Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Anna's fight for citizenship

Anna Cruz came to America from Mexico to pick strawberries when she was ten.  Her father moved the family to Oregon in pursuit of the American dream. She’s still waiting on papers to prove she belongs.

“I know it’s wrong, but someone had to pick those strawberries,” she says.  “Try picking a strawberry when it’s frozen.”

Cruz’s father managed the home that housed seasonal farmers from south of the border. Those farmers rose at 4:00am to head to the farm to pick strawberries.  At ten, Cruz stayed home to take care of a newborn baby. She started picking strawberries with the grownups when most girls her age played with dolls and had tea parties to pass the time away.

She started thinking about citizenship in high school.  “My counselor told me my grades were good enough for a scholarship.”  The thought of attending Oregon State University came to mind.  “Then I got the bad news.  I couldn’t get a scholarship because I’m not a legal citizen.”

Bad days followed the news that she couldn’t go to college.  She got pregnant.  A bad relationship was enough to encourage her to seek shelter in the arms of the man who would become her husband.  They moved to Durham, NC to find a life away from the strawberry fields.

She found work at a Durham restaurant.  She works hard, pays her taxes and does the hard work of a mother to keep her children out of trouble. She started a business with Alfredo, her husband.  He’s a videographer and she does photography. They are living the American dream. 

Is that possible when the DMV will not authorize a driver’s license?

“They told me I have to have citizenship,” Cruz says.  “I have to be able to drive to take care of my children and get to work.”

How long does it take to become a citizen? “They told me it will be another 5 years,” Cruz says.  “My father got his citizenship after I turned 21.  I was married, so I have to do it on my own.” Ten years have passed since her father became a citizen.

“I would like to work in the medical field,” she says. “Especially since all I have seen.” She told of experiences at the hospital of overhearing workers talk about her or others nearby. “When they ask me if I speak English I say yes.”

People are often hurt by the assumptions of others.  Cruz keeps smiling.  She wants to go to school so she can help others.  “I love my job.  I’m thankful for all I have,” she says.  “But I could use more money.  I would like to do more to help others.”

She tried to get a job at one of the Duke University community clinics.  She couldn’t get the job because she’s not a citizen.  Maybe one day she’ll go to college.  Maybe after her children graduate from high school and the paper work comes through to grant her the freedom to pursue more of the American dream.

“You learn where not to go,” Cruz says. “I can’t visit a person in jail.  I can’t go to the library because they ask for your driver’s license for ID.”  

The fear of deportation subsided when she got news from her father that they can’t send her back to Mexico.  Her case is in process.  She’s one step closer to the American dream.

“My father had an attorney that was helping on my case,” she says. “That person turned out to be a fraud.” Money was lost on the quest for the American dream.  Thousands of dollars down the drain due to the manipulative ways of those who prey on the hope of citizenship.

“The hardest part is I have never seen my mother,” Cruz says as her drive to remain positive did battle with her tears. “I talked to her once on the phone.”

Cruz has come a long way since picking strawberries in Oregon. She has a long way to go.  The goal of becoming an American citizen dominates her thoughts.  She keeps pressing to move beyond the stigma of not being an American.

Her papers remain on the bottom of a stack of others waiting to be approved.  Some consider her America’s problem - one of countless illegals who crossed the border in pursuit of the American dream.  She’s a symbol of the need for change. More than that, she’s a wife, a mother, an employee, a home owner who pays her taxes.  She stays out of trouble, and works hard to keep her children on the right path.

Like most of us, she simply wants the American dream.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Someone has to feed the sheep

“My children always had something to eat,” Rose Greene told me as she reflected on life in New York.  “There was always somewhere to go to find a meal when you needed one.  I’m giving back what I received with my children.”

Green is vice-president and the volunteer coordinator of Feed My Sheep of Durham, Inc.  The nonprofit started feeding people when Shane Benjamin, former pastor at Asbury Temple United Methodist Church, decided to meet the needs of those living near the church in North East Central Durham.  That was ten years-ago, and a group of committed believers continues to live their faith by feeding those in need of a meal.

The stress of managing a nonprofit is painted on Greene’s face.  Feed My Sheep left the safety net of Asbury Temple after 8 years when the congregation merged with the Reconciliation United Methodist Church to form the New Creation United Methodist Church.

“Asbury was a part of what we do,” Greene says. “They took up an offering every 4th Sunday.”

A $38,000 grant received three years ago helped them feed senior citizens living in the hosiery mills.  They fed 32 people breakfast five days a week.

Now, Feed My Sheep serves 1,400 meals each month.  They feed seniors living at Henderson Towers and Oldham Mills. They also serve meals on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month for anyone looking for a meal.

