Can Anti-Racism Win This Round?

SIGNS OF HOPE TRANSCEND FAILURES OF HISTORY

Gathering on the Decatur Square, June 2020

We eye each other warily, a group of six adults: two young white women, two older men – one white, one black, one young black woman and one grandmotherly black woman. We live within approximately the same one-mile city area, but beyond a passing acquaintance with the other young white woman I have never met any members of my group. We are one of a dozen similar groups spaced out in the city recreation center auditorium. We’re there at the invitation of the city and a loosely-organized interfaith group, in response to interracial tensions we hope to calm. Perhaps even heal.

After going around the circle introducing ourselves we look at the hand-outs we’ve been given on arrival. The sheets say things like, What would you like to know about others in your group? What would you like them to know about you? Do you have thoughts or questions about the changes that are happening? Please share.

We begin with carefully edited stories of who we are. Within a very short time, though – it’s the 60-something black man who issues the first challenge – our conversations become more raw and our stories closer to the truth. My initial enthusiastic openness quickly turns into defense and self-doubt, tinged with fear. But this is the first of what will be many talks, many tears, and small victories. We believe things are changing. Not without pain, and not as fast or as far as we wish, but all of our eyes are a little more open and there’s optimism all around. Despite so much turmoil here and everywhere, the future holds promise of better days.

But this is not 2020. The above happened in 1964 in Decatur, Georgia, a decade after Brown v Board of Education officially ended segregated schools – it had taken that long for the Supreme Court decision to work its way into reality in my town. I was pregnant with my youngest child, who would go from first grade to high school graduation, unlike her two older siblings, without ever being in an all-white classroom.

In that and subsequent gatherings we eventually got comfortable with each other. A neighbor of the young black woman would become a friend and colleague, and later the first African American Mayor of Decatur. I went on with my life, satisfied that the world was getting better. I eventually moved to San Francisco where everything felt, if not exactly like the Summer of Love, at least like a confirmation that love would prevail. I joined interfaith vigils after senseless murders of young black men. My church hung a Black Lives Matter banner next to its rainbow flag and All Are Welcome proclamations; we became a Sanctuary community, with energetic fellow members going to work in behalf of those seeking asylum and refuge. Even though the federal government seemed usually to be working against what I see as justice, I was certain we were on the right path and that justice would prevail.

Decatur Protesters, June 2020

Then came 2020.

How did I get it wrong for nearly sixty years?

The answer may be in Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to be an Anti-Racist. Too many people, especially white allies of black and brown justice movements in which I’ve been so comfortable most of my adult life, self-identify as “not racist,” and then figure all is well, Kendi said in a recent PBS NewsHour interview. But “the opposite of racist isn’t not-racist,” he says; “it’s anti-racist.” Kendi kept returning to the word “policy.” The need to re-imagine policy, the “striving for policies” that will indeed bring justice. I think, in these past nearly sixty years, I may have fallen a little behind in the policy area. That business of getting policies enacted at the local, state and federal level. Sixty years of good will did not necessarily equate to justice.

Ibram Kendi is an historian, a professor of history and international relations, a leading anti-racist voice and the youngest ever (at 34) winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2016 for Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. While I was working on this piece my very wise daughter-in-law posted a link to a podcast Kendi recently did with professor/lecturer Brene’ Brown featuring this tagline: The heartbeat of anti-racism is confession, admission, acknowledgment, the willingness to be vulnerable, and the willingness to identify the times we are being racist. In that podcast Kendi again often invokes the policy word.

I think I know what I got wrong. Maybe not the confession, admission, acknowledgment, even willingness to be vulnerable – but too little attention to what’s going on in the policy area. Policies at every level have got to change. The good news is, I believe this is beginning to happen. Abolishment of choke-holds and no-knock invasions are a step in the right direction; if Georgia cleans up its voter suppression efforts it could set a lovely example for other states where voter suppression is just another reality.

