Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Xmas from this Blogger, Activist, Musician, and Lyft Driver

Last night's Lyft driving got really under my skin, seeped into my heart.  So much pain, so much story, so much humanity out here on these streets.

Those who pray: please pray for Alejandro as he flies back to Sonora, Mexico to help his family in a hard time, leaving a good paying job in Birmingham.  He was intrigued that I knew people in Agua Prieta, near where he lives, as most people in Birmingham, MI only know about Cancun.  Lyfted him to the airport last night.

Pray for David who left his drug dealing after time in county jail but has had to move away from his children out to Romulus to be close to his job in Ypsilanti. He tried to find work aside from drug dealing for years, but nothing came in Detroit. 

Pray for Ruby: she broke my heart tonight. As I drove her down 8 mile where she used to make $1,000 a weekend at the strip clubs 10 years ago, she's angry at Jesus for not showing up for her, yet. 8 years ago her brother was murdered while she was in nursing school, and it threw her life off course. She knows her Bible, has been hurt by a greedy pastor, and she just preached a half hour in my car, holding all the wrapping paper she just got at the dollar store and called Lyft because the Detroit bus didn't come for 3 of the times it was posted that it would.

Pray for Gail: after her divorce, she's been raising her three college-aged kids on her own.  She needed a Lyft because she let her oldest child have her one car.  She lives in the Suburbs of Wayne County, so her car insurance is very high, just like my more immediate neighbors.  Her job is set to expire in early 2017, so at this stage in her life, she's still living paycheck to paycheck and nervous about her resume.  

A few nights ago, I got to drive Gary, the owner of a liquor store in my neighborhood, back to his home in West Bloomfield.  He's been the owner for decades, and is proud that he's made peace with the African-American community he serves, hires from, and I wanted to say, probably overcharges them for groceries.  He talked about voting for Trump, and I verbally disagreed with his logic, but I had to humble myself and listen to his life as a Chaldean boy in Iraq, his family feeling forced to leave as Christians.  He said he would hook me up with my favorite whiskey if I stop by again.   

These were not passengers in the surge zones, but I'm glad I didn't chase the money tonight. I drive people to bars sometimes, and sometimes I get the honor of driving people at a very critical moment in their life.

Before you judge our neighbors living south of 8 mile, drive a few miles with them and listen. 

Please support The Table Setters in our launch mode

Peace by peace by silent nights and heartfelt prayers,
+Matthew John Schmitt @matthewjschmitt

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Table Setters Needs Your Support!

Come to the Table. 
Share at the Table.  Stay at the Table.

Come Back to the Table. 

We are asking for financial support for our 2017 launch. We need to support our families as we build the components and create opportunities for schools and churches who otherwise would not be able to afford our visit, workshops, and consulting.

We are also poised to write a book we believe is critically important, but we need real time and space to actually author it:
How is that a 58 year old African-American is friends with a 39 year old European-American? Why is this friendship, filled with love and constant disagreement, important as a model for the type of relationships needed in our country in 2017?

You have been sampling my writing on this blog for almost a year, and you can check out Marvin's at Paid In Full.

The Table Setters is a faith-based non-profit (pending) that produces improved relationships across humanly created racial, socio-economic, political, and religious lines. We combine launch events in churches, schools, and civic institutions with customized plans for ongoing cultural accountability. Diversity training days are never enough. Ongoing relationships that nurture connections and share brokenness, hopes and dreams, can be mutually healing and productive.

Founded through the deep friendship of Marvin Wadlow Jr., an African-American Baby Boomer, and Matthew John Schmitt, a European-American Generation X-er, the Table Setters exist to remember that we are all invited to God's Table through Christ, with none of us over or under-welcomed. Both founders lament that though Jesus shares stories and parables through setting a variety of tables across cultures and classes, most of our country, including Christians, have a hard time stepping outside their zip codes. The Table Setters believe that reality is greater understood when we fully appreciate differences across the divisions of humankind, and we aim to start a movement of courageous and ongoing Table Setting: individuals, businesses, and congregations who are willing to continually meet with "the others.” We are called to mutually learn, question, and share experiences in vulnerable storytelling that ultimately moves us towards making better decisions together.

How YOUR Giving will Matter to The Table Setters Launch:

$100 - Covers Lyft rides to and from airports
$500 - Covers our internet connection for one year as we create social media content
$1000 - Covers airfare for Matthew & Marvin to visit schools or churches with limited budgets
$4000 - Covers the costs associated with Marvin & Matthew to offer a workshop series
$6000 - Affords us each one month to write, research, and develop our book concept in 2017.

Simply click DONATE to make your tax-deductible contribution, or mail a check to:

The Table Setters
c/o Dan Selock
70 Sandy Point
Goreville, IL 62939

Peace by peace by peace,
Matthew, Marvin, Dan, Susie, Darcie and all the future Table Setters who will be impacted by this launch......

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Forgiveness Table, by Marvin Wadlow Jr.

Matthew John Schmitt, my co-founder in The Table Setters, shared this post on Facebook already about the apology to Dakota Native Americans from a host of retired US military soldiers in regards to the oil pipeline recently temporarily halted. It’s awesome in it’s written form. God has gifted me with the ability of stories in film. This is a powerful 2.30 second visual of what real forgiveness looks like.

Not yelling and pontificating on CNN, Fox, or MSNBC, or even Facebook. Real Forgiveness means a real apology. It also requires both parties to come to The Table of Forgiveness and to be specific of the injustices perpetrated on each other. Or, by one to another. For this country, that’s broad brushes of paint filled with blood! The blood of Native Americans, the Blood of Mexican-Americans, the blood of African-Americans, and yes, blood of my Asian-Americans (including Pacific Islanders) brothters and sisters ancestors. Ancestory from my good friends in the Asian community like Diane Ujiiye, and Jason Chu! I mention my Asian brothers and sisters because they need some upfront acknowledgement to their ancestral sacrifices. The history books overlook horrible injustices to them, me, and all previouly mentioned groups above.

