Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fighting For Change

          This past month has had many of life's normal ups and downs. I have not been motivated at all to write, which makes me sad because writing is one of the things that usually makes me feel better. I actually read a chapter for my cultural hermeneutics class about blogging and how blogging shapes people as it is a space where they can be vulnerable and think and reflect on who they are in the world. I know that my blog has helped shape me for the past three years as I have tried to be honest about who I am and the feelings I go through. As I reflect on my experiences, share them with others, and then read them later, I can see myself changing through the writing experience.
          So how have I been changing lately? In my last blog post I shared how I have felt my dreams changing. In the last few weeks, I have realized that this is not completely true. I had to read A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Powers for my Suffering and Hope class and as I read, I remembered my passion for human rights work. I thought that this passion had gone away since things in Croatia did not work out. However, as I read, I realized they had not. Of course this led to freaking out as I wondered what I was doing in Goshen, Indiana. But believe it or not, there is human rights work to be doing here, too.
          Last week, I went to a presentation by Dr. James Loewen. Dr. Loewen wrote the book Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. He was speaking at AMBS about racism and what we should be doing. One area of research he has been involved in is sundown towns. He writes on his website, "From Maine to California, thousands of communities kept out African Americans (or sometimes Chinese Americans, Jewish Americans, etc.) by force, law, or custom. These communities are sometimes called "sundown towns" because some of them posted signs at their city limits reading, typically, "Nigger, Don't Let The Sun Go Down On You In ___." Some towns are still all white on purpose. Their chilling stories have been joined more recently by the many elite (and some not so elite) suburbs like Grosse Pointe, MI, or Edina, MN, that have excluded nonwhites by "kinder gentler means." It turns out that Goshen is a sundown town. At the presentation I went to, several African American women spoke up saying that they grew up in Elkhart and knew that they could not be in Goshen at night. They would go in for a sports event or such, but then made sure they left before sundown. This terrible part of Goshen's past is only now being recognized. The Community Relations Commission is trying to pass a resolution in City Council that acknowledges that Goshen had these racist policies, they were wrong, and they will not happen again. I went to the Commission's meeting tonight and was able to hear about the process they have gone through to try to pass this resolution, as well as working on future strategies and plans to eliminate discrimination in this town.
          I am excited to hear about this work that is happening! As I have learned a lot about race in the past couple of years, it is good to know of initiatives that are moving forward and ones that I can be a part of. I am wondering what an internship would look like (I am required to do an internship) with the Community Relations Committee as I would take on special projects related to diversity and human rights issues in Goshen. It was also interesting to learn about sundown towns as I have thought about my own racial autobiography. I have now had to write two different racial autobiographies... first for my race and gender class in undergrad and last semester for my church and race class. I have written that I have grown up in all-white towns and thus have not had contact with people of other races. I now realize, though, that it was on purpose that these towns were (and still are!) mostly white! Berne, Indiana, where I lived from age 10-18 is on the list for sundown towns in Indiana. This history makes me so mad, but also gives me the motivation to work for social change.
          On Sunday I met with a friend who is at Goshen College and his enthusiasm for wanting to make a difference in the world and address social problems reminded me of my passion for social change and social justice. I think through the hard realities of the past two years, I have forgotten this. At EMU I was surrounded by like-minded students who shared my dreams and had professors that encouraged us to try to make change. And we were able to do it! I got to help pass a resolution at EMU! But since graduating, I have not taken these skills with me. I have become jaded by the pessimism of people as well as the reality that life is not like college. But talking with this friend, and learning about Goshen's resolution, I am finding these dreams again and thinking about concrete ways I can contribute to change around me.
          After the Commission's meeting, I had tea with an awesome coworker of mine and we were able to talk about some problems we see, but then also form ideas of how to fight for change. It felt so empowering to brainstorm together as well as just sit together in solidarity. We even talked about starting a Women's group here in Goshen to empower each other and other women. We don't want to live in a white patriarchal society and so we can decide to work together against some of these structures we see in place. And so even though we talked about some hard stuff happening (race and gender issues) I felt excited thinking about organizing again and finding ways to make social change right here in Goshen, Indiana.

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