For those of us proud citizens of progressive California, the sight of police officers in Oakland kneeling alongside the protesters seemed an optimistic start. But one of the most eloquent statements of the nationwide white/black/old/young determination to change was pictured online, posted on Facebook by my granddaughter and even appeared on an inside page of the New York Times print edition last week. It’s a group of thousands of citizens of all ages and races quietly, peacefully demonstrating – in downtown Decatur, Georgia.

My Little Corner of Black History Month

In celebration of Black History Month, this space would like to share a couple of personal encounters with the Arts and Literary history of African Americana. Just because.

Benny Andrews
Benny Andrews (1930-2006)

Art first. Soon after I arrived in San Francisco, there was a gallery show of the work of Benny Andrews. Benny Andrews was just my #1 all-time favorite African American artist, thanks to having first encountered his work in my undergraduate days (R-MWC 1953, BA, Art.) As we entered the gallery my new husband Bud grabbed my hand and said, “C’mon, I want to introduce you to Benny.” Well, I knew Bud knew everybody, especially every artist alive, but personally? He had gotten hooked on art in one class during his own senior undergraduate year (Albion, 1951, BA Economics & Political Science) and since then had spent every spare moment hanging out at galleries and museums. But Benny Andrews? Could he really know Benny Andrews? And more to the point, could I possibly do anything but gush embarrassingly in front of a famous person who happened to be my #1 all-time African American artist hero? I went into panic mode. There were a LOT of people milling around looking at beautiful paintings; bunches of them were gathered around the artist. I tried to think of something intelligent I might say, but it wasn’t happening.

Benny Andrews drawing
“The Guitar Picker” (With apologies for photographer’s ghost)

Meanwhile, my good husband, all 6’4” of him, was plowing ahead, aiming straight toward Benny Andrews, with me in tow. There was no escape, and my brain was on freeze. In a matter of moments we were standing face to face. Briefly acknowledging Bud, Benny reached out and gave me a giant hug. And said, “Aren’t you darlin’ to come see my pictures!”

Sometime later we were able to buy his utterly beautiful pencil drawing “The Guitar Picker.” It’s now at the National Gallery in D.C. But just thinking about it makes me smile, and remember that gentle, kind, incredibly gifted man saying “Aren’t you darlin’ to come see my pictures.”

My other famous artist story has to do with my #1 all-time favorite living African American artist, Radcliffe Bailey. Met him in real time, after admiring his work at Atlanta’s High Museum (and elsewhere) for years, when he turned up at a milestone birthday party in California for my friend Liz Campbell Moskowitz (no slouch of an artist herself.) She introduced us offhandedly, and I said, with something less than socially acceptable composure, “OMG! You’re Radcliffe Bailey!?! I love your work! That room of your paintings is the first place I go when I’m at the High!” He was polite about my effusion, though.

Fran w Radcliffe Bailey 2.16.19
Radcliffe Bailey & me

This was a couple of years before he married Leslie, daughter of Liz and the renowned photographer Gordon Parks. I think I’m unlikely to top those two encounters any time soon.

As for the Literature area.

In the late 1960s, Bud (whom I would marry in 1992 but with whom I was not then in contact) owned a house at 2777 Pine Street in San Francisco. A graceful Victorian built in the 1870s, it sold a few years ago for three or four million – but in 1968 the neighborhood was not one you’d wander around without risking bodily harm. Bud lived in the ground-floor apartment, and rented the main house to Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver. At the time, Black Panther leader Eldridge was out on bail following an attempted murder charge. He would eventually skip the country and later return, find religion, design provocative menswear, become a Mormon, struggle with cocaine addiction and die at age 62 in 1998. That was 30 years after he’d been Bud’s tenant. “I had no problems with the neighborhood,” my husband used to say of that time; “either the cops or the Black Panthers were there at any given time; usually both.”

