Saturday, March 31, 2018

#AntiRacismForLent 2018 Final Week

It's been a challenge and an honor that Andre Henry asked a bunch of white Christians to educate other white people about the specter of systemic racism for Lent.  You can see the entire project here: Repenting Of Racism For Lent.  Our final post is below, in the form of a conversation between collaborators Luke, Maddie, and myself:

And I'll close with this: on Good Friday, Darcie and I took our daughters to the Prison Creative Arts Project's Annual Exhibit of Art by Michigan Prisoners. PCAP's mission is to bring those impacted by the justice system and the University of Michigan Community into artistic collaboration for mutual learning and growth.  This was a foundational program in my life, and it's something I look forward to every year.

Reflect on Jesus’ habit of spending time with the unheard and unvalued, the marginalized. I confess that one of my strongest lessons on who Jesus is came from a lifer named Levi many years ago, who I wrote about in the launch post of this very blog, and many times since....

I invite you to listen with your eyes and your heart.

Just Human (A Portrait Study), by Payaso  
I Need to Breath, by Sara Ylen 
Prisoner On a Field of Flowers, by Oliger Merko

Better Times Self Portrait 1980, by Cory Hill 

Imaginary Celo, by Oliger Merko

Mindtricks, by Sludge

One Of A Kind, by Susan Brown

Time to Bloom, by Susan Brown 

Painting His Way Home, by Martin Vargas

Erasures, by Yusef Quavo

Stigma, by Nicole Kipfmiller

Prison Life, by Oil City Choppers

A Life Tougher Than Normal, by JAE

My Entire Prison Closet, by Jillybean

Will You Stop For This, by Spyder

Father and Daughter Time, by Curtis Chase

Face of a Nation, by Tran 

The Bridge of Peace, by Free Ray Gray

Boxer’s Dreams Deferred, by Hoodybraids

God’s Love, by Jason Stafford

The Artistic Drive Personified, by Bryan Picken

Sarayu, by Sara Ylen

Harlem, by Tommy Curtis Owens

Monday, March 26, 2018

Challenge Detroit: Interview with Matthew Schmitt

Tell us about one of your favorite neighborhoods in Detroit and what makes it unique?

In 2016, we packed up our life and moved back to Detroit from Los Angeles. Darcie and I had been feeling increasingly called to move back, so we took a leap of faith with our two daughters. I had grown up in the suburbs, at 13 Mile and Southfield, and had always loved spending time in the city, mostly downtown and Southwest. Knowing that one of our deepest longings was to live in closer context with neighbors, and that our girls would be raised in a diverse community, both socio-economically and racially, friend after friend kept pointing us towards the 48214 zip code and the Mack Avenue Church community. For about 8 months, we rented an apartment in Pingree Park and worked jobs with Lyft, The New Teacher Project, and Citizen Detroit. And then in May of 2017, we were able to buy a home for our family of four, just a block away. We have been blown away by the kindness and intentionality of our neighbors, both from within and outside of the church. Sitting on our porch swing, walking to the park, clearing out overgrowth in alleys, and even having to get up early to shovel snow has provided a tapestry of invaluable moments connecting to families and people who’ve lived here for decades. MACC Development, the CDC of our church, has just opened The Commons, the first laundromat/coffeeshop/tutoring/community gathering space at the corner of Van Dyke and Mack. It’s only been open for two weeks, but already I’ve caught conversations about the pros and cons of charter and public schools; a hearty Kendrick vs. Tupac debate; and a sustained celebration of the new Black Panther movie. All over the low buzz of laundry and espresso machines doin’ their thing.

Tell us about the challenge project you’re currently working on, what are you learning from the experience?

Currently, my team and I are working with the Detroit Land Bank Authority to help them streamline the process of selling vacant lots to community partners and non-profits. We have interviewed about a dozen representatives from churches and service agencies looking to buy adjacent land for community gardens, outdoor performance spaces, and other projects they hope will bless their neighborhoods. The process of buying any property can be daunting and intimidating, but the mission of the DLBA is to see lots purchased and re-activated by Detroiters as soon as possible. I’ve learned that there is some confusion between the function of the DLBA and that of the Wayne County Treasurer, the entity involved in foreclosing and auctioning homes, too often starting a process that evicts people from homes they’ve lived in most of their lives. It is also clear to me, that if not done with ample care for these long-term residents who have challenging financial situations, the Land Bank’s urgent mission to deplete their property holdings as soon as possible will tip the balance of ownership towards those with the most ability to pay quickly. Thus, the Land Bank must proceed thoughtfully and attentively if they are to ensure that Detroit remains a city that is truly for everyone, and not just people like myself who had the means to move back from Los Angeles and purchase a home.

Tell us about your host company and your role in the organization.

At my host company Teen HYPE, I serve as the Manager of Mission Advancement. Teen HYPE’s mission is to Celebrate Youth, Confront Barriers, and Build Bridges, and they do this in a variety of ways. Each year, the organization produces a stage production that shines light on a particular aspect of being a teenager growing up in the Detroit of today, so the play is written in large part by the students themselves. This year, our topic is the negative impact of long prison sentence on the families of the incarcerated, particular the kids. With my experience having served at the Prison Creative Arts Project  at the University of Michigan, I was brought on board to help develop the curriculum and plan some events. We had learned that about 90% of the teens that make up the leadership of Teen HYPE are experiencing a parent or close family member either in prison or currently on parole. Where I grew up, just north of 8 Mile, this is definitely not the reality. So, we watched Ava DuVerney’s documentary The 13th, exposing the massive expansion of private, for-profit prisons in our country, and the troubling reality that slavery might be operating under a different disguise. We pondered the ideas of over-incarceration and over-policing of some communities. Ultimately, we asked: what are the emotional, social, and economic impacts on the kids who have to live in the reality of having a caretaker taken away? We invited students and people who are currently incarcerated to submit artwork for a gallery and community conversation, and this ultimately led to our stage production called Mis-Taken?, performed 5 times in early March of 2018 to roughly 4,000 student and community members. The response was overwhelmingly positive. 

