Accessing Life: How Having an ID Changes Everything

When you think of someone who may need help getting their birth certificate or ID, who do you picture? Do you picture a woman who has fled domestic abuse and knows she cannot go back home because it's not safe? Do you picture a man desperate to apply for a job, but the car he has been living out of was stolen along with all of his personal papers and belongings? Do you picture a woman trying to rebuild her life after serving time in jail? Do you picture a homeless woman trying to get a copy of her birth certificate but not having an address to mail it to? Do you picture a displaced single mother needing to get her kids' birth certificates so she can enroll them in school?  

We have seen all of these situations at Reconciliation Services, people walking through our doors, hoping we could help them get that piece of paper or little plastic card that could set them on the path to self-sufficiency or rebuilding what they had lost. 

However, not everyone we serve is poor, homeless, or desperate. We have also helped people that may simply need some caring direction and information about how to access their documents.

Diane Charity

When Diane Charity first came to Reconciliation Services, she was inquiring about document needs for some students she was working with at Cristo Rey. Herself a community activist, as the president of the Manheim Neighborhood Association and chairman of the Community Advisory Board for KCPT, Diane knew that RS was an invaluable resource for the community.

“In May 2008 my mother passed,” Diane said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but my driver’s license had expired. I was 58 and I hadn’t needed to produce my birth certificate for anything that I could remember. Of course, I knew my mother had to have one, but I couldn’t ask her where it was.” 

Diane said she decided to go ahead and request one from New York State where she was born. 

“They had given me a form and a list of things that I would need in order to get my birth certificate,” Diane said. “I filled out the forms and put in my mother’s maiden name, my dad’s name, and the rest of the information. But they said, ‘no, that’s not your mother’s maiden name.’”

Diane was at a loss. She went back and forth with the office in New York and tried to figure out why they didn’t recognize her mother’s first name. She wasn’t sure what to do next.

That’s when she decided to go back to the place that had been such a great resource for her when she had tried to help others, Reconciliation Services.

“So, I went up to Reconciliation Services and asked them what I should do,” Diane said. “They told me what I was going to have to do. Since I couldn’t prove my mother’s maiden name, I was going to have to provide proof of who I was. I was going to have to request a letter from my congressman, provide verification of where I lived. It was quite a process. But, at least at Reconciliation Services I got help figuring out what I needed in a friendly manner. They really helped me with the whole process. They allayed my fears and showed me how to get what I needed.”

With a little help navigating the process and patience from caring RS staff, Diane was able to get her birth certificate so she could renew her driver’s license. 

RS will provide nearly 1,400 IDs and birth certificates in 2017 and we have become one of the largest providers of document and ID assistance in the state of Missouri. We have seen firsthand the importance of that birth certificate and ID in order to access health care, housing, school enrollment, visiting a sick kid in the hospital, opening a bank account, voting, and so much more.

“I was so happy to know that RS was right there at 31st and Troost, with a whole lot of resources available to help. It’s like one of the best kept secrets in town,” she said. “You can get the help you need and it isn’t degrading. At RS they are kind and patient and will walk with you through the whole process.”

Walking “with” someone in the process is what sets RS apart. We don’t just offer a voucher or payment for a document. Our caring case workers help clients navigate through paperwork, offer guidance, and often advocate for them with other agencies.  

Even an active and dynamic community advocate like Diane may need a little support at times. “At Reconciliation Services I felt like they really cared about me. It really renewed my faith in humanity. It is good to be reminded how valuable each person is,” she said. 

Thriving, vibrant community life shouldn’t just be reserved for some. When everyone, the whole community, has access to the same services, privileges and rights, we will be a healthier, more engaged city.

Join us in seeing the strength of our community revealed as we strive to ensure that all its members can participate, sharing their hopes, their experiences and their lives. Learn more about the “I’D Be Campaign” and consider giving a little so that someone can get their ID today!
 

Senior Citizens in Service: Foster Grandparents Have Much To Offer Our Community

Vibrant community cannot happen in isolation. However, for many of our senior citizens, isolation, lack of transportation, and limited social and service opportunities prevents them from participating in and contributing to community life.  

A recent University of California, San Francisco study showed that nearly 20 percent of senior citizens live alone and 40 percent experience persistent loneliness. Research published in Health Psychology also shows that seniors who are isolated are at higher risks for illness, cognitive decline, stroke, and obesity. It even states that loneliness is as damaging to one’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. 

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And yet, we know that our older community members have so much to offer. At Reconciliation Services we are engaging our older community members and encouraging them to draw from their many years of knowledge, skills and experience and volunteer with at risk young people in area schools, early childhood centers, Children’s Mercy Hospital, and Family Court.

“The RS Foster Grandparents Program pours into qualified low-income older adults who have so much to give back. We enable them to go out and mentor kids with exceptional needs and help make a positive change in our community,” said Summer Griffith, RS Foster Grandparents Program Director. “We do it through our monthly inservices, training and recognition events, community partnerships through school districts, early childhood care centers, and other community organizations.”

The RS Foster Grandparents Program of Jackson, Clay and Platte Counties provides a small pre-tax supplemental stipend, and equips them to provide support, kindness and encouragement for children with critical social, emotional and educational needs. The program is part of the larger Senior Corps initiative, which engages American adults age 55 and older in meaningful volunteer opportunities. 

More than 85 RS Foster Grandparents are in schools, early childhood centers, hospitals, and family court from North Kansas City to the Hickman Mills School District. They volunteer throughout Jackson, Clay and Platte Counties in over 30 locations. They live and serve in our community and they give their best to kids in our community day after day. 

“The kids our Foster Grandparents work with often have language deficiencies, are emotionally traumatized, some have mental and physical disabilities, some may be in the foster care system, and all are in desperate need of the love and stability a mentoring senior adult can offer,” Griffith said. “RS Foster Grandparents model love, acceptance, hard work, the value of education, service and leadership, and they offer the one-on-one support that helps these kids grow emotionally and cognitively. We talk about not just letting them know college is an option, but asking them ‘Where are you going to college?’”

By partnering with teachers, administrators and site supervisors, we use evidence-based programming to measure outcomes. We are looking to make a real and sustainable impact in the lives of these young people. 

In the early childhood centers, pre-K programs and daycare settings, Foster Grandparent volunteers focus on developing the emotional health of the children. Foster Grandparents are paired with children who need individual attention and work on school readiness, anger management, friendship and relationship skills, coping skills, and other critical developmental building blocks that are necessary for success.   

For Kindergartners through high schoolers, RS Foster Grandparents focus on improving educational engagement, specifically working towards more class participation, assignment completion, fewer absences, less need for discipline, and adopting an overall positive attitude towards learning. 

The RS Foster Grandparents volunteering at Children’s Mercy Hospital and at the Family Court offer comfort and emotional support for children in the midst of difficult circumstances. Grandma Lucille has been volunteering at the Family Court for over 20 years and at 93 years old, she still gets down on the floor to listen to and play with the kids. 

This important involvement in the lives of young people and the sense of purpose in the community is improving the lives of our senior volunteers. According to the Quality of Life Index measurement, more than 80 percent of Foster Grandparent volunteers reported a greater sense of well-being because of volunteering. 

The effect of this one-on-one care and attention also has a profound effect on our youth. A report by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership showed that at-risk youth who met regularly with a mentor were 55 percent more likely to enroll in college; 78 percent  more likely to volunteer their own time; 130 percent more likely to hold leadership positions; 52 percent less likely to skip school; and had fewer recurring behavior problems.  

“As a first generation college graduate myself, I know first hand the importance of older adults and mentors in my life,” Griffith said. “They played a vital role in my life and helped keep me on the right path during tough times. I had older adults who believed in me when I didn’t yet believe in myself.”

Healthier and happier seniors and youth make for healthier and happier communities. 

Are you interested in learning more about how to become a Foster Grandparent or do you want to see how you can help support seniors who are volunteering in our community? Contact Summer Griffith, RS Foster Grandparents Program Director

Click here for more information about the requirements and benefits of the RS Foster Grandparents Program. And click on their names to hear from some of our RS Foster Grandparents: Grandpa Jerry, Grandma Juanita, and Grandma Sims.


 

Battling the Stigma of Mental Health Issues: Men Supporting Men

Many in our community are not only battling the after effects of trauma but they also have to push through negative stigmas of mental health problems in order to find help and healing.

Nearly all Reconciliation Services (RS) clients suffer from various combinations of mental illness, lack of education, unemployment or underemployment, homelessness, and social isolation. Anonymous self-reporting by RS clients indicates that 59% witnessed violence recently; 53% are victims of violence; 36% have been convicted of a crime; 5% are currently in a gang; 69% use tobacco; 14% use illegal drugs; and 6% feel in danger at home.

