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Look Into Her Eyes

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This post was contributed by Connie Raether.

Look into the eyes of a mother…who faces the agonizing decision of choosing between her children.  One, who made the difficult decision to leave his homeland, Mexico, in search of an escape from poverty.  The others, who chose to stay and try to eke out a living in a country whose poverty rate escalates, as does the cost of living, due to their policies, and ours.  Either decision she makes, she loses a child. 

In this case, she chose to come to America, facing the untold terrors of crossing a border and coming to a strange and often unfriendly land.  She joins her son and struggles everyday to make a living and send money back to her family.  She has not seen her beloved son and daughter for years; she does not dare return to Mexico and they, like most Mexicans, cannot get a visa even to visit her here.  She does not see her children, her mother or her brothers, and knows that she may not see them, ever again.

I’ve looked into her eyes and, as a mother, felt her grief as she celebrated Mother’s Day.  When you look into her eyes, thank whatever higher power you believe in that you were fortunate enough to be born here, where you don’t have to make decisions that break your heart, and realize that it is indeed only fortune that separates you from her.  Look into her eyes when you think about how we will solve the issue of immigration.  I hope you can feel compassion for her and urge our politicians to make just and fair decisions as they ponder this issue; decisions that will no longer tear families apart but allow paths to citizenship for those already here and opportunities for their loved ones to join them.

 

Is A world of Plenty: Sci-Fi, God's Kingdom or Reality?

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 This was contributed by Joyce Frohn.

     Sometimes my two worlds, as a science fiction writer and political activist, run into each other. Or deal with the same problem. Right now, one of those is these is the idea of hope for the future. It's easy to think of things going wrong. In writing that's called, Dystopia. It's fairly easy to think of those ideas. But both the Christian idea of "The Beloved Community" and writing Utopian fiction requires thinking of things getting better in the world where we really live. Can we imagine that? We need to.

      What if the food pantry closed, not because there were no volunteers but because there were no people that needed it? What if all the charities that send clothes and food and medical supplies overseas weren't needed? What if we didn't need to advocate for fair trade because the people making the clothes could easily find out how much they were sold for? What if instead of just trying to ensure equal access to limited resources we could have all the resources we needed? What would it look like if everyone had access to medical care and education? What would that world look like?

       Our world is set up on the idea of scarcity. Whether it's people trying to make sure they have a monopoly on technology or their children to get to go to a better school or even that antique store that tells us that these items might be the only Pairpoint lamp or piece of artwork we'll ever see. This idea of scarcity is at the root of much of the world's evils. If we see that resources are few, we want those for our family, tribe or race. Soon we hate those we pushed aside. We fear that they will do to us what we have done to them.

      There is one secret that breaks our world of scarcity apart. There is enough. Enough food, enough clothes, enough medicine. Maybe there always has been enough. We just have to live as though there is enough. What does that look like? Maybe it's the beloved community. Maybe it's Utopia. But the best way to get there is to live as though we are already there.

        If there is plenty, we can ask ourselves, do I need that tool, dress, clock? After all, if I need it, I can always get it later. Do I need a lawnmower or could I burrow it from a friend? One less thing to clutter up a garage. We need to figure out what we really need to own if we don't have to worry about, "What if I need it later?"

        Ask yourself are you living the way you want to live? Or the way you think you have to live? The World is waiting for your answer.

 

What is Our Duty in the Face of the Pandemic?

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Contributed by Joyce Frohn

The Pandemic has Brought Face to Face with Things We Were Not Used To

It has been a year since the Pandemic hit the US. We have all missed birthdays and holidays. Many have lost loved ones and friends. We have stared at fear, loneliness, and pain. We have learned Zoom, begged for shots and tried to wrap our brains around a terror that we thought was dead. Children have started school on computers, teens have graduated from high school on video, a thousand milestones small and large have come and gone. Some of us have battled loneliness and others have had suddenly crowded houses. We have tried to work from home while trying to remember high school geometry or desperately tried to support a family with less pay. Maybe we missed a long-awaited family trip or a just a quiet walk through a museum. Or a funeral of those we loved.

We have had many emotions that we are not used to. We have anger that those we trusted have betrayed us; that strangers would rather brag about their rights than save other people. That we have been lied to. We have sorrow at levels our modern world is not used to. We had thought that there were not going to be any consequences, no penalties. We declared we had conquered nature. Hopefully we have learned a lesson.

What Lesson Must We Learn?

