not all, but many — have mastered the art of crying wolf. As with many other aspects of my life, this is of course deeply rooted in slavery. White women have always been deemed more feminine, and therefore needing more protection from the dangerous Blacks. It’s no surprise that the aftermath of this can still be seen in our daily lives today.

My Muslim identity adds another layer of complexity, so I’ve also learned to hide that as well. For the first week or so at a new position, I always wear a turban, as opposed to my traditional hijab. I do not know how to explain this except that people of color know that everything we do must consider white people’s comfort. Everything I say, wear, and express must be white-washed enough to let white people into my world, but not to the point of shoving my identity in their faces. There’s always been this unspoken vibe that my identity is not the default in the workplace (or anywhere in mainstream culture). So I must know just how Black, just how Muslim, just how feminine I can be in public spaces without further perpetuating the stereotypes associated with these identities.

Black women must show up to work every day knowing that everything we do will be associated with our race. We show up to work knowing that our performance will be used, for better or for worse, in the hiring process of future candidates of color. We come to work every day knowing that we must be someone else for the next eight hours. Being our authentic selves is a privilege most of us will never experience at work.

Aichetou Waiga is a recent college graduate with a B.S. degree in Biology, Spanish and Peace and Justice studies. She is originally from Mauritania, West Africa, but has been living in the U.S. since 2007. She was recently accepted into Ohio University School of Medicine and aspires to be an OB/GYN and work with underrepresented women around the world. Before then, Aichetou is taking advantage of her time off from school by indulging in her hobbies which include her YouTube Channel (Bintou Waiga), reading, traveling and writing for her blog.