These very troubling assessments and the great need for effective support and therapy made it crucial for RS to launch our SnAP (Strength eNergy And Power) women’s program in 2011 as a way to help women work through the trauma and depression that many women in our community were experiencing. This one-of-a-kind program was piloted in collaboration with Jackson County Cares Mental Health Fund and is now funded by JCCMHF, the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, and Humana. It is promoted and facilitated in the context of community fellowship and encouragement through group meetings.

We refer to our SnAP program as “stealth mental health” because this group setting, although run by a clinical therapist using proven evidence-based practices and clinical measures, functions as the “camouflage” to allow this therapy to fly under the radar of the deeply entrenched stigma of mental health in the African American community.

We witnessed again and again the success of the individual women who graduated from the SnAP group and we were confronted with a growing awareness of the need for mental health services for men as well  in the surrounding neighborhoods.

With each graduating class of the women's SnAP group, we saw the men in their lives as well as other clients and neighbors who visited in our RS Cafe ask if there was a group available for the men. These men were  bearing witness to the change and success that they were seeing in the women, and naturally wanted the opportunity for themselves!

It was in the context of this growing local awareness that it became increasingly obvious that there was a need for the SnAP program to expand its reach to the men in our area. In 2017, due to extended funding for the program, RS was able to expand the SnAP program to include a men’s support group.

As community advocates and social workers, we were aware of several key issues that warranted the development of a men’s component of SnAP. The US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health related some staggering survey data that revealed Black men, more than White and Hispanic men, said they experienced feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, and that they find everything requires great emotional effort.

This data confirms what we at RS understand and witness daily. Moreover, we recognize  that the root cause of these issues originates from profound trauma individuals face in the neighborhoods we serve. For both the men and women of our community here at 31st and Troost, the impact of trauma is deeply felt, but not obvious or easily identifiable. The reason for this is largely due to the pronounced stigma of both mental health and receiving mental health services in the African American community. This stigma is made all the worse when speaking to men. The messages that men receive from their communities, often leads them to believe that seeking help for their mental health is a sign of weakness. For many men we serve at RS, the mere thought of weakness can keep them from the life changing effects of therapy and mental health services.

Now with our men’s SnAP program, the men of this community can lean on each other without shame and dig deep into the issues that haunt them, in order to reveal the their hidden strength.

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Written By: Father Deacon Turbo Qualls, Therapy Program Assistant, Intensive Case Manager

 

See stories of strength from these SnAP participants: Cassandra, Nora, and Bridgette.

Mentally Tough: Mayor Sly James Speaks on his Life of Mediation

Amelia Earhart Memorial Flying Band

Amelia Earhart Memorial Flying Band

The importance of RS is greater than it’s ever been. There has to be some way of addressing people who are so adversely affected by the wage gap, by poverty, by education systems that have not worked to their advantage for a long time ... Without RS, the people of 31st and Troost and the surrounding areas will be a lot worse off.
— Mayor Sly James

You grew up on the East Side of Kansas City in the 1960’s. What were some highs and lows of your early life in the community?
Everybody knew everybody – kids and families were tight. We got together in the street for holidays. Families took care of each other’s kids. We played ball in the park, rode our bikes and ran free. Our families were the working poor, blue collar people who worked hard. Everyone scraped to get by and worked hard to support their families and one another. There was a strong sense of community. There were some bad dudes, but not many. We knew who caused trouble and had guns and stayed away from them. There was no fear like there is over there today!
 
A low would be the riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. I was a junior in high school and driving home from a night-time job with three guys. Buildings were burning at 44th and Prospect. We turned the corner at Prospect and ran into the National Guard. The whole sky lit up. We were forced out of the car and onto the ground. That was very scary!
 
How did your experience in High School shape you?
I was an odd ball in our neighborhood because I went to Bishop Hogan Preparatory Academy. I was the only black student in a Catholic High School that served a predominantly white community. It was different growing up in a neighborhood that was all black and going to a High School that was all white. The experience shaped my thoughts about people and race. It shaped my thoughts about how we interact and treat one another. High school is where I started to become a mediator between two racial cultures. All of these things influenced my thoughts about what I was going to do. I knew I would become a lawyer.
 
It was interesting from a dating standpoint during the 60’s — who do you take to prom? The girl I really liked I couldn’t ask because she was white. So, do I take the girl from the neighborhood that I don’t really care for?
 
Eventually I dated a great girl! Her name was Ann and she went to school at Notre Dame de Sion, but we couldn’t be seen in public together. Her Father was on the city council at the time. For my junior year prom, my best friend Chip Tate—rhythm guitarist in our band—wore my tuxedo and drove my parents car to pick Ann up from her house on Ward Parkway. He brought her back to my place, I put my tuxedo on and I drove Ann to prom. It was just the nature of the beast and what we had to do. Ironically, Notre Dame had their prom the same night and our band was playing the after-party. Ann couldn’t go in with me, so she sat in the car while I played. 
 
You were the lead singer with Amelia Earhart Memorial Flying Band, an otherwise all white band in the late 60’s. Tell us something about the band’s context. 
Most of the people in the band and the wider group we ran around with were affluent, with the exception of me and one or two others. The civil rights movement, the sexual revolution and music were the cultural influences of the day. Being on both sides of the civil rights argument meant I was in very separate conversations about central issues. Talking about the Black Panthers with my family around the dinner table was a completely different conversation than the one I had at school the following day. It was a different conversation again than the one I had with the affluent people who hung out with our band. It was cool to be edgy and non-conformist in the 60's and I was certainly a non-conformist.
  
How did you handle the tensions as a teenager?
At school I didn’t know everybody but everybody knew me because of the color of my skin. I’ve always been outspoken and I’m not timid, so I ended up in leadership positions both in school and outside school. As a leader I was able to set my own agenda somewhat. That helped a lot. I made good grades and worked hard. I left home my senior year to live on my own and drew out the money I’d made to pay my school tuition – school was very important to me. I continued being in the band, that helped too.  

Photo by Tom Morse-Brown

Photo by Tom Morse-Brown

My parents were traditional, relatively poor, black people and extremely suspicious of the white man. Later, they started making money for themselves and became Republicans. The kids in my school and their families were equally suspicious about the black community. They were just not sure they wanted black people in their neighborhood. 
 
I didn’t really have as much suspicion of white people, neither did I have an immediate acceptance of what black people said about white people. I was accused by my neighborhood of not being black enough and on the other side in the white community, I was way too black. This tension still persists today. 
 
Who have been your key mentors in life?
Two major people greatly shaped me and meant a great deal to me. The first was my Father. He was a mentor in a very silent and powerful way. Just watching him struggling in life and eventually succeeding, watching him maintain a strong sense of self and his own identity when he succeeded was very powerful. He was a direct and simple man with a lot of character and dignity. 
 
The other key mentor was the senior partner—Bill Sanders Senior—in the law firm I joined when I first started practicing law. He taught me how to be a professional within the profession that I had chosen. A handshake from him was very important to me. He had a very keen mind and he was somewhat experimental. I remember he took me to trial with him and he turned to me (as we were picking the jury) and said, “You do it”. I’d never done this before, but he let me go on up and bumble and stumble around. He had arranged it with the Judge ahead of time. He was a great mentor. When I told him I was leaving the firm, he cried.
 
Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director of Reconciliation Services, suggests that Troost isn’t just a dividing line in our city, it’s a dividing line in our heartsWould you talk about your vision for the future of Troost? 
It matters where you live, what it looks like, and how it feels. Physical changes and development are badly needed for the area. There’s need for infrastructure to attract further development in order to stimulate economic activity and jobs. But at the end of the day the whole concept of Troost, in my opinion, is much more psychological than physical. The psychological has driven the physical. I have hope that the physical development will help drive the psychological. The question is, who is going to be the developer of the psychology of the heart and soul of this area?
 
This is what you guys at Reconciliation Services are doing. You meet people where they are, as they come to you, in a way that lifts them up, regardless of what side of Troost Avenue they live on. I’m much aware of your trauma focused approach as you interact with people at RS. Trauma doesn’t always mean that you’ve been shot or beaten. Trauma can be atmospheric. You feel it and you’re affected by it! There are very few places in the Troost area where you’ll find an atmosphere permeated with reconciliation and peace. 
 
The importance of RS is greater than it’s ever been. There has to be some way of addressing people who are so adversely affected by the wage gap, by poverty, by education systems that have not worked to their advantage for a long time. There has been dis-investment, lack of opportunity and, therefore, there is lack of hope. Without RS, the people of 31st and Troost and the surrounding areas will be a lot worse off. If RS can do more than what they currently do the neighborhood will be a lot better off and so will our city at large.
 
What would be the one thing you’ve learned from your personal life experience that you would like to share with others?
I learned in the Marine Corps that I could pretty much accomplish anything in life that I wanted if I just kept with it. The Marine Corps taught me to be mentally tough. There were many times I wanted to crawl in a hole and quit, but I didn’t. I learned that no matter how bad things look today, if I show up tomorrow they won’t be as bad. I’ve learned to look at what I do have as opposed to what I don’t have. I think that keeps me happier.
 
