The Unsexy but Righteous Issue of Affordable Housing

Advocating for the issue of affordable housing is hard, hard, hard. There is all the grunt work of advocacy (advocate meetings, lobbying of city council members, writing letters, going door to door to organize stake-holders) without the excitement of marches and rallies (which is actually just fine with me – I prefer the steady hustle of behind-the-scenes activism). It’s also hard because there are a lot of arcane things one needs to grasp, for example, about land use and zoning and all the conditions needed to empower an affordable housing project to proceed. When it comes to affordable housing justice, the devil truly is in the details.

There are times, of course, when getting a crowd in City Council chambers is necessary, and the two women in Pasadena who get people to show up the past two decades and running are Michelle White of Affordable Housing Services (Michelle is an affordable housing real estate developer) and Jill Shook, author of Making Housing Happen. Their commitment is unmatched, inspiring, and educational to all who feel called to work on this issue. Currently they have attracted an attorney who works for Kaiser and is studying the conditions for optimal health (he has found the dearth of affordable housing to be a significant impediment), seminary students from Fuller, people of faith, pastors such as myself, and formerly homeless women who found their way to affordable housing and are giving back.

I worked with Jill and Michelle a lot about eight years ago when the activist group was known as PAHG (Pasadena Affordable Housing Group) and now I’m getting back in the game with G-PAHG (Greater Pasadena Affordable…). Back then I tackled the issue of granny flats, one piece of the affordable housing puzzle, where affordable housing is created by homeowners able to construct a second unit on their property for affordable rents. Sadly, the city officials didn’t find the political momentum to remove the prohibitive restrictions (your lot must be at least 15,000 square feet!), and G-PAHG is still working on it.

Since I have “been there, done that” with granny flats, I’ve joined a sub-committee that could have a lot more “bang for the buck” as far as creating the most affordable housing units per project moving forward. Affordable housing is so unsexy there isn’t even a catchy phrase for what I’m trying to describe, but here’s an attempt: Land development for affordable housing. Too bad I can’t throw a bikini on that.

Land is damned expensive, so one of the most important preconditions for an affordable housing project is to use land the city already owns. Every district in Pasadena has city-owned land that could potentially be developed in this manner (the beautiful new housing you see across from the Von’s on Fair Oaks, near Orange Grove, is one such project). Problem is? City Councilors say, “not in my district!”

But there is plenty of research showing that mixing low-income dwellings in higher-income neighborhoods have all kinds of good outcomes, especially for the children who grow up there; they are more likely to enter the middle class. Another important point to note is that if we care about keeping Pasadena diverse, then creating more affordable housing is a must. Already, the African American population has been cut in half in Pasadena since the 90’s, because they are priced out.

So I am setting up meetings with all the Pasadena City Council members to ask them to look at the land available in their districts, and present solid talking points about the win/win aspects of moving these affordable housing projects forward (among other pieces of the G-PAHG agenda). Thankfully, there is one City Council member who has already seen the light, Margaret McAustin, and the affordable housing project in her district is nearing completion. Setting her courageous precedent will work in our favor.

I’m also excited to participate in a friendly debate about why the city of Pasadena should have a separate Housing Commission, rather than the matter of housing be relegated to discussion only four times a year in the Planning Commission (which amounts to members being educated but no action taking place). Michelle, Jill, and myself make up the pro-side of the panel. This will take place Thursday evening, July 14th, and I’ll blog more about the details soon.

That’s enough for now – I’ll make affordable housing sexy, by golly! You’ll see. Until next time, Do the Hustle!

– Rev. At-Large aka Rev. Hannah Hustlin’ Hope Petrie!

Because It Doesn’t Go Without Saying

My close friend Laura (aka Laurage – I’m Hannage) posted this on Facebook last week: 7 things straight people aren’t understanding about Orlando and I’m addressing the 7th thing, that “you may think that we’re ok, that it goes without saying that you are not homophobic and you condemn the attacks and the men who shout abuse in the streets and the Senators who legislate to make our lives harder. But it doesn’t go without saying. We need to hear it. So tell us.”

I wish I had called my gay and lesbian friends two Sundays ago after the Orlando attack, but I didn’t, because I was so focused on my own shock and trying to not cry in front of my kids. We ended up telling our 4 and 6 year-olds what happened so they would understand why I was sad. A few days later, I spoke with one of my oldest friends Chris, whose wedding to dreamboat Phillip I got to officiate in San Francisco’s City Hall a few years ago. Chris made sure I read this about Islamic homophobia.