What kind of impact do you hope to have with your host company and within the city?

Teen HYPE is doing critical work. I hope that while I’m here I can do my part to get the story out to both Detroit as well as the suburbs. I know full well how suburban folks often misunderstand my neighbors in the city, how that trickles down to expecting the worst from our local teenagers. These misunderstandings lead to ill-informed assumptions and continued disconnect, and this nudges people into making both political and everyday choices that continue to damage communities outside of downtown. I am living a very different reality, seeing every day how resilient and brilliant our teenagers are, how they have hopes and dreams and ideas that could truly move Detroit towards becoming the kind of city that sets an example for the rest of the country. I will continue to build bridges towards new perspectives and possibilities.

What are you most looking forward to during springtime in Detroit?

This will be the first spring in our new home in Pingree Park, so I’m excited to start planting vegetables in our backyard garden, to finish fixing our porches, and to start having neighbors and friends over. I am also looking forward to cheaper gas bills, as it’s been a really long and cold winter!

How do you believe your fellowship will shape your career moving forward?

Challenge Detroit has provided me with a range of Detroit perspectives on business, politics, development and community activism. Just over half way through this fellowship, I am grateful for the stories and lessons I’m learning. I will continue to work on The Table Setters, the non-profit that Marvin Wadlow Jr. and I officially launched in 2016 to produce improved relationships across humanly created racial, socio-economic, political, and religious lines. We combine launch events in churches, schools, businesses, and civic institutions with customized plans for ongoing cultural accountability. We’ve seen that diversity training days are never enough, but that ongoing relationships that nurture connections and share brokenness, hopes and dreams, can be mutually healing and productive. Challenge Detroit has revealed to me, time and time again, how very true and critically urgent this is, what with the rancorous divisions in our city and country. I also sense that I will reconsider my call to ordained ministry, as this Fellowship has required me to take a significant break from my coursework at Fuller Seminary. I sense a growing call to community development, to continue learning how to really listen to people, story by story, and discern how to rebuild, or many times, build for the first time, trust between neighbors and neighborhoods in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs.

Friday, March 16, 2018

#AntiRacismForLent Week 4: Community & Beloved Community

What is community?  How does it come into being?  Do people always, "naturally," group together with their own "kind?"  Or, do we discover that systems have been in place for a long time to keep certain people separate from the ones who are most preferred?

This week, I got to create the content for our Repenting Of Racism page, and I was excited to draw heavily upon my new life in the community of Detroit.

How has your sense of the word “community” been limited to the neighborhood you’ve been living in? 

Do you find yourself living in a community that some might view as “over-advantaged?”

How have you mis-understood other communities?

What is God showing you about His definition of community?

Part of truly learning how to understand a community other than our own involves, first, removing the blockages and misconceptions many of us have been raised to maintain.  One might argue that this is close to the heart of the Samaritan parables of Jesus, casting the hated outsider as the hero in several passages. 

For today’s #HabitOfJustice, watch this video by Imaeyen Ibanga​ on the community-based work of The Black Panthers.   What surprises you as you watch?  Does it rub against understandings you have trusted for decades about black activists? 

Part 2, and if you have time to dig deeper: I, Matthew​, personally invite you to watch this recent video made here in Detroit last December by Building the Engine of Community Development in Detroit​ (BECCD) about a diverse community bringing many stakeholders together to think deeply about change in our city:

I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, and I was told by many of my childhood neighbors that black Detroiters were dangerous and ready to hurt me.  Living here, I have certainly found that to be false, and beyond that, incredibly sad.  This video shows a glimpse of the many ways a diverse community can truly commit to work together, despite disagreements and difference of backgrounds.  

Based on narratives you may have heard about #Detroit, as the largest city to file for bankruptcy, how does this sit with you? -Matthew

For more on Repenting of Racism for Lent, click here.

#AntiRacismForLent is being facilitated by Maddie Joy​, Luke Arthur​, Lauren Grubaugh​, Daniel Russell​, Matthew John Schmitt​, Meggie Anderson-Sandoval​ and Lydia Lockhart​ as sparked by an idea from Andre Henry​. We invite you to join us in action and in conversation. Keep up with the daily habits of justice on the #RepentingOfRacism For Lent Facebook page, linked above.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

#AntiRacismForLent Week 2: Communication

This week, we focus on communication, how white people tend to "other-ize" people they deem as not white, or not "normal."  A friend sent me this Key & Peele video, imagining a black teacher in a mostly white classroom, mispronouncing all the students' names.  I definitely remember hearing painful stories of my African-American and Vietnamese-American students in New Orleans' reporting to me that various white substitute teachers had butchered names like Geraldnisha, Deshondalisa, Troychelle, and many others, and even would say insulting things like, "why couldn't your parents have just given you normal names??"  This was certainly made to honor that struggle.

How do I, how do you, treat people that do not pass as white like they are "other," like they are "not normal?"

And, continuing on with our repenting of racism work for Lent, here were this weeks' posts:

#AntiRacismForLent is being facilitated by Maddie Joy​, Luke Arthur​, Lauren Grubaugh​, Daniel Russell​, Matthew John Schmitt​, Meggie Anderson-Sandoval​ and Lydia Lockhart​ as sparked by an idea from Andre Henry​. We invite you to join us in action and in conversation. Keep up with the daily habits of justice on the #RepentingOfRacism For Lent Facebook page, linked above.