Years ago as a child growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, I was befriended by a wonderful family around the corner from my home. The patriarch of the family, Edward Blunt Sr., was a hard-working executive for a telecommunication company; the matriarch, Roma Blunt, lovingly called Aunt Roma, was a consultant for several local educational institutions; and their son, Ed Jr., became one of my best friends and adopted brother.
Ed and I played sports, shared the same birthday, and graduated from high school and college together. Ed's family provided a unique gift for the young men in our neighborhood. As a result of their southern roots and deep-rooted village values, they believed adults — especially adults of African descent — had a responsibility to aid and assist in the development of young men in the community.
At least weekly, a gang of musty, sweaty, boisterous young men crowded into the Blunt household to take part in a ritual of culinary excellence provided by Aunt Roma. In this house we did not own, pay for, or live in, we witnessed the southern artistry and gastric creativity produced with a palette of collard greens, gumbo, cornbread, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, fried okra, and fish on the canvas of our senses. The white house on Green Road became our hangout, respite, and my second home. Since I lived geographically closest to the Blunts’ home, I found myself at their address more frequently than other "brothers" in our network.
Upon one of my routine visits after finishing another amazing meal, Aunt Roma passed on a special gift. She handed me a key to the home. She stated with matter-of-fact ease, "Otis, you're over here enough, you might as well have a key."
After I said thank you, she began to reemphasize the rules of the house.
"You are always welcome here … you are welcome to eat, rest, and relax ... I trust you, and as long as you abide by the rules of the house and your parents are aware of where you are, this door is always open to you."
I was given access to the Blunts’ home because of my relationship with their son. I was given access to a home I did not create, build, or purchase. Because of my relationship with their son, I was given access to an environment I did not create.
The prophets’ preoccupation with justice and righteousness has its roots in a powerful awareness of injustice. That justice is a good thing, a fine goal, even a supreme ideal, is commonly accepted. What is lacking is a sense of the monstrosity of injustice. Moralists of all ages have been eloquent in singing the praises of virtue. The distinction of the prophets was in their remorseless unveiling of injustice and oppression, in their comprehension of social, political, and religious evils. —Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. —Martin Luther King, Jr.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, environmental justice is defined as:
The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
As we consider this definition, and look around our communities, do we find this fair treatment taking place? Are we aware of how economic and environmental decisions are made? Many times it can become so overwhelming that we think it best to leave it to the experts. Unfortunately, this can lead to exploitation, as discrimination typically takes place in poor and underserved communities where people may not understand their rights, or they choose not to fight back out of fear. As we dig deeper and the shackles are removed, we begin to see how economic and environmental justice are connected and how this exploitation is directly related to incentives like government funding, tax breaks, and land grabs that favor corporations over human beings and the environment. Does the end result benefit all God’s creation or just a wealthy few?
We have a vision.
End extreme poverty by the year 2030.
There has never been a time such as this. There has never been a time in human history where we have been more equipped to do more than just envision a world free of extreme poverty. The empirical evidence is there — extreme poverty can be ended within the next fifteen years.
But first, we must commit. As a global community we must act guided by the best evidence of what works and what doesn’t, and to use our voices to compel and challenge others to join us in this urgent cause inspired by our deepest spiritual values.
This is a historic opportunity. The goal to end extreme poverty by 2030 is now possible when it hasn’t really been before. But it will take all of us to accomplish it.
Harvard professor Robert Putnam jokingly calls himself “a nice Jewish formerly Methodist boy.”
But the public policy expert’s new book, Our Kids, reads more like a tent meeting revival, complete with an “altar call” at the end. His private meetings and public appearances at the White House and Capitol Hill, and meetings with civic and faith leaders across the country, carry the same fervor.
While evangelists convict people of their sinful ways and then convert them to the path of salvation for the hereafter, Putnam’s focus is more on this side of heaven.
His goal: to awaken and inspire Americans to “save” young people from a future trapped in a spiral of fractured families, poor schooling, and a grim economic future that Putnam says will cost taxpayers trillions of dollars. Trillions.