Let’s not bullshit, where does that leave all my pink (white) brothers and sisters of a different hue in terms of forgiveness, apologies, and real listening? Real listening means not playing chess with people of color that have deep wounds. No, “Yeah but’s”. It means just taking the time to hear our seemingly drawn out historically convoluted stories of our history in the context of being a person of color in America! It means, actually listening at a few Table Settings before you point-counter-point. If you haven’t been told, I’m telling you now, it pisses us off so much. Just simply listen. Listening requires no response. And, when and if you feel the need to apologize, be real. See this video, that’s a real f’ing apology. And for the record, my father served in a racist, seperatist WWII military with honor for his country and him regardless of the injustices he experienced (watch the movie Solder’s Story). Members of my family serve and honorably served in in all wars, other members of my family serve and have served as police (that’s black and white officers in my family), fire, and EMT; doctors, nurses, etc. So any unconstructive (no other form of protest for him to use) critique of Kaepernick (NFL) excuses of what he’s doing by taking a knee is redundent and hypocritical! The exact reason you’re fighting against what he’s doing is the reason all soliders fight for his ability to protest in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Look at King, Ali, Tommy Smith and John Carlos (68' Olympics); look at The Woolworth lunch counter participants, look at water hose victims in 64', watch Bloody Sunday participants on the bridge in Selma, read the bios of Don Cornelious of Soul Train, watch Michael Jackson who stood his ground with MTV, or I personally might not have had a career, and ask countless others in Dakota. The list could go on and on.

This apology was beyond, “heart felt”. My pink brother laid it on the line, spoke clearly, specifically, and succinctly about what the wrongs were. Paused. Bowed.

And then he lowered his head in asking for full forgiveness in front of a tribal leader.

You can hear it in his voice as the speaker wears the uniform of still the most brutal war in our US history, our own civil war; and in that uniform, he apologizes. You can see it on the faces of other soldiers who kneel with him and ask for forgiveness under his representation. And, you can hear it in the accepting of his apology by the tribal leader saying wisely, “ this is a 1st step” in that forgiveness process. Most, not all Americans, so let me be clear: my brothers and sisters of European Anglo descent want this quick fix. 400 years is not a quick fix, the land we took is not a quick fix. The pain exhibited by most people of color from 400 years of mental, physical, and emotional harm will not be fixed overnight as we did not take this land peacefully overnight. And the fruit enjoyed by many came at the cost of people with skin that looks like mine or a derivative of: Asians, African, Native, Pacific Islanders, and Latinos who paid a heavy cost for “this land is your land, this land is my land” song, but did not reap that fruit. Instead they picked the fruit and reaped no rewards except systematic ghettos strategically placed in cities, reservations, and some rural areas all over the nation! So, even though that song is a folk song as a protest song with an ironic twist that we know that’s not qute true!

History tells us that certain lands are my land, certain areas are my areas, and certain schools are my schools, but not all! So this is a heavy price that we are baring the fruit of after years of ignorance in regards to how we avoid and ignore the injustices. And now, that price is upon us as a nation to be Paid in Full. So, what will we do? Will we continue to scream and shout. Or, will we follow the lead of the Dakota tribe and stand strong? And, will we follow the lead of this amazing group of people who came to ask forgiveness? Or, will we continue to teach generation after generation on what it means to be separate in church under God, in school under tax dollars, and in zip codes under city codes? I say, we are collectively better.I say I have hope in all Tables set regardless if I’m sitting with a Klan member, black lives matter activist, or whomever comes humbly to the table, ready to listen. Just like this video sets the example…..

The people who came to build the railroads, yes, my Asian brothers and sisters, ancestors of Jason Garreth Loke and Diane Ujiiye, is not a quick fix! In my humble opinion, I learned from this Native American wiseman that it’s the 1st steps that count! Now at Table Setters, we wanna come take 1st steps with you. As Thelonious Monk said in his famous jazz piece: This is Straight, No Chaser! It’s a hard pill to swallow, but this is the fruit of our good old country. We truly earned the Red, the white, and the blue stripes as if they were on our backs for (all) of our our past injustices whether brown, pink, and shades there in-between as people of color, and pink people. :) There has been a sacrifice made in this country. And not all those sacrifices have been acknowledged!

My Table has many cups that runeth over for many pieces of bread to be broken. Here, take this in remembrance of what we all participated in. Drink this in solidarity with me as to not repeat those actions and to take responsibility for the injustices of the past. Write with me the New history books so it reflects the real colors of our flag from the truth! Not one man’s truth. But the whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help me God. Please, Please Help us God.

-Marvin Wadlow Jr

Son of Marvin Wadlow Sr., a WWII Honored Vet

Son of Virginia Lee Wadlow who built fuselages for WWII bombers after suffering through racial injustices in the workplace that she built them.

I am Father to Marvin Pulefaasaasina Wadlow III, Morgan Malosi Wadlow, and Malcolm Alofa Wadlow.

My father, probably is a descendant of Ghanaian or Nigerian slaves stolen from Africa and brought through the middle passage to America.

My sons are descendants of African and Polynesian Blood from my brothers and sisters of Pacific Islander Asians who’s land was also taken from them! I’m so proud of my sons’ Asian blood!

In honor of my ancestors’ ability to create music that has “Always and Forever” changed the world everytime we create something out of nothing, here’s Thelonious Monk’s Masterpiece, “Straight, No Chaser”

And closing out with some solid journalism ABOUT the forgiveness moment...

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Dear Suburban Detroit Passengers,

Dear Suburban Detroiters,

I love you, I grew up on your turf. Most of you are incredible people. As a #Lyft driver, though, I have to set the record straight. When you ask me if I pick up "crazy hood people" in the city, I ask you if you mean my neighbors? Did you know that car insurance south of 8 mile is 3-6 times what you pay in the suburbs, just from the get go? Many of my neighbors say it's much less expensive to take Lyft from time to time to work than it is to own a car.

And, now having driven 400 people in the past 3 months, I can say this. I've only had 5 terrible experiences (thank God.) All 5 of them were north of 9 mile road. The passenger who yelled at me for not allowing him to smoke in my car. The passenger who was so hopped up on cocaine and Cialis that I had to report him, not so much for me, but for fear that he might sexually assault a female driver (he kept bragging about how he can always score with any woman, though he was angry because he had just been rejected in the bathroom of a club.) The passengers who wouldn't get out of my car because they were mad that I didn't drive them to places that they had not entered into the route, nor had they communicated in any way. The passenger group who kept aggressively asking me if I was afraid of getting mugged...and when I asked them, tongue in cheek, "should I be worried," one of them was not amused (the others laughed uproariously, because the one dude would NOT let it go.) They were pretty insulting, though. They threw a dollar bill at me as they got out of the car.

Suburban Detroiters, most of you are incredible and wonderful passengers. But if you find yourself assuming that my neighbors in Detroit are all dangerous and threatening, you are fiercely incorrect. I urge you to rethink that notion, and if you are taking Lyft or Uber, be kind. You are not better than any of us because of where you live. You are not entitled to do whatever you feel like just because you might see yourself as more valuable than me or my neighbors since you've earned more money in life, or had more to begin with.

I love this job, because many times, I get to engage in mini Table Settings a la The Table Setters I get to deflate trumped up fears and misconceptions, and I get to hear from real Detroit folks in the city, downriver, in the suburbs, about real life here in Southeastern Michigan. This is a great place.

