A (Complete?) History of our Sanctuary Ministry

A (Complete?) History of our Sanctuary Ministry

Our Sanctuary ministry began in the midst of Central American civil wars in the 1980s. As our own government was supporting the dictatorships that were creating exiles, University Church opened its doors to civilians whose lives were threatened. Out of this grew our Guatemala Partnership, which continues to this day, and since 2016 we’ve made Room 31 on our third floor available as temporary housing for a number of immigrants seeking asylum and support.

We are a member of the Sacntuary Working Group, through which we partner with agencies, other congregations, and generous individuals to provide safe temporary housing, food stipends, clothing and phone/internet; legal assistance; accompanying them to doctor appointments and help enrolling children in school; and opportunities for community and fellowship. We offer care and prayer, and we do everything we can to provide the stability, comfort, and confidence they need to navigate their new home. Once they are ready to go out on their own, we continue to offer support through rent assistance, ESL, or…whatever is needed!

We do this because we believe this is what God calls us to do. And we welcome volunteers and donations.

Here are the stories of those we’ve had a chance to support:

2016
We welcomed a Mexican undocumented immigrant…faced with deportation, even though he had lived here many years, had children who were US citizens, and had an open legal case arguing that he should be allowed to stay. “Abandoning my children is not a choice I can make. I live for them, and I will fight to stay with them,” said J. He remained with us for nearly 6 months. He won his court case and now has legal status.

2020
A Mexican LGBTQ young man…who had lost his DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status came to us after being released from immigrant detention. He decided to apply for asylum, because he was now subject to deportation, and the town from which his parents had migrated has a history of violence against LGBTQ people. He was with us for two months before relocating. He has won his court case twice, but the Department of Homeland Security has appealed each time. His final hearing has yet to be scheduled, but he and his lawyer just were given a filing court date for paperwork, so the process is moving.

2021
A couple from El Salvador…The woman’s daughter was murdered by Salvadoran gang members, who then threatened to return to kill her. They left immediately with almost nothing to apply for asylum in the U.S. They were separated at the border and sent to different detention centers, but eventually got out thanks to pro bono lawyers who became acquainted with their case. They were with us for three months before relocating to a place where the husband had relatives and a job offer. He has been granted asylum and work authorization. She has work authorization now and is a cook in a restaurant. She has a court date in 2024 for her asylum case.

A family of four (now six) from Honduras…The father was a bus driver. Gangs would shake down bus fleet owners by threatening to kill drivers if the owners didn’t pay a monthly fee. One of the father’s friends was murdered, and someone attempted to shoot the father. The family decided to seek asylum in the U.S. and lived at University Church for 6 months. They have stayed in Chicago and now rent their housing. Father and adult son have work. Their younger son is an A student, even in his second language, English. The mother gave birth to another boy in February 2022, and their oldest son joined them this summer. They have submitted their asylum application but do not have a court date yet.

2022-2023
A family of four from Cameroon…During the last election in Cameroon, a candidate from one of Cameroon’s many ethnic groups ran and lost against the President who has been in power for over 40 years. After the election was over, that President began arresting people from that ethnic group, and the father of this family was from that group. He and his family flew to Brazil, then went through 10 more countries to reach the U.S. They were with us for five months and have now moved into an apartment in the neighborhood. They are eligible and have applied for Temporary Protected Status and are also applying for asylum. The parents have completed the highest levels of ESL, and the wife passed a college-level English 101 course. They have received work authorization and are employed.

A Colombian man...After several of his family members were killed, he was put on a national list of victims of violence and moved to a different city. He started his own business, but one day narrowly escaped being kidnapped and decided to leave the country. He flew here with a visa from the U.S., but mentioned when going through immigration at the airport that he planned to apply for asylum and was immediately arrested and detained for a couple of weeks. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) confiscated all the documents and papers he brought with him to prove his case; he has written to them asking that they be returned and has heard nothing. He lived at the church for a little over a year and now rents an apartment on his own. He has applied for asylum, received work authorization, and is employed.

