Let’s follow the example John Lewis lived

The following is necessarily short, as my local newspaper was kind enough to print it in its “Letters to the Editor” section this morning.

Watching the memorial service for Congressman John Lewis, I noticed the words kind, caring and courageous were used often. A staff member noted he was a great boss with several people working with him for over 10 years (a few over 20).

Lewis embodied the words spoken about him. Civil and nonviolent protest will be his lasting legacy. His example is followed by a significant majority who participate in the multiracial Black Lives Matter protests.

Those few who choose violence may make the news, but they dilute the message. Steadfast resolve is a much greater weapon. It galvanizes people.

Let’s honor Lewis for the person he was and how he conducted himself. Black lives do matter.

Eight habits of the heart – a quick review

Recently, I revisited an old post about “The Porch People.” This was a summary of the book called “Little Cliff and the Porch People” by Clifton Taulbert. One of his other books is called “Eight Habits of the Heart.” It’s subtitle adds “Embracing the values that build strong families and communities.” When I met him, he was meeting with executive groups to go over these eight habits.

Below, I will summarize these eight habits and repeat the phrase Taulbert uses on each chapter page. The book is a quick read, so please do not let this summary get in the way of picking up or downloading the book. Each chapter has questions at the end for self-reflection and the end of the book has an outline on how to pass along these habits in small learning groups.

1. Nurturing attitudeIn the community, a nurturing attitude is characterized by unselfish caring, supportiveness, and a willingness to share time.

2 and 3. Dependability and responsibilityWithin the community, dependability is being there for others through all the times of their lives, a steady influence that makes tomorrow a welcome event; and responsibility means showing and encouraging a personal commitment to each task.

4. FriendshipWithin the community, friendship is the habit that binds people together when they take pleasure in each other’s company, listen, laugh, and share good times and bad.

5. Brotherhood or sisterhoodWithin the community, brotherhood or sisterhood is the habit that reaches beyond comfortable relationships to extend a welcome to those who may be different from yourself.

6. High expectationsWithin the community, high expectations involves believing that others can be successful, telling them so, and praising their accomplishments.

7. CourageWithin the community, courage is standing up and doing the right thing, speaking out on behalf of others, and making a commitment to excellence in the face of adversity or the absence of support.

8. Hope Within the community, hope is believing in tomorrow – because you have learned to see with your heart.

Whether you agree with these eight habits, they provide a great foundation to better understand yourself and become a better community citizen. I like the inclusion of high expectations, as we look to lift each other up. A spouse, parent, grandparent, friend or mentor can inspire someone to be better than they would otherwise be, settling for a lesser plateau.

Each of these habits, if practiced and reinforced, will make our communities better. As Gandhi said, a community’s greatness is measured by how it takes care of its least fortunate. Thinking of the classic movie, “It’s a wonderful life,” do we want to live in Bedford Falls or Pottersville? Do we want to emulate George Bailey or Mr. Potter?

As you think of these habits, also consider paying forward good deeds done for you. I recall the story of someone paying for the college education for a young person in poverty. She asked how could she repay him and he said, pay it forward doing the same for someone else. And, as noted under “Nurturing attitude,” if you don’t have money, the gift of time is so very valuable.

What is not said above, is practicing these habits has a psychic income for the person so doing. Being a better person, being a better community citizen, being a friend to many, will be rewarding in and of itself.

Toxic Charity – revisiting an important book

About eight years ago, I wrote this post based on my reading of “Toxic Charity,” conversations with the author and my volunteer work to help working homeless families. The book remains relevant today.

I have made reference on several occasions to a must read book written by Robert (Bob) Lupton called “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt those They Help and How to Reverse it.” I had the good fortune to hear Lupton speak about his experiences and how he came to this view on toxic charity. To those who do not know his story, he felt called to move into the impoverished areas of Atlanta to live near and like the people he was trying to help. From this vantage point, he witnessed and gleaned a far better and more impactful way of helping people in need. His premise based on this first hand anecdotal evidence is well intended volunteers and donors often do more harm than good in their outreach.

In essence, they do for people what the people can do for themselves, both here and abroad. His mantra is we should help people climb a ladder, but do it in a way they can maintain their self-esteem and their efforts can be sustained. He notes that true charity should be reserved for emergency situations like Hurricane Sandy. A few examples may help.