A core value of RS is to reveal the strengths of the people around us. How have you tried to see strength and possibility in others?
I try very hard not to accept the visual first impression as being true, in most instances. I believe every individual person has something of value that they can leave you with. I’ve been blessed with the breadth of people I’ve come across in my life in so many different places. When I left home at 16, I was homeless. I remember sleeping on the steps of the Art Gallery in the summer time. There was a bunch of us runaways there who needed a place to crash. Some guy—who initially looked really weird—offered me something to eat. After spending time listening to him I realized that he was very different than what I first thought.
 
If you spend time with people ... if we will listen and empathize a little bit, a connection can happen. If we give people a chance they are likely to surprise us. I like to think I surprise people!

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This blog is excerpted from an extensive interview on 9-9-16 by Father Justin Mathews, RS Executive Director, and Lyn Morse-Brown of Morse-Brown Creative. Written by Lyn Morse-Brown.

Challenge the Single Story Narrative

A story can be a powerful thing. Like water running deep below the surface of the earth, a story can cut hidden channels through our hearts. Our sense of personhood, family, and community are built upon the many layers of stories that have shaped us. We would likely find it hard to distill our complex and rich personhood down to one single story and yet we often do this with others. 

I recently watched a poignant TED Talk called “The Danger of a Single Story” given by Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie. She says, “Show people as one thing over and over again, and that’s what they become.” This “single-story-ism”, as she calls it, is what happens when complex human beings and places are reduced to a single narrative. For example, when Africans are depicted solely as pitiable, poor victims of starvation. Or when Muslims are relegated to the one story of extremist or terrorist. Or when “that” part of town is forever labeled as “unsafe”, “blighted” or “hopeless.” 

We are more than the one story people might see at first glance --our religion, our career, where we live, our ethnicity, our failures, our successes, our possessions. When we reduce all those stories down to just one, we diminish the fullness of the humanity of the person. 

The stories we tell about ourselves and each other not only retell our lives, but they also  shape them. 

Growing up in the suburbs of Kansas City, I heard a single story about Troost Avenue, for example. The single story I heard again and again about Troost was, “Don’t go over there. It’s not safe.” 

Without being fully conscious of it, this single story shaped my physical boundaries, sense of safety, and people I associated with. Often, news articles and hearsay fed into and reinforced this single story of “that part of town.” 

The Troost story was shared as if it were “common sense.” Sometimes stereotypes are not altogether untrue. However, they are usually woefully incomplete. The single story I had heard about Troost didn’t begin to consider the history of Troost, desperation of those trapped in poverty, or the effects of multi-generational trauma on families. It left out all the resiliency and strength, hopes and strivings of the east side of our city.

The 200 year history of Troost Avenue is made up of many stories, from the Osage Indians on trail to the Missouri River and Rev. Porter’s slave plantation, to Walt Disney’s studio and Jim Crow segregation. The single story stereotype of Troost I heard collapsed all of this history of struggle and strength into a flat, hopeless fragment. Troost became known as the racial and economic dividing line of Kansas City and the single story narrative we told reinforced the distance between us.

Working and living in the Troost corridor and building relationships with our neighbors reveals there is much more than a single story narrative of this place. Each month in our “Venerate” e-newsletter we tell stories of courage that reveal the strengths of those we serve, striving to challenge the single story narrative many still have of Troost. (Subscribe to “Venerate” here

We recently featured a video with Deron in which he shared how difficult it has been to find work after he got out of jail. He’s worked hard to move beyond the mistakes he had made, but overcoming the single story many have of him is hard. Eventually Deron came to RS and was able to find employment through our social venture, Resolve KC. As we’ve come to know Deron, he has shared his dreams of opening his own restaurant, the lessons he wants to pass on to his children, and the appreciation he has for a community that supported him through adversity. 

The single story approach doesn’t see with the eyes of God, who in the Scriptures continually deconstructed the crowd’s single story narrative of prostitutes, thieves, tax collectors, fishermen, pharisees and rich men. We are all more than a single story in the eyes of God.  

Let’s challenge ourselves this week to question a single story narrative that we have of someone else. Ask that person to tell you more about themselves. Take time to listen more deeply than normal. Hear each other’s stories without interruption, redaction or reduction. Don’t buy into the single story you may have heard about certain people or places. Remember, a story can be a powerful thing. 

By Father Justin Mathews, Executive Director

Building a Healthy Community, One Person at a Time

At Reconciliation Services I often witness great philanthropy, or loving of mankind, being offered up by those in our community--a mother giving up her food so her children have enough; a father working a third job to save for a deposit on a safer apartment; a homeless man giving away his gloves to warm another’s cold hands; a volunteer dashing onto a city bus outside our building to give away hot take-home meals to the hungry. These seemingly small acts, these sacrifices, remind me of our great mission to reconcile the distance between us.

Last week, an elderly woman came in desperately in need of new eyeglasses and suffering terrible pain in her teeth. She lives on her modest social security income but recently began caring for her three grandchildren as well, which made it very difficult to tend to her own health needs. The children’s needs came first. By providing her with new eyeglasses and the emergency dental work she needed, we enabled her to both care for herself and her grandchildren better.

Thanks to our partnership with KC Medicine Cabinet and by leveraging your generous support through our on-site counseling and case management, RS was able to provide $35,776 in vouchers for dental services, medical equipment, prescriptions, vision care, eyeglasses and more in January 2017. That is our highest amount of monthly Medicine Cabinet assistance offered to date!

Often people are faced with the tough decision to buy groceries or medicine, to pay their rent or seek care for painful dental issues. Medicine Cabinet funds distributed by RS caseworkers help cover additional medical supplies or optical and dental services that remain out of reach for many families living below the poverty line in our city--things like dentures, crutches, shower chairs, hearing aids, nebulizers, eyeglasses, compression socks, emergency dental work, prescriptions, dentures, or other necessary procedures or supplies.  

“We cherish our relationship with Reconciliation Services,” said Jodi Wilson, Program Director of KC Medicine Cabinet. “Every day they work closely with clients to ensure each of them receive the necessary Emergency Medical assistance.”  

Here’s how we leveraged KC Medicine Cabinet vouchers in January 2017:

  • Provided eyeglasses for 52 individuals, including 25 children
  • Gave more than $7,000 to provide hearing aids
  • Secured emergency dental care and more advanced dental services, like dentures and partials, for 34 individuals
  • Gave vouchers for over $1,200 in medical supplies
  • Offered much needed prescription vouchers to 35 individuals

Every day, hour by hour, moment by moment, at RS we see how acts of love and service lead to health and stability spreading throughout our community, reconciling the distance between us and revealing the strengths of those we serve. That grandma that got new eyeglasses and emergency dental care can now focus more fully on caring for her grandchildren, pouring her time and energy into loving them well. This is the kind of philanthropy that strengthens communities.

By Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director

Your Giving Has Changed the lives of Thousands in 2016!

Each year I am amazed at what our staff, generous donors and dedicated volunteers accomplish in partnership with our clients and neighbors on Troost. It is no small thing day in and day out to walk alongside our most vulnerable community members to reveal their strengths. And yet, each morning our doors open and people come in for help, for warmth, and for hope.

You have made a difference in the lives of so many by enabling RS to care for over 5,150 unduplicated individuals this year!

This year also brought new staff, a newly remodeled RS Cafe and commercial kitchen, an improved Troost Jazz and Soul Experience fundraiser, and renewed vision for our work.

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Hospitality Services
The RS Cafe is where neighbors first receive hospitality like hot, nutritious food at our Friday Night Meal, and enjoy coffee in our Internet Cafe. Now, with our remodeled RS Cafe space, we have a more uplifting and safe environment to complement our work. Upgrading our kitchen and pantry to meet commercial standards further supports our efforts to grow the RS Internet Café into a “Pay What You Can” RS Cafe at 31st and Troost, opening in 2017.

Your gifts to RS in support of our Hospitality Services

  • helped feed over 3,000 individuals and 1,700 households through our pantry, including 600 children
  • served over 12,500 meals through Friday night meal program
  • provided free gigabit speed internet and the only public computers on Troost
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Emergency Social Services
Our work to reveal the strengths of those we serve often begins with some form of emergency social services, whether people are in need of an ID and birth certificate, rent and utilities assistance, medicine or medical supplies, urgent dental or vision care, or in-depth case management. Triaging immediate needs helps lower barriers to self-sufficiency and connects clients with trained caseworkers.

Your gifts to RS in support of our Emergency Social Services

  • provided medical assistance to over 1,000 totalling over $200,000 in care
  • helped launch our I’D BE Campaign to raise awareness about the many reasons people need an ID
  • helped us secure over 1,200 IDs, birth certificates and work permits to help people get jobs, housing, education and other public services.

