The chains of black history

Image by David Castillo Dominici | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image by David Castillo Dominici | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

From my perspective as an African American, the month of February can be enlightening, inspiring and painful at the same time. I’m not sure if I understand the words “black history?” When I say them, they evoke feelings of separateness from the totality of human truth. It’s carved out and deliberate but only special in terms of its place on the calendar.

For me to review black history is not only an acknowledgement that African Americans helped build this country with many great contributions, but that some of those courageous efforts were soaked in bloody oppression. I don’t want to dwell on this stuff, but it always floats to the top if one looks honestly.

When I look at black history, I see a struggle that is linked from the chained slaves aboard slave ships to the modern day African American who is supposed to be “free” – who may get up and look at themselves in the mirror and think they have it better than the generations before them. But deep down, they still see the commonality between themselves and their chained forebears, people that were fastened to their station in life with little to no hope of escape.

From that point of view, I see a history littered with civil rights icons and people that have struggled even to their very deaths to see justice. And so I ask, why have many of the people recognized in black history month had to be tempered in the hot oven of oppression? Why? I keep asking myself this, but whatever answer I come up with is wholly unsatisfying because it ends with more questions.

My thought is, don’t separate black history from human truth, because the fact is history isn’t clean, and can’t be. We learn by seeing the totality of the picture, not just a portion or what we feel is acceptable. Make no mistake, if we digress from honesty we fool ourselves into thinking past events are far removed from the present, and we doom ourselves to struggle and mediocrity.

Black history can’t exist without white history and how they have played against each other. If we don’t accept our shared history of privilege and oppression, we will never know ourselves as a community, nor will we end poverty. We can’t look at black history without examining the connections to the white world around us, its beauty, sacrifice and brutality.  February is black and white history month, right?

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40th Anniversary Building Community Luncheon with keynote speaker Spike Lee, 4/4/14

Keynote speaker: Spike Lee, film director, producer, writer & actor

Keynote speaker: Spike Lee, film director, producer, writer & actor

Join us for Solid Ground’s 40th Anniversary Building Community Luncheon on Friday, April 4, 2014 from noon–1:30pm. This year, we’re honored to host Spike Lee as keynote speaker. With a body of work that spans four decades, he has written, produced, directed and acted in countless films that illuminate the impacts of racism in our country.

As one of the most outspoken African-American voices, he talks candidly, and with authority, about issues of race in mainstream media and Hollywood, using as a backdrop a rare behind-the-scenes look at his celebrated body of work.

And as an organization working to undo racism and other oppressions that are root causes of poverty, Solid Ground is pleased to bring such an influential person in the conversations about race and social justice to our event.

At this year’s Luncheon, we will also come together to celebrate 40+ years of building community to end poverty. We’ll highlight Solid Ground’s 40-year culture of innovation, partnership and action – a culture that has created some of our community’s most effective anti-poverty programs. We will lift up individual stories of leadership and courage, and discuss our plans for the future.

Save the Date for Solid Ground's Building Community Luncheon, 4/4/14

Poverty Action at the Capitol

On Martin Luther King Jr., Day 2014, Statewide Poverty Action Network members and volunteers took their fight for social justice to the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. Over 200 members joined us for a day of action, and together, our network covered the Capitol in ‘Poverty Action Purple’ and made our voices heard, visiting nearly every member of the Washington State Legislature.

We stood for increasing support for basic needs programs, housing, health care, fighting predatory debt practices, and increasing educational opportunities for all Washingtonians. Thank you to all who participated in this inspiring day; without your support this could not have been possible!

For more information about Poverty Action or to become a member, visit: www.povertyaction.org.

Undoing Racism®: Seeking our ‘growing edge’

People's Institute for Survival and Beyond logoStarting in 2001, Solid Ground began sending staff members through a transformational training created by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond called Undoing Racism® (UR). Today, all of our permanent, full-time staff are required to attend. The workshop takes place over two intensive, eight-hour days. Participants learn the history of racism in the US and reflect on how that legacy continues to play out in our society and institutions. 

The UR training also hits deeply personal chords, and each individual takes away different learnings based on our racial/ethnic and socioeconomic background, gender, age and life experiences. As human service providers, the training helps us examine the connection between racism and poverty, and identify ways we can work to remove some of the barriers people face in accessing our services and other community opportunities.

Undoing Racism & the Solid Ground community

A wide spectrum of the Solid Ground community participated in the UR workshop in December 2012, including: line staff and managers from all of Solid Ground’s various locations; a Board member who once served as an AmeriCorps Member through Solid Ground; current AmeriCorps Members who also have accessed Solid Ground services; and our agency’s two top leaders – Gordon McHenry, Jr., President & CEO, and Sandi Cutler, COSO (Chief Operating & Strategy Officer). The People’s Institute welcomes past workshop attendees to retake UR for free – so some of us were experiencing it for a second or third time, while for others, it was a first.