A Venezuelan man…A well-traveled merchant seaman who has had his own experience of hosting migrants, in the form of Cuban refugees heading to Venezuela.  But now life had become intolerable in Venezuela, in terms of both the economy and security, so he headed north. He spent some time in a migrant shelter, just north of the border, where he was well liked for the friendly way he volunteered to help others, but he needed to move on. He lived at the church for a little over a year and now rents an apartment on his own. He as applied for asylum, received work authorization, and is employed.

2024
A Venezuelan single father with 3 sons…The oldest son was born with spina bifida, and Shriners’ Hospital in Chicago was able to provide him with free corrective surgery to prevent a further degenerative condition. The family is currently living at the church and working with a lawyer to file for asylum and work authorization.

EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS, and if you want to get a sense of what this takes…
$500 = 1 month of groceries and meals
$100 = 1 month of toiletries and personal items
$105 = 30-day Ventra/CTA pass
$80 = monthly utilities (gas, electric, WiFi—goes to the church)
$40 = monthly phone bill

Go to our GIVE page to donate, and indicate “immigrant support” on your donation. Or you may support the Sanctuary Working Group immigration fund that provides assistance to those living in our church and others throughout Chicago.

Presidential Centers, CBAs, and Community

—by Julian DeShazier

THE CONCERN

One of the most important developments in several decades is the Obama Presidential Center coming to the Southeast side of Chicago. The Obama Foundation’s ambitious plans to be “more than a library” should, for good reason, generate excitement among residents, business owners, and civic/city leaders. It should also, for good reason, generate caution these same people: “development” often means “displacement.” What is the line between developing a community so that its residents feel invested in/loved vs. developing so much that the economic impact pushes out residents (gentrification) vs. development that happens so slowly that residents are unchanged and neither is the community? This question, and the answers to it offered by different constituencies, deserve our fullest attention as a congregation.

People are worried that developments like this and the golf course designed by Tiger Woods will mean the demise of the essential character of neighborhoods like Woodlawn, Jackson Park, and South Shore. A group of respected community leaders have gathered together to form the “Obama CBA Coalition.”

A “CBA” is a Community Benefits Agreement – a binding document that would force the Obama Foundation to:

  • require that jobs be set aside for people in communities around the Obama presidential center
  • protect low-income housing and home owners
  • support and create Black businesses
  • strengthen neighborhood schools

That is directly from their site, which you can/should view here: http://www.obamacba.org/

The Obama Foundation doesn’t want to sign one of these documents. Barack Obama has himself said the reason is because a CBA wouldn’t be inclusive enough of all community interests and that CBAs aren’t suitable for nonprofits.

The community is becoming more frustrated by these types of responses and the general tone at which the Obama Foundation is using, as in doing things “for” the community and not “with” them. Despite this, it is clear that the CBA folks want the presidential center here and are quite excited at the potential.

The Obama Foundation has laid out its own assessment of potential economic development, which you can find several ways after clicking this link: https://www.obama.org/the-center/

A CHURCH’S ROLE IN THIS

On April 8, we will host a congregational meeting to discuss (and potentially vote on) becoming allies with the folks asking for a CBA. We’ve been asked to join by the CBA coalition because they see this as a moral issue. An “ally” is someone who isn’t a member of the coalition or organizer within their campaign but agrees that the Obama Foundation should sign their version of a CBA. We would be using our church’s (and pastor’s) power to empower this cause. Keep reading and you’ll understand why our church board is taking this request seriously and giving this decision to the entire congregation to make collectively.

It may be that you are completely against it and trust the Obama Foundation to do right by the people.

It may be that you are all for a CBA, because that’s the only way to ensure accountability.

It may be that you aren’t really sure about a CBA because you aren’t a lawyer BUT you do think the Obama Foundation should do a better job at working with the folks being most affected by the changes, and you think a system of checks and balances is a good thing.

The overwhelming majority of people – inside and out of the church – are in that 3rd category, and both the CBA folks and Obama Foundation are needing to do a better job of talking to each other, with other community stakeholders at the table. If an institution with great power, nonprofit or not, is not working WITH the community, this is not “community” but another form of colonialism…it is unethical and (depending on your definition) “immoral.” Violent. Our concern, as believers in the God Who Freed the Israelites from Slavery, is in Justice, equitable and mutual relations between people, and love. Jesus made clear many times that “legality” should not be the concern, but when love and mutual interest are enforceable legally, by all means we should consider this deeply. Passionately. Prayerfully.