He is not only aiming for political, social, and religious elites. He’s also aiming at the everyday reader from Boston to Dubuque with a message that failure to act will “undermine democracy and political stability for all.” That’s why the book is subtitled, “The American Dream in Crisis.”
“I’m writing for ordinary people, not the political class. I’m holding up a mirror of American society to the ‘haves’ to say ‘look what we’ve become,’” he said.
Pope Francis is a straight shooter who does not mince words: "If we destroy creation, creation will destroy us,” the pontiff said last year. “Never forget this!”
The pope’s warning and calls for action have galvanized many religious leaders from across Maryland to step up our efforts to protect God’s creation from climate change disruptions. We understand that it is the poor and most vulnerable among us who are bearing the brunt of human-induced climate change. Unless we act now, the impacts of devastating super-storms, massive floods, droughts, and crop failures will only accelerate. Refusing to bury one’s head in the sand and facing squarely the reality of climate change is a fundamental issue of justice and respect for life.
This is why I, a Franciscan friar priest, have joined more than 230 Maryland religious leaders, including Bishop Dennis Madden of the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore and six other leaders of Christian denominations across Maryland, in issuing an urgent, moral challenge. We are calling on Marylanders — including our elected officials — to take action on climate change by helping to shift our state’s energy policy towards renewable, clean energy sources.
I stood at the bread shelf in the neighborhood grocery store, trying to decide which loaf I should buy. Tough decision. I looked at all the types of bread and went back and forth many times.
Which one would be best for communion? I didn’t know. I’d never had to make this choice.
Our pastor was at a conference for the weekend. As the associate minister, I would be presiding over the Sunday service for the first time. Before he left, we went over the details of all that had to be prepared.
He reminded me that I needed to buy the bread for communion.
Uh, I hadn’t thought about that. Where do you get it?
“The grocery store will do just fine.”
So there I was, looking over the loaves, wondering which one looked the most, well, communion-y. Maybe that pretty, round Tuscan loaf. Wait, maybe the nice Jewish rye over there. My wry sense of humor kicked in. Jesus would smile over that, right? Being Jewish and all.
No, better not …
I finally picked an Italian loaf — mainly because it was big and it looked pretty and it was on sale. I put it in my basket and headed for the self-checkout line.
When I scanned the loaf, the automated voice asked: “Do you have any coupons?” No, no communion coupons. Not today.
I swiped my credit card and was reminded that my purchase would earn me a few cents off my next gasoline purchase. How’s that for transubstantiation — bread transformed into bonus points?
With the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday this weekend, America was reminded how this small city helped bring sweeping change to the nation.
But while Selma might have transformed America, in many ways time has stood still in this community of 20,000 that was at the center of the push that culminated with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Dallas County, of which Selma is the county seat, was the poorest county in Alabama last year. Selma has an unemployment rate of 10.2 percent; the national rate is 5.5 percent.
More than 40 percent of families and 67 percent of children in the county live below the poverty line. The violent crime rate is five times the state average.
The Birmingham News called the region, known as the Black Belt because of its rich soil, “Alabama’s Third World.”
It’s hard to be optimistic about changing the world when our news cycle is dominated by terrorism, violence, and disease. When world events shock us, sometimes our best hopes cave in to our worst fears. Even the most radical activist may be tempted to give up.
But there is a different narrative that summons those of us who dare to care. It begins when we confront the things that have kept millions from breaking free from poverty and injustice. It ends when we find the courage to change how we change the world.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which consistently ranks among the poorest countries in the world and the most dangerous for women, a group of peacemakers are changing the narrative. Last year I met a Congolese woman who told me how her husband was killed in crossfire between warring militias, how she was violently assaulted by the soldiers who were supposed to protect her, and how she fled her village with her eight children under the cover of night. In the wake of her suffering, she joined a group of women to save small amounts of their own money each week. From her savings, she launched a soap-making business. Over time, she employed others and taught her sisters how to do the same. She helps others to forgive their perpetrators and, together, they are determined to stop the violence against women in a land known as the rape capital of the world.
Today thousands of peacemakers like her are changing Congo, and their numbers continue to swell. They are “waging peace” to save Congo one village at a time.
“An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law” —Martin Luther King, Jr.
