Giving thanks

Image of migrant workers from Diego Rivera murals at San Francisco's Coit Tower.

Image of migrant workers from Diego Rivera murals at San Francisco’s Coit Tower

So tomorrow we pause. We give thanks for the blessings in our lives.

It is a tradition that popular story says started in this country with the Pilgrims. They were a band of vulnerable immigrants who survived a harrowing first winter only through the help of the native people who shared their food and taught them to farm and to fish. Our nascent nation would have vanished without the advice of Squanto and other Wampanoags. Ironically, that expression of thanks turned into oppression, as the immigrants took over native land and massacred native peoples, cultures and customs.

Sadly, as a nation, we continue to struggle with immigration, apparently forgetting that with the exception of our native and first peoples, we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants. We give thanks that this month, President Obama ended the threat of deportation for nearly five million of our neighbors, undocumented immigrants with deep connections in our communities and vital roles to play in making them healthy. And we hope that our nation will once again embrace the values of compassion, equity and justice for all, not just those with privilege and power.

We honor the dreamers, the hardworking believers in a United States of America that can be better than the one we currently have. We give thanks to those who work for equity and fairness in public and private life, and those unafraid to point out our society’s failings and eager to help overcome them, including our allies in Ferguson, MO and the many other communities resisting institutional oppression and injustice.

Often at Thanksgiving, we give thanks for the freedoms and privileges we enjoy, whether we were born to them or gained them through struggle. While it is accelerating in the Northwest, ours has always been a nation of haves and have nots. And so in offering thanks for our bounty, we must not lose sight of the inequities that have given some of us so much and many of us so little.

We honor the people who build our homes and grow our food, regardless of where they were born. And we thank the landlords who accept Section 8s, the readers who tutor, the case managers who provide support and advice, the accountants who keep us on track, the donors who channel their money through their hearts and souls. We honor the community that welcomes and supports, in the spirit of that storybook first Thanksgiving, whoever it is that arrives at our table.

So tomorrow we pause. We give thanks…

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Honoring our veterans

vets dayThe United States remains a country at war; indeed we are in the longest sustained period of declared war in our nation’s history. On Tuesday of this week, we celebrate Veterans Day, a holiday dedicated to taking time to honor and celebrate all veterans – those who are alive and those who have died.

Our veterans provide a direct, personal and dangerous service from which we all benefit. Veterans are important members of the Puget Sound area and a special community we at Solid Ground seek to serve and support.

While war results from the inability of people and countries to resolve conflict in a non-violent way, it is critical that when we debate the decision to go to war or how war is conducted, we don’t disrespect the veterans who have chosen to serve our country. So, on this Tuesday, even as we look forward to the end of war, please take the time to honor and thank our veterans, including the 12 Solid Ground employees and our many clients and residents who are veterans. Thank you!

Standing with Ferguson

This post was published in print in the Big Picture News insert to Solid Ground’s November 2014 Groundviews newsletter and online on our website.

Gordon McHenry, Jr. with his son Austin in Olympia, WA on MLK Day 2014

Gordon McHenry, Jr. with his son Austin in Olympia, WA on MLK Day 2014

Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a white policeman in Ferguson, MO on August 9, 2014 wasn’t really an unusual event. Black men (and women, adolescents and children) have been subject to violent discriminatory police practices throughout our nation’s history.

Despite the rage and fear felt by participants, the response of the citizens of Ferguson to stand up to this police brutality has been unusual and noteworthy for its display of courage, organizing brilliance, peaceful protests and perseverance.

Solid Ground stands firmly behind the people of Ferguson and those organizing around our country to end police brutality and bring equity to our justice system.

We have a legacy of working in the community and with the Seattle Police Department to deescalate tensions in communities of color. And while we lost funding to continue this work through the JustServe AmeriCorps program a few years ago, we remain focused on the importance of continuing to counter institutional racism playing out in our current policing environment.

For white folks, it might be impossible to imagine how blacks in this country react in the presence of police because of the way we are daily profiled. Even now, as a black man working in a position of leadership and authority – a trained attorney who lives squarely in the privileges of education, class and status – I find myself reacting to the police with a deeply emotional response of apprehension and anxiety. They are a source of conflict or even danger to me and my family, rather than a source of support/resources. This is not a rational response; it wells up from deep inside, buoyed by generational trauma and reinforced by the experience of black people throughout our history.

