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 them...so 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 Change.org'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....you, 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 is....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.