I'm glad to be home.

And we've got a ton of tables to set for the long haul towards greater understanding, compassion, and equality.

And miles to go before we sleep, and miles to go before we sleep.

God help us learn to actually listen to each other, and not just assume.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

If you are not black....

Dear (mostly) White sisters and brothers:

That is all.

(The photo meme above was found on the Coming to the Table Facebook site, a post by Van Caldwell.)

Except, that WAS NOT all.  

Addendum: 11/24/16

An old friend, @artgarfunky, started a debate on Twitter.

So, as a Lyft driver, I sometimes hear White people from the suburbs talk to me about how Black people should "get their act together," or something along those lines.  Often when this is said, that white person is sloppy drunk, not even sure where they need me to take it feels like a "take the plank out of your own eye before judging the speck in your neighbor's eye."  That was the spirit behind the original post.

But Phillip brings up a great pushback.  If we build trust and respect, truly, than we can ALL speak into each other's lives, regardless of color.  He's right.  It's what I've learned with Marvin all these years, as we certainly do engage in iron-sharpening-iron types of conversations, mutually.  It's the heart of why we are launching @TheTableSetters!

Still, too often, White people, both progressives and conservatives, want to tell Black people to act "better" without ever taking time to actually get to know the Black community.   What it really means, usually, is that Black people need to act "more white."   And this is one of the most persnickety and insidiously hidden forms of #Whiteousness.

Phillip, I hope we can sit a real table again soon!

+Matthew John Schmitt

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, November 18, 2016

Evangelical Dispatch from Rural America

With our dear friend Lanita, at the Longbranch Cafe in Carbondale,
a socially conscious establishment owned by Sufis.  
"I sat in a meeting today where we talked about the need for faith communities to come together to plan for sanctuary spaces, and how we must create a firewall to protect the vulnerable.  A friend who is a rabbi was fighting back tears as he spoke.  The pain is real.  The fear is real. The threat is real.  And so, I ask my evangelical friends who voted for Trump (a man who's campaign promised registry and removals), what will you do when they come for your neighbor?" - Lorynne Young

My @TheTableSetters co-founding partner and I traveled back to Marion, IL for the majority of this week, a place that is quickly becoming our home away from home.  Marion is two hours from St. Louis in a rural area known as Little Egypt.  This region prides itself on being a great provider to the country as the ground is fertile and the river-saturated soil is rich.  And for us, the hospitality of Dan and Susie Selock is Biblical and profound.

As we traveled from church to church, spoke on the floor of the Presbytery of Southeastern Illinois, and visited restaurants, we heard a range of thoughts and opinions from the heart of our country.  We heard fears and celebrations.  Frankly, I heard many similar conversations to what I've been having in the metropolitan Detroit area, from the Lyft riders in my car.

This morning, Marvin and I went to the gym.  I overheard two older men working out next to me (this is becoming a theme: see "Playing the Dangerous White Card").  They were talking about the Electoral College, and I piped in to say that there is a large petition calling for the dismantling of the college.  Jim said to me, "well, you can wipe your ass with that petition, cause then it'll just be LA and New York who'll decide."  As of typing this, nearly 4,500,000 people have signed it, the largest in's history of online petitions.

And then we got into a calm dialogue.  I don't know much about the electoral college, I admitted, but thought perhaps the 50% of the country who didn't even vote in the election of Clinton vs. Trump may already feel like their vote doesn't matter because of the EC.  Maybe they would actually start voting?  He found that interesting and possible, said he hadn't considered that.

He told me that he has always voted Republican, and the conversation I interrupted was with his friend who, as usual, voted Democratic this time around.  These two men have lived in Marion their entire lives as friends.  They have always respectfully disagreed on politics, but they love to listen and consider with one another.  So we continued.

Jim told me his friend's wife also usually voted Republican, but she couldn't because of Trump's "locker room talk."  She couldn't believe a grown man could talk like that.  Jim said, "well, you should come to one of the BBQs I attend each week.  Men always talk like that about their exploits.  One guy said on Sunday that his penis is so big it's ribbed like a rack of lamb."  (Sorry readers, I can never un-hear that, so I'm throwing my pain to the community.  At least you only have to read it!)

I said, "does that make it right?"

He said, "I'm not saying it's right or wrong, but it happens all the time."

He told me that he believes its our civic responsibility to vote, and I sparred back to say that "voting" is the bare minimum of our civic responsibility.  He agreed, and said the real civic duty is to serve.  Now I was surprised to learn that he meant more than military service: Jim considered joining the Peace Corps at one point in his life.  I expressed that I had been part of AmeriCorps in Teach For America, and Jim actually thanked me for my service.  I almost felt a bit of a salute, not that I was fishing for it in anyway, but there was legitimate respect from him.

He said that he doesn't believe Trump actually would do any of the things he talks about.  "He's a rich, rich man, why would he need to do any of that?"  I said, "well, rich people do all kinds of things because they know they can get away with them!"  Jim said, "well, you do have a point.  That is true, power does corrupt, it does corrupt.  Guess we'll have to wait to find out."

And then Marvin walked up to say we needed to get ready to leave for our morning meeting.  I introduced him to Jim, said that Marvin lives in LA and I live in Detroit, and Jim said, "wait, you (pointing to brown-skinned Marvin) should be the one from Detroit!"  Awkward laughter, and we actually did have to move on.

So here's the reason I share this: I am glad I engaged.  (I better be, as a Table Setter!)  I was struck with the idea of his friendship with his Democratic friend.  I was intrigued by his respect for a variety of ways one can "serve" the country.  I was angry with his willingness to pass over Trump's behaviors, and his BBQ buddies too for that matter.  But: had we had more time, I believe there is more to uncover and more to learn about one another.  I will probably still disagree with him, he will probably still disagree with me, but the effort to understand trains our empathetic muscles.  

And it stirs me to press forward.  As a follower of Jesus, it occurred to me this week that Christianity was always meant to become increasingly and broadly more and more diverse.  Christianity was a revolution, in a major way, because it embraced God's diverse design, inviting all into the family: Romans 14 lays out that we should expect to sit at tables with people of a variety of cultures.  Following Jesus was always supposed to be diverse in its welcome and its reception of a variety of customs and cultures: Pagans and Gentiles would be added to the family alongside the Jews, and from there followed clear instructions to reach out to Asians to Africans to Arabs to Europeans, to me.  Isn't it tragic, then, that our churches are so segregated?  Isn't it tragic, then, that Jim, who I gathered is also a Christian, assumes that Marvin might only live in a place known for "black-people-ness?"  Jim clearly does not know many people with brown skin, and his assumption also underscores the deep problems of redlining, zip codes, and segregated schooling.

