Podcast Episode: Black History Month

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

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Black History Month

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about Black History Month.

OK, I know what some of you are thinking…another white person talking about Black History Month. And those of you who are thinking that…you’re right. It’s easy to pick a subject to talk about and use the trendy hashtag to get readers. I could tell you my thoughts on Black History Month or times when I have seen someone bullied or targeted for harassment because of the color of their skin. But I’m not going to do that.

Actually, I’m not really going to talk about Black History Month. This is going to be a very brief episode. Why? Because Black History Month is not about me or my voice or my opinions or my experiences or things I have witnessed. If you are honest with yourself, you know the effects of racism and the hold it still has in this country. Me talking about it as a white person in this podcast isn’t going to change that.

So why even record this? Because I want to remind us all that this month is about black voices and black stories and black heroes and everyday black parents raising kids in our communities.

I really wanted to acknowledge this month and honor it in some way, but instead of me retelling anything, I want to challenge us all to look to see the stories of black people in our communities and in our national history. Really look. Try to set aside any prejudices you may come with and really listen.

The first black voice I really listened to was Martin Luther King, Jr. Remember I am a product of the South and my early education did not involve offering any opportunities to study black history or read black authors. But when I first read King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” I kept a copy that I still have to this day. It really touched me and forced me to think about so many things that I had never thought of before.

I want to read part of this letter here:

“But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. 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. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.”

Later in the letter, King writes:

“You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

“Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”

King goes on to say:

“Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

“We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.”

His letter is very lengthy, but very powerful. My first challenge to you for this episode is to actually find a copy of the letter online and read it all the way through. Then reread it a few days later. Let the power of the words and thoughts soak in. This letter is still very relevant today.

My second challenge: find black voices to listen to on this subject. That’s why I’m not sharing anything personal in this episode. I want you to find black podcasters and listen to them. Go to a lecture featuring a black historian…read a book written by a black author…find a black preacher and listen to her sermons…follow online several black politicians and read their posts about what they are working for in their communities…read books about black history month to your children. Share social media posts supporting a black-owned business in your area. Give that business an online review.

This month is not about our white interpretation of Black History Month. It’s about us looking to see the black neighbors in our community…hearing the black voices in our nation…and going back and seeing history with a brutal honesty…finding truth in the black voices that we have too often tried to erase.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

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Podcast Episode: Dorothy Day House

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

Dorothy Day House Memphis

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome back to Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about some people who are changing the lives of homeless families—specifically I’m going to talk about the Dorothy Day House of Hospitality in Memphis.

First, however, I’m going to give you a short history of the woman the organization is named for. Dorothy Day was an American journalist, social activist, and Catholic convert. She was born in New York in 1897 and was the 3rdchild to Grace and John Day. Her father was a sportswriter and moved his family to San Francisco in 1904 when he took a job with a newspaper there. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 destroyed the paper’s facilities there, and he lost his job, but out of that tragedy, Dorothy saw acts of kindness by her mother and their neighbors who all stepped up to help others during this crisis in their city. Those self-sacrificing acts planted the seeds in Dorothy Day’s mind that would later lead her to help others in times of need.

Her passion for bringing change to what seemed like desperate situations led her to become part of a circle of social radicals and literary types like Eugene O’Neill during World War I. Eventually she faced jail time for her actions in 1917 when she and a group of suffragettes were demonstrating at the White House in favor of giving women voting rights.

Though Day’s parents were not deeply religiously, they did have some ties to Christianity. It’s said, though, that Day rejected religion because she did not see people who worshipped regularly doing anything to serve the people in need. Day eventually embraced the Catholic faith and admired the Catholic church for being “the Church of the poor.”  In 1926, Day gave birth to her daughter Tamar and faced life as a single mother as she worked as a freelance journalist. Her decision to have her daughter baptized and embrace the Catholic faith led to the end of her common law marriage and the loss of many of her radical friends.

In 1932, when she was covering the Hunger March in Washington, D.C., she prayed that some way would open up for her to serve the poor and unemployed. The next day she met Peter Maurin. They worked together to start the “Catholic Worker” newspaper which spawned a movement of houses of hospitality and farming communes that has since been replicated throughout the nation and in other countries.

You can read more about her life in a book by her granddaughter Kate Hennessy titled Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty. Her life story is fascinating, and I’m just giving you a glimpse of all of the work she did for others during her lifetime. But know that she spent her entire life trying to make a difference in this world—trying to help bring hope to others.

That’s what the Dorothy Day House in Memphis does today. The mission of the Dorothy Day House is to keep homeless families together as they are struggling to try to get back on their feet and regain some hope financially.

We know that people can become homeless for many reasons: lost jobs or under-employment, overwhelming medical bills or other unplanned for expenses, or generational poverty. Being homeless is traumatic for everyone involved. Adding to the stress of the situation, however, is the design of many typical shelters. When families are trying to get out of the heat or cold and find a safe place to rest, they often have to separate. Many shelters only allow one gender to be housed on site, so fathers have to leave daughters and wives; mothers have to leave sons and husbands. This separation means that they aren’t together to try to work through possible solutions to their financial challenges.