As a father, I grieve for having to pass this trauma on to my children.

And so, sadly, Michael Brown’s death could almost have been expected. Another day, another black man gunned down. We remember a handful of their names and stories, but just a handful. Remarkably, Michael Brown’s death has outlasted our myopic news cycle and continues to serve as a rallying point for people organizing against police brutality.

It’s important that organizations like Solid Ground continue to shine a light exposing police brutality wherever it occurs.

Ferguson is a place we’re seeing on television, but the reality is Ferguson is a state of mind, and minds can be changed if they’re informed.

October 22 was a National Day of Action Against Police Brutality, which Solid Ground endorsed and participated in. I am hopeful that this kind of public protest can be a catalyst for meaningful change in our community.

Solid Ground stewards a neighborhood of people living in our housing at Sand Point, who are working hard to lift themselves out of homelessness and poverty. The young people there, whether of color or not, are brilliant, compassionate and inspirational. They are the antidote to the prevailing stereotype of black youth and youth of color as “dangerous thugs.”

Solid Ground is committed to understanding and countering racism, because we know that racism is a root cause of poverty.

Undoing racism is a key to unlocking the door to some particular forms and patterns of poverty established during the earliest history of this country when people of specific racial groups were identified as commodities (e.g., African slaves, Chinese railroad workers, Native Americans and others). Our institutions haven’t changed much over the years – and they are still structured in a way that excludes women and people of color.

But equal justice should exclude no one. The people of Ferguson and many other communities are staking their lives on it. People of Seattle: Let us join them!

Join us in national action against police brutality

Ferguson actionSolid Ground stands firmly behind the people of Ferguson, MO and those organizing around our country to end police brutality and bring equity to our justice system. We have a legacy of working in the community and with the Seattle Police Department to deescalate tensions in communities of color. And while we lost funding to continue this work through the JustServe AmeriCorps program a few years ago, we remain focused on the importance of continuing to counter institutional racism playing out in our current policing environment.

Therefore, Solid Ground is endorsing and will have a presence at the National Day of Action Against Police Brutality this Wednesday, October 22. I encourage members of our Solid Ground community to attend the Seattle action, which is being held at 5pm at Seattle Central College (1701 Broadway Ave).

Visit the Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression & the Criminalization of a Generation Facebook page for more information on the protest in Seattle.

Vote YES on Prop 1

votes yesSolid Ground endorses Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1 to stabilize and grow bus service in Seattle.

Affordable public transportation is the lifeblood of a growing city and region. Our friends, neighbors, family members and clients rely on the bus to get to work, school and medical appointments.

This November, voters will have the opportunity to support our regional bus service. Transportation District Proposition 1 is a ballot measure that mirrors the increases in Metro revenue sources that Seattle voters overwhelmingly supported in April: a $60 vehicle licensing fee and 0.1% sales tax. Low-income households are eligible for a $20 rebate on the vehicle licensing fee.

In addition, Proposition 1 provides up to $2 million for low-income riders and will support outreach to help people living on low incomes access the reduced fares.

Despite questions about the changing nature of Metro’s revenue forecasts and doubts about the need for funding to stave off serious bus service cuts, it’s clear that we must continue to invest in our regional transit system. Bus ridership is up and the demand for regional bus service is higher than ever. We must develop a sustainable long-term vision for expanding transportation services region-wide.

This proposition alone will not make our transit system affordable and equitable. Rather, it is an important first step in ensuring that people can continue to rely on the bus to go to the grocery store, pick their kids up at day care, and visit family members.

We urge Seattle voters to vote YES on Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1.

Paying tribute to the Martin Luther King VISTA program

Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

National Service team members, community builders.

National Service team members, community builders

In 1985, with Dr. King’s words ringing in their ears, Solid Ground (then the Fremont Public Association) launched a VISTA program to develop community leadership and fight poverty through National Service. In 1989, the program was christened the Martin Luther King VISTA Corps.

“The brilliant thing about the program,” remembers Lynn Livesley, one of the initial corps members and current Executive Director of Literacy Source, “was always the attitude that ‘We can do this.’ The glass was always half full. It was always very positive and we got things done. … The idea of bringing literally hundreds of people into this work is ‘power in numbers,’ and working towards social justice by working with the passion and commitment of people who want to see change in our community. It was an exciting time.”