– From the feedback from those being helped and his observations, it is far better to provide a discount store of donated goods which caters to those in need as customers. When clothes are just given away it creates an entitlement society and the relationship can be adversarial which is counterproductive to all parties. He told the story that everyone likes to find a bargain. So, why should we deny that opportunity to those in poverty. This will help people in need with budgeting and the pride in saving up money to purchase a good deal on something they need.

– Rather than giving food away, he has witnessed it is far better to have food cooperatives. They would have each family pay a weekly stipend such as $3 to join a food co-op. These funds would be used to buy discounted food to pool with the donated food. The co-op begins an association with others that usually proves fruitful with recipe sharing, neighborhood dinners, restaurant development, etc. It also allows the deployment of better food for the recipients.

– Rather than have parishioners donate time and energy on projects that are mis-prioritized, mismanaged and misimplemented, use the volunteers for more employment and entrepreneurial activities such as helping people set up a small business, learn a trade, understand a business plan or network to find a job. This will use the skills of the volunteers in a more impactful way. He also notes we should let the community leaders decide on what is most needed (community initiated), actually lead the efforts (community led) and allow time for mutual information sharing (how their faith is important to both giver and recipient).

– Find ways to invest in the community to improve on assets in existence. This Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) is critical to leveraging what is there (such as a school, playground, golf course, clinic, etc.) and works well with the community. Schools for example, are critical not only to the education of the kids, but after school programs for kids and adults, and a place where communities can gather. He noted an example where a developer in Atlanta bought a golf course and improved the neighborhood around it using a 50/50 mixture of market based and affordable housing. The golf course provided jobs and recreation to these mixed income families and gentrified a run down neighborhood.

The charity I am involved with for homeless families follows his empowerment model. We try not to do for the families what they can do for themselves. The families receive rent subsidized housing based on their ability to pay, meaning they must pay a portion of the rent. They must also save money for their eventual exit from the program. We help them buy a car on more favorable terms than 23% interest, yet they have to pay for car, insurance and upkeep. They must work with our social workers to make better decisions, improve their education, attend career development and budget more wisely. We are helping them climb the ladder, but they have to do it. We cannot and will not push them up the ladder.

Lupton speaks of “The Oath for Compassionate Service” which builds off the Hippocratic Oath for Doctors and is as follows:

– Never do for the poor what they have (or could have) the capacity to do for themselves.

– Limit one way giving to emergency situations.

– Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.

– Subordinate self-interests to the needs of those being served.

– Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said – unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.

– Above all, do no harm.

One of the things I have observed about people in need is their network of people with connections or skills they need is very narrow or non-existent. In fact, homeless families or individuals may have exhausted their only network of friends and family. I often help friends or relatives of friends and family network to find a job or resource. Others would do this for my friends and relatives in need. Yet, who can someone in poverty reach out to except people who are also in poverty? So, church goers who sit in the pews every Sunday have an abundance of knowledge and connections that is better suited to help those in need. Following Lupton’s example, if we can provide more intersections of those in need and those who can connect the dots for them, more success would be witnessed. There would be more ladders out of poverty.

Lupton made a telling observation in his speech. We are a very generous nation of people. We donate billions of money and time to help, but what do we have to show for it? Poverty has increased. The key is to help people find the opportunities, the ladders out of poverty. We can look for ways to help them climb the ladders, but they have to do it to make it sustainable.

Dems need to support their candidate regardless (otherwise you are assuring a Trump win)

I wrote the following comment on a progressive blog I follow. The comment speaks for itself.

I do enjoy reading your blog. As an independent voter who is fiscally conservative and socially progressive, it is good to get a lay of the land. As I share with my conservative friends, I don’t care if people are more conservative than me on issues or more progressive, let’s try to deal with facts to solve problems. Many moons ago, people ran on rhetoric, then set that aside and governed more off facts. Now, with 24×7 news and eternal campaigning, we are governing off rhetoric. That is sad and not good for our country.

What I am confused about on some of the comments is how in the world Joe Biden is remotely equated with the most corrupt and deceitful president in my lifetime. Biden is far from perfect, but to be brutally honest with you so is Bernie. And, so am I. But, they both are good and decent people, which is a far cry from a president who thinks first of himself and his brand. Everything goes back to his fragile ego. Biden is not that, nor is Sanders.