And by doing due diligence. So below are some articles that may help you discern, when/if  we vote on April 8…before then hopefully several community stakeholders will come and speak to us as well.

RESOURCES

“Community Benefits Agreements in the Political Economy of Urban Development” — http://ssa.uchicago.edu/community-benefits-agreements-political-economy-urban-development

“Five CBAs that Worked” — http://www.chicagoreporter.com/how-neighborhoods-have-held-developers-accountable-to-their-needs/

“Obama Center’s Hope Has Rocky Start” — http://digitaledition.chicagotribune.com/tribune/article_popover.aspx?guid=26b3514d-f299-4ea5-aeb0-62e08245efd4

“Washington Post Op-Ed” — https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/01/19/one-way-for-obama-to-secure-his-legacy-make-sure-his-library-helps-the-south-side/?utm_term=.dda4ec725602

“Do Community Benefits Agreements Benefit Communities?” — https://brooklynworks.brooklaw.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1524&context=faculty

“No CBA but a Diversity Consultant Might Do” — https://chicagocrusader.com/no-community-benefits-agreement-but-a-diversity-consultant-might-do/

“Lynda Lopez and Natalie Moore Discuss Gentrification on “Chicago Tonight” https://chi.streetsblog.org/2018/01/13/lynda-lopez-and-natalie-moore-discusses-gentrification-on-chicago-tonight/

1 Thessalonians 5:14-22 — http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=387284213

Leviticus 25:35-38 — http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=387284398

Galatians 5:14 — For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Signs Endure

A scripture commentary featured on “On Scripture” (Odyssey Networks). Here’s a sample…

“The young, black activists that want to abolish the police are as misunderstood as the rural, white activists that want to abolish equal rights for all, and both have more in common than we’d like to admit. There are reasons for this, of course.

Here’s what they have in common: deprivation. Whether it’s what sociologist Robert Merton called “relative deprivation” (seeing what someone else has and feeling they should have it), or the very real sense of brokenness that sociologist Charles Glock split along economic, social, physical, ethical, and psychic lines, the vast majority of people that yell “Black Lives Matter!” or “Make America Great Again!” are burdened with the realities of deprivation.”

https://www.onscripture.com/signs-endure

—by Julian DeShazier

Sanctuary and Dissent

—by Julian DeShazier

It has been 3 weeks since Jose Juan Federico Moreno entered University Church, and you are probably wondering how things are going. In any other world, and probably most other faith communities that would take this on, the answer would be, “Amazing! Look how Faithful we’re being!”

Or LOOK, we’re on the cover of the Chicago Tribune! –> http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-immigrants-sanctuary-strategy-20160508-story.html

But since we have decided to not Iive in a world where doing the right thing is a cause for celebration, there are other ways to think through this worth mentioning.

For example, Sanctuary, when used as a tactic to draw attention to the flaws in immigration policy as a whole and grossly affected individuals – like Jose Juan – is best when the press is applying to apply pressure on ICE to revisit his case. Yesterday the story was on the front page of the Chicago Tribune, a petition we’re circulating has 2,934 signatures, and many people are calling and visiting the church asking how they can support — so we’re doing OK. I’ll spare you the voicemails I get every day asking why we’re “harboring illegal aliens” and the legalese that explains why we’re all felons. Suffice it to say, Jose Juan being here is about him fighting to stay with his family and a people of faith choosing to support him in that fight. We’re not harboring felons…we’re loving humans.

The story of Virgilio Vicente will be an important one to share in coming weeks. As many of you know, Virgilio and his family were the first to stay in Sanctuary at UChurch in 1985, and people need to see beyond the immediate present to see how good advocacy can truly change and save lives with a generational impact. People also need to see that words like “moral” and “justice” have to have meaning in ways that include those that live and look differently than us. Why are things “obviously unfair” only if you are affected?

