Thursday, July 30, 2009

Motor City News #2

(if you missed #1, you can find it here)

It's been an incredible month of challenge and excitement in Detroit. There are so many ways I could go with this newsletter... I think I'll share a bit of what I'm doing, a bit of what I'm learning, and a few other personal notes and updates. Beware, there's a lot of Jesus.

Day Camp.
My day job with the other five Navigators interns this summer is working with the Central Detroit Christian Breakthrough Day Camp. Tomorrow is the final day after five weeks of camp. After the first week I thought the end might never come, but now that it's arrived I wish we could go on. Working with children is challenging, but working with large groups of children who are growing up in very tough environments is another thing altogether. I've gotten to work with a group of 15-20 third graders in the classroom setting, and a group of 8-10 middle school kids in a community garden. And I've grown to love them.

I could tell so many stories, but here's one: One of my little 3rd graders is named Khalil. He's a little wiry guy -- fast, athletic, fearless. But he has a lot of anger built up inside him. Things aren't easy at home. The kids get to talking at each other, and the minute someone mentions Khalil's momma, you can see him start fuming. And it's not long until there's a fight. My favorite method of breaking up fights with the 3rd graders is hugs. Earlier this week Khalil was angry. He skipped Monday because his older sister (who I've gotten to know in my gardening class) wasn't around either. They don't live together. And Tuesday his was a coiled spring all morning. By lunch time he was ready to hit anyone that looked at him. And so I stayed with him, talking to him, reassuring him, keeping other kids out of his way. But he got into a fight in the lunch line. So I gave him a hug, and pulled him away from the line. We went outside and talked.

In my discipline of children I've developed a habit this summer of using the words "I love you" as part of the conversation. This has been tremendously helpful for my own spiritual peace, but there have been several cases where it's had a noticeable affect on the kids. Some of them have never really heard anyone say that. One first grader (who is one of the worst-behaved in her class) told my fellow intern Julia, "Nobody loves me," when she overheard Julia express love to another. So I took Khalil out of the lunch room and expressed my love for him, that I wanted to help him, that I understood that he was angry and that it was ok to feel that way. I told him how much Jesus loved him, and I watched his teeth slowly unclench and his tense little muscles relax. For the rest of the day he seemed like a completely different person.

For me, that's what day camp is about. I will miss dearly those I've developed connections with, and pray that I may continue to be part of their lives as I stay in Detroit.

I'm a middle class white male, and in America that means I'm powerful. The system is on my side.
Now I'm living among poor and working class black folk, who know what it means to be pushed down. We use words like 'underprivileged' to talk about these folk. But if there are underprivileged people, who are the overprivileged? That word's not even in the dictionary. One of the privileges of being white is that I am not required by my culture and feel no negative effects if I don't know anything about another culture. But if you're not white, you have to learn majority culture as well as your own just to survive. So, it has been a blessing to me to be immersed in black culture, and to begin to learn and experience crossing cultures in the city. Last Sunday we took a trip to the suburbs and I actually felt uncomfortable.

I've learned quite a few shocking statistics about racism and racial inequality in the US. Here are just a few:
  • Almost no one alive today would say that there was racial equality in the US in 1963. A poll was taken of white folks in 1963, and 70% of them believed there was racial equality. In 1963. A poll was taken within the last few years of white folk, and 60-70% believe there is currently racial equality between black and white. A poll was taken at the same time of black folk. The same number of them said they did not believe racial equality for blacks would be achieved in their lifetime if ever. Catch this! 70% of whites think everyone has equal access and opportunity currently. 70% of blacks think they never will.
  • A young sociologist recently copied a study done in the 70s with young black children. They were given two dolls, one black, one white. 75% said they preferred the white doll. She asked, "Which doll is nice?" the white one. "Is one of the dolls bad?" the black one. "Why is that one bad?" he's black. I cannot imagine growing up with the notion that the color of my skin makes me bad.
  • If you have a white sounding name -- you don't even have to be white, just suspected of whiteness -- you're at least twice as likely to get a call for an interview after submitting a job application.
  • A study was done with a group of young white and black males seeking employment. They were trained actors. Half of each group claimed to have a criminal record. You're more likely to get hired if you're a white criminal than if you're a clean black guy.
  • And it goes on...
So these things have shaken me up a bit, as they should. It's tempting to hate being white, then, to reject it. But that is also a wrong response. I've been encouraged to use the privileges I've been given as a white man -- to embrace the gift I've been given and embrace my own ethnic identity -- and to strive to confer what privileges I can to my colored friends and neighbors, brothers and sisters.

And one more short, life-altering conclusion: I've come to believe that the racial division in the church in the US is not merely a social phenomenon, but a spiritual one. The divided church is living in sin. For more, listen to John Piper.

A personal note:
I'm actually writing this from Harrisburg, not Detroit. My grandfather died on Sunday morning, July 26. We celebrated his life at his funeral ceremony and buried him today. I'm doing well, thanks.

Job search: a few personal connections may lead to a job at a charter school. Otherwise, I'm joining the other 1/5 of Detroit's population of unemployed folks. I will explore some non-education options, including engineering and gymnastics. God will provide.

I mentioned last time that Mike, Luke, Jon, and I would be moving in together somewhere in Detroit this fall. It will actually be mid-August, and we've added a fifth: Tyson. He's a good friend of Mike's from Shippensburg. The original other three were up in Detroit last weekend. We did some neighborhood and house hunting, and God has provided several great opportunities for us to rent houses at unreasonably low prices (or to name our own price). We're currently praying through some location, house, and ministry questions, but plan to make some decisions this weekend or early next week.

Prayer requests, for the prayerful:
  • Pray for continued unity among my current summer team. They have been amazing so far, like family. Pray that as we reflect on our experience and the other five depart mid-August that our experiences and insights would impact each of our lives beyond this summer.
  • Pray for my father, uncle, and grandmother as they walk through the process of grieving for Grandpa. Praise God for his legacy of faith, that my grandfather is not lying in the ground but is rejoicing with the saints and angels around the throne of his Savior.
  • Pray that God would provide a job for me (as well as for Jon and Tyson).

- m a t t

PS - I'd love to hear from you, even if I can't write back regularly.


Chops said...

What was the source on the black-sounding-name bias? The only study I've seen on the matter (reported in Freakonomics) showed no effect of having a "black-sounding" name in getting a callback.

inos said...

Tim Wise said that in a presentation that I watched.