Meanwhile I attended the iftar in San Gabriel over this past weekend (the meal that for Muslims breaks the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan), where I should have been prepared with a speech and was not, as I imagined I’d be just one of many community friends attending. I wish there had been more of us non-Muslims, and in particular, members of the LGBTQ community, at the iftar. But I’m pretty sure there were none, unless I count myself as a bi woman, who never had much luck with the ladies and married a wonderful man.

It was well attended by the members of the mosque and local Muslim community – at least 100 – and when they asked me to come up and say a few words, I rambled with some platitudes, later reflected on the missed opportunity and what I might have said, then realized I couldn’t have said it anyways. I’ll return to this point.

I’m in an interesting position. Over the past six years, as part of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) church community I served, I built bridges with local Muslims in LA county, establishing friendships with many of them, and I came to understand the particular fear and frustration they experience as a result of violent, extremist acts committed in the name of Islam, as well as the spying of the CIA in their mosques and personal communications. I’ve also learned a lot about Islam: what the Koran really says, the faith from a female perspective, and that, like many Americans of faith, the vast majority of Muslims are moderate to conservative and are as abhorrent of the violence as any of us.

But I’ve also advocated for the LGBTQ community throughout my life, having grown up UU, and being a UU minister. BTW, gay nightclubs are not the only places LGBTQ people can go to feel safe. The Unitarians have been performing LGBTQ wedding ceremonies for well over 40 years. So head to your local UU congregation this Sunday! But here’s the rub: we are small, and the Christian and Muslim narratives are dominant, and by and large have condemned or ignored the LGBTQ community until about the last 20 years. My friends Laura and Chris are right – homophobia remains an unaddressed hypocrisy within Islam and other conservative faiths, such as Catholicism, or evangelical Christianity.

If the true gods of these religions are gods of love and righteousness, when will that love extend to include LGBTQ people? Several times since the Orlando attack I’ve heard religious leaders condemn but not specifically mention that it was a direct attack on the LGBTQ community. This is a powerful omission. First I’d like to pick on the Pope.

Like many, I’ve been encouraged by Pope Francis’ rhetoric of standing up for the poor and the human causes of climate change, and I even picked up his new book called The Name of God is Mercy since I have a particular interest in the making of mercy. But it’s made for disappointing reading. Pope Francis, who has declared this year a “Holy Year of Mercy,” explains that the Church “cannot close the door on anyone.” That’s great, but isn’t it time to be more explicit about of whom you are speaking? If the Pope really wanted to show mercy to the LGBTQ community after this atrocity against them, he would have named the oppression and pain specific to them. It is this lack of acknowledgement that sustains the antiquated and immoral ideology that LGBTQ people don’t exist, and if they do, are not to be considered human beings.

In our phone conversation, Chris said, “I’m not psychic, but I predicted the attack in Orlando.” He and his husband, a little while ago, were discussing what the backlash might be against marriage equality becoming the law of our land. They predicted that states like Alabama and Mississippi would refuse to comply, and that is was likely “someone’s going to shoot up another gay bar again.”

Chris also points out that Catholics have stopped listening to their pope (I disagree), but that evangelical Christians do listen to their pastors. At any rate, there are much worse examples of Christian religious leaders spouting hatred-a la-Hitler. Last November, several GOP candidates attended Kevin Swanson’s “Kill the Gays” conference, including Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee. Texas Pastor Donnie Romero was just in the news yesterday for praying the wounded victims in Orlando die, and you may be gratified to learn that the hate-spewing pastor in Sacramento was just informed by the landowner that his church’s lease would not be renewed.

In this video of a pastor from Arizona, we see that he refers back to the infamous line in the Bible from Leviticus 20:13: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

It’s infamous because it’s the main scripture on which religions base their condemnation of gays. But it’s only found in one version of the Bible, the King James Version, which was revised when the text was rewritten and manipulated to suit the needs of the Dark Ages.  God never said it – it was not written in the original Aramaic. To learn more about this, check out the work of John Boswell, who taught at Yale and is author of Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Christianity, a book that won the National Book Award and resulted from ten years of scholarly research on the topic.

The point I’m trying to drive home here is that Islam did not invent homophobia, and in the United States at least, Muslims are more likely to support same-sex marriage than evangelical Christians.  Still, we’ve got to nudge our Muslim friends to consider how traditional attitudes don’t live up to the rights and protections of our US laws.

