Sunday, February 25, 2018

Why am I Black and you’re White? Does that mean we can’t be friends?

I was having fun with giving my sun glasses to my little guys, Zion and Frank. As we were messing around my friend Zion came out with a rather philosophical and ethical question. Why do you have White skin and I have Black skin?  Zion asked this profound question in a rather straight forward manner. Then after asking the obvious question he gives me this look of sadness and says can we still be friends? My response was of course we can be FRIENDS. I said we’ve been friends since you were a little, little kid.

Little Zion is your rather active, nonstop and inquisitive type of kid that will drive you crazy if you don’t keep up with him. As we are driving around he’s belted into the front seat and continues to change the radio station, mess with the various controls for the heater and then moves the vents for the warm air coming out. I wondered what got into him to ask the ‘race’ question and then make an assumption that because I wasn’t Black, or he wasn’t White I didn’t want to be his friend or couldn’t be his friend.

I attempted to explain to him that our skin color or race was something that we had no control over and thus it shouldn’t stop us from hanging out or being friends. The difficulty is that he’s being raised in a world where sadly it does matter what your skin color happens to be and whether someone would allow their kid to play with my little friend. I attempted to explain that what mattered most was that we cared for each other, treated each other fairly and realized that people are people regardless of their race, size, gender and whether they liked to play basketball instead of football.

I know that the release of the ‘Black Panther’ Marvel movie recently has given a new face and sense of hope to many of my ‘Black’ friends. I know even though Zion and Frank are definitely too young they will most likely be taken to the movie by an Uncle or Aunt and will love the action but more so the fact that everyone in the movie looks like them. I know that Martin Luther King’s statement about what’s more important isn’t the color of our skin but the content of our character and how we treat each other.

I’m thrilled to have these little guys be part of my life and jazzed that they have a friend who is different from them that intentionally spends time with them.  I can’t fathom my life without these little high energy friends.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Struggle is real until you get your 1st job!

If you can remember your first job and the excitement, thrill and apprehension of real work then you can relate to my Barrio teen Wu Wu. She recently celebrated her 16th birthday. Remember your 16th celebration?  I know that mine was mostly focused on getting my driver’s license and being able to go out on a date without being driven by parents! What makes my young friend so special is that she chose to apply for a job and actually start working as her b-day gift to herself!

The harsh reality for many that grow up around hardship, poverty and too much drama is that most of your family and too many friends never have consistent employment. I know that I was fortunate to have a dad who always had a job. He was career Air Force and flew B-52s during the Vietnam War and most of my teen years. The struggle today as I helped with a resume for a twentysomething friend is that he didn’t have any real job experience at 25. So, his resume was lacking the most important element for getting your next job; experience and long-term employment. I attempted in a gentle fashion to help my friend get that listing a job that lasted for a month wasn’t going to help him.

Yes, the economy is doing great for many but not for inner city youth that don’t have any genuine support to inspire, motivate and help with connecting the dots for your first job. My encouragement to my teens is the struggle isn’t just about getting your first job but actually keeping it for a year before you search for the supposed high paying position. I sadly have too many examples of teens who get their first, second and third job but only can hack working for a month or so. The reason is that it inhibits their life style and that first check has to spent on their time.

I have another group that knows too well the reality of not having a resume and the struggle of finding a job for someone who is 40 to 50 years old. We live in a very competitive job market where too many companies are always looking for ways to cut costs where the older worker with all of the experience is traded for someone half their age at half the expense. I have watched too many single moms grow weary after looking for a year without a  job and too many unpaid bills.

I also know that it’s too easy in today’s urban centers to foolishly believe that education doesn’t matter when it comes to finding work. I agree that you don’t have to earn a PhD to do construction work and earn a great living. Yet, the reality for most is that without a High School diploma you are doomed to low wage employment or unemployment forever.

My learning curve as I watched Wu get her first job was that the ingredients for successful employment come back to a smile on your face, motivation to apply, timeliness for interviews and a heart to serve and do your best. I know that the daily grind of doing life that includes a job means that you have to get up early often and be willing to stay up late.

The struggle doesn’t have to stop you from making it happen!

Do I have any spiritual or moral obligation to help the homeless?

 Is it really my fault or business if someone chooses to live on the street or be unemployed? What would happen if homelessness had a face and a name that identified someone that became real to me? What has to happen for you or me to be moved to do something to make a difference in the life of a person who is struggling and at the end of their rope? Poverty and homelessness are very complex issues with no simple pathway for wholeness!

The reality today regardless of age or family background is that most are one or two paychecks away from being on the street. The difference in our circumstances is that we have family or friends who do care and would never let allow us to end up outside on the streets. Yet, most that end up in the poverty cycle don’t necessarily choose this life style but end up in circumstances that are overwhelming without a clear pathway to sustainability.

As the city of Phoenix continues to grow and expand, especially in the downtown, the homeless population continues to grow and be pushed out of sight of the average resident. It was only a few weeks ago that I was having a meeting at a downtown coffee shop in a new area that saw the intersection of multiple roads give birth to a median strip. This median area became a favorite hangout of the homeless. The situation went from vagrancy to actual urban camping where a group pitched make shift tents and actually lived 24-7 in this little area surrounded by new high-rise lofts.

The dilemma for the city was that the downtown loft inhabitants clearly were getting annoyed with the mess and ongoing presence of the urban campers. It wasn’t too long before the city council made a decision to move this mini-tent city. The morning I had coffee across from this median strip the Phoenix Police were persuading this group to move on with their own impetus instead of being cited or arrested. The real question which is the challenge is where would this group go? Is there another area where they would be welcomed to pitch their tents and store their shopping carts full of their life possessions?

I know at times many would quote Jesus who made the statement that ‘the poor would always be with you’. Sadly, this misquote would often be used as an excuse to not to see the bigger picture of God’s heart for the broken, marginalized and forgotten. The Old Testament Levitical Laws made provision for the poor, regardless of race with the land owner being required to allow some of his crop to be left for the needy. The command was to give generously to those in need without a grudging heart. The difficulty today is that we disassociate ourselves from our neighbors, the stranger in the crowds around us and definitely the marginalized person standing on the street corner.

Interestingly the needy were required to glean the land for their food. This meant the individuals had to actually do work to feed their families. The opportunity was there but had to be seized upon to provide. Today we need to step back and better understand the situation about poverty and homelessness in our own cities before we take action. Don’t misunderstand me I truly believe that everyone is responsible for making our communities better places to live and give the opportunity for those struggling, less fortunate or dealing with their sinful behavior to get help that empowers them to become responsible for themselves.

So, what is my moral and spiritual responsibility to the marginalized and leftovers of my community? I would hope that everyone would ask this question to themselves at night as they sleep in their comfortable house in a nice bed that has sheets, blankets and pillows. Imagine what it would be like not to have more than a few changes of clothes. Fathom what it would be like to not be able to bathe every day or do laundry. The more crushing issue would be to picture what it would be like to be abandoned by your family and friends and truly be alone?

My hope isn’t to give you a guilt trip that makes you feel bad where you choose not to take any steps to help. Rather, I would like to give you a ‘grace’ trip where you see how fortunate you are and catch the vision to be a giver who shares from their abundance. The opportunity is to get away from giving the panhandling a $5 or a $20 if they have a dog or a kid. The more important pathway for change is to be open to befriend someone struggling. Listen to their story and share your story. Consider volunteering at the local rescue mission, shelter or at your church. The face of homelessness could be what you see in the mirror!

Yes! I do have a moral and spiritual obligation to help those in living in crisis!