In subsequent years, Solid Ground developed National Service programs to effectively address literacy, develop community-based violence prevention, and support anti-poverty capacity building throughout King County. At one time, we managed the state’s largest group of National Service programs, with 150 AmeriCorps & VISTA members. Backed up by a deep anti-oppression training program, Solid Ground’s National Service programs developed a strong reputation in the community.

 

AmeriCorps Program supervisor Kim Gordon tutoring, circa 1999

AmeriCorps Program Supervisor Kim Gordon tutoring, circa 1999

Lynn Livesley, MLK VISTA, circa 1985. Lynn was later program manager and director of the agency's national service programs

Lynn Livesley, MLK VISTA, circa 1985; Lynn later became Program Manager and Director of the agency’s suite of National Service programs

MLK Corps member Mark Santos Johnson and Deputy Mayor Bob Watt, circa 1993

MLK VISTA member Mark Santos Johnson and Deputy Mayor Bob Watt, circa 1993

Pat Russell, former MLK VISTA program supervisor, circa 1988

Pat Russell, former MLK VISTA Program Supervisor, circa 1988

On August 31, 2014, we ended the MLK VISTA program, marking the end of an era. The Washington Reading Corps, JustServe AmeriCorps and Pathway to Career Corps had closed in recent years. All were afflicted by variations of the same fatal challenge: changing priorities and practices mandated by the federal contracts that funded them.

For instance, changes in the direction of the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS) meant that “for the first time in our long history of partnering, (we) were not in agreement (with CNCS) around creating leaders who understood the connection of racism and poverty,” noted former MLK Program Supervisor, Edna Sadberry.

For over 25 years, these programs helped develop countless resources, organizations and leaders in the fight against poverty. More than 2,500 corps members graduated, and former members now hold leadership positions in many innovative and effective organizations including Solid Ground, United Way, Literacy Source, Real Change, YWCA, Seattle Young People’s Project, El Centro de la Raza, 501 Commons, Wellspring, American Friends Service Committee and many others.

“It created a space for a lot of our community leaders to grow,” stated former MLK team leader Nicole Dufva. “You learned a lot and you grew a lot. What it teaches, what it draws your attention to – it can be that starting point for a lot of people.”

Our sadness at closing the program is leavened by our pride in its accomplishments and enduring contributions to our community. Edna, Nicole and Julz Ignacio were the last in a long line of incredibly talented and dedicated staff of our National Service programs. Please join me in honoring their work, the many great leaders who preceded them, and the lessons this agency has learned through their service.

And we shall have to do more than register and more than vote; we shall have to create leaders who embody virtues we can respect, who have moral and ethical principles we can applaud with an enthusiasm that enables us to rally support for them based on confidence and trust. We will have to demand high standards and give consistent, loyal support to those who merit it.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

1989_MLK-edited

Amicus brief to State Supreme Court: New revenue needed to McCleary

Last Monday, August 4, Pacifica Law Group filed an amicus brief with the Washington State Supreme Court on behalf Five-year-old-girl at the library.of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center (WSBPC), making it clear that legislators cannot responsibly address the requirements of the McCleary decision to fully fund education without raising new revenue.

Joining WSBPC as co-signers on the brief are Centerstone, Equity in Education Coalition, Eldercare Alliance, Solid Ground, Statewide Poverty Action Network and students from the University of Washington.

The amicus brief argues that the math doesn’t pencil out when you try to fully fund basic education without new revenue. It details the devastating impact of potential budget cuts on students, low-income families, communities of color, supports for older adults and children, and more.

More than two years after the court’s McCleary ruling was issued, the legislature has largely relied on unsustainable funding to make additional investments in basic education and remains behind schedule in adequately funding education.

For over forty years, Solid Ground has worked to end poverty through delivery of direct services, working to strengthen communities and advocating for public policies to address the causes and impacts of poverty. Every day at Solid Ground, we serve hundreds of families with children. We see firsthand that children need housing, food, medical care, counseling and more in order to achieve in school. When these basic needs go unmet, children have a difficult time staying in school, much less succeeding in school.

The amicus brief recommends that the court encourages the legislature to raise additional revenue that is stable and dependable in order to fully fund basic education. Failing to raise revenue to meet our education funding needs would result in cuts to other areas of the state budget that kids need to thrive. Without stable housing, access to health care and nutritious food, and other supports that create long-term economic security, we simply won’t create better outcomes for all kids in Washington. And isn’t that what McCleary is all about?

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