I will vote for Bernie if he is the nominee, but that is looking as more of a long shot. I do prefer Biden, though, as it appears many of the Democrat voters do. I do wish Bernie would lay off the rigged against him stuff. The brutal truth is his votes are fewer than in 2016 and he is not garnering enough from all parts of the Democrat party. I recognize fully, this paragraph in particular, will cause consternation, but the facts are speaking for themselves.

I do like that Bernie is pushing for Biden to consider more of his perspective. I am all for the detailed exploration of ideas that Bernie and folks like Andrew Yang, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg have. I like the thought process.

As someone who has been involved in helping homeless working families climb ladders back to self-sustainable housing, we must push forward with at least living wages (although I really like Yang’s idea), we must have investment in communities that are disenfranchised, we must have access to healthcare (and yes we should explore Medicare for All in detail while we shore up the ACA in the interim), and we must encourage family planning, including access to birth control and education. There is a high correlation to poverty and larger family sizes. Most of our homeless clients are working mothers, the fastest growing segment of homeless people in the country.*

I am sorry to ramble. But, let me throw something out at you. If Biden is the nominee and you do not support him, four more years of Trump will lead to a 7-2 conservative supermajority on SCOTUS and more environmental degradation and climate change concerns. We will miss a huge window that AOC and Greta Thunberg (my hero) are rightfully concerned about.

To be brutally frank, equating Biden with Trump is not even close to being accurate. I am sorry you and others may not feel this way. I wish this old fart could convince you.

* Note: This footnote was not part of the comment. As someone who has been around charitable organizations, it is vital that we ask them to measure outcomes and report on their success to funders. To be frank, there are too many benevolent band-aids that do not solve the problems they are fighting. They put a band-aid on to provide temporary easing. The same holds true for some governmental programs. That is not altogether bad, but we need to address the needs.

While too many conservatives try to paint people being helped with a very minuscule few malingerers, we still need to try to use money wisely and get people back to self-sustainability. Help them climb a ladder, but they need to climb it. Now, there are some who will need more care than others. As I used to tell church and business groups, when you have met one homeless person, you have met one homeless person. There are many types of homeless people.

There is an excellent book by Bob Lupton called “Toxic Charity.” Lupton used to help Vietnam vets, but eventually moved in to live among people he was helping. His premise is charity should be reserved for emergencies. We should help people climb the ladder back to self-sufficiency. He is very big on food co-ops and consignment stores in neighborhoods with need versus giving out free things. This allows people to maintain their dignity as they get help. The books is worth the read.

What is the Trump record? – letter to the editor

While may newspaper has not published the following, I thought readers might like to see a brief comment.

Almost daily, I read Trump’s record as either the second coming or atrocious. If we set aside his boorish behavior for the moment, I see an economy continuing at a pretty good clip at 127 consecutive months of growth, but Trump has only been president 36 months. I see tariffs and trade fights which have and will dampen economic growth. I see the US global leadership diminished because of withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, Pacific trade deal and Iran nuclear deal and 63% of Europeans not trusting the US president. I see US debt and the deficit exploding at a time when we should be making strides to pay down both.

And, smart deregulation is fine, but allowing companies to pollute more has a human and economic price tag. Finally, I see us not adequately addressing climate change, healthcare, gun governance or poverty issues.

The overriding problem is we cannot set aside his bullying, untruthfulness and denigration of critics which has made us less a democracy.

Just Mercy – a movie about a real hero

Between a seemingly endless list of movies about comic book heroes, it is nice to see a movie portray a real life hero. The social justice efforts of Bryan Stevenson are portrayed in the movie “Just Mercy.”

The movie was directed and co-written by Destin Daniel Cretton (Andrew Lanham also co-wrote it) and stars Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson. Jordan plays Stevenson as he starts the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Alabama after earning a Harvard law degree and growing up similarly to his clients. Larson plays Eva Ansley, the director of operations from the outset.

EJI provides free legal support to disenfranchised people who have been wrongly convicted on death row. Not surprisingly, the significant majority of the people on death row in Alabama are African-American and were underrepresented by legal counsel. Also, not surprisingly, the efforts of EJI did not make all citizens happy.

