Laboring Together To Shape History

A speech delivered by Fr. Justin Mathews, RS Executive Director, at the 6th Annual Troost Jazz & Soul Experience on April 28, 2018.

Welcome and thank you for being here tonight to support the work of Reconciliation Services at the 6th Annual Troost Jazz & Soul Experience!

Long ago, the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes said, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” 

With these often quoted words of Scripture every generation is taught that we must labor to shape history because history’s shape is naturally circular. 

Each time we convince ourselves that through the trickle of time the shape of tomorrow will improve itself, by itself, the price we pay for repetition gets greater. If we desire the shape of our children's future to be more comley than our own past we must live and lead intentionally.  

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So I have come here today not simply to share the inspiring outcomes of Reconciliation Services’ programs over the last year and to thank you for your generous support of this work, but to say that together, even if just on this one corner of our city, we are shaping history. We are keeping history from repeating itself on Troost, and in our country more broadly, at a time when there is a note of urgency.

At RS we see day in and day out the effects that poverty, discrimination, trauma, and depression have on some of our community’s most vulnerable. That’s why we are here.

We work to seek racial and economic reconciliation one heart at a time, through strengths-based Healthy Community Initiatives, Social and Mental Health Services, and Economic Community Building. Our continuum of care offers a tested template for community healing tailored to help the most difficult-to-reach in a supportive and culturally competent environment. 

Your support of RS helped care for over 5,225 people last year! You helped us:

  • provide 19,000 hot, nutritious meals 
  • offer 5,100 hours of caring Case Management
  • provide 1,465 Birth Certificates & IDs 
  • provide $110,000 in Rent & Utilities assistance
  • provide $250,000 dental/medical assistance through the KC Medicine Cabinet 
  • offer 83 men and women over 1,200 hours of life changing trauma therapy 
  • enable 87 Foster Grandparents to volunteer over 82,000 hours in 30 schools, giving hope to children with exceptional needs
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Each moment of care, each work of mercy, each act of compassion you gave was a moment of solidarity where you stood with a neighbor in need and opened up pathways of healing that exist no other way but in this way, that we love one another.
 
It is no secret that the landscape of Troost is changing fast and many are excited to see progress. I’ve even heard it said, “Troost is all but done, let’s move on.”  

But knowing the nature of history, how can we be sure we are not repeating the mistakes that long ago cast Troost as the dividing line of our city? 

Knowing the nature of history, are we sure the conditions of families that have sweltered in the heat of poverty for generations are finding relief? 

Knowing the nature of history, are we confident we have done all we can do to love our neighbor? For shaping history may not be as simple as some think. Consider the striking similarities between Troost yesterday and today...

Yesterday on Troost, 100 human beings suffered the brutal yoke of slavery on Rev. Porter’s plantation. Today. in the top 10 zip codes RS serves along Troost thousands of families are still suffering the yoke of poverty and trauma. 

But we imagine a Troost of tomorrow where we set the GPS of our priorities and civic policies to direct us towards love for our neighbor as our ultimate destination; a Troost where we become truly free. 

For as Nelson Mandela said, “To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Yesterday, Troost was known as Millionaire’s Row, a place where only the wealthiest in Kansas City lived. Today, the largely market-driven development on Troost is pushing property values sky high again and making even student or middle income housing hard to find. 

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But we imagine a Troost of tomorrow where all can afford a place to live. A Troost where citizens take the time to plan together and build economically and racially diverse neighborhoods as a superior growth model for the health of the whole city. 

As Jane Jacobs, social activist and journalist, said, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

Yesterday, Troost was set ablaze during the Holy Week riots of 1968 after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Today, the memory of those days and subsequent dismantling of our city’s urban core still fuels the fear that keeps us divided. 

But we imagine a Troost of tomorrow where we began to heal from the wounds inflicted by racism, classism and individualism; A Troost where we face our fear of each other. 

For as the American novelist and social critic, James Baldwin, once wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” 

The reality that is unfolding before us now as the east side is redeveloped is that while economic development is underway rent is rising but wages are stagnant. A mass transfer of ownership is being transacted but the capital gains are primarily being realized by one community. The increase in the standard of living in one part of the city is resulting in a decrease of the standard of living for the poor who now are struggling to remain in their neighborhoods.

Therefore, we are working to cultivate a healthy community with those who have suffered the long dying of poverty and promise of treatments that alleviate symptoms but never deliver a cure. That is because the cure is not programmatic but personal. It is not a diet from indifference but a decision we all make to live differently. 

Tonight I am honored to introduce you to one courageous woman, a dear friend, whose 20 year journey to discover her strength and find deep healing for her wounded heart is proof that healing is possible for all of us. 

Please join me in honoring Nora tonight. Nora would you please stand… [See Video here: Reveal Strength - Nora]

Nora’s journey with RS from homeless to homeowner, from wounded heart to wounded healer, shows that when people find love and belonging at RS they magnify that that love and belonging to others. Transformation is happening one heart at a time. 

What we need is a healing movement in Kansas City; a movement born not from momentary religious or political zeal but from the firm conviction that each of us is called to take up a new manner of living, thinking and doing such things as are well pleasing to God and grounded in love. 

The devastation of trauma is the sharpening stone of poverty that cuts across race, gender, age, class and geography. So this movement must be about healing the trauma that continues to devastate poor neighborhoods in Kansas City, but it must also be about offering healing to the wealthy and those whose wounds are more easily hidden. 

All of us have been wounded by poverty and all of us have participated somehow in the wounding because we’ve been taught lies about poverty, race and place - some of which we are still unlearning.

We must be reconciled with each other. And this requires moving now from an institutional approach where organizations take action to a personal approach where organizations set the stage for people from our divided communities to take action together.

The work of RS has always centered around building relationships. It all started with food, when the primary outreach work of RS to the community 30 years ago was feeding the hungry out of a humble kitchen. That was our starting point for reconciliation -- food and community. 
 
Tonight I’m excited to share with you the next step in our mission to shape history, cultivate healthy community, care for the poor and reveal the strength in each other. I’m please to announce the launch of “Thelma’s Kitchen”. [Click here to watch Thelma’s Kitchen Video]
 
With your support tonight Thelma’s Kitchen will build upon our mission to transform Troost from a dividing line to a gathering place revealing the strength of all. In many ways it is a symbol of how we think community development can be done together. 
 
It is our stake in the ground that says we will not be moved from this place or deterred from our mission. 
 
It is our “come as you are” sign promising welcome and refuge for all.
 
It is our demand of those pushing progress to slow down enough to value people more than progress. 
 
It is our moral accounting that recognizes cash can’t heal the blight of the heart that makes even the rich poor, for that requires consciousness, commitment, capacity and connectedness. 
 
And most of all, it is our tribute to the life and love of Thelma who taught us radical love of God and our neighbor.
 
Thank you.
 

**Watch an excerpt below of this speech captured via Facebook Live!