Therapeutic Services
Beyond working to address immediate challenges our neighbors face every day, is the ongoing, deep healing from trauma that must happen. Through our Therapeutic Services, we have adopted what we call our “stealth mental health” program that uses group and individual therapy as well as intensive case management to create a supportive and encouraging network of people to promote healing and reconciliation for themselves.

Your gifts to RS in support of our Therapeutic Services

  • gave 75 men and women suffering from trauma access to our caring therapists and case managers
  • provided 800 hours of group therapy and 500 hours of individual therapy to those who would have gone untreated otherwise
  • helped bring these neighbors together to support each other in creating an ecosystem of healing in Kansas City’s most challenging neighborhoods.

Economic Community Building Services
Finding sustainable income and meaningful work is critical for revealing the community’s strength and stopping the cycle of poverty. Our Economic Community Building Services are aimed at creating opportunities for growth and stability by offering digital survival classes, self-sufficiency workshops, deepening community involvement for our seniors, and creating jobs.

Your gifts in support of the RS Economic Community Building Services

  • helped 106 low-income senior citizens share their hearts and wisdom with over 350 children in 31 schools, hospitals and civic agencies across Jackson, Clay and Platte Counties
  • provided jobs for over 285 people through Resolve Staffing, an RS Social Ventures company
  • created 31,000+ billable hours, paying $9-$12.50/hr to neighbors (mostly east of Troost) in various food service, hospitality, packaging and maintenance jobs in KC

With your very generous support in 2016 RS walked alongside our most vulnerable neighbors and provided social, therapeutic and economic community building services to more people than ever before. We are deepening our collaboration with the 12+ neighborhoods east of Troost and their resident leaders. We are even reaching further east and south in KCMO to places where help is harder to find. Thank you!

You helped us take the next steps in our vision of transforming Troost from a dividing line to a gathering place of hope and reconciliation. Please join with us in making 2017 a year of reconciliation and hope again by continuing to support RS generously at year-end.  

For those we serve
Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director of Reconciliation Services

Give the Gift of Self-Sufficiency this Holiday Season

Getting an ID can help people take crucial first steps towards self-sufficiency. Without it, you can’t get food stamps, apply for a job or housing, secure healthcare, enroll kids in school, visit a sick child in the hospital, get a library card, or even vote.

Recently a man came to RS who desperately wanted to work but didn’t have the ID required to complete a job application. He had so much he wanted to be … but without his ID he was trapped. He had been living out of his car, trying to start over again. But when his car was stolen so was nearly everything he owned, including his ID.

“Without an ID people are left vulnerable, unable to prove who they are, and are cut-off from privileges, services, and even rights,” Fr. Justin Mathews pointed out in his recent blog, “Beyond the Vote: Why You Should Care About Access to IDs.

It only costs about $25 to pay for an ID. However, for many of our clients, the cost and the lack of understanding of the process puts that ID just out of their reach.

This year RS launched the “I’D BE Campaign” and helped over 800 people secure ID’s and take that first step towards self-sufficiency. Your generous gifts enabled caring RS staff to evaluate needs, work together with clients to navigate the complicated application process, secure needed documentation, and provide a voucher to pay for their IDs.

Please consider giving a gift this holiday season that could change the course of someone’s life.

Will you donate $25, $50, $100 or even more to help at least one person get their ID? Join the I’D BE Campaign today and sponsor someone’s chance to be employed, educated, housed, healthy, involved.

Article by Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director of Reconciliation Services.

BEYOND THE VOTE: Why you should care about access to IDs

On Nov. 8th, 2016, Missouri joined 17 other states that have put legal restrictions on voting by adding a constitutional amendment requiring government issued photo IDs, in order to vote.

Voting is a critical right for all citizens and legal and reasonable access to voting should be a priority. However, there remains a gap between the law and reality, between the intent and actualization. An ID offers access to a deep well of possibilities for self-sufficiency and dignity and we should care about everyone having access to that. The need for an ID goes beyond being able to vote. It is important for our survival!

Did you know that without an ID you can’t get food assistance, apply for a job or housing, secure healthcare, enroll your kids in school, visit a sick child in the hospital, or even get a library card? Without an ID people are left vulnerable, unable to prove who they are, and are cut-off from privileges, services, and even rights.

In our daily work at 31st and Troost, we have seen first hand the hardship imposed on the poor, the handicapped, and the elderly in trying to obtain an ID. Since our inception in 2005, we have made it a priority to help our clients secure IDs and birth certificates. RS is now one of the largest providers of ID assistance in KC. We know that with an ID, people are able to take those first steps towards self-sufficiency.

A friend told me recently that his elderly mother was facing serious challenges getting access to her elder care and housing. It had been years since his mother needed a driver’s license and no one in the family could find her birth certificate. It took two months and the tenacious advocacy of her adult children to navigate the complex bureaucracy of interstate clerical offices and hospital record archives before she received her birth certificate. Only then was his mother able to obtain a photo ID and the services she so desperately needed.

How does one access and verify their own history and identity if they are born out of state or legally immigrated from a war torn country but don’t understand the language and process? Maybe they don’t know their birth parents, or were raised in foster care and moved excessively. Maybe they lost everything because of fleeing abuse or due to theft, and may not even have an address to receive an ID or birth certificate in the mail. Having a caring and knowledgeable advocate is essential during the process of securing an ID and that is why RS is here.

Last week a man came to RS who desperately wanted to work but didn’t have the ID required to complete a job application. He was referred to RS for help obtaining his ID and stayed for a hot, nutritious meal and to use our RS Internet Café. He had been living out of his car, trying to get his life back on track but when his car was stolen, so was nearly everything he owned, including his ID. He had so much he wanted to be, but without his ID he was trapped.

This year RS launched the “I’D BE Campaign” and has helped over 800 people secure their ID and take their first steps towards self-sufficiency. In 2017, we want to help even more people get their ID and start living a life of stability and dignity. With an ID they have the opportunity to be housed, employed, educated, healthy, and involved. Through the generous support of donors, RS staff is able to evaluate individual needs, work together with clients to navigate the complicated application process, secure additional needed documentation, and provide a voucher to pay for the IDs.

It costs about $25 to pay for an ID. For many of our clients, the cost and the lack of understanding of the process puts that ID just out of their reach. It may only cost $25 for the ID but the support and services RS offers along the way are also vital.

At times our country has revealed itself to be deeply divided over pressing issues such as immigration, economic policy, education, health care, public benefits, and ease of voting. Perhaps where we will find common ground is in working together to ensure that all of our neighbors, especially the poor, can secure the ID they need to access privileges, services, and rights without complication or undue burden. It might be just the right place to start.

Join with us as we continue to advocate for our most vulnerable neighbors. Become a monthly sponsor of the I’D BE Campaign today.

frjustin+reconciliation+services

Article by Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director of Reconciliation Services.
 

Happiness is a Little Boy with a Pitcher of Lemonade

“What do you like about going to Reconciliation Services and helping serve the Friday night meal?” I asked my nine-year-old son.

“I like making people smile,” he answered.

Who can resist smiling at a cute little boy with glasses working the room with his lemonade pitcher in hand? Some of the guests at RS have even offered him a few coins or a small tip, to which he always refuses, gratefully.

I have been taking my three sons to serve the Friday night meal for many years. When my oldest son was a baby—he’s 14 now—I would wear him in a carrier on my back so I could help out on Friday nights at RS. 

Now, each of my boys fall into their familiar duties when we arrive to serve. My oldest son likes to run out trays full of plates of food. My middle son bounces between back-of-house food prep and serving plates to guests. And then there is my youngest, my nine-year-old, too small to carry the trays, too distracted to prep the meals, too social to stay in the back. 

In the midst of these bustling Friday night gatherings, my nine-year-old serves with joy and zeal. He fills up pitchers of lemonade as he walks around the first floor dining area. He offers refills. He smiles. And often the mood of the room begins to change. 

RS offers an alternative to the “soup kitchen” model that moves folks through a line as they collect their meal on a tray. Guests arrive for the Friday night meal and find a place to sit around common tables with other friends and neighbors from the community. As they are sitting and enjoying conversation, volunteers serve them dinner. No lines, no balancing trays, but a simple meal served in a dignified way by volunteers who care, like my kids.

I am finding that cultivating a zeal for service and a love of neighbor bears fruit with consistent and persistent work. For me, that means I often take my kids along with me to serve. I can talk about serving others and caring for my neighbor, but I also need to show them what that might look like and they need to have opportunities to practice it. 