Here is something I’ve thought I might have said last Saturday night at the iftar:

“This is a painful time for all people of faith in America, when an atrocity occurs in the name of religion, and it should give us all pause to consider what our faith asks of us, and what it stands for. Perhaps it’s an opportunity that this attack on the LGBTQ community occurred during the holy month of Ramadan – a time when Muslims are asked to reflect on how they can better serve God. Maybe this tragedy is some holy food for thought. How might your faith be altered to something more befitting of God, widening his peaceful embrace to include all of God’s children, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer?”

If I had said this, believe me, you would have been able to hear a pin drop, and it may be true that I was a wuss for not “going there” when I had the mike. But here’s what stopped me, other than the fact I wasn’t prepared. I’ve learned in my lifetime to give the utmost respect to culture. No, I may not approve of every aspect of a different culture, much like I don’t approve of much in my own. But I respect the people and especially the friends of mine that are part of it. So, to show respect for my friends, I show respect for their culture, a universally safe bet for not being rude.

It wasn’t a time to be rude – it was a time to salve fear, show up for plurality, and show appreciation for their gesture of hospitality. They seemed to want reassurance from us as much as we wanted it from them. They wanted reassurance that they’re not hated, and even if they are, there are people like us who might have their back. The Japanese internment wasn’t that long ago – what if it came to that. What Muslims do you know that you would stand up to defend if they were carted away? It’s not that far-fetched if you consider that Donald Trump may be the next leader of the free world.

In more casual conversation at the dinner table, I was determined to pose the question to someone while at the iftar, “so how do Muslims at this mosque regard the LGBTQ community?”  But, again, I did not. It just wasn’t the time or the place. I was their guest. They fed me delicious food. How many mosques across America did what this mosque did? Inviting their city’s mayor, members of the local police, the interfaith community? They pulled it all together in a matter of days, because they wanted the world to know they condemn the Orlando attack, for which Esma Ali (my guest blogger last week) said in her speech to the crowd that there was “no excuse.”

Esma also shared some moving words of encouragement for those fasting for Ramadan. That, around lunchtime, when she gets hungry and jealous of those able to eat, she remembers how lucky she is and thinks of places like parts of China where if you’re found to be fasting, observing Ramadan, you get fired, or worse. “But we get to live in the best country in the world, where we can practice our religion freely,” she said.

It’s the same country where members of the LGBTQ community can freely get married, among other basic human rights.

Muslims and LGBTQ people have some things in common. They both need their right to exist and live in peace to be affirmed. They are both subject to revilement, civil rights infringements, violence, and murder. It’s true a lot more LGBTQ people have been murdered on American soil than Muslims, but consider elsewhere: would we be letting Assad’s war on Syria reach the heights of abject suffering it has if they were not Muslim? Not to mention our slaughter of Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis . . . Muslims get murdered regularly, and we may cringe, but we also shrug.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if Muslims and members of the LGBTQ community came together to dialogue about their differences, as well as their common struggles? Sure it would, but since homophobia is not unique to Islam, let’s also invite the Catholics and other brands of Christianity who are not yet respecting the full humanity of the LGBTQ community.  Let’s keep in mind that the moral imperative to uphold and protect longstanding and newly established rights of the LGBTQ community is not limited to any one group.

All of us, as well, should feel moved to stand up for Muslims’ and LGBTQ people’s right to exist and live in peace and freedom – the promises of our “best country” must be defended for all who dwell here, regardless of who we love, or which god we worship.

As a religious leader, I decree it!

And as far as this great tragedy in Orlando that flavors our summer with a most bitter and nauseating taste, please share your feelings with your community, non-LGBTQ and LGBTQ people alike – your family and friends – that the attack on Orlando was an attack on the LGBTQ community, and it breaks your heart.

Because it doesn’t go without saying.

Until next time, Do the Hustle!

 – Rev. At-Large, aka Rev. Hannage Hustlin’ Hope Petrie!

A True Dad: The Father Figure of Atticus

It’s a Fathers’ Day Special!  A version of the good news I’m preaching this Sunday . . .

Show of hands: How many people have read Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird?  How many read last year’s Go Set a Watchman?  It’s true the first 100 pages of so of the latter drag a bit, but stick with it for the explosive ending.