If anything, I am reminded daily that the voices of dissent should never weigh more internally than the voices of support, and that neither of these should matter as much as the voice of God. From time to time we can get discouraged by a couple of naysayers in our life. I’m not saying “ignore them” (they may be right, you should ask yourself if they have a point), but I am saying that you are probably reacting stronger to dissent than support. It’s the human way. Look out for that. You don’t need support or dissent: these are the necessary and broken byproducts on the search for what you really desire…Truth. Understanding of Purpose. Real Wisdom. Genuine Community.

As pastor, I am honored to support you however I can in that journey. And I’m thankful for your support of us as we advocate for Jose Juan.

Movement 4 Black Lives

Movement 4 Black Lives

—by D’Angelo Smith

I attended the “Movement for Black Lives” gathering this past weekend in Cleveland, Ohio. It was a very emotional experience for me and propelled me back to the plight of our ancestors and the struggles they faced. All of those who have gone before us, who had a foundation of peace, love, and justice at the core of their struggle, are with us here and now. Ashe’! We stand on their shoulders, for they have lifted us higher in the struggle. Ashe’!

In this struggle we must have the willingness to wrestle with, interact with, and work through the various contradictions within our society to achieve equity and fairness for everyone. When struggles are unified and mobilized it causes us to take a leap forward in the evolution of all humankind – “REVOLUTION.”

When people do not struggle there is stagnation in the process of evolution. I was awakened to these contradictions within our culture and society even more at this gathering. I met so many Black people working across this nation for the advancement and liberation of all Black lives here and afar. These Black people were not just citizens of the United States of America, but from all over the African Diaspora. Many struggles were lifted up in the space that was created for only individuals that identify as Black, to acknowledge where we are, to embrace where we have been, and to unify on the next steps moving forward. I have so much to say about my experience, yet I will just tell of the moment that incited the commitment I now have to the movement of “Revolution.”

On the very last day of the gathering, we witnessed a 14-year-old black teen, who was assumed to be under the influence of alcohol because he had an open container, being slammed to the ground and handcuffed. Now you all know things got “real” because we were not going to let these transit police criminalize our little black brother! We demanded that his mother be notified and that he be released into her custody. They did not adhere to our demands at first because they placed him in a police car. The “NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE” chant filled the street and a human barricade was formed. We surrounded that police car with locked arms standing as a shield to protect this young black boy and to keep him from being booked into the “system.” We were told that this was an unlawful assembly and that we should disburse or action would be taken. That same transit officer rushed the human shield and in failing to break it, he pepper sprayed us.

cleveland-cop-pepper-spray-m4blSome of us were sprayed in the face and others, like me, in the mouth. We did not back down but enforced the barricade to block the car from leaving. They said the mother was on the scene and that she wanted us to move back, and we did, but not far enough to allow the car to drive away. We did not know if the request was coming from the mother and we wanted our little brother released! They then moved him from the police car and placed him in an ambulance, still handcuffed. We demanded that the handcuffs be taken off and we surrounded the ambulance! We chanted, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win! We must love and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

After some chanting for a while, a car pulled up and our little brother was released to his mother because we stood up showing BLACK LOVE through the POWER OF PEOPLE! There is much work to be done, but we are thriving, winning, and dismantling systems of oppression! I LOVE MY BLACK PEOPLE! We are here to stay and we ain’t going nowhere. This victory showed me that we can and we will do this. The fight is not over, but the glory is ours through the SPIRIT!

I thank you all for making it possible to have such an experience, through supporting our church with your great ideas, your cheerful giving, and your loving presence. I charge every member of this church to open up, even more, to the struggles within your own realm of individual experiences, and within our collective as a community of believers. We must honor and value every member of our community with training, programming, encouragement and support through assessment on what is needed for each individual struggle and as a collective body. There were ten guiding principles for the gathering and the following is one that I believe will speak to where we are in the life of this church:

“Mostly Directly Affected people are experts at their own lives and should be in leadership, at the center of our movement, and telling their stories directly.”
It is through our solidarity that we envision a world beyond the current manifestations of insensitivity, and numbness to unfairness, that we will capture the heart of all struggles within the movement for social justice. We have been hearing with our ears and seeing with our eyes the injustice and inequity in our society. Now let us listen with our hearts, act as we must, care for ourselves, protect one another, and stay committed to the movement for social justice, which is an instrument for revolutionary minded communities like you, UNIVERSITY CHURCH!