They do it with four volunteer cooks. No one gets paid. They do it with no administrative office, no kitchen of their own.  They are a nomadic organization, having moved from one church to another in hope of finding a permanent place to feed the sheep.

Billy Morgan works from 6:00 am until 10:30 am every day. “I have diabetes, but I’ve been doing it since we started,” he says. “It’s my way of giving back and helping people.  I’ve been out there in the world.  People helped me.”

Most of the volunteers are on disability or retired.  It’s hard giving back when you barely have enough to feed yourself.

“Sometimes Billy may have to catch a bus,” Greene says. “I’ll get him 20 dollars.”

“I took my food stamps to buy food,” Morgan says.  “We do what it takes to make sure they have something to eat.”

There have been numerous days were volunteers took food from their homes to gather enough to feed there people.  It’s hard feeding people when there’s not enough money to keep pace of the needs.

It’s hard to keep the faith when there is no place to cook a meal.

They were housed at One Love Ministry until November 2011. The church moved out of the old Holloway Elementary School to their new home in North Durham. They church’s new location was outside Feed My Sheep’s target area.  They weren’t asked to move with the church.

They were forced out of Mt. Calvary United Holy Church when they merged with the Light House of Faith on January 17th.

“We were in the way,” Greene says. “After painting everything in our area.  We cleaned, mopped, got a dumpster. After doing all of that, we were given 10 days to leave.”

Money was disbursed from Crop-Walks funds by DCIA during their annual dinner.  Feed My Sheep paid their debt with the Food Bank.  Now they’re doing the best they can to get enough money to feed the sheep each week.

It gets old robbing Peter to pay Paul.

“We need a home,” Greene says. “We’re doing the best we can to feed people who are unemployed and seniors who can’t eat.”

The vision of Feed My Sheep is a simple one.  It’s rooted in an old story of a man who admonished his followers to feed the sheep.  He took them to a mountain where he blessed fish and bread to feed thousands of people.  Feeding both their spirits and body came with being a disciple. 

“It’s been hard over the past few years,” Greene says.  “We keep doing what is needed to feed people.”

You would think a church in Durham would have space to feed the sheep.  Greene and the other faithful volunteers keep cooking those meals.  They refuse to give up.

Someone has to feed the sheep.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Responding to the death of a 15-year-old

I had to wait three days before I could answer the question.  “It's long past time to stop the senseless slaughter of our children!” my friend Pam Hall Purifoy posted on my Facebook wall.  “How do we begin to stop the violence?”

The question was accompanied with a link to a story about the funeral of 15-yeard-old Hadiya Pendenton. Pendleton was shot and killed on Jan. 29 about a mile from President Barack Obama’s Chicago home.  It happened a few days after she participated in the President inauguration as a band majorette. 

Pendenton’s dream of going to college was taken from her by gang members fighting over things that people like me will never understand.  She’s the last of 43 people killed in Chicago in January.  Last year the city topped 500 murders. Everyone is wondering why?  Everyone wants to know the solution to the problem.

Fourteen of the victims were 20 years-old or younger.  The youngest victim was 2 years-old.  The cross-fire of death is taking the lives of those too young to understand why it’s happening.  Purifoy’s question has been asked many times.  In Durham, NC, thousands marched to Few Gardens in 1994 to protest the murder of two-year-old Shaquana Atwater – the victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

 “I wish there were an easy answer but it goes beyond simple socioeconomic responses,” Ronal d White responded to Purifoy’s question.  “This thing is very deep! Black men (as a whole and down through generations) have carried a sense 'self-hate' and rejection. I could write a thesis on this one. Again, no easy answer. We need God!”

White’s response read like a community confession.  Something is wrong within the black community.  Something deep, perplexing and distressing is eating at the soul in places packed with black bodies.  What went wrong?  What can be done to stop it?

“We, as a culture, have a war mentality that's hard to break,” Cash Michaels, a popular journalist at The Carolinian offered. “We give our kids toy guns and GI Joe, sit them in front of violent TV shows and video games for hours, and then wonder why a 14 years-old boy just beat his seven-month-old sister to death! This story horrifies me, as it should all of us!”

The answers kept coming.  I read each with a booming Amen followed by rapid nods of the head.

“I dislike saying this but, our problem is with our identity. We see ourselves as broke, unhealthy, and not deserving the best,” Ernest H. Johnson states. We see ourselves through the minds of slaves rather than our true identity. Until this is repaired, and our Black colleges don't have the economic or faculty power to deal with this misfortune, then we will continue act like brainwashed giants.”