“For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” – Isaiah 21:6

Harper Lee was part of the renaissance of Southern literature, which along with authors like Faulkner, was often Bible-based.  Historian Wayne Flynt, a longtime friend of Lee’s and also a Baptist minister, says, “She grew up in a Bible-reading family. She was imprinted with it as a child.”

Isaiah was a prophet in the Kingdom of Judah, probably between about 740 and 698 B.C. In this verse, he is prophesying about the fall of Babylon. “Nelle (Harper Lee) probably likened Monroeville to Babylon,” Flynt continues. “The Babylon of immoral voices, the hypocrisy. Somebody needs to be set as the watchman to identify what we need to do to get out of the mess . . . Somebody needs to be the moral compass of this town.”

Apparently, Go Set a Watchman was what Harper Lee originally wanted to title To Kill A Mockingbird. Harper Lee’s real father was similar to Atticus – she saw him as a hero and the moral watchman of the town of Monroeville, where Lee grew up and is the Maycomb both books are based in. But even as far back as the 1950’s her publisher deemed the American public too Bible-illiterate to have an immediate connection with such a title, so it was changed.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch serves as the worthy watchman, standing up for justice in defending a wrongfully accused black man of rape, risking personal and professional security. But in Go Set a Watchman we see that this moral compass is, in fact, flawed, and that our hero is, in fact, merely human. We learn that rather than count on someone else, all of us, as individuals, are responsible for setting our own watchman, which is our conscience.

There is much to unpack here that makes for a great Fathers’ Day meditation. For many, there was disappointment that Atticus turns out not to be as anti-racist as we were made to view him in To Kill A Mockingbird.  I’ve heard some people say they won’t even read Go Set A Watchman so as not to shatter their image of the Gregory Peck hero. We can be this protective of our father figures of literature!

And aren’t we also protective of the idealized view of our real dads? So fiercely protective that we can deny or fail to see our fathers’ flaws or shortcomings. But all dads have them, and it’s something of a rite of passage when we are, for the first time, confronted with these flaws, just as Jean Louise, or Scout, is in Go Set A Watchman.  That is the climax of the book when, with the help of her uncle, she understands that a necessary step of maturation into adulthood is to differentiate herself from her father, whose standards of racial equity, mercy, and righteousness do not live up to her own. The confrontation between Scout and Atticus is traumatic and ghastly, as this process often is in real life.

Do you remember when it happened to you? How old were you? What were the personal traits or character flaws of your dad with which you were confronted?  Do you remember the cognitive dissonance, anger, or sadness?  The more flawed the parent, the earlier it seems to occur. For my dad, he was only ten years old, and to keep with the theme here, living in Huntsville, Alabama. His mother was bi-polar, and his father had some kind of personality disorder – which involved a lot of histrionics and emotional abuse. My dad realized he was the only sane person living in the house – a classic southern gothic situation!

But he turned out pretty well – he and my mom are still married and he’s always been a wonderful dad. But I remember the moment my idealized view of my father dissolved. My dad drinks regularly, everyday, and I never much thought about it, until it turned out my brother had alcoholic tendencies and I wasn’t much far behind. I was in seminary, had decided to quit drinking, and was seeing a therapist. I’ll never forget when she confronted me one day: “Hannah, why is it so horrible for you to see that your dad is an alcoholic?” Up to that point the thought had literally never occurred to me – I’d never seen him drunk and he accomplished a lot in his career; he’s a good man. But it dawned on me that to see him as such – a functional alcoholic, if you will – could provide insight into my own tendencies.

It didn’t make me love him any less, and in the last pages of Go Set a Watchman we see Jean Louise tell her Dad (even after calling him grim things of “the ring-tailed variety”), “I think I love you very much.”

So that is the first part of this Fathers’ Day meditation: to view our dads as they are, as flawed human beings, frees us from illusion, and in seeing them as whole people, we have a better chance at coming into our own wholeness.  And the good news is it doesn’t lessen the love – it makes it richer. You see yourselves in each other, without judgment, without remorse. With, perhaps, more mercy.

The second piece of our Fathers’ Day meditation is to, rather than be annoyed with Lee that she shatters our one-dimensional view of Atticus, consider what we can learn once the wishful thinking and naïveté have been removed. I highly recommend Bryan Stevenson’s gripping and readable book Just Mercy, published 2014, that details actual unjust sentencing cases of Monroe County, Alabama and around the country from the 1980’s forward. Bryan Stevenson is the real attorney hero we want Atticus Finch to immutably be – only he’s not white, he’s black – go figure.