The Dorothy Day house steps in whenever possible and offers a safe place for families to live together so they can stay strong as a family unit and support each other as they work to move forward and overcome the obstacles hindering them because of their poverty.

So, what does this living situation look like? The parents and children now have a home-like atmosphere—they have a sense of security—and in this place, they all have responsibilities such as helping to clean the house and prepare meals. The organization has two houses, serving three families in each house.

Their second house opened in May 2018 and is named in memory of Loretta Garland, a woman who lived in the Dorothy Day House with her teenage son. They became homeless because the factory Loretta worked in for 20 years closed with no warning. While at the house, Loretta got a new job at FedEx and was just about to move out when she died suddenly of a stroke on April 15, 2013.

The families at the Dorothy Day House are very diverse. The organization serves families of different sizes, ages, religions, and ethnicities. As I mentioned earlier, many things can cause sudden homelessness: a house fire, the death or sudden absence of the main wage earner, the expense of medical bills, a car accident or other unexpected circumstances.

Today, almost half of American families live paycheck to paycheck. Any setback can cause serious financial challenges with long-term effects. We also have to understand the effects of generational poverty. Many parents don’t have the emotional, mental or physical tools needed to make changes for their families and pull themselves out of poverty. Dorothy Day understood this in her time. Many people don’t have support systems in place to help move them out of a crisis situation and into a stable living situation. Dorothy Day reminded us that we were called to love others. She said, though, that we had to get over our fear of others in order to get close enough to love them.

The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality is loving families and bringing them hope. The organization is funded by private donations from individuals. Donors give annually, as needed for projects, or on a monthly-basis. Each gift, of any amount, is important to the sustainability of the ministry. The Dorothy Day House depends entirely on monetary and in-kind donations from private donors and charitable organizations. We receive no federal, state, or local assistance.

Their website—dorothydaymemphis.org—lists the specific needs they have at any particular time. Sometimes they need diapers if they are serving families with infants; sometimes they need shoes of a specific size or maybe clothes or furniture. Their Facebook page also keeps donors updated on specific needs. And of course, cash is always appreciated.

When I was in interim children’s director at a local church, I was filling in over a summer and decided to use some of our monetary donations from our VBS program to support the home. I met Sister Maureen Griner who is the Executive Director and part of their ministry team to families. I was able to hear more of the stories of the hope that this organization brings to our community. It’s truly an inspiring organization with volunteers who mentor the kids and cook meals and step in to help deep clean at times.

Here are a few of the ways the Dorothy Day house staff, volunteers and support agencies in the community serve the families in their care—they provide:

  • Food, clothing, and shelter
  • Educational resources and guidance
  • Parenting skills
  • Employment counseling
  • Prospective job contacts
  • Transportation
  • Referrals for child care
  • Financial and budgeting advice
  • Counseling and case management services
  • Advocacy and mentoring
  • Access to sources of permanent housing
  • New personal relationships which provide a system of healthy support and encouragement for the future.

The first family moved into the Dorothy Day house is 2006. This ministry is still expanding.

Here’s your challenge for the week: look around your community and find organizations that have a similar mission. See if you can locate groups working to keep homeless family members together. Help get their story out in your community—share their social media posts or show up at events that are fundraisers for that organization.

Fighting homelessness takes a team effort, but we can help bring hope and change to families trying to overcome poverty. A safe home makes a difference.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

The Circle of Words

We protest in this nation because it makes us stronger. . . We voice our hurts. We point out injustices. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be a democracy with a document that calls for us to hear each other, to work together to be strong in our diversity. When women were left out of the conversation and the voting process, people protested (some peacefully and some violently). Now women can vote, own property, and hold political office. When prohibition was debated, people on both sides voiced their opinions strongly. Many businessmen broke the law and served alcohol even when it was prohibited. Eventually the law banning the sale of alcohol was overturned. We fought to end slavery and are still fighting to end serious injustices plaguing our nation such as unnecessary brutality, child abuse, domestic violence, rape, sexual predators pursuing children and the cover ups of all of these crimes to protect those with power, wealth or influence.

I’m a history geek, a listener, and a life-long learner. I want to know where we came from—honestly, not just a cute story that makes us look good. I want to understand people and their perspectives. I take public transportation and listen on subways and buses. When I am at the store, I listen to people on the aisles with me. I listen to people sitting near me at public events. I tune in to podcasts on subjects I had never thought about before and read editorials from opposing viewpoints. I want to hear people so I can understand things from their lives and their experiences. That’s the only way I can write from the perspective of different characters, and the only way I can be in conversation with others in my daily life—people in my neighborhood, my community, my city, my state, my nation, and my larger global family.