Leaping forward in evolution with you all hand in hand,
D’Angelo Smith

 

FLY and the Trauma Center Campaign Win

FLY and the Trauma Center Campaign Win

Mourning has BrokenOn December 4th, Vimary Couvertier-Cruz, Tangie Purvis, JC Wilson, Jené Colvin, and Johnny Kline were part of a performance called Mourning Has Broken, a multi-media, interactive play in three acts. Set in current-day Chicago, it seeks to address and ameliorate, i.e., “metabolize” the collective trauma all of humanity is undergoing as a result of historical, ongoing, and unrelenting warfare, including urban warfare. Chicago Theological Seminary’s Dr. JoAnne Marie Terrell and students of the course TEC 484
Theological and Ethical Perspectives on AIDS and Violence have written and produced this timely and relevant play in recognition of the 100-year anniversary of World War I and many subsequent wars – World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the Iraq War – and the long-term consequences of such massive violence for our lives together. The story follows the lives of centenarian Olivia Bible Whisler and Chiquita Jones, her nursing assistant, permitting us to recoil in horror at the violence of militarized police, giving us inner perspective on the dynamics of repressed trauma and the need for mourning, and calling us to the work of building a fence around the most vulnerable of our neighbors. 

On December 8, 2014, The Univ of Chicago Children’s Trauma Center announced that they have raised the age limit up to 18 for children needing trauma care!!! Now all children on the southside have access to trauma care. This is a major step in the right direction and though there is still work to be done, we celebrate this news. View the story in the Chicago Sun Times here http://chicagosuntimes.com/news/u-of-c-medicine-wants-to-raise-its-age-limit-to-pediatric-trauma-center/

What Is the Sanctuary Movement?

University Church has long been passionate about immigration law and doing whatever we can to stand with undocumented persons who risk deportation. Our Guatemala group connects to these efforts on a global scale, but we also have offered SANCTUARY to persons in the past. The question is upon us again, and we’ll vote as a congregation on March 23rd, but check below for some documents on the Sanctuary Movement and University Church’s involvement since 1985.

Declaration of Sanctuary 1985

We’re Not Afraid (Sanctuary in Chicago – a short history)

Sanctuary Case Study

The Good Samaritan and George Zimmerman

NOTE: This was printed first in “Sojourners” —  under the title “The Neighborhood Watch: The Story of the Blind Samaritan” — The Good Samaritan & George Zimmerman was the original title. —Julian DeShazier

http://sojo.net/blogs/2013/07/19/neighborhood-watch-story-blind-samaritan

First there is smoke on the highway — thick and black, as if the unknown fire was still burning. As I draw closer, the source of the dark clouds becomes clear — a car is on fire. Even though it is happening on the opposite side of the highway, the requisite “gaper’s delay” makes it easy to see everything that is going on. A man is a few feet from the car — he’s distraught. This is his car. Other vehicles are driving around him and the car, and one more fact — the vehicle is alone.

So what happened? A car that suffered no accident or apparent damage simply burst into flames? Don’t we all want to know what happened?

I have to know. I drive a car made in the 20th Century. It has 215,000 miles on it. This is unknown territory for me. What I’m saying is — flames are a possibility. So I should let this smoke on the highway teach me something.

I should at least help him.

Instead, I slow down from speeding long enough to check him out, and not a half mile later I’m back to around 85-90 mph. I’m a terrible Samaritan.

The Good Samaritan parable stayed with me after that. And this was before the George Zimmerman verdict, which acquitted a man who presumably acted as a “good neighbor” by approaching Trayvon Martin, whom he shot and killed. Florida state law and a jury agreed with Mr. Zimmerman, to the relief of some and the disgust of others. The jury’s decision came late on Saturday night, and the next morning the lectionary text for preachers across this country was Luke 10:25-37 — the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Wow.