NOTE: If you plan to see the movie, you may want to skip to the last paragraph.

Foxx admirably plays a convicted man named Walter McMillan who was railroaded based on faulty testimony and suppressed evidence. When Stevenson sought a new trial after the key witness (played by Tim Blake Nelson) recanted, a police officer said the crime scene was altered and seventeen witnesses said McMillan was at a fish fry at his house, the judge still did not grant a new trial.

So, Stevenson appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court and the court of public opinion on “60 Minutes.” The Supreme Court granted a new trial and after some posturing the new District Attorney agreed to Stevenson’s motion to dismiss the charges. Stevenson noted that seventeen witnesses were ignored because they were black. As they stood in the back of the new trial, before charges were dismissed, he noted that any one of them could have the same thing happen to them.

Stevenson has gone on to help free countless men on death row. A statistic revealed at the end is for every person put to death, there is 1 in 9 on death row who are innocent, a very high rate of error. A few final thoughts are as follows:

– the trial occurred in Monroeville, AL in the late 1980s, the home of Harper Lee, who wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
– the Sheriff who helped contrive the evidence was reelected six times and just retired.
– it amazes me that law enforcement who contrive (or suppress) evidence to convict someone don’t fully comprehend that the real killer is still out there – the family of the victim deserves real justice over expedience.
– McMillan’s story is not unusual. The story highlights at the end, another death row neighbor of McMillan’s was freed thirty years later.

I have seen documentaries about Stevenson. He is smart, soft-spoken, and determined. He cares about his clients, so when he cannot prevent an execution, it is disheartening. The movie is definitely worth your time, especially with the unnecessary divisiveness going on in our country that is fueling more hate groups. The key ammunition against this is education, awareness and advocacy.

Bank CEO blasts peers for not seeing inequality (per The Charlotte Observer)

With more interest and advocacy for the disenfranchised in our midst, an article by Austin Weinstein of The Charlotte Observer caught my this week called “Bank CEO blasts peers for not seeing inequality. A link to the article is below.

I have written often about the “haves and have-nots” in America. The disparity has been worsening for years and it now matters more to whom and where you were born than merit. Sadly, the declining middle class and growing poverty problem has been addressed by more trickle down economics and attacks on benefits to help people in need.

Per The Charlotte Observer:

“Kelly King, the CEO of Truist — America’s sixth largest bank — issued an exhortation to the economic elite of North Carolina and the country: We are blind to the difficult lives of many in the U.S. and must work to resolve the country’s educational and economic divides, or risk the consequences.

‘We see what happens when we have this giant divide between the haves and the have-nots,’ King said to bankers and executives gathered in Durham for an annual economic forecast hosted by the North Carolina Chamber and North Carolina Bankers Association. ‘If we have this scenario where people lose hope, they have no sense of opportunity, they’re dysfunctional. They get mad, they get on drugs, they get guns, they start shooting.’…

While there are many origins to America’s widespread educational and economic inequality, King pointed to the perceived failures of American public school system as one of the paramount reasons for the divides in the country. If people can’t read or do simple math, he said, they are effectively left out of much of the U.S. economy.

‘We are cheating our kids and our grandkids of a future,’ King said. ‘They will not have the same kind of life we have had,” he warned, if the current course of the country isn’t changed.'”

We must invest in our children and our communities. Asset Based Community Development means repurposing depleted assets or restoring them to original form. A neighborhood school is more than a place of seven hour education. It offers a community meeting place for after-school programs, neighborhood meetings, civic meetings, exercise classes, etc. Inviting schools, rewarded teachers, safety mind-sets, etc. will reinforce better education for our kids.

King’s admonition speaks to the crisis it is. The US disparity has widened at the same time our educational ranks in science and math have fallen. If we don’t invest in our kids, we really don’t have the standing to speak of American exceptionalism. It is hard to be a shining light on a hill if we fall from the top.

Read more here: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/banking/article239048138.html#storylink=cpy

A few why moments the past decade

Since I speak often that we need to ask more why questions, as well as a few more what, how, and when questions, permit me to ask a few why questions about the past decade.

Why would Prince Andrew think it was a good idea for him to visit a known pedophile’s house and be photographed with teen girls he is accused of having sex with?

Why do people still not find it a national security concern when a US president bends over backwards to support various Russian narratives and running shadow diplomacy?

