Urban Life

Afternoon Links of Awesomeness: Monday, Nov. 21, 2011

http://youtu.be/cJRBNbuaonc

Awesome tweet of the day: The father of liberal theology, Fred Schleiermacher, was born today in 1768. “Born” and “today” are just metaphors, of course. (via @shipofools) Plus interfaith bridge building, an extensive interview from U2, Jana Riess is Flunking Sainthood, Pakistanian cell phone censorship, Oscar-worthy documentaries, urban farming, Malawi introduces an anti-farting law (seriously, see above) and more.   

 

Six Questions for Rev. John Liotti

Bio: Founder and CEO, Northern California Urban Development (www.norcaludc.org)
Blog: norcalurban.blogspot.com

 

1. How would you describe Northern California Urban Development’s work?
Our vision is broad—to relieve the causes and effects of systemic poverty. We strive to have an effect on “the street.” We’re honored to serve amazing communities: East Palo Alto and Redwood City. East Palo Alto specifically, while having an abundance of assets, has been overlooked by the success of our surrounding area, Silicon Valley.

2. What have you accomplished?
In NCUD’s short four-year history, we’ve brought a credit union to East Palo Alto, which was desperately unbanked and being preyed upon by financial predators. We’ve also founded a youth program that focuses on financial literacy and life skills, which is currently serving more than 200 “urban” students weekly. We’re working on an approach toward the housing crisis, including brokering an innovative program where cities help homeowners refinance in exchange for a stake in the house’s future appreciation. These efforts strive to break the curse of generational poverty by giving folks the tools and resources to conquer poverty.

The hallmark of all we’ve done is partnerships—collaborative relationships with individuals and organizations from outside and inside our community. Our role, in many ways, is to cast and shepherd the vision to completion—but to do so in a collaborative manner.

3. What is the best thing anyone has taught you in your work?
Dr. John Perkins, quoting an ancient proverb, says, “But of the best leaders, when their task is done, the people will remark, ‘We have done it ourselves.’ ” This has been a great challenge to me. So many times we want the credit.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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Resurrection City

Kitty-corner from my church, St. Peter’s Episcopal, stand the remains of Detroit’s old Tiger Stadium. A new ballpark named after a bank—part of the run at the casino economy—is located in the new sports and entertainment district closer to downtown.

An attempt is ongoing to raise funds sufficient to save the historic field and clubhouse for a museum and playing field. Given the times, I wouldn’t bet on it. But I notice that the wound of demolition and removal of fully three-quarters of the old place is fresh enough that it still feels, every time I look, like a huge, gaping hole has opened up in the world.

That’s Detroit. Things coming down and spaces opening up. But open spaces mean possibility.

Thirty percent of Detroit is vacant land, nearly 40 square miles within the city limits. Google Earth that! Last year three farms and more than 200 school and community gardens bloomed in open spaces, plus nearly 400 family plots—and those are just the ones formally connected to Detroit’s Garden Resource Program Collaborative. Some of these are public school-based, such as Catherine Ferguson Academy, where pregnant teens and young mothers, in the shadow of a barn they themselves raised, each have an organic plot ringing the former football field (where horses now graze). Some are like the simple line of raised beds we constructed behind our church parking lot, a cooperative venture between congregants, neighbors, and soup kitchen participants.

Some agricultural projects aren’t properly gardens at all: Picture an east side community planting 170 fruit trees throughout their neighborhood. And some gardens spring up on vacant land, probably city-owned, but who knows? It feels like no one’s been in charge for a couple years, so people just seize the opportunity. But imagine if there actually were a programmatic city policy, with protected zoning for urban agriculture, or ways to legally get water from hydrants to vacant lots.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2009
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Living for the City

For the first time in history, more people live in urban than rural areas, according to a 2007 U.N. report titled “To­mor­row’s Crises Today.” People across the globe are rapidly moving into and around cities for employment, social services, and safe housing.

“While these populations are growing, the systems of oppression are well en­trenched,” TransAfrica Forum executive director Nicole Lee told Sojour­ners. “Many people who come to cities seeking opportunity find themselves in another emerging caste system. When a young man arrives in a slum in Nairobi looking for a better life, he will be tagged as a ‘slum person,’ and many doors are shut to him based upon education, ethnicity, and address.” Currently, 3.3 billion people live in urban areas worldwide.