Last year on a crisp afternoon in March, I was one of nine people arrested by the NYPD and taken away to the local precinct for processing. My crime? Attempting to plant detoxifying sunflowers on public brownfield land on the South Bronx waterfront in New York City.
Earlier in the day, more than 100 residents, faith leaders, organizations, friends, and allies came together to protest the proposed relocation of the online grocer FreshDirect to a residential neighborhood in the South Bronx. After a jubilant and joyous interfaith reflection and prayer vigil outside the entrance to the waterfront location, security guards refused to let us cross the gate, so we sat in front of it in protest — a peaceful and non violent act of civil disobedience.
Our coalition, South Bronx Unite, works to improve and protect the social, environmental, and economic future of the South Bronx in New York City, located in the poorest congressional district in the country. For three years we have been fighting to stop FreshDirect from receiving more than $100 million in subsidies and incentives to build a diesel trucking distribution center on public land along the Bronx Kill Waterfront.
On Feb. 8, civil rights attorneys sued the city of Ferguson, Mo ., over the practice of jailing people for failure to pay fines for traffic tickets and other minor, non-criminal offenses.
And to this I say: It’s about time.
Growing up with an attorney father — a “yellow dog Democrat” one at that — who often took on poor clients in return for yard work and other non-cash payments, I heard early and often about the unfair — and illegal — practice of debtors’ prison. A poor person could not be jailed for failure to pay a fine, my father told me. I trusted his words were true.
So imagine my surprise when at the age of 18, I was arrested for unpaid traffic fines.
At that time I was a stay-at-home mom, trapped in a too-early marriage I would one day leave. My son was probably 6 months old. When the knock came at my door and I saw a police officer standing outside, I didn’t hesitate to answer.
The officer confirmed my identity and told me I was under arrest for failure to pay traffic tickets I had received for driving an unregistered vehicle.
I know that I should have paid the registration. Once ticketed, I know I should have worked out a payment plan. I know I should have taken responsibility for my illegal actions.
But I was young, inexperienced with the system, and very, very poor. Too poor to keep up with even the most modest of payment plans.
In my classroom, there is a little boy from Honduras. He speaks Spanish — that is the language of his heart — but he is learning English and tries with all his heart to learn new words and strange phrases that will allow him to live in his new world here. He is 9 years old, with dark hair cut straight across his forehead in a wonderfully crooked line. He has deep brown eyes the color of a plowed field, eyes that sparkle like starlight at night off a pool of calm water. He has big dimples that catch teardrops when he laughs until he cries, or when he cries until the sadness in his heart resides. He has a broad smile that is sometimes mischievous but most times full of joy.
Sometimes I wonder ... what is he thinking as he closes his eyes at the end of the day, or opens them at dawn?
"I hope my new world will embrace me," he thinks tenderly, "and not call me an illegal alien ... and not try to tear me apart from my Aunt ... and not try to tear me apart ... and not place me in the shadows ... and not make me a shadow.
Mami, can you hear me in the dawn? Will my words reach you over the land, over the land, to the valley, between the mountains, to La Esperanza, to Honduras? Help me, Mami. Please. I don't want to be a shadow here. ...
The Francis Revolution is crossing the Atlantic and coming to the heart of the nation’s Capitol. News broke yesterday that Pope Francis has accepted Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address a rare joint session of Congress during his upcoming trip to the United States on Sept. 24.
This is the first time that a pope has addressed Congress and provides a world-class opportunity for the Holy Father to lift up the Gospel’s social justice message to the most powerful legislative body in the world.
So what will the Jesuit from Argentina talk about? Studying his nearly two-year tenure as the Bishop of Rome suggests that Pope Francis will focus particularly on the scandal of inequality and exclusion.
Last April, Pope Francis tweeted that “inequality is the root of all social evil.” The seven-word tweet caused an uproar in American media, but the truth is that Francis had been saying the same thing for years. In his 2013 letter Joy of the Gospel, Francis wrote “just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”
With reports last fall suggesting that economic inequality in the United States is at its highest levels since the Great Depression, Pope Francis will likely call on our elected leaders to transform our economy into one where no one is left behind.