An Interview with Queen Quet of the Gullah/Geechee

I am very excited to say that in the August edition of Sojourners Magazine the interview I had with Queen Quet was published! The Gullah/Geechee Nation is a spiritually powerful group and Queen Quet is a beautiful advocate with her people.

“A lot of people don’t know that we exist,” says Queen Quet, referring to her people, the Gullah/Geehee Nation, an indigenous group that spans the coastline from North Carolina to Jacksonville, Fla.

In 2006, Congress passed the Gullah/Geechee Heritage Act to help preserve the living culture of this “nation within a nation.” The Gullah/Geechee, however, continue to fight for their heritage as they battle against environmental racism and climate change. Read more in “‘We Are Not an Island’” (Sojourners, August 2014).

Watch this video as Onleilove Alston, a Sojourners board member, sits down with Queen Quet to discuss the environmental rights of the Gullah/Geechee people.

I am grateful to A Black Tribe and Kendria Smith for shooting and editing the video.

‘Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)’

PrayerRallyforTM

For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

Revival is defined as: Restoration to life, consciousness, vigor, strength, and repentance (emphasis mine)-http://dictionary.reference.com

Lord during my darkest hour I lean on you. You are all that I have. At the end of the day, GOD is still in control.”-Sabrina Fulton mother of Trayvon Martin

Saturday night as I was waiting for the subway to take me from the Upper Westside of Manhattan to Harlem I overheard an African-American cop tell his co-worker that George Zimmerman was not convicted of any charges. The face of his co-worker who was an African-American woman dropped and she silently turned towards the tracks to look for the next train. The scene was disturbing to me because I saw the powerlessness in both cops faces which is disheartening since these are “New York’s Finest” and yet with their badges and city issued authority they like many African-Americans were reminded of our powerlessness in a system that was founded on devaluing African life. As I sat on the train heading uptown I was outraged by the verdict but not surprised. When I arrived home I had to tell my African roommates from Tanzania the news and we had a long discussion about the case and one of my roommates stated “I guess we can only get justice from God.” My African roommates like myself are followers of Jesus who have had evangelical conversion experiences yet we know that our faith cannot save us from white supremacy. The Sinful fact is that though the Apostle Paul proclaimed in Galatians that: “we are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28) this oneness has not occurred in our daily realities.

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A Caution In Pursuing the Common Good

I hope all is well as we attempt to settle into spring, I wanted to share a reflection I wrote about the notion of the “Common Good”. Be Blessed!

In the Summer of 2008 I interned in Washington, D.C. at Sojourners a progressive Christian advocacy organization that focuses on economic justice, creation care and immigration issues. The founder of Sojourners Rev. Jim Wallis recently released a book on the notion of a “Common Good” and I was invited to read and respond to it earlier this week at the New York City launch. As I was thinking about the notion of a “Common Good” I started to examine if the “common good” would be good for non-white people or if we were taking the common standards, beliefs and customs of white America and making them good for all. In the post below I give a caution for pursuing the “Common Good” which was shared on Huffington Post and Sojourners: Common Good Forum. See the post below:

Social speech bubble,  Cienpies Design / Shutterstock.com

Social speech bubble, Cienpies Design / Shutterstock.com

Whenever I hear the term “common good” I think of Thomas Paine’s infamous pamphlet Common Sense, which challenged the British government and the royal monarchy, but did not challenge the institution of slavery. As an African-American woman I enter the common good conversation cautiously because I know that in our society we have a habit of taking what is good for Western hegemony and making it the standard for everyone else.

As we pursue the common good, let us remember what was once considered common and good during earlier points in American history: chattel slavery, indigenous genocide, and institutionalized sexism. To truly come to a common good, we need to honor a diversity of voices and challenge our assumptions about what is common and what is good. Our default is to take what is good for our culture, gender, or community and make it the common standard for all. I have experienced being invited into organizations that were aiming to do good in the world, but an expectation existed that I would be silent about my unique concerns as an African woman. I know that denying my reality can never be good for my spiritual, physical, or social well being. Read the entire post here

Happy Kwanzaa!

Today is the first day of Kwanzaa the Pan-African Holiday celebrating African culture and principals. For more information on this holiday visit: http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org.

Be Blessed as we continue to celebrate this season of holidays and prepare to for 2013!

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               From: http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org

Prayers for Children

Sandy HookMy heart was saddened when I learned of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but I was also reminded that in the inner-city children are shot and killed everyday. Growing up in East New York, Brooklyn I was accustomed to hearing gun shots and hitting the floor for cover at an early age, this is a tragedy as well. In Chicago for 6-months in 2012 on average 50 people were killed by gun violence a month (many children and teens), this is higher than the death rate in war torn countries. Trauma research has shown that youth in inner-city communities in California have higher trauma rates than youth in Iraq-this is a tragedy as well. I do not like to compare pain because pain is pain but what we must overstand is that when we allow the poor to die for years without concern we open ourselves up for tragedies like Sandy Hook. ALL life is sacred! Black, white, rich, poor, children, teens and elderly. What is done to one affects all because you can not build a gated community to keep out the violence and pain of the rejected. Yes we need access to mental health and gun control but what we also need are villages that will shepherd youth with love and justice.