Jesus went back to Nazareth after being tempted by Satan.  His hometown.  And he made it clear that God's Kingdom was meant for the entire world, not solely for one people group.

"'And there were many lepers in Israel at the time of the prophet Elisha but the only one cleansed was Naaman the Syrian.'  That set everyone in the meeting place seething with anger.  They threw [Jesus] out, banishing him from the village, then took him to a mountain cliff at the edge of the village to throw him to his doom, but he gave them the slip and was on his way."  - Luke 4, MSG 

Before he was actually crucified, people wanted to kill Jesus for suggesting that God's favor might fall upon someone other than themselves.  Diversity.  It's not just for us.  It's for the whole world.

And Jim, and all y'all Evangelicals who keep dismissing Trump's abhorrent statements: I must say I'm tired of hearing that Trump's worst problem is his mouth. What about his tweeting and grabbing fingers? In my math: Problematic Tongue + Problematic Hands = Problematic Mind. Trouble ahead.

Evangelicals, of which I count myself in that number: again I ask, what will we do when they come for our neighbors?  For our Muslim neighbors in Dearborn?  For our Latino parents in Hollywood and Pacoima and Compton?  For our young brown-skinned millennials who will be caught up in ever-increasing "stop-and-frisk" nets?

The amount of hateful statements you are making to people who are afraid of a Trump presidency is astounding. I am not referencing the media. I am referencing dozens of friends' personal Facebook pages.   Please read the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain, right now. Skip church to do it.

You see, my non-Christian friends now believe that American Evangelical Christianity, most definitely from our white churches, has crossed the final line.  If our heart is to win people over to following Jesus, we are doing the very opposite right now with the collective account of our witness to the 75% of the country who did not vote for a man who has promised registries and removals in a similar spirit to King Herod.

Our witness to the world is dim.

Now, more than ever, I am convinced that our work with The Table Setters is absolutely critical.  I will quote Marvin Wadlow Jr., something I rarely do because I have to listen to him so much (ha!), but he says that if we don't sit at table across differences on a regular basis immediately, "Ferguson is going to look like Disneyland."

We have policy promises for registries and profiling and immediate deportations and criminal charges against peaceful protestors.  Marvin's words are feeling more and more prophetic.

So let's sit down and talk.  And practice the "revolutionary act of listening," as my new friend Satori Shakoor says all the time.  Help us spread the word.  We need to invite people to the table who look different than us. We need to accept invitations to sit at tables where we might be uncomfortable.  We need to stay at the table when the conversation turns uncomfortable, and keep listening.  We need to come back to the table, again and again.

The Table Setters offers: 

Diversity Workshops: We offer faith-rooted launch events for diversity initiatives that highlight the critical need and possibilities of culturally integrated lives.  These can be customized in a variety of ways, including for religious or secular audiences.

Academic Presentations: Either in person or via teleconference, we can visit your school or university with customized lessons and challenges. We are also able to offer Continuing Education Units (CEU).

Diversity Accountability Plans: Through in-person visits, video conference calls, and other correspondence, we can advise and provide counsel for initiatives in your community, church, school or business.

And here's what we need help with, right now:

1. Prayer

2. Financial Support to facilitate our full launch into non-profit status; to carve space for Marvin and I to write our partnered books; to assist lower-income churches who may not be able to afford the costs of bringing us to visit.

3. Help spreading the word to schedule table settings at your churches, schools, businesses, and at denominational conferences and events.

The time is so clearly now.  Just like it was after Jesus died.  Just like it was after the slaughter of our native brothers and sisters.  Just like it was after the Revolutionary, Civil, World, and Recent wars.  Just like it was after Malcolm and Martin and Bobby and Oscar and John were gunned down.  Just like it was after new prison building eclipsed the building and renovation of schools.  Just like it always is.

Come to the Table.  Stay at the Table.  Share at the Table.  Come back to the Table.

Peace by holy peace,
+Matthew John Schmitt @matthewjschmitt

Be sure to check out Susie Meister Butler, PhD and Sarah Rice interview Marvin and I.Both of the women are reality television stars, and Susie also has a doctorate in Religious Studies.Darcie, my wife, and her were good friends in elementary school.  The Table Setters portion comes in around the 27 minute mark.

We keep marchin'

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, November 10, 2016

On the Election...

Now is the time to radically love each other - Maanav Thakore

Friends, the election of Donald J. Trump has been very hard to deal with, as I'm sure it is for many of you, and exciting for some of you, too.  I'm doing my best to honor that.

In the exhaustion of riding all the emotions and thoughts and fears and hopes during my fasting period, I am not capable of writing a full blog post now, but I will share some of the posting from my Facebook page.  Please take it as it's a process.

November 7:
Friends. I have started an 8-10 day fast. I've done this before, so I do know what I'm doing, but I do ask for prayer in this time. I am fasting for:

1. To remember that God loves us all, including me.
2. Our marriage, and how that impacts our children. Darcie and I thought we were prepared for the transition and all that would bring. We were not ready for what has transpired between us, and I fast to bring awareness and hope back to our bond.
3. Our country, and how that impacts our world. Tomorrow is less important to me than how to function as human beings, together, moving forward. I fast to remember to pray for our nation. I also pray that The Table Setters can find our real voice in this divisive time.
4. I fast for my own body. Ever since we started the move, I have been aching, and one of the fasts I performed in the past brought significant healing.

Please pray for me, and send me ways I can pray for you. That's how you manage the hunger, to think about others along with the prayers above.

November 8, Election Day:
Good Morning America. My fasting has brought some clarity: First, I am calling all of us out on complaining that election year advertising is all about mudslinging. Our advertiser and marketing experts say: it's what the public wants. Looking at my Facebook feed, with all the smears of Clinton and all the smears of Trump, it appears we do want negativity. We want to see our opponents as evil. Young kids playing soccer still like the kids on the other team. We all need to wake up to that, before we lose more and more decency and kindness.

That being said, I've done my homework, and I've looked at all the negative slanted videos of Trump and Clinton. The vast majority of the anti-Obama, anti-Democrat, anti-Michelle Obama, anti-Clinton videos are either clearly doctored, or when you look further, placed in a very misleading context, and still able to cause distaste for these leaders. The videos on Trump are literally his own words, no doctoring whatsoever. Remember, this is a man who has said negative publicity is still publicity, and we know that he tries to cause a stir. Trump supporters, please stop complaining about him being "smeared:" he lives for this. He asks for the attention. He's like the Lady Gaga in a meat suit of this election, loving the shock value of his Tweets. He is not hurt when the media focuses in on his behaviors, he intends it to happen. This is not meant to be negative, just honest. Look at the videos for yourself, and do further searches to hear the entire videos. If you care. I believe you should care.