It was naïve of us to think that Atticus Finch would be some all-star of white liberal ideology, having been the product of Jim Crow Alabama.  See this insightful review by Richard McAdams on The New Rambler.  Frankly, in the New Jim Crow era of a criminal justice system that destroys families and communities, we haven’t evolved much as far as understanding what racial equality actually means or is.  As Americans, and of the white variety especially, we are naïve and young in our thinking about race in the same way Scout youthfully aligned herself with Atticus as a child into young adulthood.

One way we are naïve is knowing our own history. We need a more mature recognition of how our violent and racist history has resulted in an equally violent and racist modern manifestation: the harsh punishments that call for mass incarceration. Young in our moral development, we don’t take responsibility for over 350 years of domestic terror on our own soil, whether it was slavery, convict-leasing, the failure of reconstruction that resulted in Jim Crow and the era of lynching, or now: the acceptance of overcrowded prison conditions, long prison terms, even death sentences for the most vulnerable – the poor, the immigrant, the mentally ill, the neglected and abused.

The New Jim Crow has been defined by laws, standards, and practices approved of by our elected representatives or by our own votes, which is the modern version of looking the other way when hundreds of thousands of lynchings took place in the south. The prevalence of wrongful death row cases in the modern era are lynchings in slow-motion.  Stevenson says the death penalty developed as a way to calm the public mob lynchings – allow them, but under heavily sanctioned terms, which creates an air of officialdom and social decorum, but just makes it easier for the public to ignore they are happening.

Yes, Scout’s naïve view of Atticus as infallible moral compass is to our naïve view that racism, bigotry and injustice have made leaps of progress toward their demise. In some ways they have, but our society’s penchant for unjustly locking people up for decades on end, not infrequently in solitary confinement, and executing people has become a more insidious, systematic and invisible enterprise since the civil rights era. We have a poverty-to-prison pipeline, which is more out of sight/out of mind, yet more widespread as rural communities’ economies get “saved” by huge correctional institutions that provide jobs, jobs, jobs. Our targets go well beyond African Americans. Don’t forget poor whites (who have been there all along), brown people, the undocumented, and especially Muslims we perceive as a threat or execute by drone strikes, habeas-corpus be damned.

The truth is too many of us are realistically more like Atticus than not. Atticus says he’ll follow the law and defend it, but he doesn’t want too much change too fast – or too much power given up. Our willful ignorance of the real Monroeville compared with our fondness for the fictional is a lot like us saying we approve of change, but not wondering long enough what that change really means or should look like.  We profess mercy, but don’t understand what mercy is.

Here’s what mercy looks like – learn comprehensive United States history. Read about how our criminal justice system came to be what it is – To Kill a Mockingbird was a drop in the ocean of historical and ongoing miscarriage of justice in our court and prison system.  Acknowledge the extent of suffering – especially for the wrongfully accused, children, the mentally ill, and the impoverished. It’s still happening, though thanks to the heroic efforts of people like Brian Stevenson, we are beginning to see change – recently, the Supreme Court outlawed sentencing children to die in prison (we had been the only country to do so). Restrictions on solitary confinement are occurring. California voted to end some harsh sentencing laws. But there is little forethought to the interventions and support services needed to transition the formerly incarcerated to the outside. It’s good to end a bad system, but now we need to address the costs of the harm its done.

The third and final part of this Fathers’ Day meditation is that you don’t have to be a perfect hero to be heroic.  Real heroes are often broken, flawed individuals – just like Atticus, like you and me. Like any of us.  The best part of Brian Stevenson’s book is when he defines mercy and understands what it is as a result of his own brokenness, from working for decades for justice in a broken system. He writes,

“We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent … Thomas Merton said: We are bodies of broken bones. I’d always known but never fully considered that brokenness is the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing.”

It was this realization during the hour of execution of a disabled man, an execution he did everything he could to stay, that Stevenson found the courage to continue his work. He saw that making mercy looks like struggling for change not in spite of our brokenness, but because of it. He writes, “In fact, there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy (the italics are mine).”

As part of the New Rambler Review of Go Set a Watchman, McAdams corroborates the praise of what flawed heroes can accomplish, incomplete though it may be:

“If there were white radicals in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, I would join others in praising the superiority of their vision of racial justice. But I would also lament the fact that, unlike Atticus, their courage apparently failed them and they remain invisible in the novel, realistically so, as they were frequently (though not always) invisible in small towns throughout the 1930s Jim Crow South. When it comes to preventing or correcting injustice, sometimes the world works this way: the courageous but compromised individual accomplishes more than the principled but timid one.”