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Advent: The First Baby Shower Unites Women on the Margins

Polish Black Madonna & Child

Polish Black Madonna & Jesus

On Christmas 2010 I received a great surprise, my reflection on Mary & Elizabeth (in the Gospel of Luke) was posted on NPR’s On Being Blog-this blog is for Krista Trippet’s wonderful Radio show on faith, spirituality and culture. On Being was formerly know as “Speaking of Faith”.  Read the blog below and don’t allow the myths of this season to distract you, take this time to center, reflect on 2012 and prepare for the New Year!

This Advent I am reminded of the meeting Mary had with Elizabeth to announce she was with child. Though this could have been a time of anxiety for Mary, with Elizabeth it became a time of celebration. I playfully call the following account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth the first baby shower:

“Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly, You’re so blessed among women, and the babe in your womb, also blessed, And why am I so blessed that the mother of my Lord visits me? The moment the sound of your greeting entered my ears, The babe in my womb skipped like a lamb for sheer joy. Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!

And Mary said, I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened — I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others. His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold. He embraced his chosen child, Israel; he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high. It’s exactly what he promised, beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months and then went back to her own home.”
Click to read the entire post

 

 

Romney vs. Reality: A Social Worker’s Perspective

On September 17, the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street instead of hearing about the 99% we heard about the 47% who according to Mitt Romney:

“will vote for the president no matter what… are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.”(Ezra Klein; Washington Post Wonkbook )

As a social worker and faith-rooted community organizer I have to say that this 47 percent is a myth. Due to arbitrary sanctions, agency errors, onerous application requirements, long waits to apply for services, failed communication systems, arduous work requirements  and punishment within the welfare system low-income people are not receiving much needed services (Guilty Until Proven Innocent Report 2012 FPWA). The myth that welfare and government assistance is easy to obtain and maintain has been pervasive since the 1980’s “welfare queen” character was created by President Ronald Reagan.  The welfare queen much like the loch ness monster is seen by a privileged few but no one can actually prove its existence. Now we have a new mythical monster the 47 percent who are an entitled class. The reality is that our entitlement system underserves many needy individuals and families. According to the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies(FPWA) Report Guilty Until Proven Innocent:

“One of the primary functions of the welfare program is to alleviate poverty by providing essential income support to families who qualify  but in 2010 the program only served 27% of families living in poverty, a 41% decrease from 1996 when the program served 68% of families living in need.”

The harsh reality is that many people who are qualified to receive government assistance such as SNAP (Food Stamps) are the working poor who do not apply because they cannot take time off of their low-wage jobs to undergo the long and confusing application process. If someone is able to find out about assistance, endure the confusing and long process of applying and is actually approved then they can look forward to the possibility of receiving a sanction which is a process in which your benefits are called into question for some transgression as petty as missing an appointment because you had to work. “According to the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) from April 2006 to through April 2009, 25% of New York City family cases with at least one adult or minor teen head of household were sanctioned or in the sanction process.” (Guilty Until Proven Innocent). Sanctions usually punish the poorest who most need social services.

Though I use New York as an example these issues are prominent across the country, especially in rural areas were application centers are further away and lines to apply can stretch around the block. This reality is unknown to many who assume that it is easy to apply for assistance programs because unless you are in need or a social service provider you will not see the maze that is the American social service system. Furthermore, there is such shame around needing assistance that many keep silent about the dehumanizing process.  I know firsthand of this dehumanization not only as a social worker but as a person who grew-up poor. I can remember accompanying my mother to appointments for assistance and waiting for hours; the assumption being that poor people’s time is not important.  This approach keeps the poor person in a Catch- 22 because if you want to attend school or work to better yourself you do not have the time to do so because of the countless hours spent waiting for services you desperately need. During the application process you are shuffled with disdain from appointment to appointment by low-paid caseworkers who are usually one paycheck away from being in your position. I remember feeling ashamed and dehumanized by this process, but through the assistance of many people and programs such as grants for college I am now able to stand alongside other poor people to organize for justice.

Unless you have experienced the social services system you may believe the myth that low-income people are entitled, but as the ranks of the poor grow to include the formerly middle-class we have to let go of this myth just as a child has to let go of Santa Claus when they reach a certain age. Though myths maybe comforting to our egos ultimately they stunt our development. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “when I became a man I put away childish things.” If we are going to survive as a country in the face of growing economic uncertainty we have to put away these childish myths of the welfare queen, the 47 percent, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and rugged individualism. The fact is from the Homestead Act, to the GI Bill and legacy admissions at top colleges many Americans receive entitlements based on wealth and race privilege. We are all standing on the shoulders of someone who helped us along the way; no one is successful through their hard work alone.

I do not write this to endorse either candidate or to sway your vote but to bring a dose of reality to the way we think about poverty in America. So what does this mean for people of faith? I think that as people of faith we need to prioritize and not demonize the least of these. We cannot “conform to the pattern of this world” (Romans 12:2) which is to disregard the poor.  As people of faith we should weigh every theory or political statement against the word of God; which speaks up for the poor and states that they will be leaders in the rebuilding of our society (Isaiah 61: 1-4).

For more information or to obtain a copy of the FPWA Report Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Sanctions, Agency Error and Financial Punishment within New York State’s Welfare System visit FPWA Policy, Advocacy & Research.

Onleilove Alston, M.Div, MSW was born and raised in East New York, Brooklyn. When she was 10, she felt led to pray and read the Bible though she was not raised in the church. Four years later she walked into a local Baptist Church where she had a life-altering conversion experience that not only saved her soul but her life from the effects of poverty. Currently, she is the Faith Based Organizing Associate at The Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, blogs at Wholeness4Love and tweets @Wholeness4ALL.