Compassion and kindness ought to be values of our people. Tomorrow we begin the great work of healing from 2016. I hope you'll join me at the Tables.

November 8, later in the day:
Voting complete. It was a blessing to vote alongside our mostly African-American community; knowing that voting has not always felt like a right in this community; knowing that throughout distant and recent history, people who look like our neighbors have been threatened, intimidated, assaulted, taxed, mocked, insulted, and killed for trying to get to the polls. Today, I admit I got emotional to stand strong together.

November 9: Morning
Martin Luther King, Jr. made concrete connections between the discrimination of white working class Americans and African-Americans right before his life ended. It is tragic how both major political parties have ignored this for the past decades, Clinton included. And Trump certainly appealed to these hard-working white folks, but he did so by employing clearly racist, xenophobic, and sexist statements regularly. That is scary. Will a Trump presidency deliver to both sides, or either? Or did he use the overlooked white constituency just to win? Will he forget about them right away, too? And what about the majority demographic rapidly changing in our country in the next 8 years? These are only some of the questions I have now, and time will tell.

Martin Luther King worked for finding common ground between the divisions. He got killed for it. Trump built up his power by exacerbating divisions, and that is deeply disturbing. Whether you are celebrating or grieving tonight, please don't forget this.

How can we set tables with all that we've seen? I pray we find the courage to listen and still fight systemic and personal racism. I pray we consider the irony of a man who has exploited poor workers in our country and other nations now claiming he cares about our many working class folks. I pray we consider what "law and order" actually means, fully conscious, as I've written before, that Clinton has been supportive of building up the prison industrial complex, which has deeply destroyed our communities of color. But then I care more about what we do about it.

America: How will we show each other we are not against our many beautifully diverse citizens? And America: how will those of us who have knocked "hicks" and "hillbillies" actually listen to their long term pain as well? Socially, that's the only way forward I see.

I'm working this out here because I've got a heavy heart to face my children in the morning. So I will turn to Jesus. And I pray that brings me hope by the morning. He's my hope.
#DismantlingWhiteousness forevermore.

November 9: Afternoon, in response to a tweet from Ann Coulter

Dear Ann Coulter: If only the children could've voted. 

"See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven." - Matthew 18:10.

Our children are in denial, they can't even talk about it. I pray for the children of our Muslim neighbors in Dearborn. I pray for the children with browner skin than ours living on our street, and on hundreds of thousands of streets in this country. I pray for every child who has ever been bullied for "who they are," that there is not new license to treat kids poorly, savagely, or worse.

I pray for the little child in all of us, not just for those of us who are grieving, but also those who are celebrating. How does our inner child feel about all of this?

I will do my best to stand strong in hope with kindness, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness: the only strengths that have truly ever changed the world for the better.

November 9: Late Afternoon
I just received an encouraging message from a Trump supporter about the spirit of our work at The Table Setters. I will take that as a sign we need to press on. Pressing on.

November 9: Late Evening
(I had been invited to be a guest on Leading Questions with Calvin Moore, a local podcast in Detroit.  I agreed on November 7, when I thought we'd be talking about Hillary Clinton as President-elect.)
I went in with great exhaustion and trepidation, but I am so grateful to have been a guest on Podcast Detroit around this really diverse post-election table, racially, politically, theologically and personally. I went in tired, I come out ready to step forward and continue this work.

Host Calvin Moore wrote this: Had a cathartic and sometimes heated conversation about the election tonight. There was hope, despair, confusion, cognitive dissonance, and a host of other emotions we worked through. But, the one thing I walked away thinking was, "I think we're gonna be okay."

Hear the entire podcast here. 

Thanks so much to DeAndre A. McDay, Kelly Cleaver, Marissa Fillmore, William Byron Reese, Kenneth Gerard Andejeski, Nathan Liverman, & Matthew John Schmitt for coming out tonight. It meant the world. Hopefully, together, we can move forward to a better America and a better world.

For some levity that also brings me hope, I'll end with this video from Saturday Night Live that reminds me why it's more and more important for us to share life together.  Peace by peace. +Matthew John Schmitt @matthewjschmitt

Thursday, November 3, 2016

I'm Voting for Michelle Obama in my Heart

Shirley Chisholm ran for President in 1972
So the Cubs won the World Series!  Anything is possible, yes?  Maybe I will write in Michelle Obama on the ballot.....

A family member has recently criticized this entire venture as being guilt-driven and bleeding-heart-liberal, or something along similar lines meant to dismiss and condescend.

When I've explained my positions and perspectives, he's furthered his criticism by saying his black friend and co-worker totally agrees with him.

Now, in some ways, it can be adorably insensitive when a pink-skinned person says they are not part of systemic racism because they have "one black friend."  But when it is meant to discredit an entire people group's struggle for life and equality, it's not at all cute.

This is only my launch point.  I'm not going to try to prove to any of you that I have many shades-of-brown-skinned friends with bloodlines tracing back to Africa, Asia, or South America.  I want to talk about leadership, because leadership matters and it has made a profound difference in my life to see myself as both a leader, but more importantly, a follower of diverse employers.

The two biggest questions I receive as a Lyft driver in Detroit these days are:

1. Why on earth would you leave Los Angeles to move to cold, wintery Detroit? (ask me that question in March and I might have a different, less enthusiastic response!)

2. How have you, as a white male, come to care so much about fighting systemic racism in America?

In my last role as a non-profit ministry director at DOOR's Los Angeles site, my executive director, an incredible pink-skinned man named Glenn Balzer who hails from Canada, taught me about the "long haul."  As he was hoping to diversify his staff, a board member mentor told him that he could hire whomever he wanted to but it would not change very much.  "If you want to achieve any semblance of authentic diversity, it matters who is making the decisions."  So DOOR spent about 15 years tending to this incredibly hard work, with many tears and arguments alongside laughter and real victory.  They slowly transformed from a group led by mostly white men, as evidenced in the photo below of the Beloved Community Council, the heart behind the entire mission.  In fact, this BCC serves as a major inspiration to our work at The Table Setters, especially lifting up the importance of staying at the diverse tables, not cutting and running when it gets uncomfortable.

The DOOR Network Beloved Community Council, 2013.
So to answer question number 2: I believe my life has been blessed and informed by many bosses, managers, and spiritual mentors.  However, being led and taught by people with browner skin than mine, along with people who have tended to their own complicity in systemic injustice, has informed and shaped who I currently am today.