I don’t shelter my kids from the challenges of serving others. Sometimes the bus stop outside the RS front door is thick with tension, angry voices, sad faces, and desperate pleas. Sometimes it is a welcoming hub of smiles and hellos. We don’t always know what is waiting when we set out, but if we hesitated because of fear or discomfort, we would also miss the joy. It is good to gather items to give, but the lessons that are born from the giving of oneself, cannot be underestimated. Holding the arm of an elderly homeless man while he takes his seat, seeing the faces of young kids come through the door to have dinner, and hearing the strange murmurings of a mentally ill young woman, remind us that there are real people on the other end of our giving and that our time and attention are our most treasured gifts.

I try not to squelch their joy and zeal. One time my boys wanted to bring their Halloween candy to RS to hand out at the Friday night meal. It was hard to resist the urge to talk them out of doling out their artificial, sugary treats, but I did. As they shared their candy, people smiled and remarked about how generous they were to give up their candy. It may have just been candy, but it was their candy and they wanted to give it away. Why would I say NO to them giving their own stuff away? All of my boys play the piano, each to a varying degree of ability and complexity. Whether it is a clunky attempt at Christmas carols or the opening theme to Star Wars, each time they sit at the old, out-of-tune piano on the first floor of RS they offer up their talents, their joy, for everyone present. I need to allow them the freedom to be joyful and to offer whatever they have to give. 

I want to cultivate a love for people, not merely a habit of serving people. If we merely approach acts of service as part of a checklist for our holiday generosity or a way of fulfilling community service hours for school or club recognition, then we miss out on the deep well of relationship and community that comes from regular involvement in serving others. When I point my children back to the people they are surrounded by, the faces they see each time they are there, I can help them create stronger connections with the people they are serving, not merely the act of serving. They begin putting a name with a face and giving high fives when they enter the building. They become regular participants in the lives of others, not distant benefactors supporting a generic cause.

So whether it’s passing along Halloween treats, playing an off-beat and out-of-tune carol, or walking through the room filling up glasses of lemonade, let loose the joy and zeal of the youth. We have much to learn from them and they have much to offer. 

Article by Jodi Mathews

Give, Do, Be: My Kids Call Me to Action

I remember the first time I really saw homeless people. I was in the backseat of the car riding through downtown San Francisco with my family. As we waited for a stop light to turn green, I pointed out to my Dad all the people just sitting around waiting for the bus.

“Honey, they aren’t waiting for the bus,” he said. “They live there.” My heart sank. The weight of his words were too heavy. I didn’t say anything else about it. I simply cried, quietly.

At the time, we lived in a huge Southern California city. I had seen many families and individuals come to the church where my Dad was a pastor and ask for assistance. People who needed help with utilities, food, gas money to continue on their way, would come through the doors of the church. My Dad would take time and listen and try and discern how to best help. The concept of caring for those in need had always been deeply foundational to my worldview. But it had also been very abstract to me until that day in San Francisco, that drive.

Now I am a mother and my three sons are growing up in a diverse urban community. They are confronted daily with people in need, homelessness, and panhandling.

My kids often see things so simply, so concretely. A few years ago, our Sunday drive to church took us past the same corner each week. There was almost always someone standing and asking for money. The faces changed from week to week but the presence of someone with a cardboard sign had become a familiar sight. When my oldest son started to see that this was a regular encounter he decided to put a cup with change next to his seat in the car. That way when we rolled up to the intersection he could give his coins to whomever happened to be standing there that Sunday. He would reach his little hand out the very back window of our minivan and offer his few coins.

Now our morning and afternoon drive to and from school takes us past several busy intersections where men and women are standing on the corner with their signs in hand. As the weather turned milder, we noticed more folks on more corners. My youngest son is usually the first to ask, “Mom, don't we have anything we can give him?”

Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. And when we pass six to eight different folks each day on our commute it can be hard not to become desensitized to the fact that they are even there. Sometimes I’ve found myself rolling up just far enough so the person is out of my periphery. Or, I’ve been tempted to hit the gas and zoom through the yellow light so I won’t have to wait out the next light right next to a smiling sign holder.

These encounters have made for interesting points of conversation and learning for my children and for me. They are a reminder to me that how we respond matters.

In their innocence and curiosity, my kids are the ones that brought to light this need to consider our response to the guy standing on the corner asking for money. Their pleading for me to give something, their questions about why I can’t help, showed me that we needed to do something. We needed to consider ways we could honor the panhandler on the street corner. We needed a plan. Here’s what we came up with:

First, be kind. Sometimes we have something practical to offer and sometimes all we have is a prayer in our hearts and a smile on our faces. Smiles have this amazing ability to diffuse and disarm. When we roll to a stop and there is someone asking for food or money and we have neither to give, we can still honor them with a kind face and a smile. I think it may be worse to be ignored or disdained than to be without money or a home.

Next, we planned ahead to give. When the weather is hot, we keep a small cooler with water bottles inside it to offer folks standing outside. When the weather turns colder, we pack ziploc bags with hand warmers, socks, granola bars, nuts, etc., to hand out. One time, we even put a small chocolate bar in with some winter essentials to give away. I remember the look on one guy’s face when he took the bag and then noticed the chocolate. He smiled and kept waving to us long after I had started driving off. His response warmed our hearts.

Lastly, we planned ahead to serve. Places like Reconciliation Services put in hour after hour, day after day, year after year serving and caring for people in need. Helping serve the Friday night meal, volunteering to help with food pantry, organizing a donation drive or a cleaning project, are practical and meaningful ways for us to care for others. My boys and I try and serve or volunteer at RS regularly, knowing that although we may not always have money or food to give, we can offer our time. We would love you to join us. You will discover that there are many ways to serve!

Having a plan for how to respond, whether through giving, serving, or our kindness, has softened my heart towards the folks I see standing on the corner. I don’t want to ignore or avoid them. That’s why I’ve taken cues from my boys. I want to see the person standing there and strive to honor them, at the very least, with my kindness.

Article by Jodi Mathews

Thank you—together we have achieved incredible things!

As we near the last couple months of 2016, it strikes me how exceptional last year was and so I'm so excited to share all that you made possible!

With the launch of this new website, thousands have joined our cause and subscribed to ‘Venerate’, our compelling bi-monthly e-newsletter. In 2015, your support helped expand Emergency Services staff to include a full-time intake specialist and two new full-time case managers; Self-Sufficiency Services grew too and helped reveal the strengths of our vibrant community by providing group therapy to 62 women and individual therapy to 24 women. We also launched our RS Internet Café, transforming Troost from a dividing line into a gathering place where 687 people found a place to belong while participating in our "digital survival" classes, enjoying coffee, computers and gigabit internet. 

A SnAP Women's Therapy Class with Program Manager Sylvia Goodloe, LMSW pictured top center.

A SnAP Women's Therapy Class with Program Manager Sylvia Goodloe, LMSW pictured top center.

Our economic community building programs connected hundreds to stable income and meaningful work. The Foster Grandparents program mobilized an army of 100 low-income senior citizens who volunteered over 91,000 hours in 30 schools to mentor at-risk children. For the 12th year, RS served as fiscal sponsor for the Troost Festival to foster friendships and dialogue across Troost Avenue. In November, RS Social Ventures, Inc.—a C-Corporation and wholly-owned subsidiary of RS—was established to create new jobs for our community and to enhance our sustainability. 

On behalf of those we serve, thank you for your generosity, prayers and encouragement as you have so faithfully given to support our work! If you'd like to read our 2015 Annual Report in its entirety you can do so here.

Article by Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director of Reconciliation Services.
 

Digital Survival

Potential. Possibility. Progress. These are three words that can describe the modern world we live in. The advent of faster, stronger technology has touched every facet of our American lives. We have the ability to travel thousands of miles in a matter of hours. We can heal illnesses that in the past would have wiped out whole populations and we can access information at a speed faster than we can process it. Just a few generations ago, these things would have been considered nothing short of magic.

Our Digital Survival class might be described as ‘nothing short of magic’ by many we serve in our RS community. It is a class that teaches digital literacy to a community that is impacted profoundly by the digital divide. A recent survey done by Google Fiber found that 17 percent of Kansas City (roughly 80,000) do not have access to the Internet. Of that number, 41 think the Internet is irrelevant and 28 percent lack access. Demographically, 44 percent are seniors, 46 percent are African-American, 42 percent make less than $25,000 a year and 64 percent have a high school education or less. These numbers are directly representative of the community that RS serves.

Many of our neighbors live in a world where they see great opportunity in the form of tools for technology and information, yet they can't move forward. Many experience feelings of frustration and confusion, but they are often too intimidated or embarrassed to ask why this is the case. More importantly, the majority of our neighbors don’t know how to change their situation. They can see the potential, possibility and progress all around them, but they are painfully aware of their inability to access it. This inability has several root causes: for some it's the lack of education, for some it's an ignorance of computer technology that borders on superstition, but for the majority it is a simple lack of access to the technology itself.