Roshni Sampath, Grant Writer

Roshni Sampath, Grant Writer

Grant Writer Roshni Sampath joined Solid Ground in July 2012 and was drawn to the agency, in part, because of our stated anti-racism values. This was her first UR training.

She says, “One of the nicest things about going through the training was that it felt like I was getting on the same page as other people in the organization – despite our roles and our location – and it made me really value and appreciate the need for all new staff to go through this. But what made it stronger was that returning staff were going through it – that there was a real mixed group.”

The UR training helped bring clarity, which Roshni says is “one of the hardest things to feel when trying to talk about race and analyze it. My head gets cloudy. It’s almost like I’m seeing the blueprint of a city from up top, and it’s clear, and then the clouds roll in, and I can’t remember what I just saw, even if I just saw it.”

Liz Reed Hawk, Web Administrator & Publications Specialist

Liz Reed Hawk, Web Administrator & Publications Specialist

I joined Solid Ground in 2001, and my current role is Web Administrator & Publications Specialist. As a college-educated white woman from a middle class background, the UR training gives me a basis to understand that I have access to opportunities and unearned privileges – and that these benefits affect how I walk in the world and impact those around me. UR gives me tools to begin to examine my privilege so I can attempt to use it to undo instead of reinforce oppressions.

As a part of Solid Ground’s Communications team, I need an awareness that my learned dominant culture perspective is not the end-all, be-all. I want to be held accountable for the way I communicate about our work and how I share people’s stories. I recognize the delicate balance between helping to give voice to someone who may feel disenfranchised versus “exploiting” or invading someone’s privacy in the name of telling a powerful story to benefit Solid Ground. UR has taught me to question both my own motives and how I approach my work.

Senait Brown, Community Organizer, Statewide Poverty Action Network

Senait Brown, Community Organizer, Statewide Poverty Action Network

For the past three years, Senait Brown has been a Community Organizer with the Statewide Poverty Action Network. She says, “One goal in going through these trainings is trying to reach what they call ‘your growing edge,’ the place where you feel uncomfortable,” so you can move beyond it to make change. Since this was Senait’s second time attending UR, she wasn’t sure where her growing edge would be. She hit it, she says, “…when we started talking about the organizing component of doing anti-racism work. We’re not doing organizing work if folks aren’t able to stand on their own when we’re gone.”

Senait feels we need to “stop saying that we’re going to empower somebody else; we don’t have the ability to do that. They have to empower themselves. I have to create opportunities for people to learn, to be prepared for when they’re going to organize themselves. They’re going to come to the table on their own, on their own terms.”

This lesson really hit home during the Dec. 2012 UR thanks to the active participation of two Washington Reading Corps (WRC) AmeriCorps Members who also live in Solid Ground’s permanent housing at Brettler Family Place. These confident women gave candid feedback about their experiences as Solid Ground “clients” who are now giving a year of service to the agency, and how they have struggled to assert their voices and self-determination along the way.

"Penni," a Washington Reading Corps (WRC) AmeriCorps Member

“Penni,” a Washington Reading Corps (WRC) AmeriCorps Member

“Penni” (who originally shared her story in On an upward continuum, Nov. 2011) is now in her second year as a WRC AmeriCorps Member, and has taken the UR training several times. She says, “Given the opportunity, I would retake this training every year. It offers a space to have conversations about racism in a way that challenges everyday thinking, stretches our perspectives, and builds community from a place of revolutionary love – something that I truly believe we can never have enough of.”

Penni describes what the training means from her vantage point:  “Being a white woman working in a nonprofit serving primarily students of color, and also being a white mother to two biracial children, I have to not only be aware of my whiteness [i.e. privilege], but also understand it and where it comes from, how it manifests, and what I need to do and understand about myself in order to undo those manifestations that perpetuate the cycle of racism.”

Applying Undoing Racism Principles in our day-to-day work

Mona Bayyuk, Seattle Housing Stabilization Services Case Manager

Mona Bayyuk, Seattle Housing Stabilization Services Case Manager

Originally from Jordan, Mona Bayyuk moved to the US with her family as a teenager. She was just a few days into her Case Manager position with Seattle Housing Stabilization Services when she attended UR. She says, “It was definitely a huge eye opener, because although I had attended diversity courses in both my undergrad as well as graduate studies – and discussed as well as addressed the implications of being from a minority group and the effects of racial profiling – we never addressed ‘race’ and its impact on individuals.

“As a social worker with a passion to serve those who struggle with inequality and unjust systems, it never occurred to me that I too was contributing to these systems, because as one of the trainers mentioned, in my position I play the role of a ‘Gate Keeper.’ This training is very relevant to my work at Solid Ground, because I will always serve and work with individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds who are struggling to overcome various barriers that are beyond their control and prevent them from accessing their basic human rights.”