In fact, as I reflected back, I have had mostly female African-American bosses and managers. And I want to thank them as both a sign of appreciation and a moment of recognition: whatever fears you may have of a "Black Planet," my experiences of submitting to the authority of non-white-male leadership has been a profound blessing.   (Yes, it is complicated, especially in this season as I work to find a job in ministry or non-profit work that cares deeply about diversity.  Hiring me is, in light of all that I'm writing, a unique and risky challenge.  I constantly remind myself that true diversity will require a much more robust appreciation of taking turns and sharing, listening to ideas that don't originate in our own heads, more than many men who look like me have ever had to deal with.....)

Here is a cloud of witnesses, some living, some who've moved on, who have taught me directly the most about this work. Again, these are mostly African-American women, but also a diverse group of leaders who've taught me the grace of taking turns and believing in diversity with integrity.

Thylias Moss, Author and Professor
Thylias Moss: though she was a professor at University of Michigan, she managed the first book of poetry I ever published.  She worked our classroom like an editor getting books ready for market.  I learned about the business of being creative from her, and she full-court pressed me to find my voice.  She also dared to ask if the death penalty was a form of "delayed abortion."

Levi Price: many pages on this blog have already mentioned Levi, a man with a life sentence who taught me the grace of Jesus like nobody before and nobody since.  I am his Onesimus, he is my Paul.  (See Philemon).  Levi "hired" me to tell the truth of Jesus, that Jesus is present in prison and in the hearts of prisoners.

Buzz Alexander: An Anglo-American professor who launched the Prison Creative Arts Project.  Buzz taught me that media outlets, even the most popular movies, have played a powerful role in perpetuating stereotypes that demonize, criminalize, or trivialize people who do not look like us.  Though we've made progress here in the last 20 years, we have a long way to go in reshaping narratives.  I was never paid by Buzz, but I was asked to serve on the early Advisory Board of PCAP.

Patsy Smith Yaeger: An Anglo-American professor who taught literature and women's studies.  Patsy also hired me to take care of her two children, both with brown skin.  She often shared with me the complications of what it meant to raise children from another race, regularly getting stopped in the supermarket by African-American's who asked if she "knew what she was doing."  (Dear God, as I looked her up for this post, I learned that she passed away two years ago of ovarian cancer.  Thank you for her leadership in my life.)

Dr. Kelvin Adams is now the
Superintendent of St. Louis Public Schools
Dr. Kelvin Adams: Dr. Adams was the first principal who ever hired me, and at the time, that was in New Orleans Upper Ninth Ward at Fannie C. Williams Middle School.  More importantly, Dr. Adams called me into his office in November of 1999, when I felt like quitting after Deshondalisa and her classmates cut me down to size.  Kelvin Adams said, "Mr. Schmitt, you're not quitting, so how can we get you back on track towards the reasons I hired you?"

Sister Helen Prejean:  My first year teaching in New Orleans was very challenging on every level.  Of all the people I knew in Louisiana, I had the fortune of meeting Sister Helen through my work with the Prison Creative Arts Project.  With her partner in crime, Sister Margaret Maggio, both pink-skinned like me, Helen took a break from their work to fight the systemic racism and social injustice of the Death Penalty to visit me in my classroom and give me tips from their days of being Catholic School teachers.  And they still teach me about injustice in the legal infrastructure of our country.  I didn't work for them, per se, but I do support them as much as I can.

Sonya Oliver Williams: My second boss in New Orleans, this Principal taught me how to be myself in my classroom.  She didn't need me, she'd say, to try and "become black or Vietnamese" like the kids or like her.  She needed me to just be me, to just teach them, because that would ring much more true and authentic.  And though I didn't work "for" the following African-American female teachers, they were co-workers and department heads and each taught me how to not only survive as a teacher, they taught me how to find my own groove: Davon Hayes, Darlene Alexander, Tiffany Cloud, Donna Bousqueto-Wheaton, and Troylynn Paul.  And they taught me how to have fun in that process.

Diane Robinson: Diane was my first boss in Los Angeles, hired me to work for Teach For America in 2001.  Originally, we were both excited about the idea of a former teacher working as a development director.  The job did not go very well, and I buckled under the pressure of having to raise $2,000,000 in a new city that I knew nothing about, all the while feeling more drawn to the program side.  So Diane let me go in 2002, and though it stung at the time, it wound up being a critical moment of rebirth for me.  (It was also really nice to reconnect with her at the 25th Anniversary of TFA in Washington DC last February)  While in that role, I had the pleasure of learning from Liz Dwyer (follow her at Los Angelista), Mikelle Willis, Ailin Tarbinian, Suzy Foster, Amanda Timberg, and Kristin Jeffrey, a wonderfully diverse team of  powerful women.

Graciella Sanchez Spears: Amidst my season of unemployment in LA, I secured an internship at a talent management firm in the office of Graciella (above).  Though I wasn't paid, Graciella brought me into her work in a professional and deeply involved way, allowing me to join phone calls with real-live celebrities that she managed.  During my time there, she boldly stepped away from the firm, asking me whether I'd like to join her as she launched her own company or remain and get a job in the music department of the firm.  She completely set it up for me, which happened to be with the manager of Tori Amos, my all-time favorite artist.  Even in the high octane world of the entertainment industry, Graciella showed incredible hospitality.  I worked with her for only 2 months, but I will never forget that experience.

Faye and Tina Treadwell with, you-know-who.
Tina Treadwell: Tina Treadwell and I met in the office of another talent agency over a discussion on the Holy Spirit, and then I went to her church during a Martin Luther King Jr. service.  From there, she directly and indirectly managed my music career.  She also hired me, sometimes paid, sometimes in more of a bartering manner, to care for her horse and her mother, the legendary manager Fayrene Treadwell before she passed away in 2011.  Tina let me crash in her garage, where I wrote dozens of songs.  Tina also prayed over the bread and cake at our wedding in 2005.

If you cross Angeles, you would be taken down.
And then hugged and loved on.
Angeles Echols-Brown: Tina Treadwell, amongst managing talent, served on the board of Educating Young Minds in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles.  Tina called Angeles, and on that recommendation alone, EYM hired me to be a teacher in Los Angeles.  And Angeles whooped me with love.  She called my white saviorism out on the table while still lighting a fire under me to become a better and better educator.  Angeles and I would get into heated arguments often, but they would always end with either tears or a hug, usually both.  And almost always prayers.  From both of us.  Love and strength and faith.

Paula Ravets, PhD: I was hired by Paula and her husband to care for their son, which I did for several years.  A Jewish-American family, this family welcomed me into their High Holy day celebrations.  During my time of coming back into my Christian faith, it was profoundly important that Paula taught me the reasoning behind sacred rituals of Judaism.  We had great talks, often, about the hypocrisy that both Christians and Jews can be prone to, and I have deep respect for this family who has achieved incredible financial success in the midst of many personal trials.