Florida’s “stand your ground” law — a source of collective ire at present — is an iteration of the Good Samaritan Laws that exist in this country: laws that offer protection from lawsuits for those who help or protect their neighbors. If you dig a hole to save a child’s life, that child’s family can’t sue you for damage to their lawn. Sounds like a good thing, right? Sounds like the spirit of these laws comes directly from the Bible.

Neighborhood Watch programs are born from the same spirit: they empower those who want to protect their neighbor with the authority to do so. George Zimmerman was allowed to have a gun so that he could be a Good Samaritan.

The problem with Neighborhood Watch programs and stand your ground laws is that, in their rush to be the Samaritan in the story, they never ask the question the lawyer asks in Luke 10: “Who is my neighbor?”

If Sanford, FL, wasn’t so nervous about the growing black population, which spurred the creation of their Watch program in 2011, maybe they’d see that all those black folk moving in were not invaders but neighbors. Maybe, instead of seeing their community as “falling into the hands of robbers,” and oh, there goes another one right there, they would see the opportunity to manage the changing tide.

But instead, it is clear that the old guard of Sanford — the priests and Levites of this tragic tale — walked past the opportunity to welcome their new neighbors. Many systems failed, yes, but the primary failure was a basic interpretation of a critical scripture, one that is central to the ministry of Jesus. It is a failure of hospitality that creates the program that gives Mr. Zimmerman his gun. It is a failure to actually read the Bible we pretend to take so seriously.

As far as our collective conscience is concerned, there is now smoke on the highway. Trayvon’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal are flames that still burn. As we pass this scene in anger, or relief, or confusion, be careful not to inhale the toxic fumes of cynicism. We can do something. We can learn something to become better citizens, better Samaritans.

The argument has been which conversation is the most important. Will this fuel a new dialogue about race in America? About the validity of laws that empower aggressive people, or laws that improperly moralize religious ideas? Will we FINALLY talk about bullying against youth, or profiling prejudice, or the right way to hold (and confront) power? Many conversations need to be had; many protests are in order.

Good news: there are enough of us to have all of them. Let’s stop fighting over what’s more important here.

What’s MOST important is Trayvon Martin is dead — no disbursement of justice will ever satisfy that pain. The car is on fire, and the ensuing trial only fanned the flames.

Now we must act. If the race or power or gun control or child protection aspects of this tragedy disturb you, know that they all flow from one source: the failure to ask, “Who is my neighbor?” Every day we ought to wake up and ask this, and be horrified when our laws don’t support our new answers.

This is not a Sanford, FL, problem. It is the American dilemma, and our interpretation of “neighbor” is at the heart of every conflict we face.

Some think a trial was won or lost. But when we lost Trayvon Martin, the one we call “black boy”, we lost again our neighbor.

Nursing Trauma: How One Church Is Responding to Chicago’s Violence Epidemic

This OpEd was originally written for “Sojourners” after I was asked to comment on Chicago’s violence and what I and the church were doing about it. Have you been to the studio yet? Read the original here; the complete text is below:

Chicago: the only city in the world to broadcast a local network in international syndication (WGN, thanks MJ); the Second City of comedy and career launchpad of laugh icons such as Murray, Belushi, & Fey; and the “Windy City,” which is actually the 16th windiest city in the nation, but our politicians have been known to blow a lot of hot air (another topic altogether). We’re known for the ’85 Bears – the definition of DEFENSE in the NFL – and the ’08-’12 Cubs – the definition of LOSING (because by ’08, I meant 1908). Hugh Hefner began his media empire in Chicago, and our other less pornographic entertainment contributions include Kanye West, Common, R. Kelly, and Chess Records.

For people from Chicago, our city is one thing: “The Crib.” That’s what we call it, and we love it despite its problems. Oh yeah, the problems…

For all its deep dish pizzas and –style hot dogs, The Crib is one of the most violent cities in the world. When I say in the world, I mean that 1,976 Americans have died in Afghanistan since 2001, and there have been 5,056 murders in Chicago during the same period. (A specious stat for a number of reasons, but let’s move toward the point people are getting at when they mention this). This is a dangerous town. “How do we stop it?” is the million dollar question, and will net someone a Nobel Peace Prize if they can figure it out.

At this point, I’m ready to throw my hands in the air: “God, it’s CRAZY in these streets.” DO SOMETHING.