What will it look like by 2030?

5 billion: The number of people projected to live in urban areas.

80 percent: Part of the global population that will live in the developing world.

2 billion: The number of people who will live in slums around cities—an increase from 924 million in 2001.

10 million: Cities with this population and higher will account for 60 percent of human water use and 80 percent of human-produced carbon emissions.

Sources: “Tomorrow’s Crises Today: The Humanitarian Impact of Urbanization” (OCHA/IRIN and U.N.-HABITAT, September 2007); CUNY Institute for Research on the City Environment.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2008
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Body and Soul

On the surface,

On the surface, the staff of Word Made Flesh might seem easily pigeonholed as standard-issue evangelicals. These are the kind of Christians who close their eyes and raise their hands while singing worship tunes. The stereotype is that these are also the kind of Christians for whom faith means only individual piety. But these young people are choosing to live in the world's most destitute urban slums, among the poorest of the poor. Why? Because the Bible tells them so.

In Galati, Romania, Word Made Flesh's largest drop-in center is a fully functioning three-ring circus of street kids, staff members, and stray dogs. The center has the usual services, but also offers amenities that are meaningful to children who sleep in alleys - laundry facilities, an art center, a woodworking and stonemasonry workshop, and individual lockers. The Galati center also has a terraced garden for which the children share responsibility. "[It will] teach the kids a usable skill as well as provide food," staff member Bill Haley notes. "Part of their learning is to participate in the work of...the place that is meant for them and is truly theirs."

In El Alto, Bolivia, initial research revealed that women in prostitution were receiving little attention or care. After visiting brothels and becoming acquainted with the women who worked there, Word Made Flesh built a drop-in center that has become a safe haven and lunchtime gathering spot. The women named it "House of Hope," and in addition to the reading groups and social gatherings it hosts, it will soon offer free medical care, counseling, legal services, and job training to the women and their families.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2004
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City Songs

Cornel West is nothing if not prolific. Professor of Afro-American studies and philosophy at Harvard University, West's latest addition to a vast body of work is a spoken-word CD released in collaboration with his brother, Clifton West, songwriter Mike Daily, and producer Derek "D.O.A." Allen. I listened to Sketches of My Culture over and over as its R&B riffs transported me to the '70s and its beats brought me to the realm of present-day hip hop.

The CD opens with "The Journey," a discourse by West on the evolution of music of the black experience in America. As West speaks, we first hear the shouts and guttural cries of the kidnapped in a foreign land, the rise of the spirituals into the tragic-comic perspective of the blues, and then on through jazz ("the finest art form of the 20th century," West says), R&B, and hip hop (which fuses "linguistic virtuosity and rhythmic velocity"). The modes of music illustrate his words and flow perfectly from one phase to the next. It is a terrific intro that draws the listener in and makes one eager to hear more.

The track "N-Word" evokes the spirit if not the style of The Last Poets, a group whose song "Die, Nigga!!!" was about the negativity and self-hatred that comes from the self-identification of the word. It opens with a mock radio program over a soulful R&B groove; folks call in to defend the term and are quickly dispatched by the host who wants to know why we use the word. The third caller is brother West, who––in his familiar lilting phrasing-says, "We need a renaissance of self-respect...a renewal of self-regard...we ought not use the word at all!"

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2001
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The Shaw Redemption

'Mom comes too early! I was having fun!" Pouting, 8-year-old Renee lightly stamps her foot like a corn-rowed Scarlet O'Hara, then skips out of the classroom, backpack in tow. The rest of the kids in her art class pause momentarily to bid her farewell, and then get back to the business of creation.

The kids are in the pre-K to 3rd grade group at the New Community After School and Advocacy Program. The project is a mission of New Community Church, an ecumenical neighborhood-based church in the Shaw community of Washington, D.C. Established in 1984 in an abandoned building that burned in the 1968 riots, the church is a symbol of a neighborhood in physical and spiritual rebirth. The children's program began four years later.