It comes down to courage – it always seems to. No, Atticus Finch wasn’t perfect, but he was courageous in his time and place, and the more evolved views of his daughter give hope that white America may come of age yet where racial justice is concerned. If we have the courage.

The mature on-looker of racial injustice in our country today fights for justice in spite of the obstacles and the odds. The gift of the flawed watchman in Atticus is that it’s an opportunity to see things as they are, not as we wish them to be, not as the town of Monroeville, where a stage production of To Kill A Mockingbird runs year after year, would rather view itself, the anointed southern town of a fictional civil rights hero – fictional, indeed.

We can’t mitigate extreme injustice, much less abolish it, until we see the flaws for what they are – character flaws of America that won’t change until we see our history as it is, just like a family history. We can’t uproot a hereditary trait until we intervene, examining the caustic elements with intention and fortitude, taking great effort and commitment. Just as reparations and mercy-making take great effort, as we as a nation create new forms of healing and restorative justice.

The mature onlooker of injustice is an authentic watchman, a moral compass we can trust, possessed of an imperfect yet evolved spirituality, where the true meanings of compassion, mercy, healing, and reconciliation are not merely understood, but for which they are fought, and practiced.

So go set a watchman, and let your conscience be your guide. Create in yourself and in your own brokenness a need and desire for mercy. For as Stevenson shows us, “when you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us.”

May we be so blessed, with eyes to see, and ears to hear, that we recognize ourselves in one another, with our common need for dignity and redemption.

Until next time, Happy Fathers Day, and Do the Hustle!

Rev. At-Large aka Hannah Hustlin’ Hope Petrie

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Muslim’s Response

I am pleased to feature my first guest-blogger, my friend Mrs. Esma Ali, who lives in Arcadia and is Director of Community Relations at Masjid Gibrael in San Gabriel.  This Mosque held an interfaith event soon after the massacre in San Bernardino, and now is no different – here is the invitation info to the Ramadan Iftar dinner they are hosting this Saturday:

You are Cordially Invited to:
Ramadan Iftar Dinner (Breaking Fast)

Date: Saturday, June 18th 2016

Time: 8:00 – 9:30 PM

Location: Masjid Gibrael 1301 East Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel

8:05 PM – Break the Fast & Prayer
8:20 PM – Dinner
8:30 PM – Program

Please RSVP by Friday June 17th with:  Esma Ali at 626-622-1272 (EsmaSAli@msn.com) or Riaz Khan at 626-232-0056 (rick@micro-trends.com)

Tel: (626) 285-2697 

www.masjidgibrael.org

Riaz Kahn asked that I share this invitation, and says, “No words of condemnation of the horrific mass killings in Orlando can describe the pain and suffering of the loved ones.”

Esma Ali:

In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful,

On behalf of the Muslim community of San Gabriel, CA, we would like to express our shock, sorrow, and condemnation of the murder of 49 people  in Orlando, Florida.  No one deserved to die in such a horrific fashion.  Our thoughts, prayers, and condolences are with the families of the deceased and the injured.

ISIS, you are a DISGRACE!!  You are an ABOMINATION!!  You do NOT represent Muslims!!  Your senseless killing and your recruitment of psychopaths do NOT represent Muslims. You strive to hijack Islam just like Donald Trump strives to hijack America.  There is one-to-one correspondence between violent extremists and wicked opportunists.  Your crimes against humanity do NOT represent Islam.   Your camp will NOT win and NEITHER will Trump’s camp.

The Boston brothers were kicked out of their Mosque for bizarre behavior.  In fact, the FBI had planted extremists into Mosques in the hopes of recruiting the same.  It was the Muslim community members who called the FBI to report the same individuals that the FBI themselves had planted.  This created distrust in the Muslim community against the agencies and other community members at large.   The officials then came and apologized and said they want to work WITH us.  We Muslims shall continue in our efforts of safety,  as proud Americans.  We reiterate our commitment to peace and security of our nation, as well as our solidarity with fellow Americans.    Mercy towards ALL is what Islam teaches.