A Seat at the Table of Power

This post was submitted by Penny Robinson

ESTHER encourages an African American to apply for appointment to the Grand Chute Police and Fire Commission

Background of racist social-media posts by police officer

Last summer ESTHER Organizer Bill Van Lopik was informed that Grand Chute Police Officer Laluzerne had posted racist comments on social media. Most of the posts were from high school, but a more recent one referred to Boogaloo, a white supremacist movement.

After connecting with a Black Lives Matter group, Bill and others from ESTHER joined a protest, at which Grand Chute Police Chief Greg Peterson agreed to meet with ESTHER President Gary Crevier. News surfaced that the department was conducting a thorough investigation of Laluzerne. Some wondered if an outside, unbiased individual or group should conduct such investigations. The officer was thoroughly questioned and “put on notice,” but was not disciplined or fired.1

Changing the Narrative

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This post was contributed by Bill Van Lopik, ESTHER Community Organizer

Bill Van Lopik Teaching Social Justice

I am a social justice advocate. I fight against systemic policies, narratives and attitudes that hurt people and silence their voices. Recently I found myself confronting one such attitude that surfaced in my own house. Last week when I was talking with my 7-year old granddaughter she stated, “I was told that bad things happen to bad people.” There was a time in my life when I might have tacitly agreed with this sort of moral commentary and quickly brushed it off. However, this time the narrative which I know is very pervasive in our society provoked a much more critical response. I was not upset at her, but rather, at the confusion that this type of comment plays in her head. You see, her father is incarcerated, and I am sure in the back of her head she was trying to decide how she should feel about him. Is he really a bad person because he did a bad thing? Is he a bad a person even though he calls her several times a week to talk to her and tells her he loves her and can’t wait to see her?

Ban the Box

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People Need to Remake Their Lives

When the prison doors open and a person steps out, it's over, right? Wrong. After prison, a person has to change their life. If they don't, well, the door will be opening again. In the wrong direction.

The Box is a Barrier

People leaving prison need to get jobs, and support their families. So they go to fill out a job application and the first question is, "Have you ever been convicted of a felony?" And if they check that box, they know that most likely their application will be thrown away. How do you remake yourself if there are no jobs?

How can we as a society say we want to reduce prison recidivism when we don't allow people to get jobs? We may say that someone has "paid their debt" but as long as they can't get the job they need; they are still in debt. And the community is the one paying the debt.

We Don’t Need the Barrier

Employers, and that includes the county organizations that have this box, think that they are protecting themselves. They are afraid that people that committed one crime will commit another. They forget that people can and do turn their lives around and that the information is publicly available. Some people would then argue that if employers can find out a prospective employee has a criminal record, what does it matter if there is a box? Employers get first impressions. If that impression is of a great potential employee, they think of employment. On the other hand, what if that first impression is "felon"?

Let's help make people make great first impressions.

 

Kristin Welch Will Receive ESTHER’s Community Leadership Award

We Are Proud to Present this Award to Kristen Welch

ESTHER is proud to present its Community Leadership Award to Kristen Welch a member of the Menominee Nation. She  is a trained Community Organizer with the Indigenous led non-profit Menīkānaehkem, and she is also a lead organizer for the Womens Leadership Cohort MMIW. Her work includes revitalizing traditional matriarchal roles within indigenous communities through identity work, systems change, and advocacy for survivors of violence. 

The Women's Leadership Cohort Combats the Tragedy of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

The Womens Leadership Cohort combats the MMIW epidemic by creating access to traditional knowledge, community organizing, policy change and community education. Kristin helps provide training in advocacy skills, power mapping, policy work, wellness work, and group facilitation, to empower Indigenous women organizers to create meaningful campaigns for social change.

Many Years of Experience in Mental Health Work

She currently sits on the Governors Council on Mental Health and is the co-chair for the Adult Quality Committee.  She has 10 years of experience in mental health, family wrap around care (CST), AODA prevention, and Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault advocacy before becoming a grassroots organizer. 

Work Using Traditional Native American Methods and Approaches

She is a proud mother of three, and a member of the healing society Three Fires Confederacy Midewewin Lodge.  She believes strongly that creating partnerships with both formal and informal supports within tribal communities will help build and strengthen an Ecosystem of Care that is equitable, easily accessible, and sustainable. Her work utilizes Indigenous wellness models that offer alternate pathways to healing and are critical for healing and recovery work within tribal communities and for those who serve Indigenous peoples.

When asked why she chose this work, Kristen replied, “We got started out of a necessity.  So many women and families were impacted directly or indirectly.  We had to make sure that Indigenous women were leading the fight and lifting up our families.”