Donna Mauney-Taylor, whose presence looms large at the school, has been executive director for a little more than a year. "We have kids who have to deal with a lot of anger," she said. "In this neighborhood they are exposed to violence and drug and alcohol abuse. Our mission is to work with these children and reach them spiritually as well as educationally." Je Nae Clark, a new volunteer from nearby Howard University, said her goal was "to connect with children, find out their needs, and to meet them to the best of my ability."

Rachel Dickerson, a longtime member of New Community Church, runs Artspace, a part of the program since 1999 that touches all participants. Dickerson said that those who lead the program believe that "children will grow up to be responsible, productive adults who in turn will give their time and talents back to the community." Dickerson feels that Artspace contributes to the mission of the school because the "art enrichment activities are planned solely for each child to come in contact with their creative selves. We learn there is nothing we cannot do. The possibilities are endless and we are all artists."

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2001
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The Indwelling Word

The Word on the Street has the potential to be a book about two theologians who volunteer at a soup kitchen, feel good about themselves, and write heart-warming stories about their experiences. But we find that Charles Campbell and Stan Saunders have discovered a treasure, and that the journey into "the field" requires slogging through mud, spending nights out in the cold with homeless folks, cleaning porta-potties, and no small amount of soul-baring regarding one's personal struggles, shortcomings, and need for forgiveness.

The two theologians from Columbia Seminary have teamed up with Atlanta's Open Door Community, a group of African Americans and whites who live together in a Christian discipleship community. They struggle with racism, let the homeless sleep in their backyard, provide meals for the poor at the Butler Street Breakfast, and serve lunches at their home. They wage an ongoing campaign for no-cost health care for the poor at Grady County Hospital, and they fight for public space for the homeless at downtown Woodruff Park. The Open Door is a community that prays, studies God's Word, serves the poor, and protests injustice.

Campbell is direct about his misgivings, that he is "serving as yet another white male ‘gatekeeper' for many poor African Americans." He has "come not to a greater confidence in my own ‘good works,' but to a deeper awareness of my personal sins and complicity in sinful systems, as well as to a greater dependence on the grace of Jesus Christ. What a revelation this has been!"

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2001
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Honkey Payback

Honky, by Yale sociologist Dalton Conley, is a memoir of growing up during the 1970s and 1980s in the projects of New York's Lower East Side. Anybody who has lived in an American inner city will recognize the turbulent urban environment Conley describes: the concrete sidewalks strewn with broken glass; the blocks of boarded-up, bricked-over, and burnt-out crack houses; the dread of walking alone at night; and the threat of intimidation by gangs. For those who haven't lived in the inner city, Conley offers an intimate view of what it is to grow up poor in one of America's most destitute neighborhoods.

Yet, as you might have guessed by the book's rather sensationalistic title, Honky has a twist: Conley and his family are white, while everyone else living in the projects is African American or Latino. Though the term "honky" only appears a few times in the book, it is clear that the issue of race creates an environment of perceptions and projections—both their own and those of others—that must constantly be navigated by the Conleys. Race, he writes, is something most white people in America never have to deal with personally. "Ask any African American to list the adjectives that describe them and they will likely put black or African American at the top of the list. Ask someone of European descent the same question and white will be far down the list, if it's there at all."

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2001
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Fed by My Prayer

I do not view myself as a contemplative. I’d say that I am a "seeker" of God. This seeking has been a lifelong process. As far back as I can remember, I have been drawn to that which is good, holy, and sacred.

It has been the consistent nourishment of my mind and soul that has given balance to my life. Spiritual books have been a blessing. The scriptures have revealed God more clearly. Mentors have been a special help and affirmed my growth. Daily journaling has helped me maintain my focus.

I can see signs of change and growth in my spiritual life. Prayer is freer now. Learning to just be and listen has been a real challenge, but I am convinced that I must persevere because the desire for union with God is a deep part of me. My prayer has led me to very enriching and nourishing volunteer work. My work is fed by my prayer, and the people and activities of my work enhance my prayer. Each acts like yeast for the other—energizing, raising up, and nourishing it. In all I am and do, I continue to seek God. My heart, at times, literally burns with that desire. --Maria (a retired school principal in Detroit)

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2000
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