Travis LeSesane: An African-American actor who further called me to dig deeper into my roots and perspectives.  I didn't work for him, but he was our best man at our wedding 11 years ago.  So he holds me accountable.  He is still my best man.

Dottie Ryan: Dottie passed away a few years back, and though she lived her final 8 years homelessly, she died with many friends around her.  Technically, I hired Dottie to educate young adults about the realities of poverty in Los Angeles.  But Dottie, a woman with pink skin, taught me about my own judgmental attitudes, and, once, called me up to ream me up about how I had insulted her.  I felt like I was getting fired.  I asked for forgiveness, and she came back the next week.

Toni White: Thanks to Dottie, the roots of the "Table Setting" occurred.  Toni became a regular speaker in our work, and I can say, I have learned volumes from her.  She's helped to flesh out the unique challenges of being an African-American woman struggling with poverty in LA.  Again, I technically hired her, but she has taught me about humility and rebuilding like no other.

Marvin Wadlow Jr:  This guy.  I want to call him my favorite African-American women, ha!  Marvin and I have taken care of each other's children.  Marvin has been an assistant director to me.  Marvin has driven me beyond crazy.  But Marvin stays at this table with me, and now that we are Co-Founders of The Table Setters, we technically work for one another.

Of the 27 people mentioned here, 15 of them are African-American and Latina women.  This has certainly shaped me, and though I've yet to be managed by someone from any of the many countries in Asia, I'd be happy to be.  My perspectives, whether you like them or not, whether you agree with them or not, come from sharing many meetings and tables with decision makers who look different than me.

My prayer is that more of us can find willingness to be led by "the other," whomever that may be in their context.  Can we learn from them, can we handle even being fired by them?  Can we talk about personal and political matters in the break room together, sharing a little life together?  It is here where I find the source of my hope, that in Romans 14, we are all gathered to bring our culture and strength to the table, but not one of us matters more to God than the other.  And, I write against the tendency to see me, and those like me, as the only people worthy of being followed.

But of course, I'd love you to follow me on Twitter! Ha!

May the Beloved Community be seen more and more in our lifetime through sharing, learning, and taking turns.  Part of that includes taking turns and direction from Black Women, arguably a demographic that has been systemically one of the most disempowered section of our society these past 400 years.  Could Jesus' questions in Matthew 20 bear relevance here?

Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous? Here it is again, the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first. - Matthew 20:15-16, MSG.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Busted. (The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers)

Tonight, I had the honor of being a featured storyteller at Busted! with The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers.

The written story is below the video.

Two months ago, my family and I moved from LA to Detroit, and it’s been a delight watching our daughters experience their first Michigan October. Daddy, are those trees on fire? They are so beautiful. Palm trees don’t do that! There are so many colors!

We moved here to Pingree Park, between Mack and Gratiot on the Eastside. As we work on launching a non-profit called The Table Setters, I’ve taken up a job as a Lyft driver. It’s helping me to re-learn our city, both the roads and the infinitely interesting stories that are shared about real Detroit. You see, I spent my first 18 years in Beverly Hills. Michigan. You know: 13 and Southfield.

Last week, my Lyft route took me past the Mt. Elliott cemetery, and I remembered burying my great aunt Dorothy there about 20 years ago. That was the day I also learned of the very unique flavor of Detroit bigotry.

“Look at what Black people do to nice things. Look at all these old homes, such beautiful designs, but look what happens when black people live in them. It’s a disgrace,” said someone at the funeral, and though my 17 year old body wanted to have a smart, put-you-in-your-place kind of reply, no words came.

As a Lyft driver these days, I mostly drive people right from our neighborhood on Detroit’s Eastside to and from work, as it’s more affordable to pay for Lyft than it is to have car insurance. Every once in awhile, I get pulled along Woodward past Maple. A few weeks back, I pulled up and stopped at a coffee shop, sat down next to two women with pink-skin like mine. A young brown-skinned family were just getting up to leave on the other side. They had a baby boy, probably 9-10 months who had just woken up from a nap. The two women close to me starting fawning over the child.

“Oh, he’s so adorable. Look at those eyes, look at his little curls. Are you two so happy?” (not really listening for a response)

But when the young family rolled their stroller away, one of the women said to her friend:

“Oh, so precious. Black boys are so cute when they’re babies…….”

My thirty-something Spidey-Senses started tingling, again I wanted to “thwap” something smart and fast at her words, something to make her think, to foil her plans at keeping fear alive and well. Because since that day in the cemetery, I’ve heard that kind of talk almost every day: the coded language behind systemic racism. Neighbors in the suburbs talking about moving further north if “the CREEP got too strong.” Neighbors aghast at my parent’s decisions to take us to Xochimilcho’s or other family owned restaurants downtown after a Tiger’s game. Neighbors that promised we were sure to get shot if we “lingered” too long south of 8 mile. Our recent life in LA these past 15 years had it’s own flavor of this, what with talking about how “nice” Echo Park has become, how our friends living without homes could have any shelter they wanted as long as it wasn’t in MY backyard, how Latino people are really sneaky…..

So I knew the unspoken statement that floated in the air between these two women, the one neither of them needed to say, but they understood the message perfectly: Black baby boys turn into monsters.

I wanted to BUST her! I wanted to muster up my best Denzel Washington and see if she could Remember the Titans! I wanted to ask her exactly at what point does that baby turn into something scary, is it 18, or the gray area of 17, or maybe 14, or maybe 12 if he’s wearing a hood?

But her friend sighed, nodded, and then looked on the verge of tears as she said “so, I think I’m leaving Kevin once and for all. Got the papers ready….”

I put my Micro-Aggression Police badge away. They’re probably not gonna stand for my well-crafted lesson on the roots of the school-to-prison pipeline in the midst of a looming divorce. Sigh. I finished my Almond Milk Cortado, (yes, I’m a sucker for hipster coffee), turned my Lyft Driver mode back on to begin driving South.

Heading along Woodward, no calls coming in, I got to thinking: they really don’t know. I’m angry about the hypocrisy of expecting that young black baby to turn into a monster while one woman was in the midst of describing the cheating and lying monster of a man she had married. My pink skin was turning red. And though we all know there are dangers in Detroit, just like any city, I am so upset about the complaints I still hear about Coleman Young destroying Detroit with “his” drug dealers, these statements coming from people who’s own children were selling all kinds of drugs in their suburban basements back then. Seriously, I knew what parties to go to if I had wanted to get high, on any given weekend.

But the anger quickly gave way to a profound sadness. They really don’t know. The Detroit I knew had so many incredible people, so warm and funny and generous. So eager to get to know you and share some life with you. These two women really don’t seem to know that Detroit.