Samantha Dyess, Apple Corps Program Supervisor

Samantha Dyess, Apple Corps Program Supervisor

For Samantha Dyess, Program Supervisor of the Apple Corps program since June 2012, “My biggest ah-ha moment was in our discussion on dissecting program implementation. I realized how we – meaning social service agencies – implement programs is racist when we don’t include the community in the decision-making process. Attending UR had a significant effect on me, both personally and professionally. All at the same time I felt angry, sad, paralyzed and motivated. But mostly I felt awakened – as if my memory had suddenly returned after years of forgetting.”

Samantha adds, “I feel that the workshop is of utmost importance to my daily work here at Solid Ground. From my personal interactions with staff and clients, to programmatic decisions, this workshop has helped me align my values and establish priorities for my program. I can now really begin to view everything my program does through an anti-racist lens.”

Roshni sums up the importance of UR Principles in simple terms. “These ideas,” she says, “we live our lives in them.” And I have to agree with her: Undoing racism is never done; it’s a lifelong process that embraces and affirms our humanity if we choose to embrace and commit to the work.

She was always by my side / Ella siempre estaba a mi lado

Solid Ground’s February Groundviews newsletter and Big Picture News insert highlight our agency’s Language Access work. The lead article below shows Language Access in action via our HSS (Housing Stabilization Services). To read past issues of Groundviews, please visit our Publications webpage.

Laura Torres in her building lobby with her Case Manager, Pamela Calderón

Laura Torres in her building lobby with her Case Manager, Pamela Calderón

She was always by my side
(Interview interpreted & article translated by Pamela Calderón)

When Laura Torres moved to Seattle from Mexico City, she dreamed of a better life for herself, her baby boy and her husband. But eight years later and now separated from her husband, she desperately needed a stable place to live. “It all started when I lost my job,” Laura says. “I was living with my siblings, but we had a lot of problems – and my son and I needed our own space.”

Through her health clinic, Laura learned about Housing Stabilization Services (HSS), a Solid Ground program that provides financial and housing search support to Seattle-area people who would very likely lose their housing without the assistance. HSS helps people either hold onto housing or find a place to live, and prevents the spiral into homelessness.

HSS also highlights our Language Access efforts in action: Through HSS, Laura connected with a Spanish-speaking case manager, Pamela Calderón, who is originally from Bolivia. Laura says, “I always try to speak a little English, and I always ask questions, because I like it and I want to learn it.” However, when it came to the stressful process of searching for a place to live in a hurry, the opportunity to work with a case manager in her own language was invaluable.

“It is definitely not the same when you are getting help from a Spanish speaker than an English speaker, because working with an English speaker delays the process,” Laura explains. “I don’t understand English very well, and it is much easier to receive help with someone who speaks the same language.”

And beyond shared language, Laura is thankful for the cultural understanding Pamela was able to bring to to her situation. She tells Pamela, “You are Latina – you understand our needs. And being able to talk to you about my problems, you were able to help me.”

Laura says, “Once I was enrolled in the program, Pamela gave me a list of places that I could go and apply. She made sure that everything was fine; she did a good job. She was always by my side, helping me find a place.”

Pamela points out that Laura herself found the apartment she ended up moving into. Laura says,  “I was also doing my own housing search to find an affordable place with a good location so my son can be OK. The most important thing to me is to make sure that my son is fine and safe. So walking around, I found this place, and we really liked it.”

Laura now has a steady job with good hours. Her new housing is located in a brand-new, mixed-income apartment building with community spaces and resources for residents.

She says her 4th grade son is very happy: “We don’t have a computer, so here in the lobby area, he can access the computer. And they have games for him, and there is a gym. So he goes and takes advantage of it.”

Laura Torres in her apartment

Laura Torres in her apartment

Her apartment itself is spotless. “Look around,” she says. “Everything is really clean here and it is nice. I’m just very thankful for the program. It helped me a lot, and you can see the difference. I’m really happy here, but without Pamela, this wouldn’t have been possible.” ●

For more info, visit the HSS (Housing Stabilization Services) webpage, or contact Pamela Calderón at pamelac@solid-ground.org or 206.694.6841. 

Click more to view this article in Spanish!

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Melissa Harris-Perry, rising media star and noted author, to deliver luncheon keynote

Melissa Harris-Perry

Solid Ground is thrilled to announce that Melissa Harris-Perry will present the keynote address at our May 11, 2012 Building Community Luncheon. She will speak on “Racial justice and its relationship to fighting poverty.”

Harris-Perry, a longstanding political analyst and contributor to MSNBC, is a frequent guest of PoliticsNation with Rev. Al Sharpton, and also serves as occasional host of The Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word. Beginning mid-February she will host her own show (as yet unnamed) on MSNBC on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am – 12noon.