At RS cafe, we offer free Wi-Fi to the neighborhood. This allows those who have the technology such as a smartphone to get online. Once there, they may look for housing, find a loved one, or as you may have read in our Venerate article about Fr. Chris they can find employment through Resolve Staffing. Many however, have the technology, such as a low-grade smart phone, but they don’t know how to use it. That’s where our Digital Survival Class comes in. We help them discover the tools that are already at their fingertips. At RS addressing the digital divide is an important aspect of advocacy because it represents a means by which the community we serve can find dignity and solutions to become community sufficient.

Poverty isn't something that is easily solved and digital literacy is only one piece of the puzzle, but in this modern world it is an important piece. For that young woman who desperately needs a job, getting an email set up and having a computer to help sign up for daycare is the very thing that can make or break her life situation.

Article by Fr. Deacon Turbo Qualls, RS

Reconciliation Starts With Me

I knew when she shoved me off the sidewalk into my car that things had gotten out of hand. How did we go from good friends to this? We went to school together. We ran on the same track team. We were even in the same youth group.

She had cut off our friendship unexpectedly and without explanation and now it seemed that she couldn’t stand the sight of me. I was utterly confused. I truly had no idea what I had done or said that caused her to end our friendship so abruptly and painfully.

I remember talking to my Mom about this severed relationship. Why was this former friend being so rude? Why wouldn’t she talk to me? What had I done?

My mom encouraged me to be vulnerable and to be open to this friend, to seek her out and try and understand what I had done. She told me that I may have to be the one to take the first steps to restoring our friendship and that meant I may need to ask this friend’s forgiveness.

It didn’t matter what, if anything, I had done. What mattered was what I would do with the realization that my friend was hurting and angry and, that I may have played some unknown role in that.

I wanted to be reconciled, to have our relationship restored. Was I willing to make the first move?

Reconciliation can be defined as restoring friendly relations, bringing together again, fence-mending. The Greek word for reconciliation is katallasso, which literally means “to change; to restore to favor.” When we effect a change we cause something to happen, we act. But what if there is conflict and tension without the clear understanding of our role in it? What if that conflict and tension goes deeper than a simple offense or act of insensitivity?

Many people in my community and several who come through Reconciliation Services carry the heavy burdens of trauma and injustice. I have found myself in situations where my very presence seemed offensive and produced discomfort. What I represent, what I have, what I don’t have to deal with--may be reminders of another person’s disappointments, disadvantages, and struggles.

Fr. Justin Mathews’ recent insightful and honest article about white privilege garnered many heated remarks from readers, some declaring that “we don’t have to apologize for who we are.” The danger of this attitude can be that when we encounter conflict and offense we inevitably respond by shoring up walls and building a stronger defense of who we are. I’m suggesting that reconciliation requires something different. Reconciliation requires restoration and change, not justification. Reconciliation calls us out from behind those walls and invites us to a place of common ground, to build fences and “to restore favor.”

On our better days, we might readily apologize for something we did that was wrong or something we said that was hurtful. What about asking forgiveness for something we didn’t personally participate in, like redlining, slavery or segregation? Can we stand with those who have been degraded, abused and forgotten, striving to see what they see and feel what they feel? If we are seeking true reconciliation does it really matter whether or not we can pinpoint our specific role in an offense or injustice?

In the Orthodox Christian Church we begin the season of Lent by asking forgiveness of one another. It is a fresh start to a season of deep prayer and contemplation. We literally ask forgiveness of and embrace each member of our church, those we know well and those we don’t. We ask forgiveness of the children and the adults, those we may truly have offended and those whom we know we have not. We do this because we understand that in order to be reconciled to God we must first be reconciled with one another.  We seek to be aware of our role in reconciliation, our struggle to take first steps. For those things known and unknown, realizing that although we may not have wronged the individual standing in front of us, our separation from or offense against anyone hurts our whole community.

“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see God,” it charges in Hebrews 12:14. Pursuing peace, striving for reconciliation, is hard work. It is an active working to restore favor, not a hope that someday it may come.

I wish I could say that when I tried to talk with my old high school friend about the dissonance between us that she opened her heart, that she wanted reconciliation too. Unfortunately, she remained distant until I left for college. It was a great sadness for me at the time. I learned through that struggle though, that reconciliation is first and foremost my own personal journey towards restoration. We may not know how our heart’s desire for reconciliation will be received, but the best way to find out is to take the first step.

Article by Jodi Mathews

Deconstructing Dominant Narratives as an Act of Veneration

White actors in blackface, depictions of slaves as grotesque beasts, and justifications of the KKK as a peace-keeping institution are among the many controversial features of D.W. Griffith’s 1915 Civil War epic, The Birth of a Nation. The film hit the silver screen as one of Hollywood’s first major motion pictures with an unprecedented budget for its time. A cinematic marvel, it featured some of the earliest uses of panoramic long shots and night photography, as well as impressive large-scale battle scenes and sets. It was a commercial success and was even shown at the White House under President Woodrow Wilson. The film’s impact cannot be underestimated.

For all its innovations, The Birth of a Nation is equally laden with negative racial stereotypes. These stereotypes supported racially prejudiced dominant narratives–commonly held understandings about history or culture that gave preference to the dominant class. The film features white actors in blackface, and depicts black slaves as unruly, savage and subhuman. The film climaxes with a scene depicting an all-white heavenly multitude assembled around a fair-skinned Jesus. Aside from the racist images, the most influential ideas communicated in the film are that the Civil War was not about slavery; black participation in politics created anarchy in government and the KKK used reasonable methods to restore order to the South.

Like today’s entertainment, The Birth of a Nation channelled common interpretations of current events and solidified these ideas in popular culture. Racist conceptions of slave life and inaccurate understandings about the war were perpetuated in both entertainment and historical scholarship, and they have continued into the present day. In fact, I was taught that the Civil War was not about slavery in an American History class I took at a Texas community college. One of my professors once said that the Civil War was one of those rare instances when history was written by the loser (the former Confederacy).

The Birth of a Nation embodies several examples of dominant narratives. The most prominent narrative running throughout the film is the idea that institutional slavery and the establishment of the KKK were justified because blacks are somehow prone to violent behavior and need to be controlled. These are not simply out-dated prejudices, but are still very much alive. Consider the recent attempt to downplay the severity of slavery in response to the First Lady’s comments about the White House having been built by slaves or a recent police video in which an officer voiced the opinion that black people may have “violent tendencies.”  These stereotypes feed dominant narratives that not only omit other voices, but fail to recognize each person as a unique living icon worthy of veneration. In this case, veneration looks like honoring someone by listening to a story that may run counter to popular prejudices or a dominant narrative.

I am guilty of participating in these negative dominant narratives. Some of these narratives I’ve mentioned in my blog, Approaching the Homeless as Icons of Christ or Problems to be Fixed. I often make assumptions about others and create caricatures out of them. When someone asks me for money, I judge their character or assume the worst about their situation. Like The Birth of a Nation, I allow my prejudices to influence my opinions about people and I distance myself because of it. Some of these narratives are rooted in white privilege - social benefits I have not earned yet nevertheless enjoy by virtue of my racial and social background.

Someone recently pointed out to me that while I can choose to not think about race or issues surrounding skin color, people of color do not have that privilege. I can choose to live in a “post-racial society” by surrounding myself with people for whom race is not a significant factor. I can construct a dominant narrative about the world that is free of racial tension. I can choose to close my ears to the experiences of those who have been disenfranchised or who have suffered because of institutional racism, simply because it does not affect me on a personal level. I am working to deconstruct this narrative nearly every day and I need grace to be open enough to listen to the stories of others.

St. Paul instructs his first century multi-cultural church, “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:9). This is done—as he later says—when we “mourn with those who mourn,” and in my case, when I listen to other narratives.

This year, another film is being released titled The Birth of a Nation. It is set over thirty years before the Civil War and tells the story of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion of 1831. Will this version receive as warm a welcome as the 1915 film? Unlike the original Birth of a Nation, Nat Turner’s story is not one of victory, and it did not result in the permanent liberation of slaves. Turner’s rebellion was bloody, wrought with complicated ethical questions and problems. Will those questions be probed, or will the film catch criticism for glorifying racially-motivated violence and sedition?

I believe the film will be an opportunity to listen to another story, one that runs counter to the dominant narrative. The Birth of a Nation tells a story defending the legitimacy of slavery and racism, and Nat Turner’s story challenges us to look at our history and the conditions of slavery that pushed people to revolution. For me, it will be yet another chance to deconstruct a dominant narrative. It will be an opportunity to mourn with those who have mourned throughout our history. It will be an opportunity to listen.

Further reading:

Redefining Black Film, Mark A. Reid
Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film, Ed Guerrero
“Arts of the Contact Zone,” Mary Louise Pratt
“The Social Construction of Race,” Ian Haney Lopez

Article by Jonathan Reavis

Acknowledging White Privilege: An Act of Veneration

Ed, a middle aged white man from North Carolina, took the microphone and said, “I frequently observe in myself a lot of racism. I flee it by fleeing social media and internet usage ... but it comes up anyway, over and over. It comes up especially when I hear the term ‘white privilege.’ I ask you, how can I combat this?” Giving up the microphone, Ed, sat down. We were both attending the annual St. Moses the Black Brotherhood conference.