 

Don’t Miss ESTHER’s Exciting Speaker: Rev. Traci Blackmon!

We Are Proud to Welcome Reverend Traci Blackmon

You won’t want to miss the exciting speaker at ESTHER’s virtual banquet on November 1 at 5:00 PM.  We are proud to welcome Rev. Traci Blackmon as the featured speaker at our Virtual Banquet on Sunday, November 5 at 5:00 PM.

A Pastor Who Focuses on Social Justice

Rev. Blackmon is the Associate General Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries for The United Church of Christ and Senior Pastor of Christ The King United Church of Christ in Florissant, MO. She is the first woman and 18th pastor in the 162-year history of Christ The King United Church of Christ.  She is also a registered nurse with more than 25 years during which she worked providing mobile healthcare in underserved communities with the greatest health disparities in her region.

As pastor, Rev. Blackmon has led Christ The King in an expanded program of Community and Regional engagement. The church’s community work includes a computer lab, tutoring, continuing education classes, summer programming, a robotics team, children's library and girls’ mentoring program, all housed in the church.

Regionally, Rev. Blackmon's signature initiatives have included Healthy Mind, Body, and Spirita mobile faith-based outreach program she designed to impact health outcomes in impoverished areas. Sacred Conversations on Solomon’s Porch, quarterly clergy in-services designed to equip local clergy to assess physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health concerns within congregational life, Sista SOS Summit, an intergenerational health symposium for women and girls, and Souls to the Polls STL, an ecumenical, multi-faith collaborative that was successful in providing over 2,800 additional rides to the polls during local and national elections.

A National Voice for Change

A featured voice with many regional, national, and international media outlets and a frequent contributor to print publications, Rev. Blackmon's communal leadership and work in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown, Jr., in Ferguson, MO, has gained her both national and international recognition and audiences from the White House to the Carter Center to the Vatican. She was appointed to the Ferguson Commission by Governor Jay Nixon and to the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships for the White House by President Barack H. Obama. Rev. Blackmon co-authored the White Privilege curriculum for the United Church of Christ and toured the nation with Rev. Dr. William Barber of Moral Mondays and Repairers of the Breach, Rev. Dr. James Forbes of The Drum Major Institute and pastor emeritus of The Riverside Church in New York, and Sister Simone Campbell of Nuns on the Bus proclaiming the need for a Moral Revival in this nation.

To hear Rev. Blackmon on November 1, please register for our Virtual Banquet by clicking here: https://esther-foxvalley.org/banquet

What is an Anti-Racist Organization?

ESTHER has adopted the goal of becoming an anti-racist organization, but we have never defined very clearly what that means. This post is intended to start a discussion on that topic, and for that purpose, I suggest that we should explore the implications of the definitions proposed by Ibram X. Kendi in his book How to be an Antiracist.[i]

Racism Grows from Racist Policies

Kendi begins with the idea that racist policies are adopted out of financial self-interest and not because of racist ideas and prejudices. The racist ideas and prejudices are created later to justify the policies (p. 42). For example, the Atlantic Slave Trade did not develop because Europeans hated Africans or believed them to be inferior. The trade developed because plantation owners in the American colonies were willing to pay for slaves to work in their sugar cane, rice and tobacco plantations. The racist claims that Africans were inferior to Europeans grew up later as justifications for the slave trade and for the practice of slavery in the colonies. The sequence also works in reverse. Reductions in racist ideas and prejudices follow policy changes rather than preceding them. For example, the integration of the schools in the South was followed by a reduction in racist prejudices in that region.

Thus, for Kendi, the focus in fighting racism must be on changing racist policies, not racist attitudes. Changes in attitudes will follow when the policies are changed. This is the basis of his definitions of “racist” and “antiracist,” which are (p. 13):

ESTHER’s Prison Reform Task Force: Improving Our Criminal Justice System

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Prison Reform is Hard Work

Lisa Hanneman does not give up easily. Reforming our prisons and jails is hard, grinding work. It has demanded years of effort by Lisa and the other members of ESTHER’s Prison Reform Task Force. Lisa became involved with the group in 2016 because, in the County Jail,  her son who was a terminal brain cancer patient, could not get his cancer, anti-nausea and pain medications at the times that the doctor had prescribed. As Lisa worked to improve her son’s treatment, she discovered ESTHER, and it turned out that she was not alone. Other members of the Task Force had encountered the same problem, and the Task Force decided to take action together. You might think that this was a small problem that could be resolved easily, but you would be wrong, as Lisa discovered.

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