I prepared a message to add to the chat on Facebook.  My attention was diverted by the headlines from the local newspaper positioned on the table next to my cup of coffee and the poetry of Kahlil Gibran.

“A man was shot to death near a crowded mall Saturday afternoon and left in a parking lot as the shooter or shooters left in getaway Jeep that crashed into two other vehicles,” the article in the Durham Herald-Sun read. “The victim was identified as Brian Christopher Keys, 24, of Greensboro.”

“Investigators charged the three occupants of the Jeep Liberty – Monquell Davis, 19, of Lutz Lane; Deshario Mitchell, 18, of Marne Avenue; and Kadeem Johnson, 18, of Umstead Street with murder.”

Three more charged with murder- each under the age of 20. Another black man killed.  Four more families fastened to a system known for burying black boys and locking others in rooms with no promise of freedom.

Is this the meaning of let freedom ring?  Is this why Harriet Tubman went back to get more? 

 “Be not discouraged. There is a future for you. . . . The resistance encountered now predicates hope. . . . Only as we rise . . . do we encounter opposition,” Did Frederick Douglass say that for this?  Is this the reason behind the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for freedom?

Did Rosa Parks sit for this? Is this the reason behind the deaths of Malcolm and Martin?  Was the fight for freedom to grant young thugs the right to bear arms and take life?  Is this the dream of those who fought for America’s freedom when those back home fought to keep them in their proper place?

I have no answer Ms. Purifoy.  What I have is a statement.  This is a disgrace in the face of our history.  I spew shame to those who bring indignity to our ancestors.  I beg them to learn their own history.  Our ancestors are watching.

 I’m tired of making excuses for you.  I will no longer blame the absence of a father in your home.  I’m tired of lifting the defense of poor economic upbringing.  I’m sick of apologizing for actions that you refuse to be accountable for on your own. 

Do you care that so many care about you? Have you noticed us fighting for your judicial rights?  Have you seen us rebelling against the stigma that keeps you from getting work once you leave prison?  You make the rest of us look bad.  We’re judged because of you, and you lack the respect to acknowledge our hard work in preventing others from giving up on you.

You have taken this too far.  You are killing our children.  I no longer feel sorry for you.  Grow up.  It’s not your daddy’s fault.  Your mother has cried too much over you.  I’ve seen her in church begging God to deliver you from the demons in the streets.  You think your manhood is tied to your fist, gun and stare.  You’re not a man.  You’re a child with a gun.

I wash my hands from you.  I’ll be waiting when you come to your senses.  That’s what love is about.  Until then, get out of my face.  Play your games somewhere else.

I hope that answers your question.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Not all white people at Duke University are racist.

Carl, your comments about racism at Duke are correct but incomplete.  There are many Duke Students -- including White -- who fight the good fight, as does the vast majority of the administration.  As you often do, you paint with so broad a brush that it undermines your credibility as serious commentator.  In your anger and enthusiasm, you condemn many who are your active allies.  You'd be taken a lot more seriously if you could get past your inability to see your allies.  All of Duke is not racist, and no serious commentator would even imply they are.  You have the makings of being a powerful and credible voice, and I hope you will widen your narrow vision so you can fulfill your promise instead of so often shooting your credibility in the foot. I hate to see you continue to undermine your own good voice.  On the other hand, if you really think all of Duke or even most of it remains racist, then you need to do some fact checking. -David Ball

Those comments came from David Ball, a reader of my blog.  I hate to say it, but ole dude is right.  Part of learning to be sensitive to the opinions of others is being grown up enough to say you made a mistake.  Ball’s point is about making overgeneralizations.  It’s one of the points I press hard with this blog.  We should never make assumptions in a way that diminishes the worth of an entire group.

So, here it goes.  Not everyone at Duke University is a racist jerk.  The truth is most are great people engaged in the type of hard work that is moving our community toward being a loving, affirming, tolerant place.  Not everyone at Duke University is consumed with being entitled.  Yes, some come from affluent families with trust funds large enough to accommodate the needs of great, great, great grandchildren.  Not everyone eats with a silver fork, and some who do are capable of having conversation about more than where they went for vacation over the Christmas break.

For anyone to oversimplify is bad news.  It’s the stereotypes that eat at me, and often have me exploding like a packed volcano.  Trust me when I say no one gets tagged worse than black men.  Not all of us have three baby mamas, a long criminal record and rob people as a hobby.  Many of us have college degrees. 

Ball is right. I would crash his party if he made any reference that labeled an entire campus based on the actions of a few.  I hate to think what I would have said if someone asserted “all students at NCCU smoke marijuana.”  My first thought would be, so what.  That would be followed with, “no he didn’t”. From there I would have applied the traditional rhetoric – racism.