I first met Ed a few years ago when he visited my church. He stayed long after others left the sanctuary. Ed loves to polish brass for the churches he visits and he’s meticulous. He even carries with him a kit of soft bristle brushes, homemade paste and scraps of rag. As he polished the furrows of a single candlestick from the altar, he revealed beauty hidden under the wax, the soot and the stain. The vulnerability and thoughtfulness of Ed’s question at the conference was as thoughtful and as revealing as his work on our church brass!

I have thought about that moment at the conference for some time now. What impacted me the most was Ed’s vulnerably in exposing his heart in front of a large group of primarily African American people. Ed broke the silence and took a risk. He began by saying, “I frequently observe in myself a lot of racism.” I remember thinking, “What would our world be like if more of us white people were willing to be this vulnerable?”

Like most white kids raised to be “Midwest nice,” my parents would not tolerate racism in our home. I don’t remember a single instance when my parents spoke in a racist way. In fact, I thought little about racism until about a decade ago when I read an essay by Dr. Peggy McIntosh entitled, “White Privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack.”  It was then that I began to understand more clearly how racism works and how it relates to me.

Dr. McIntosh writes,

“As a white person, I realized I had been taught about racism as something that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects— white privilege—which puts me at an advantage.”

As a white man I had no problem acknowledging that racism was a real struggle for many. However, I had never considered my participation in the perpetuation of racism by default, by not acknowledging how I benefit from it. Dr. McIntosh helped me to realize that racism is not only individual acts of meanness but an invisible system conferring dominance and preference on my group. This is white privilege!

I benefit from a society that is still entangled in racial bias - a society where my skin color does not put me at a disadvantage. I don’t get tailed by police when I drive through nice neighborhoods in my rusty Ford. I don’t get followed around while I shop. My name on a letter or resume does not provoke questions about my race or intelligence. When people engage me, I am automatically perceived as financially stable.

My white privilege became especially real to me recently. My friend and I both have teenage sons. I’m white and he’s black. I’ve never had to teach my son how to act if police see him playing with a toy gun. He has. I’ve never had to caution my son that people may assume he is up to no good when out with his friends. He has. I’ve never had to explain to my son that no matter how smart he is or how hard he works, he will always be seen as inferior by some people because of his skin color. He has!

Dr. McIntosh writes,

“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.”

My personal knapsack came with economic, educational, gender and racial privileges. Acknowledging this privilege is not about feeling guilty or disavowing my heritage. Being born a white male doesn’t automatically mean I am a racist! Rather, in acknowledging my white privilege I am choosing to use this privilege to help others who unjustly bear burdens I do not.

St. Paul wrote, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). To acknowledge my white privilege is to engage the faith that was given by a Savior whose first public sermon began by proclaiming ‘liberty to those who are oppressed' (Luke 4:18). Racism is a heresy, a rejection of the idea that every person is made in God’s image and likeness and worthy of veneration. As a Christian I am compelled by the Gospel to acknowledge racism, to reject its every form, and to repent for it in my life and, where I discover it, in the life of my forefathers.

Ed’s vulnerability at the conference reminded me of things I had read and seen through my work at RS. Breaking silence and taking risks to talk about the impact of racism and white privilege is an act of veneration and love. Like Ed, I desire to be meticulous about cleaning away the wax, the soot and the stain left from the legacy of slavery, racism and segregation on the furrows of my heart. When I acknowledge that I have white privilege it leaves me with the question of, “What do I do with it?” For, “to whom much is given, much is expected" (Luke 12:48).

Article by Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director of Reconciliation Services.

The Gift of Veneration

The day I met Fana she was slowly walking down the middle of Troost Avenue. I stopped and asked her if she was okay and suggested she move to the sidewalk. I’m not sure she understood me then. 

After many months of seeing her on the street and in and out of our church and at Reconciliation Services, she seemed like she had become more comfortable with me. In her broken English she would ask me questions. She always asked me about my “babies.” Mostly she was quiet. I learned that she had emigrated from east Africa. She lived in a group home and had lost custody of her children due to her mental illness and instability. 

One Sunday after church I noticed how badly worn her shoes were. I asked her what size she wore. I had collected some donation items earlier in the week and I had a great pair of shoes in my car that had never been worn. They were even her size. What a wonderful coincidence I thought. 

When I took her out to the car and showed them to her she said she didn’t want them. Here I was trying to help her, to give her what she needed! I didn’t understand. But then again, I never asked her if she needed (or even wanted) new shoes. I saw her torn and dirty shoes and I thought I could fix that for her. 

The following week a friend and I asked Fana if she wanted to go to the store with us and pick out a pair of shoes. She seemed excited to go with us. It was fall and with winter on its way I tried to steer her towards some sensible options. She didn’t like what I picked out. She kept returning again and again to a pair of flashy and impractical wedge slip-on sandals. 

Against my better judgement we got the sandals. Fana seemed happy. 

The next time I saw her she wasn’t wearing the sandals. She was wearing her old tattered shoes. Didn’t she like them? Had she lost them? Had she sold them? I didn’t ask her about them because I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer. 

C.S. Lewis wrote, “I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.” 

I saw someone who needed shoes and I gave her shoes. I saw a need and honed in on a practical solution. That’s a good thing, right? But giving Fana a pair of shoes was well within the realm of what I could spare. It didn’t stretch me or challenge me. It didn’t necessitate time or attention—things that are much harder for me to part with.

I have written a quote on a chalkboard in my house by French philosopher Simone Weil. It reads, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” My giving was more of a knee-jerk-reaction to a need than an act of generosity. 

Over the course of many months of driving her to and from church and talking with her on the phone I did have more time with Fana. I learned of her sadness in losing her children. I heard her story of how she traded one world of suffering for another. I saw her frustration with her inability to understand the language and the place she now found herself in. I saw that in her tattered old purse that carried bits of plastic bags, random found objects, and what seemed like trash, she also carried the beautifully intricate beaded jewelry she made. 

St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:3 that “though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor … but have not love, it profits me nothing.” 

Fana needed so much—a home, a job, her family restored, her mind restored, and even some new shoes. But what I failed to understand till much later was that what she enjoyed about going to the store to pick out those shoes was the attentiveness that was offered to her then. 

Giving that is separated from love is empty. And generosity without attention is common and limited.

Fana is not unlike others I have met through Reconciliation Services. Trauma, displacement, abuse, poverty, mental illness, sickness, and addiction rob people of their dignity and so much more. By honoring and deeply respecting people, Reconciliation Services labors to cultivate true veneration for the people it serves. It is a generosity that is born out of attentiveness and it goes far beyond a quick fix for an immediate need. 

Fana has moved to another state. We have talked on the phone a few times since she moved. I never did see her wear those silly sandals. But in the end it wasn’t about me giving her the shoes I thought she needed—the quick fix. In the end, I needed to see that the most generous gift I could offer her was attention.

Article by Jodi Mathews

Guilt, Empathy and Veneration

I have never suffered discrimination because of my racial identity. My mother was adopted from Korea as a young child and my father was born into a white American and English family. For the most part, I have identified as white for all my life. Growing up, most of my peers were white and I didn’t really have any exposure to Korean culture. My Asian ancestry has never really been a source of discomfort for me, and my Asian physical features have only seldom been pointed out as indicators of difference. The one exception to my life of racial anonymity comes from a time when I worked at Starbucks.

It was during a slow block of time during my shift—around 2 or 3pm—when a semi-regular approached the register. He was a middle-aged white man, generally chummy with the baristas, and typically ordered a plain black coffee. I normally spent my entire shift working the bar, but on this day, I was manning the register. As the man approached the counter, I greeted him and asked what he would like to order. The man’s brow furrowed as he silently gazed through the top of my head and fixated upon the menu behind me. Assuming he had not heard me, I repeated my question, to which he responded with a grunt and crossed arms, his eyes still refusing to acknowledge me. When a few seconds had passed, a co-worker stepped in and took the man’s order without any trouble. I was later informed that the man refused to be served by me because he thought I was Vietnamese. Apparently, he had fought in the Vietnam war and was known to make derogatory remarks about Asians generally.

My gut reaction was one of confusion, but I didn’t want to react with offense. Perhaps this man had experienced trauma from his war experience. Perhaps I represented what he perceived was the source of his pain. I didn’t feel personally responsible for his trauma, and likewise I didn’t feel it right that he held a single racial group responsible for it. The experience did, however, provide me with a brief glimpse into what pain the man might be carrying, in the light of which any personal offense I held quickly faded.