The answer I keep getting back is the same as my prayer: Do Something. But what?

Getting to Know Violence in Chicago

How violence begins is mostly understood. Here’s the widely accepted equation:

Poverty + Ghetto-ization  + a Culture of Violence + Gangs + Access to Guns + Drugs = Violence

On the left side of the equation, everything seems true. Many Chicagoans experience a scarcity of resources; many of them are black and poor and live together (if you didn’t know, Chicago is one of the most segregated cities in the nation: everybody has a “town,” and the boundaries are invisible but strict). America does seems to have a fixation on Chicago’s rich history of mobbishness and corruption (thank you VH1 for “Mob Wives: Chicago”), and there is a curiously high level of access to guns in IL (perhaps because of too strict gun laws?). Plus, the paradigm of the Street Gang as Corporation began in Chicago, drugs are everywhere, and most if not all of the violent crimes in Chicago are related to one or a combination of the factors on the left side of the equation.

So far, we have tried fixing the right side of the equation by fixing the left side: sound mathematical logic. Rainbow PUSH wants the government to create more jobs (Poverty); lack of affordable housing and racist policies have kept violence in concentrated areas – some people are writing about that (Ghetto-ization); others are boycotting VH1 and its portrayal of reality, which is both wicked and unreal (Culture of Violence); Rev. Jesse Jackson and other church pastors are picketing to close down gun stores, while the Illinois State Rifle Association is looking to ease restrictions, which may kill channels of illegal trafficking and cause us to be more civil with one another (if that old lady has a gun in her purse, you might leave her alone – or so goes the logic). One organization – CeaseFire – focuses on none of these but looks at stopping retaliation. Their basic logic is that “violence begets violence” (MLK, who knew about Matthew 26:52) and if you want to stop the cycle you have to insert someone into the cycle at critical moments (after one violent act and before another). These people are called “Interrupters,” and the documentary on their work is gaining global buzz.

And then there’s Bill O’Reilly, who recently said the National Guard should be deployed into Chicago. Besides him betraying his Conservative sensibilities (He wants the government to help people because they cannot help themselves?), this is a terrible idea. But it deserves mention because nothing else has worked.

For all the success of CeaseFire and “CompStat” – the Chicago Police Department’s latest strategy of turning people into numbers – the murder rate is up 50% in Chicago from this time last year. So how do we stop it? I don’t think we’re seeing the complete picture.

The Real Problem: Trauma

I spent a summer in the ER of a Level 1 trauma center in Chicago. Gunshot victims would come in, and they couldn’t believe what had happened to them. It was traumatic in the truest sense – their bodies were broken and put into shock. But their mind and spirit was as well: it was a jarring experience all around for them. But not only for them. Mothers and aunties and cousins and baby mommas were going crazy too. A lightbulb turned on: This situation is traumatic for them too! They needed care as well. And so the idea of “care” was expanding from physical to psycho-spiritual, and from patient to family. Everybody involved was a victim of trauma here.

I began to look into this idea of “trauma” and found that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the result of unfettered moments of shock that continue to reside in the body: the brain and body never return to “normal,” and will erupt in erratic behavior. (Think of a geyser here). Hot springs are the result of spontaneous combustion of something that happened in a river far away and a long time ago. What if this is true with humans?

We already know it is. One study on inner city kids in Chicago showed that children who were exposed to violence or witness a violent act were much more likely to demonstrate aggressive behavior within one year of exposure. PTSD also carries symptoms of depression, which contributes to feelings of meaninglessness in self and the world (thus devaluing another human life enough to take it). This is all very scientific and I want to get to the point: Our children are being put into shock every single day. They are experiencing violence as perpetrator, victim and witness, and they are no less exposed to the trauma. The trauma of being poor. The trauma of being hated by your government (if education policy is any indication of this). The trauma of broken families and unresolved relationships. The trauma of feeling foreign in other parts of the city. The trauma of degradation at even the most superficial level: the only popular rappers are the drug dealers/addicts/selfish/near-prostitutes, etc. This unresolved and unarticulated internal shock, combined with the chaos of our world today, builds until it becomes the “hot springs” that is a Chicago summer of violence. It’s not only about access to guns; it’s about not accessing trauma. You can be everything on the left side of the equation and still not be violent. It’s the trauma that I’m becoming more convinced makes the difference.