Many groups have faced discrimination, including the GLBTQ community, Blacks, and Muslims ….. Each life matters.  Everybody is a special somebody.  Muhammad Ali was a fighter of hatred with love. The ONE and ONLY God of the Universe expects us to love ALL of HIS creation.

Islam stands for compassion, especially during this blessed month of Ramadan.  Religion should provide a means of standing up for human dignity!!!  Love your neighbor is what Islam teaches.  Let me tell you a story.  I moved into a neighborhood and invited some neighbors over to my place for some tea.  I knocked on the door of my neighbor, Katie, to invite her and she said “ OFF MY PROPERTY, lady…”   That hurt me….

In pain, I reached out to God and the connection with HIM charged my batteries of love, as always.  Whenever I saw Katie thereafter, I would simply smile and say hello and thus bringing out the smile in her and helping her to wash away her hatred.

Religion is part of the solution.   God’s love fills us and enables us to share the love with  others..  Religion provides a vehicle to love.  Together, our love shall overtake the enmity in the hearts of others, one heart at a time.

Please see the Islam Q/A tab on my website, www.esmaali.com

 

The Hope of Post-Traumatic Growth

Last month, I attended an all-day symposium sponsored by the Violence Prevention Coalition, “VPC Making Connections: Exploring opportunities, actions and strategies to address the impact of gang culture and gang violence on mental health and community well-being in LA County.”

What’s a white girl in Altadena doing at an event about gangs? Hustling hope, that’s what! It’s like what Pastor Kerwin Manning, a prominent African American pastor in Pasadena (and current president of the Community Clergy Coalition) has said time and again, “until enough people care, even when the violence is not in their neighborhood, real change is elusive.”

In my case, my entrée to this issue was a result of tragic gang murder in my neighborhood. I saw that I might have a role to play. In 2014, after ex-Crip gang member Christopher Walker was shot four times in the back in front of Fair Oaks Burger in Altadena, just blocks from my residence, I arranged for a 6-month anniversary event of the murder in the parking lot of the burger restaurant – something I finagled because the Korean-American owner is an acquaintance of mine (btw, they have great burgers). It took some hustling, but in the end, Christy Lee concluded that “only good could come of it.”

She was right. In the process, I got to know Christopher’s parents, Ursula and Richard Walker. Like they say in the Youtube video, Christopher had turned his life around, even after many years of active gang-affiliation, largely due to their parental guidance. After the Walk for Christopher, the Walkers were encouraged to speak out about their experience, at churches and in the media.

Interestingly, they decry the Black Lives Matter movement, insisting all lives matter, and that too much emphasis is placed on police killings of black people when well over 90% of black murders are committed by other blacks. Yes, I know that’s a conservative meme, meant to counter the justified scrutiny of too many police killings of people of color. But it also seems a heartless dismissal of the modern phenomenon of black and brown gangs – just over 45 years old, if you consider that urban gangs like Crips and Bloods began in 1969 and 1971 respectively, soon after so many prominent and forward-moving black leaders were murdered, among other conditions of racist indignity and exclusion (see films Bastards of the Party and Crips and Bloods: Made in America for further education). Unnecessary police killings must be addressed and rectified, it’s true, but so must the tragedy of gangs.

In the video, Richard Walker refers to gangs as the new slavery. I consider that the institution of African slavery on American soil lasted about 250 years, and with enough hustle and moral indignation, we (whites and non-whites) abolished it. Surely we can also address an institution not even 50 years old. Until enough “abolitionists” care about the destruction of life that gangs cause (non-white or white gangs), gangs will continue to prosper. Gangs are in part a symptom of an unjust economy, where the poor and under-educated are left behind, with little legit opportunity. Like Father Boyle of Homeboy Industries coined, “nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

The Walkers wanted to continue our work together so in fall of 2015, I applied for a grant from the Center for Council, a non-profit that has trained dozens of non-profits in the method of “council,” a practice which nurtures community and healing through the sharing of life experiences in non-judgmental settings. Even though our effort (the Altadena Pasadena Council for Reconciliation) is not a non-profit (yet?), the funders of C4C care about mitigating gangs in LA county, and we received the grant.

We now have a “faithful 8” of trainees, a diverse group of community members including the Walkers (and their daughter Nicole) who will soon be able to facilitate inter-generational councils in our community, welcoming anyone ten years and older affected by gang affiliation.

So that was the hope I was hustling at the symposium – yet another new program wishing to reach out and make a difference.  There are many, many non-profit organizations in LA county tackling this issue, in varying and important ways.  They all make a dent, but the need is so very great that more innovative and committed efforts are needed.