So, let me make this perfectly clear.  Some of my best friends are white.  I know, that sounds familiar.  It’s the common avowal white people give when slapped with the R label.  R is for racist for those who failed to catch up in time to get on the train.  But really, some of my best friends are white.

I’m not quite sure if that makes a difference, but I feel the need to state that given the assertion that I need to do my homework.  That statement made me feel like I failed the course on white sensitivity.  The contrary is true.  I’ve spent most of my life learning to exist in a world governed by the rules of powerful white men.  I’m not player hating on their position of power, but black folks, women and other minorities deserve medals for maneuvering around white male feelings.  You feel me?

My world is surrounded by people who learn and teach at Duke, and yes, I love them deeply.  Naomi Quinn, a professor emeritus in the anthropology department, is a member of the Saturday Morning Breakfast Club I attend.  I call her mom.  I love her like a mother.  She loves me like a son.  Owen Flanagan, a professor in the philosophy department, is co-founder, with me, of the Bums Club.  It’s for those who meet at the Bean Traders and work while looking like we have nothing to do with our lives.  I call him brother.  I love him like a brother.  He calls me brother, and treats me like he means it (insert tears).

There’s Laura Lazarus, a Ph.D. student in the political science department.  She’s an old school feminist who gives me that black woman glare whenever I say something perceived as being sexist.  Her look slaps me like my mama’s hand back in the day when I got in trouble for reason I can’t remember.  I love Laura like a sister.  She loves me like a brother.

There are others I wish I could mention.  The good news is there are too many to list on this page.  It’s part of being connected to a diverse community.  Being community is hard work.  We can only make it when we have friends who yell at us when we step over that forbidden line.  When that happens, and it takes place often, wisdom involves getting your behind back on the other side of the line.

So, I hope to see David Ball at the Bums Club.  He’s welcome to meet me at the Breakfast Club if he desires.  Those are the places that make true community. Community is made one word at a time.  Sometimes you have to take back a few words, and on other occasions you have to add a few.

So, here’s to more than a few.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Racist parties aren't new at Duke University

My son, King Kenney, knows a lot about parties at Duke University.  He made a name for himself, with his business partner Jeff Johnson, as the premier party promoters in Durham.  King shut down his business to move to Austin, TX last year.  He’s not surprised by the news of a racist fraternity party at Duke.

In between promoting his own parties, King worked the door for numerous parties attended by Duke Students.  “Whenever we did parties with Duke Students something happened”, he told me during a recent phone conversations.”

“I was there when they had black face night,” he continued.  “They say and do things that are really offensive.”

He told me about numerous accounts when he was called a nigger after asking students to leave the party.  “One time a student called me a nigger and placed his hands on me,” he said.  “Next thing I knew he was on the ground.”

The Kappa Sigma fraternity has been suspended at Duke University by its parent organization after a party that featured offensive Asian stereotypes, including straw conical hats.

“Things are worse for the Asian students,” King continued.  “White students are intimidated by Asians because they outperform them at Duke.”

An email sent to promote the party had several misspellings to suggest Asian-accented English and a meme based on the Kim Jung-il character in the movie “Team America: World Police,” The Chronicle, the Duke University student newspaper, reports.

This is not just about Asians, one party or one frat,” Ashley Tsai told the Chronicle. “This is a consistent thing happening. We want serious things to be done by the student body and the university so that this never happens again.”

Pictures posted online show people at the party dressed in stereotypical Asian-style clothing and a greeting that imitates Asian dialect.

King told me his departure from Durham was due, in part, to the lack of tolerance among students at Duke.  “People say Durham is the most tolerant city in America, but I was called a nigger more there than ever in Austin.”

He talked about the time he rammed the head of a student on a car after being called a nigger and pushed.  “They think they’re better because they attend Duke,” King says.  “I thought I wanted to go there, but this incident reminds me of why I moved away.”

King is preparing to attend law school.  Duke was on his list of places to attend, but too many memories of life in Durham make it hard for him to consider sharing space with those who play games with race.  It’s cruel.  It’s been going on for a long time.  It needs to come to an end.

Asian students say this type of thing happens all the time.  They’re right.  It happens to often to be swept under a bureaucratic rug.  It’s more than a party.  Students are playing games with race.  Those who play those games should be asked to take their insensitivity to another place.  Be it asking a black woman to thank her grandfather for picking the cotton that made a shirt, wearing black face to a party, or mimicking the culture of Asians, it must be stopped.

Durham may be a tolerant city, but that spirit isn’t shared by those who attend Duke University.  The truth may hurt, but the truth will set you free!