Here’s what I hear from many acquaintances right now: “I’m angry because I love this country and someone else won’t stand for the anthem of my homeland.” You are hurt because something meaningful to you is not being respected. You are angry because your values and traditions are not being upheld by others. It’s easy to feel personally threatened by these actions because your values are a part of who you are. You have the right to be proud of this nation, it’s flag, and your own religious beliefs that you tie into your patriotism. You have used your right to call protestors SOBs and other names. You have called for them to be fired, signed petitions to force them to stand, etc.

But your words have come full circle, so you must hear your own voices: We are a strong nation because we can express our opinions and hold our own beliefs. You can call someone an SOB who disagrees with you. Oh, but wait, can’t they express their beliefs? Isn’t that what our Constitution says? If you can ask people to stand, can’t someone else ask others to kneel?

I hear some protestors say they are kneeling because this country has not protected the lives of their brothers and sisters, their cousins, their friends, their mothers and fathers. A deaf man was shot at his house with neighbors yelling that he was deaf. A man was shot for complying with the law and acknowledging he had a legally concealed weapon. An autistic man was shot for not understanding the instructions. Men with their hands up were shot. Teens were shot by police as they legally drove away from a party to head home. They had no weapons and were not drunk or high or in a stolen car. They were just going home to respect the values their parents taught them about leaving a place if you felt uncomfortable with what was going on. An innocent man was killed when the police burst into the wrong home because of their own error. The protestors are hurting and protesting out of their hurts and over these injustices. It’s their legal right as an American to find a way to shed light on social issues that are keeping us from truly being a nation where all people are free.

You are using your constitutional right to voice your opinion that you want the anthem respected. They are peacefully using their constitutional right to ask you to hear them. It’s a peaceful protest—a cry to this nation to try to find a solution to this crisis.

It’s what we do because we are Americans. We protest. We speak out. We cry out to others to hear us. On taxation issues. On women’s rights. On prohibition. On repealing prohibition. On the rights of children to be educated. On gun rights. On gun limits. On the rights of all people to be treated with respect. About the rights of all people to be safe in this nation, to be equal under the law and to be treated justly.

This will not be our last issue to protest. We are a nation of fallible humans who will keep hurting others as we try to force others to live by our own traditions and political and religious beliefs. We will cause harm. Someone will find their voice and bravely stand up for those being harmed. Someone will find the courage to hear and join the chorus calling for love and justice to prevail.

It’s what we do. It’s called growth, and it make us stronger when we listen and join the conversation. You can be heard and still hear others. You don’t lose your rights when you give rights to other. You don’t lose your nation—you watch it come to life even stronger than before.

Fun Facts and Other Random Thoughts

Some days, life is just about the little things that make you smile…for me today it was about trivia that I found fascinating. Since my novel, Without a Voice, takes the characters from Memphis to Arrow Rock, Missouri, I thought I would give you some fun facts about Arrow Rock and the city’s famous painter who helps me tell the story:

Arrow Rock is a village in Saline County, Missouri. It is located near the Missouri River. The village has important historical significance related to the travelers who came through as they headed west on the Santa Fe Trail and related to one citizen—19th century artist George Caleb Bingham. The entire village of Arrow Rock has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

The Friends of Arrow Rock offers tram tours of village attractions, including the National Historic Landmark home of famous American painter citizen George Caleb Bingham, and the home and shop of renowned gunsmith John Sites. Visitors can still dine at the J. Huston Tavern, the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi. Characters in Without a Voice enjoyed the food here too.

George Caleb Bingham was an American artist whose paintings of American life in the frontier lands along the Missouri River still captivate viewers today. Many art critics credit Bingham with being the first outstanding American artist from the “West.”  Bingham’s paintings relate to life and commerce along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, and to the pioneer life of the people of Missouri in and around St. Louis, Columbia, Jefferson City, Arrow Rock, Boonville, and Kansas City. His most renowned works were completed between 1845 and 1855.

in 1820, when Bingham was nine, Missouri became the 24th state. Only five years before Bingham was born, Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery returned from their 1804-06 westward journey. It is possible that Bingham was Missouri’s first artist.

These facts may seem totally useless to some people. If you live in Arrow Rock or if you like art, however, you may find these facts fascinating. I remind myself that it’s all about perspective. As a mom, I have to remember to look at things from the perspective of my daughters. I remember when a certain band was all they could talk about or when they absolutely had to have silly bands to trade at school. That was what was important to them in their world of childhood and young friendships.

I often have to remind myself to remember that my perspective comes from my family, my friends, my work, my traditions, my race, my economic status, etc.…I can’t claim my perspective as an absolute truth for all people. I recently volunteered for a few hours to assist a group of people who moved here from another nation. Organizers of the event soon realized that we had set up everything from the perspective of our culture. The organizers had to make some quick changes to some foods and some signs in the bathrooms. Some basic things that we thought made sense didn’t make sense to all cultures.

So I’m trying to learn to look at things from different perspectives—from different cultures, to different time periods, to different towns. It’s making me a better me.