That morning, I learned a lot about the damaging public health effects of trauma, as so many young boys and girls are susceptible to gangs because of trauma due to community or domestic violence. It was sobering, but one of the afternoon presentations inspired the heck out of me because of the hope it offered: the concept of post-traumatic growth beyond resilience, which examines the phenomenon in which suffering and grief can co-exist with enlightenment and growth. This was presented by the dynamic Dr. D’Artagnan Scorza, Founder/Executive Director of the Social Justice Learning Institute.  The main gist here is that research has shown that, with the right supports, so called “damaged” children and youth can actually transcend resilience, becoming more happy and mature people as a result of their trauma. This refutes and pushes back against the deficit-analyses we often hear: that due to trauma, youth are destined for hopeless and deviant futures.

The strategies proven effective for post-traumatic growth are skill-building, professional counseling, healing circles, civic engagement and social justice, academic success, and work with policy makers on a local level. These are all things that schools, non-profits and individuals who work to counter gang-affiliation are doing.  The results are remarkable: when children and youth transform trauma into learning and growth, 40 – 70% experience some positive benefits as a result of their trauma.

Most of us, no matter our walk of life or background, experience trauma at some point in our life, myself no exception.  Learning about the potential of post-traumatic growth personally gave me much faith and a renewed determination. The work, the hustle, the time we bring to the world to bring healing and hope to others, and ultimately ourselves, is always worth doing.

So until next time, Do the Hustle!

Rev. At-Large, aka Hannah Hustlin’ Hope Petrie!

Do the Hustle!

Welcome, fellow hustlers of justice, to my inaugural blog as Reverend At-Large!

I fussed over the right title for this blog. The Justice Hustler? Hustler of Justice? Hustler brings to mind porn or pool shark, and sounds too much like “Huckster.” I like Justice Hustle because it brings to mind that cheery 70s song, “Do the Hustle!” Doot, doot, doot, do doot do doot doot doot!

Is Hustle really the right word? It is, because, hustling is what unites us as hard-working Americans (even when we’re not working, we are then hustling for the next gig, temp job, contract, crumb). And my new career as non-parish minister can basically be summed up at hustling for justice. Hustling is a noble enterprise, because half of hustling involves simply showing up and slowly building relationships – showing up to city council, interfaith and coalition meetings, to gatherings of grass-roots community initiatives. When we show up, we engender trust that we care and that we believe, together, we can make a difference – step by step by step.

And then there’s all the extra-curricular hustling – educating myself by going to a symposium or speaking event. Not only do I learn things and meet amazing people but also network like a maniac – which is hustling.

As a parish minister, my job involved a lot of hustling – hustling to sell the idea that we should care about the poor (who are very much like the un-poor), the ignored, the disenfranchised, the immigrant, the “loneliest who gather in their stalls.” Hustling to get people to show up, and of course, hustling for the almighty dollar. As a Rev. At-Large, my job description won’t change much, except now I can talk candidate politics.

A lot of people say they will move to Canada if Trump gets elected. I keep hearing, “I’m depressed about Trump.” Or it’s vitriol. But it’s vitriol Trump loves – he feeds off it, so let’s move on.

If you want to be angry about Trump, be angry at ourselves – we, the people, who have not prevented the conditions for making Trump electable. For allowing our uneven public education to let so many people down they are furious about being left behind. For leaving behind the poor, for only caring if me and mine are “middle class” – whatever that means anymore.

Whether or not Trump gets elected, the conditions that make him electable need to change regardless. So who’s going to wait until we know who’s our next president and who’s going to start today? We can all hustle for justice, no matter who is president. Local municipal activism will likely remain the most effective way to change America, and we should ride the wave of progressive activism that the Bernie campaign set in motion.

Whether it’s Hilary or Bernie who cinches the nomination (it ain’t over til it’s over), we will need to wade into the “marshy terrain of movement-building”, as Peter Dreier puts it. Marshes are beautiful and exciting places, full of life and potential. If we progressives build a strong boat together, we can path-find our way to new policies and protections for the most vulnerable among us. We can change laws that change lives.

So, I hope you’ll join me on this journey. Blogs will be published Tuesdays and Fridays. Until next time, Do the Hustle!

– Rev. At-Large, aka Rev. Hannah Hustlin’ Hope! Petrie