Harris-Perry “take(s) on the most-challenging issues of the day with the kind of sophisticated sass and vigor that is often lacking on mainstream television,” according to NewsOne for Black America.

An award-winning author and columnist for The Nation, Harris-Perry is also a professor of political science at Tulane University, where she is founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race and Politics in the South.

Her latest book is called SISTER CITIZEN: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America – For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Politics When Being Strong Isn’t Enough.

Luncheon guests will be treated to Harris-Perry’s warmth, intelligent humor and sharp analysis. For a preview, check out this clip from her January 9, 2012 appearance on The Colbert Report.

Luncheon sponsors and table hosts will be invited to a special Q&A session with Harris-Perry following the event. For more information on sponsoring or hosting a table, contact Megan Locatelli at 206.694.6862 or meganl@solid-ground.org.

On an upward continuum

Our November 2011 Groundviews newsletter features a remarkable young woman who is both one of the first residents in permanent housing at our Brettler Family Place and is giving a year of service through our Washington Reading Corps. To read the entire issue, visit our Publications webpage.

Silhouette of a mother and daughter at a jungle gym

By serving with WA Reading Corps and living at Brettler Family Place, Penni Carter accesses services while giving back.

A year of AmeriCorps service can be challenging for anyone. Members of Solid Ground’s Washington Reading Corps, for instance, tutor children who read below grade level five days a week – and take intensive leadership development, social justice and anti-racism trainings – all while living on a subsistence stipend. For Penni Carter (not her real name), add to that the struggle of landing on her 27-year-old feet, fresh from escaping domestic violence.

“I was with her dad,” she says, pointing to her two-year-old cutie pie in a pink tutu. “And it was not a healthy relationship. I just got to the point where [I felt], ‘I can’t do this anymore and I don’t want my daughter to end up getting hurt.’ So, I packed up a suitcase and a stroller, and I literally just walked away from my life.”

Accessing support while giving back
Solid Ground provides a range of services that meet people at various stops along their life journeys. When Penni was preparing to exit her domestic violence shelter, she connected with a Solid Ground JourneyHome Case Manager who helped her apply for permanent housing in our new Brettler Family Place program. In addition to housing, Brettler provides support services and case management for formerly homeless families. People accepted to live there must have stable jobs or be moving in a positive direction in their work lives.

Penni moved into Brettler last spring. Soon after, she learned of Washington Reading Corps (WRC) through a coworker and became a volunteer in its summer program, Cities of Service. From there she applied for and was accepted to serve a year with WRC. Thus, she became both a program participant and an AmeriCorps Member with Solid Ground.

Opportunities for self-awareness & growth
Like all Solid Ground employees, Penni and her fellow WRC Members were sent to Undoing Institutional Racism (UIR) training, an intensive experience that unpacks the impacts of racism in America.

“I went to the UIR training and that was life changing,” Penni says. “Being white, you have to look at yourself. It is not them that is the problem, it is me, too. And I have mixed kids, so it really hits home. A lot of these things that people of color are expressing, my kids are going to go through, too. I’m a white woman, so it is hard to find that balance: How do I support them and not let them think that being white is bad or being black is bad?”

And Penni says the UIR training helped her learn how to talk to other white neighbors about racial dynamics and make better connections with neighbors of color.

“Talk about being an ally; Brettler is the best place to do it,” Penni says. “It is good to talk to my neighbors about white privilege, and let them know there are people out there that know it is real. It is going on and it is not OK – and you are not crazy for thinking it. It is nice to know that I can be an ally to so many people in my community that live just where I live.”

Building bridges at Brettler
Over the summer, Brettler Family Place turned from a location where 51 formerly homeless families live into a true community. Penni says, “This summer was incredible. A lot of families had just moved in, so they were just trying to get on their feet.”

One night, “Everybody was outside and I just said, ‘I really want to play kickball.’ We ended up having a big kickball game. I think the youngest kid playing was three, all the way up to the parents and everybody in between. People were sitting on the sides even if they didn’t want to play. We had wheelbarrow races and jump rope and handstand contests – just fun stuff. And all the moms got together and everybody watched everybody else’s kids.”

From this stable sense of community, Penni has started to rebuild her life and imagine her new future. “Last year during my internship, I learned so much,” she says. “I definitely want to do my second year in WRC, then I want to go back to school. I want to either be a teacher or work with DV [domestic violence] abusers or inmates, and help them go through treatment, and realize, ‘Just because you did these things, you are not a bad person – but what do we need to do to help you not fall back into that pattern?’ ” 

Raised by a single mom in Section 8 housing, Penni’s experience could have been one of succumbing to generational patterns. But a continuum of Solid Ground programs supported her in finding stable housing, establishing a goal plan, and getting employment training, community service and leadership development that will help her family thrive.

For more information, please visit:
Brettler Family Place
Washington Reading Corps

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