Dostoyevsky says in Brothers Karamazov that “everyone is guilty for everyone else.” In the brief interaction in Starbucks the man projected blame upon me for actions that I didn’t commit. Momentarily I felt guilty for something beyond my control and initially it felt unjust. However, once the initial offense faded, I was able to see a fellow struggling human being instead of an instigator of aggression. Perhaps I would have felt similarly if I were in his shoes, I began to experience a sense of compassion.

In our culture guilt is usually utilized to demarcate the limits of moral responsibility rather than to be in solidarity with the human race, as Dostoyevsky seems to suggest. We tend to use personal guilt to confine blame to an individual person or situation. Initially I didn’t want to be held responsible for this man’s pain, especially when I hadn’t personally done anything to contribute to it (to my knowledge). Patience, forbearance and empathy for another are perhaps foreign to a common understanding about guilt and blame. However, such traits of compassion are at the core of what it means to belong to a family, and more, the human family. This image of familial responsibility is laid out in the Lord’s prayer.

St Cyprian of Carthage, a Christian bishop in the third century, wrote of the Our Father:

Before all things, the Teacher of peace and the Master of unity would not have prayer to be made singly and individually, as for one who prays to pray for himself alone. For we say not My Father, which art in heaven, nor Give me this day my daily bread; nor does each one ask that only his own debt should be forgiven him; nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation, and delivered from evil. Our prayer is public and common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because we the whole people are one. The God of peace and the Teacher of concord, who taught unity, willed that one should thus pray for all, even as He Himself bore us all in one.

The Biblical model for asking forgiveness then, is not one of individual guilt alone. In the case of my story with the Vietnam veteran, I was held responsible for things that I personally had nothing to do with. I came to symbolize an unjust war, the lack of care for war veterans and the trauma of combat. However this man is a part of God’s family and therefore a part of mine. So the question I had to ask myself was, “could I share in his guilt and pain?” There was very little I could do in the moment, but instead of rejecting this man and his pain, I experienced grace to resonate with his suffering. I experienced grace to reflect upon ways in which I could repent of a culture of indifference .

In response to the immense suffering in this world, and the guilt that we all share, I cannot simply bow my head in detached sorrow. I want to find ways to begin to think differently and to act differently. Thinking differently about guilt will affect how I pray and how I live. As St. Cyprian suggests, I can ask for forgiveness for the pain and the guilt of the whole world. Accepting responsibility for my culture and for my history is not meant to cripple me with unproductive guilt. It is meant to remind me that I am not an individual unto myself and that I am a part of the ills and cures of this world.

Veneration is the essence of our work at RS. Veneration describes the attitude and the act of respect for “living icons” – people made in the image of God and therefore worthy of profound honor. By implication we all partake of that image, and so share in the pain and guilt of this world. Veneration, then, can also include acts of solidarity and empathy. In the last few months, there have been a number of tragic events circulating the news with plenty of pain and guilt to go around. Instead of distancing myself from the pain in an attempt to exonerate myself of any responsibility, I am striving to turn away from any of the ways in which I participate in a culture of hate and fear. I am connected not only to countless suffering people, I am also connected to those structures and histories that have perpetuated suffering. So, as I pray for the forgiveness of our debts, I also pray for the wisdom to know how to act in ways that heal the wounds inflicted by our sins.

Article by Jonathan Reavis

Veneration and the Hidden Redline

When I was a child my siblings and I used to divide our playroom with masking tape to keep each other out. Now as a father of three boys I see my children doing the same thing. Why is the instinct to separate and divide ourselves from each other so strong? You've likely heard of a form of legal division in real estate development in the US called “redlining” which began in the 1930’s. At that time, literal red lines were drawn on city maps. Development proposals and home appraisals divided our cities into so-called desirable and undesirable investment zones. The real purpose was to limit investment to artificial boundaries so minority communities and the white majority could live legally integrated while functionally hyper-segregated. The practice of redlining may no longer be legal, but we are still finding ways to separate from each other.

The by-product of redlined investment was sharp disinvestment that cut deep social and economic divisions into the heart of our city, the scars of which can still be seen along Troost and in our community today. While beautiful new plazas, suburbs and public amenities were developed on one side, the other side of the redline saw development of a whole other kind, hidden from the view of the majority. Redlining built communities where traumatic life events are so common they are considered a rite of passage for some children. Redlining paved financial dead end roads that led to sweeping economic stagnation when businesses closed and jobs went south, figuratively and literally in KC. Redlining landscaped a built-environment of social instability that eventually fractured the pillars of traditional community foundations from the internal and external pressures caused by poverty, fear and hyper-segregation.

Born in the late 70’s it's hard for me to imagine a society where this all made sense. In my work at RS I have tried to distinguish my perspective and my belief about people who are different from me from the beliefs of previous generations. In all honesty however, as I have worked in struggling low-income communities, I have come to recognize there is much inherited partiality in my heart still needing to be healed. In tense moments I catch myself wanting to find a way to control others or push people away. I am tempted to treat people as though they are an interruption rather than a neighbor. There is a hidden redline in my heart. I do not intend to draw it, but it is there, inky and bold. Maybe you have seen this hidden redline in your heart too?

The redline in my heart doesn’t appear as classic racism or focus attention on certain people; its boundaries frequently surprise me. Sometimes the redline has to do with issues related to someone’s religion, cultural values, dress, speech, attitude, etc. I will attest, when the redline appears it is demanding and dogmatic. It is as if a person’s mere presence threatens what I believe, my sense of self and what I know to be true. Sometimes it feels like the ground would quake if the tremor of emotion could escape the laces of my shoes. Sometimes I want to lash out and make the redline loud and clear - you and I are different! Why is this instinct to separate from each other so strong?

I recently finished a book by a modern Orthodox Christian monk, Elder Thaddeus, who said, “Everything, both good and evil, comes from our thoughts. Our thoughts become our reality.”  While reading this book I was reminded that it is not actually an instinct that compels me to want to separate from others who are unlike me - the tendency to redline is not a part of my God-given nature - but the redline is a product of entertaining a whirlpool of negative thoughts, conscious and unconscious, about another person or their community. The redline in my heart is a result of the sinful thoughts I cultivate and these thoughts have the power to shape my reality. 

I have asked myself what to do about this problem. Can I erase the redline in my heart? Can I really change the way I think about the complex and difficult people or places I encounter? If so, how? I have come to believe that this side of heaven only the greatest saints erase the redline - people like Mother Teresa, St. Maria of Paris, St. John of Kronstadt are a few modern examples. I know from these Holy ones that there is more I can do to erase this sinful division between myself and the other, but it takes real work and intentionality.

A prominent architectural feature of Orthodox Christian churches, the iconostasis, is a contrasting type of division to the division created by the redline, but the iconostasis has helped me understand what to do about the hidden redline in my heart. 

The Iconostasis is a wall of sorts that partitions the sanctuary, where the priest stands before the altar, from the nave, where the faithful stand to sing and pray. On the iconostasis hangs icons of Christ, Mary, St. John the Baptist and other holy men and women. I remember the first time I attended an Orthodox church service how troubled I was by the iconostasis. I saw it as a dividing line separating the clergy and the laity, like a redline in the church. When I spoke to my priest about the iconostasis he challenged me to change my thinking. 

He said, “try not to see it as a dividing line but as an acknowledgement of the division between God and man that was created by man’s sin. Face the iconostasis,” he continued, “and pray deeply ...The icons adorning the iconostasis, those holy men and women, are the proof of the possibility of real transformation and reconciliation with God, and with others.” He was saying that the iconostasis does not function to divide us but to make present the possibility of our ultimate reconciliation through acknowledging and facing the division that exists.

I was totally blown away by this explanation! Over the years as I’ve prayed in church facing the iconostasis I have discovered how this holy partition functions just as he said, as a place of meeting, transformation and reconciliation.

Although the iconostasis is a holy symbol of reconciliation and the hidden redline in my heart is a sinful symbol of division, the idea that I have taken away from the iconostasis is this: I will only be transformed by acknowledging and facing the redline in my heart and praying to Christ for healing grace. I can’t simply ignore it or think cultural diversity training or some other program will erase it. It is a human stain too deeply imbedded within my thoughts for simple solutions. I must acknowledge and face the division that exists within. That is what RS is all about for me, a place where the dividing line is acknowledged and faced, prayed before and transformed by grace so that the true strength in each person can be revealed. With every gift given, every act of service delivered, every job created, I am given the opportunity to acknowledge and face the redline in my heart and to love the other in front of me, whoever they are. I want to be more like the saints on the iconostasis. Their witness encourages me to press on towards the goal.

So when I meet that difficult person and my thoughts begin to race as the redline is drawn, I pray for help to seize the opportunity, to see the person in front of me as a living icon, someone to venerate not someone to push away.  And in choosing not to redline the other by acknowledging and facing the division in my heart on a daily basis I believe we can find real healing and transformation together.

Article by Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director of Reconciliation Services.