Why do mass shootings continue at such a rampant rate in the US and no tangible action is taken to address these and everyday shootings?

Why do the kids (such as Greta Thunberg, Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, eg) understand our climate change and gun problems better than many adults?

Why are two of the heroes of the decade female – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who led to new gun laws in one week after mass shooting and the 16 year old climate activist, Thunberg?

Why have people allowed the media to be labeled around the world as enemies of the people by so-called leaders not known for truth – Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, Duterte, Xi, Johnson, Erdogan, et al?

Why are we not actively condemning hate groups for domestic terrorism – this is not right?

Why is the current White House trying to solve our growing poverty problem by kicking people off their healthcare and food stamps, and defanging the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau designed to punish predatory lending?

Why is there not a bigger outcry for screwing over our Kurdish allies who fought our enemies?

Why is the Hong Kong story being covered far more than China’s abduction and brainwashing of Muslim and other religious groups within concentration camps?

There are so many more why questions than I have space. Please add a few of yours.

The torch passes to us

Our friend Jill wrote an excellent post (see link below) called “Why do we need bigotry?” In the comments, she and I discussed the passing of Holocaust survivors, at a time when white nationalism is on the rise along with hate crimes.

The torch passes to new generations to speak the hard truths about history:

– the Nazi movement purposefully captured Jews, intellectuals, gypsies, homosexuals and expunged multiple millions of human beings calling them less than human. This is genocide.

– the American settlers committed genocide, as well, on Native Americans first claiming rights to land and killing the Native Americans when they rose up in protest.

– Slavery has never been right dating back to the bible. It matters not who is being enslaved. It is wrong. Watching the movie “Harriet” about Harriet Tubman, the cumulative asset value of the slaves could exceed the value of the land, which is why people wanted to maintain this sinful way of life.

– Then, there are the enslavements and genocides around the world and over history. Sometimes the enslavement is tying low wage jobs to people at risk. This is economic slavery. This occurs today in the US and other countries and is not restricted to the Jim Crow period. Whether it is sex trafficking or suppressed migrant workers, it is wrong.

– Finally, we had the Lavendar Scare in the US, where homosexuals were fired from government jobs, even if they were highly proficient and experienced. This is after Brit Alan Turing helped shorten WWII, but had to hide that he was gay. He was arrested and humiliated before he died after being outed after the war.

Bigotry is not right. It is also unwise. If people are treated as possessions or suppressed then their intellectual capital cannot be allowed to flourish. Countries that suppress women and girls are competing in a world with half of their talent.

Let me leave you with the key line from Oscar Hammerstein in “South Pacific.” “You have to be carefully taught, by the time you are seven or eight. You have to be carefully taught to hate the people your parents hate.” Bigotry is not DNA driven. It is taught.

Why Do We Need Bigotry?

Greta Thunberg joins a ninth grader in Charlotte for climate change strike

Her words were clear. We must “unite behind the science.” Sixteen year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg joined ninth-grader Mary Ellis Stevens in Charlotte along with 1,200 other people for a climate change strike. I was one of the 1,200. Several young people spoke, with only a few adult voices making it to the dais. The crowd was multi-generational, multi-ethnic and multi-racial. It was wonderful to witness.

Below is a brief article from The Charlotte Observer on the strike. I was struck by several things she and others said.

– Thunberg made a point of referencing many of the indigenous tribes from our area. To me, this is representative of the saying “we are not inheriting our land from our forebears, we are borrowing it from our children.”
– a young UNCC student activist who is African-American noted that people of color are more impacted by climate change than other groups, yet they get under-represented at these events. The reason is the events are held during the working day, and not everyone has the luxury of getting away from work or school.
– Thunberg handled a heckler with the aplomb of a seasoned politician. After listening for a few seconds, she said why don’t you come back stage afterwards and we can talk about your comments?

I was incredibly proud of the young folks in attendance. I think Thunberg is a hero for her courage and candor. My favorite sign was from a young adult woman standing near me that said “You cannot renew lost time.” I told her that her sign was excellent. In my view, we have lost eleven years due to the Bush/ Cheney White House and the Trump White House. Good things have happened in spite of their lack of leadership on this topic, but these efforts could have been leveraged even more by concerted federal action.

https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article237108539.html