And, as it would go, still no Lyft passengers called as I kept rolling along Woodward, past Ferndale, past the place where you have to get off the SMART Bus and walk across the 8 lanes to get on the DT bus stop…gave me time to think back on my sophomore year at the University of Michigan. I signed up for a class with Buzz Alexander as part of the Prison Creative Arts Project. At 19, Something in me wanted to learn more, something in me wanted to hear stories that were silenced, and if I’m honest, something in me wanted to be known as being “bold enough” to go into a prison, to be able to become a MythBuster to all my suburban neighbors.

In this prison program, a partner and I would facilitate improvisational theater workshops at Western Wayne correctional facility near Plymouth. We were not allowed to bring any supplies, no pencils or paper, so we worked with the men to create improvisational plays that would be performed for other guys inside and outside guests. These stories always veered towards personal scenes of regret, redemption, reconciliation, and this came naturally from the guys themselves. My parents were supportive, but other friends at our home church looked at me and scratched their heads when I told them “what I’d been up to at UoM” and asked, “why are you going into a prison every week, Matthew?” I would tell them that Matthew 25 from our Bible talks clearly about visiting people behind bars and then someone said, “but that’s just a metaphor.” For what?

My first day, after we cleared the metal detectors and pat-downs, I learned that we would be working in the maximum security unit with men convicted of murder. Now, that rattled me. I thought I’d be working with drug offenders, but murderers? I walked into day one as a prison theater facilitator on high alert.

And then there was Levi: right after the guards introduced me and my partner to the group of 13 men, Levi, 300 pound African-American guy gets up, walks over to, I go to shake his hand but he picks me up and squeezes me. Oh my god oh my god he’s a giant boa constrictor….

Oh wait, he’s hugging me. He’s hugging me and holding me up high. He put me down and said, thank you, thank you for coming. I’ve been looking forward to this all month.

And that started one of the most important mentorships of my life. While I realized that my brain imagined a room full of Jeffery Dahmer’s and Charles Mansons, Levi and his brothers were deeply kind, deeply wise, and deeply complicated. Levi: Vietnam Vet, honorably discharged with shrapnel damage, addicted to morphine, sold drugs, racked up priors, had a season of being on house arrest. One night his sister called, needing Levi to watch her daughter while she went to the ER to deliver her second baby. Levi thought his parole officer would understand. Except that someone tried to break in through the child’s bedroom in the middle of the night. Levi charged the window, and that men fell 3 stories and died. Levi received a life sentence. Levi was not a monster. He was a little like Detroit itself: loving, protective, scarred, and fiercely misunderstood.

Levi also told me that he was praying for me daily. So I asked Levi: what do you think I should do after I graduate? Levi said: hands down, be a teacher, because if I had had a teacher who listened and respected me like we do in this workshop, I may have imagined more potential for myself.

Armed with Levi’s blessing, I moved to New Orleans after graduating to become a teacher. I was placed in the upper 9th ward, before Katrina, and I was going to look out for all the young Levi’s and make sure they never went down a path that led them to life in prison. I was gonna be Michelle Pfeiffer from Dangerous Minds, I was gonna be Hillary Swank from Freedom Writers, I was gonna be a white Sidney Poitier from To Sir With Love!

My phone lit up, dinged with a Lyft Request in Madison Heights. I caught my breath, but before I had to turn around, they cancelled. Let’s head back to New Orleans!

With my Save-The-World badge at the ready, I mistakenly forgot that Middle School is a whole different place than prison. The men in our workshop looked forward to our sessions to relieve the daily grind of prison. For an eleven year old, middle school IS the daily grind. Also, I assumed that all the kids would be so troubled, but they weren’t. They were looking for a teacher who would, well teach them, give them structure, and not just focus on the kids who “might end up like Levi.”

So here’s day one: the kids have come in and found a seat. I’m taking roll off a Scantron form, names printed along the edge, space for only 9 letters in each box. It’s going fine until:

“Smith. Deshondal Smith?”

A small girl in the front row whips her head around so quickly that one of her braids flies off her head to snap: “It’s DeshondaLISA. Do not forget it.” As if that weren’t enough, the flying braid was causing complete havoc in the back corner of the room. Her weave is attacking me!

And that was only second period of day one. From my perspective, it only got worse.

“you are so racist, you only wanted to come to New Orleans make life hell for black kids.”

“mr. smitch, stop telling us stories from prisons in Detroit. we don’t even know where Mitchigan is!”

“ooooh, I’m so, you, you the white devil.”

Busted. By Thanksgiving, I wanted to quit, to fly home and never come back. I was guilty of White Saviorism, part of a bigger problem that I like to call Whiteousness, the idea that white people have all the answers, all the good ideas, all the value. White people like me are the standard to measure to.

But sometimes, falling apart is the best thing, especially in front of a community that is paying attention. The upper ninth ward of New Orleans, both the African-American and Vietnamese families, started reaching out to me. Inviting me to dinner. Wanting to see how their children were doing, but also wanting to see how I was doing.

Mr. Schmitt: Cedric said you were a vegetarian, so we made you a special pot of gumbo. (Now, to a black family in New Orleans then, that meant you didn’t eat red meat. My special pot had plenty of chicken and shrimp. Yeah, New Orleans broke my vegetarianism right quick. How could I turn down this special pot, made just for me?)

So to come crashing down on those pink-skinned women in the coffeeshop behind me with my ideas of what they need to do to fix their deeply coded racisms, well that would be it’s own form of self-righteousness, yes? And that’s not how I learned to confront my own bigotry and bias these past 20 years and counting.

Passing by the fiery Michigan leaves look so much like the colors of that gumbo, the still green leaves remind me of the Pho (God bless the patient Vietnamese families who tried not to laugh every time I said “FO”). Before I could be the best Matthew I could be in that community, I needed to eat their soup. I needed to come to the soup kitchens of their community, and I’m looking forward to the soups of Detroit as we turn towards colder weather. The parents, in turn, expected me not to quit, to invest my best in their sixth graders. I don’t have all the answers, but whoever said I needed to? We have more to offer when we come together and combine our ideas at these kinds of tables, often. I’m so grateful for Levi’s prayers, for my many failures, and how God used many families that fed me what I most needed. Grace and love. Grace and love with, you know, a healthy dash of hot sauce.

Ding. A Lyft Request. This time in Southfield from Kendrick. This time, it’s holding, not cancelled.

I do a U-Turn on Woodward and start driving north. We keep driving. We keep listening, and we keep sitting at new tables together to share stories. I pray we have the courage to keep trying each other’s soup.

Keep up with the stories at @matthewjschmitt