Kathleen Cleaver (who had answered the For Rent ad and signed the lease) would go on to earn a J.D. from Yale Law School and eventually become a distinguished lecturer at Yale and at Emory University. But between her tenancy on Pine Street and her later career she joined Eldridge in exile in Algeria, and became the mother of two. On Pine Street, she handled the family finances. Because they were chancy at best, the rent seldom arrived on time. (When the Cleavers skipped town they were two months in arrears. So my husband went to the Black Panther headquarters in Oakland and said he’d like to have his rent. You did what? he was asked. “I said I wanted two months rent. They paid.”)

Cleaver letter
(More apologies for another photographer-ghost)

When cleaning out our safe deposit box recently I found the letter at right. The letterhead is that of Ramparts, a radical publication for which Kathleen Cleaver wrote. I’d known of the letter’s existence; my husband included it in a story he once wrote, and had offered it to several museums but gotten no response. So I mentioned finding it to my daughter and said I couldn’t figure out what to do with it. “Frame it, Mom,” she said. Thus the document shown here. It reads:

Mr. Johns:

Please excuse the delay but I have been so god damned busy with these pigs and courts and chaos that I completely forgot to pay the rent. You are so very sweet to be so unobtrusive and gentle with me. I think you are the perfect landlord and I would just like to warn you that you should prepare yourself for any day now some kind of assault on this house. I think it is beautiful, I love it, I won’t go away, but the local, federal, international, secret and off duty pigs as well as reagon (sic,) rafferty, shelton, wallace, alioto, et al want to do us in, Eldridge first, then me.

Here’s the rent.

Peace, Mrs. Cleaver  

These Scary Times We Live In

Handgun“We are happy to let you know your order #6589207 has shipped . . .” read the email from some company I’d never heard of. This is an instant alarm for me. My alarm level rose when I read what it was that I had not ordered, something called Z-Ammo. Oh wonderful. Now I’m on somebody’s gun list. I had an immediate flashback to the time, about six years ago, when I wrote a mildly pro-gun control article for True/Slant.com. It went viral. I immediately began getting vitriolic emails by the dozens from unknown non-admirers including one that ended, “We know exactly where you live in San Francisco ..”  Some gun people you do not want to mess with.

My alarm level dropped back to normal when a little research uncovered the fact that Z-Ammo is a game. When in the world people find time to play all these games is utterly baffling to me, since I’ve never played the first one and I still never have enough time to finish what needs finishing in any given 24 hours. But this essay is not about the shortness of time; it’s about the scariness of these times. So my email address found its way to a toy game company and somebody affixed it to somebody else’s order? That should not result in a panic attack; but sadly the tenor of our times is such that panic is a reflex reaction.

ra

Wallet 10.19
Brand new wallet

I am still in recovery from having left my wallet in the women’s restroom at the San Francisco airport late one recent Saturday night. Not an ideal time or place to lose one’s wallet (if indeed there is an ideal time or place for wallet-losing.) Never mind the scary horror of needing a quick replacement driver’s license (Hint: Get to the DMV before 7 AM opening time on a Monday morning. Piece of cake.) Or the endless hassle of cancelling credit cards, getting new library, Kaiser, museums, transportation, you-name-it other cards, tracking down the automatic withdrawals before their withdrawal is automatically rejected. That’s the fun part.

But here is the creepy part: the knowledge that somebody out there is walking around with your photo-ID driver’s license (cancelled though it quickly became,) your business card with all contact information, and your life-at-a-glance thanks to the multiplicity of cards, credit and otherwise, we are inclined to carry. As if random strangers don’t already know the most intimate details of our life, should they choose to search. You pick up a pair of shoes at Zappo’s? Suddenly your shoe interest is accosting you on Facebook, email and wherever in cyberspace you may wish to roam. Ordering via internet being so much handier than going on an all-day shopping trip, faceless (heartless, soulless) data collectors also by now have my lingerie sizes, including the fact I order mastectomy bras and thus have cancer in my history, protective eye wear and thus have macular degeneration – I don’t even want to consider what else Big Brother has on me.Facts + Truth

I think this all would be less scary if we were not now in a national place where facts matter little and distortion of truth is accepted on a daily basis. A little paranoia is probably advisable. I am just holding my breath, though, that somebody doesn’t send me an AK-47. Charged to my VISA account.

 

God - sunrise

Eye-Witnessing Downtown San Francisco

Downtown 6.19 copsI had 45 minutes before meeting a friend at the Symphony. Bored in downtown San Francisco on a brilliantly sunlit late afternoon, at the Main Library right across from City Hall. Couldn’t go for coffee, because a friend and I were catching a quick dinner in between pre-concert talk and concert. Couldn’t hang out in the library (Duh!!) because I was still drinking my mint tea. Wondering how to entertain myself, I ventured outside, surveyed the scene and found:

A gaggle of police and security types surrounding a homeless lady, patiently explaining to her that she could not be hanging out on the Library steps with a rifle. “It ain’t loaded,” she was saying; “I ain’t pointing at nobody.”Downtown 6.19 Rifle Some friends were vouching for her. Nevertheless, the rifle was confiscated and the lady admonished not to walk around downtown with an assault weapon.

Downtown 6.19 SkateboardersAround the corner, two extremely agile skateboarders were having a contest, enthusiastically applauded by a small audience.

Back on the Library plaza, the now rifle-less lady sat talking things over, with only a few bags of belongings but still some supportive friends. Several of them seemed clearly in need of mental health services.Downtown 6.19 homeless group (In my city’s defense, San Francisco continues to make heroic attempts to address homelessness and mental health issues but the need overwhelms the problem. Thanks a lot, Ronald Reagan.)Downtown 6.19 Seagull

Also on the scene was the traditional errant seagull, surveying other settling-in homeless people, passing tourists and 6:30 traffic.

Eventually I strolled past the Library/City Hall area, a few blocks west to Symphony Hall. As my friend and I were waiting for the house lights to go down and the concert to begin, someone came down the aisle to reach his seat.Downtown 6.19 Symphony guy His evening attire included strips of multi-colored blinking lights. The ladies on either side politely made way for him. Before the conductor came onstage he unplugged himself and all was calm.

Just another twilight in downtown San Francisco. But as darkness fell, calm prevailed — and the symphony was glorious.

 

No Birthright Citizenship? EEEeeek!

This birthright-citizenship-ending business is getting personal. Surely Mr. Trump has nothing against me exactly – although one can never be sure. I don’t follow his tweets (until they are reported on real news,) but he may have access to my emails. Still, how does he feel about us birthright outliers? And where will we wind up? Stateless?

Birth Certificate - Portugese
They don’t write ’em like this any more. I mean, who even learns cursive?

Here’s the whole story. When I arrived on the planet my mother (along with my father and three older sisters) happened to be in Porto Alegre, Brazil. They’d actually been there for a little more than a decade, my dad helping start a school and my mother teaching music to preschoolers. A dozen or so of the latter were her bridesmaids in tiny matching dresses she made and oh, how I wish I could put my hands on that photo. But back to the birthright.

Since my mother (a legal, if temporary, immigrant) happened to be in Porto Alegre, I was born in the German hospital there. Brazil, being a friendly sort of country, immediately granted me citizenship.

Birth Certificate - US Parents
Will this do, if we axe the birthright citizenship?

 

Not to be outdone, the USA simultaneously granted me citizenship, under the “American Parents Abroad” act. And that, for a number of years, was that. (But is the APA still OK? Should we trust those babies born in shit-hole countries not to be inherently terrorist?)  My family came back to the States when I was too young to have started learning Portugese – more’s the pity; it is a beautiful language. I grew up hardly even noticing my dual citizenship.

Then I reached voting age. When I registered to vote there appeared a mildly ominous-seeming document stating I must renounce my Brazilian citizenship (no dual citizenship allowed in the scary 1950s.) So with hardly a passing thought to my birthright country I renounced it. This might make me okay with President Trump, I guess, though in hindsight it makes me a little sad. And conflicted. Dual citizenship is now possible, and I might want to relocate if things keep going south (or alt-right) in my chosen country.

Fast forward about a half-century. My irreplaceable Final Husband, learning I had never revisited the country of my birth, suggested we should go back. Five minutes later I was on the phone (this was the 1990s, but pre-email) making arrangements and reservations. My favorite exchange was with a hotel reservations clerk in Rio who said, “Oh, you cannot stay one night in Rio. You must stay two, three nights in Rio.” (Which we did.) The primary plan, though, was to visit Porto Alegre, and the Instituto Porto Alegre where my father had famously served.

Passports
My two 1990s passports

 

Initial plans made, we set out for the Brazilian Consulate to obtain visas. “Oh, you cannot travel on a visa,” the nice lady said to me – after granting my husband a visa. “You were born in Brazil; you will need a Brazilian passport.” Which was a little startling, but as it turns out the passport is cheaper than the visa. Small victories. In time, my new passport arrived – in my birthright name, which is not exactly the name on my US passport or airline tickets, but who’s worrying about details?

Me, actually. I figured I might get into Brazil and never get out. But all was well. We visited Iguacu Falls, surely one of the most beautiful spots on the planet (after spending the requisite few nights in Rio and taking photos ostensibly of me but really of the gorgeous girl(s) from Ipanema in the background.) Mostly, I went around smiling at everyone, displaying my passport to sales clerks and waiters and saying muito obrigada – essentially the full extent of my Portugese. Nobody didn’t smile back.

Brazil - Ipanema
Girl from CA; girls from Ipanema

Safely home, things rested for another decade or two. But now our president is saying – constitution be damned – that he might just delete that birthright citizenship. Does he mean just all those murderers and rapists storming the border, or since every immigrant except Melania is a potential terrorist, is he going for retroactive non-birthers? I.e., yours truly?

A quick call to the Brazilian consulate yesterday informed me I am welcome to reinstate my Brazilian citizenship, even if my passport has expired. But now with Mr. Bolsonaro down there wanting to chop down the rain forest – not to mention his political opponents – my alt-birthright country isn’t looking so great either. Still, hedging my bets, I’m hanging onto all these documents. And praying a lot for the whole planet.

Journey to Justice: 1300 Miles by Bicycle

DreamRider group
Jung Woo Kim and some of his fellow Dream Riders

Their stories are about growing up in immigrant families, with parents working long hours six and seven days a week and very young siblings resolutely looking after each other. But their focus is on the future – a better future for people everywhere. Humankind.

A dozen young immigrants – Dream Riders – are sharing their stories, and their hopes for the future, as they bike from Seattle to San Diego on a Journey to Justice, part of the Citizenship for All campaign. The support van traveling with them carries the usual – First Aid supplies, water, energy bars – and one not so usual essential: a lawyer. That’s because eight of the riders do not currently have legal status and their route is filled with pitfalls like immigration checkpoints. If they’re stopped they follow this protocol: Keep calm and quiet. Don’t consent to being searched. Call the lawyer.

DreamRider Bo Thai
Dream Rider “Bo Thai” talks of hazards & inspiration

The group stopped by Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco recently for breakfast and a brief press conference. Hearing their stories, and the stories of some supporters, was a reminder of how lucky America is to be a nation of immigrants – especially with immigrants like these still wanting to become citizens despite the hurdles and hostility they face.

Mi Jin Park, currently protected by DACA, spoke eloquently of being at school with her brother when they were 5 and 7, in a crowd of children waiting for permission to leave with their parents. Park would tell the teacher in charge that she and her brother had to meet their mother on the corner – and then the two would run all the way home, to their tiny apartment in a sometimes scary neighborhood. They would lock the door and look after each other. Her brother would constantly call the nail salon where their mother worked long hours six days a week, just to hear her voice and ask when she would be home. “When I think of those immigrant children now being separated from their parents at the border . . .” Park began . . . but she couldn’t finish the sentence.

DreamRiders-Joann
Calvary Pastor Joann Lee welcomes the Dream Riders

Some of the Dream Riders and their supporters entered the U.S. via harrowing journeys through deserts or wading across the Rio Grande river in the middle of the night. Some came long ago on tourist visas and simply stayed. It was very hard to meet these bright, funny, energetic young people and go home to PBS NewsHour’s report of the latest characterization of “illegal aliens” by some leaders of our country.

The Dream Riders are being sponsored by NAKASEC (the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium,) HANA Center, nd the Korean Resource Center. Any of them would welcome your support.

What do they want? Just a chance to live freely and to contribute to their community. (NAKASEC works for, among other things, Youth Empowerment, Education Access and Adoptee Rights.) What precepts do they follow? Live Right, Know Your Roots, Live Strong, Live Together.

The framers of the Constitution couldn’t have put it better,

Gun Rights? How About No-Gun Rights?

This column is about guns, and the fact that I do not like them.

Guns1I wrote about all this once long ago, on the late lamented news aggregate site True/Slant, and the vitriol that landed upon my page in response made me very glad that my T/S readers didn’t know where I lived. I mean, it was if the NRA had put out a worldwide hit on me. I’m now counting on the belief that most of my current readers are kinder and gentler – since you can sure find out where I live if you don’t already know. And I’m satisfied that most of my angry T/S readers long ago quit following this blog. We’ll see.

What has my dander up is the recent ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that somebody’s right to carry – and show off – guns in public overrides my right to live in peace without having to worry about people swaggering around with their guns in my face. Say what?guns2

I have a lot of gun friends whom I love and admire. They use their guns to hunt legal game, and I think that’s good and proper. As far as I know, none of them feel compelled to strut around their local Starbucks with pistols on their hips.

My dislike of guns could be more correctly defined as fear. I’m not afraid of guns in the holsters of law enforcement officers, believing that their carriers are properly trained (and having grown up white I never had to fear police.) I’m just afraid of guns on the hips of unknown macho guys. If they’re swaggering around at Starbucks, I will definitely throw up my latte. Do I not have ANY right to drink a latte in public without throwing up?

Guns3When I was a child of about 12 someone broke into our home – well, nobody locked their doors in Ashland, VA in 1945 so he probably just opened the door and walked in – and made his way to the second-floor bedroom of my oldest sister Jane, who let out a mighty scream. The intruder left multiple hand prints on the newly painted walls as he swiftly descended the stairs (and left by another door.) But by the time the Richmond police arrived they pronounced the fingerprints too dim to be of use, so our nocturnal visitor was never identified. My family (4 girls + parents) that night morphed from 6 people in five beds to 6 people in two beds – Jane in between my mother and father; the other three of us in one double bed. (It took us several weeks to expand back into our individual beds.) The next day, our father bought a gun. It went to reside on a shelf in the closet of our parents’ bedroom. We all knew where it was; once or twice my sister Mimi and I stood on a lower shelf and looked at it. But instead of making us feel safer and protected, the thing created more fear. Despite all his stories about working on somebody’s ranch in Texas as a boy, my sisters and I (and our mother, I regret to report) feared our father’s probable ineptitude with a gun more than we feared another intruder. We had belatedly also begun to lock the doors. All five of us – mother + 4 daughters – also feared the fearsome instrument on the closet shelf more than we feared anyone who might be confronted by it. Overruled by us all, my father soon (I think it took less than a couple of weeks) took the gun back to wherever it came from.guns4

I had one more encounter with a gun. Working as a reporter for local newspapers in Decatur, GA in the early 1960s, I was convinced by some misguided other newsperson to go to a shooting range, in conjunction with some sort of story. The people there convinced me everything was just fine and I would see how easy it was to hit the target. Eventually I fired the stupid thing, and the noise, jolt and whatever nearly frightened me to death. I probably missed the target by more miles than was ever before known.

I submit the above only as argument that people who fear guns should have SOME rights to balance whatever the “Open Carry” (read: people who want to strut around showing off their representative lethal weapons) Second Amendment rights purportedly are.

Guns5 You need to swagger manfully around with a pistol on your hip? Fine. Swagger somewhere else – like, on a shooting range. Just stay out of my Starbucks. All I want is to drink my latte in gun-free peace.

Take that, Ninth Circuit. I only wish you would.

Sixty-five Million Migrant Stories

Talk of “Immigrants” and “Migrants” is part of life today: some 65 million human beings are on the move, forced from their homes by war, flood, hunger, persecution, living in overcrowded camps, or simply walking. The talk can obscure the fact that these are 65 million individual stories. This is one of them.

Ke at Calvary 10.8.17
The author with Ke

My new friend Ke came to Calvary Presbyterian Church recently, speaking first to the entire congregation and later to a group grappling with the issue of becoming a Sanctuary Church. More on that later. Ke accompanied the Rev. Deborah Lee, Senior Program Director of Immigration, with the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, whose credentials include several decades of work for social justice despite appearing (to this octogenarian at least) to be 15 or 16 years old at most. Rev. Lee and her organization work to help vulnerable people, and to help people like this writer and others understand how they might help.

It is Ke’s story that I want to tell.

Ke came to the U.S. forty years ago as a very young child, escaping the horrors of the raging Vietnam war. If you’re old enough to remember those days you will remember Vietnam as one of the seriously ill-advised wars of our country’s history. But Ke – whose full name is Nghiep Ke Lam – was lucky to survive the perilous journey to freedom and was granted refugee status. According to this writer’s unscientific research, some 800,000 Vietnamese refugees were resettled in the U.S. in those years, not all into ideal circumstances.

Ke’s family found a place to live in an unsavory San Francisco neighborhood. When he was 7 years old he was confronted by a group of bullies who gave him the option of running for his life or fighting one of them. He decided to fight. After he pummeled the older bully to the ground the others congratulated him – an early lesson in problem-solving by violence. When he was 8 he took a year off from school to care for his new baby brother; his father had left the family and his mother was struggling to make ends meet. Once he returned to school Ke did well enough to be accepted into the city’s most prestigious public high school – but because it was too far from his neighborhood he couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity.

Vietnam war
         Vietnam War 1972                               Photo by Raymond Depardon

At 17 Ke committed a crime that would send him to prison for the next two decades. While there he stayed fit, avoided trouble and took advantage of every chance to pick up new skills and credentials. “I can fix the plumbing in your house,” he told the church congregation. “I can also offer counseling.” But he found a stronger calling: he now serves as fulltime Reentry Coordinator for the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, helping others who face the challenges he faced on being released from prison with no money and no job. A number of sources help Ke find used bicycles which he restores to working condition; he then gives them to those released from incarceration (usually having to teach the new bike owners how to ride) so they are able to seek and find work.

Will Calvary become a Sanctuary Church? We don’t have facilities to offer physical sanctuary, but could offer other levels of help such as advocacy or accompaniment (it can be scary to go to deportation hearings,) those sorts of perfectly legal things. There is no unanimity of opinion on this. Presbyterians tend to be strongly opinionated, and seldom opinionated in unison. Most of us do, though, spend time considering what Jesus might have to say about it all.

immigrants
Photo by Thomas Hawk

Meanwhile, Ke is at risk of deportation. The country to which he would be sent is not currently accepting deportees, something the Trump administration is pressuring countries to change. Also at risk of deportation are the 11+ million individuals now living in the U.S. Some of those human beings are bad people most Americans would want deported. Some of them are working hard at jobs, like Ke’s, that help others and strengthen our nation. Some of them are running businesses they’ve run for decades. Some of them have been in the U.S. since they were toddlers, never knowing any other homeland. Every one is an individual story.

And there are 65 million stories.