One Real Solution

Chicago has been called a “warzone” – let’s play with that a moment. Maybe the best thing a small church can do to stop the violence is work with our children like we work with our returning soldiers. (We need to do this better as well). Vets need safe space to talk. They need to give voice to experiences and be able to create new ways of understanding themselves…it’s called moving from “soldier” to “human” again. Our children need to understand themselves not as black or poor or at-risk but as HUMAN first. They need to develop meaning to confront the meaninglessness that surrounds them. This angry and dark world is traumatic for children, and they will grow up angry and dark unless we help them process what they have seen. Finding one’s own voice is critical to meaning-making. Some of them are not soldiers, but they are all in the war.

My partnership is with organizations that are looking to help young adults give voice to what they have seen and done. University Church and the Chicago Wisdom Project have started a program where young adults (most of them high-school dropouts and barely escaping or trying to exit gang/drug culture) now have a music studio where they write, record, and own their own music. This sounds like a record label, but it’s not. We ask them to write about what is meaningful to them; I don’t judge content. After recording, we talk about how they chose to say what they said. Stories come out. Trauma is exposed. It is uncomfortable at first, but eventually they know they are in safe space. We record songs as one way to expose trauma. And it’s been working. Young folks are earning their GEDs and seeing beyond the limited scope of the barrel. They believe in something bigger than their reality, and it is transforming their reality.

Can this work across the city? I think so. It doesn’t have to be hip-hop. You can make pottery or do anything creative that asks young people to tap into their inner voice. Our project is important because it is humanizing: they are finding their selves by articulating themselves. It is also about Justice: what they create they own. Finally, we use language of Hope and Love to help them embrace the past and think of a better future: this is a Christian project, minus the sermon. Our voice leads to the inner voice leads to the voice of God leads us to our destiny.

How do we stop it? By unlocking one voice at a time, helping them integrate their trauma into what they are BECOMING. If we’re going to take care of The Crib, we need to do better at nursing trauma.

Fair Trade? Why?

—by Barb Havens

I don’t have statistics regarding this, but I’m sure that North Americans are the largest consumers in the world.  Consumption is our middle name — from food to clothes to televisions to computers to EVERYTHING. For most of my life I purchased those goods without any thought of the source of those goods and who made them. These past several years the concept of “Fair Trade” has made its way into my consciousness and has slowly taken root; the more I learn about it, the more I recognize the power of Fair Trade to change lives.  I now wonder why I never asked those questions before.

At University Church we have been using Fair Trade coffee for our fellowship hour. We also have made available several items — coffee, tea, chocolate — for you to purchase. Our hope is to raise awareness of how the choices we make as consumers affect the lives of others in the world. But what does “Fair Trade” actually mean?

A basic way to understand Fair Trade is that it is one way of leveling the playing field in the global marketplace — an alternative to the corporate model where profits benefit those who own the corporation, and the workers often only get the “crumbs,” but not a sustainable wage. It is buying products that were not made or processed in a sweatshop or made in a way that destroys the natural environment. Within the Fair Trade commodities market (coffee, chocolate, sugar, bananas), the source of the product is often from small farmers who have joined cooperatives in their community to sell their product directly to stores or wholesalers in the US, under the Fair Trade Certification, ensuring a just price for their products. Fair Trade is not charity, but a way of being fair and just and paying the real cost of a particular item.

If being a Christian encompasses working toward God’s Kingdom, then we also need to take God into the market place and find out where social justice fits within our economic system. Doing justice is difficult at times, and we all need to figure out how each of us will live into that goal.  Being perfect is impossible, and there are many times when we need to do the simplest thing at the time — weighing the benefits with the challenge. There will be other times, though, when we are able to make a shopping choice that will create justice for those who create/grow our products. Being aware of the source of our goods, asking questions about the supply chain, and becoming critical consumers can change us and the marketplace and our world for the better.

The following websites give more information about Fair Trade, as well as give sites and retailers where you can purchase goods: