Coffee, Ambien, Race

Caffeine speeds us up, Ambien slows us down.  Fast or slow, in America race is always there, much as we still spend huge amounts of energy denying it, trying not to face it.  Is Starbucks’ closing of 8000 stores “facing it”?  Yes, in a way, but Roseanne Barr’s follow-up tweet blaming Ambien for the racist tweet she aimed at “vj” shows how deep racism goes. Sanofi Aventis, the company that makes zolpidem tartrate (Ambien), quipped that its drug had several side effects, but racism wasn’t one of them.  There are formidable social, cultural, and economic structures in place to keep racism going strong for decades to come, but Barr’s “excuse” shows that all these together might not equal the strength of those implicit, Ambien-deep biases that might keep it going for much longer than that.

Starbucks-BiasJames Baldwin, who wrote about our racial dilemma as deeply as anyone ever has, spoke of a spiritual root to racism: a theology that equated black with evil, white with good, and supposed it was possible to clearly separate the two.  Reality is more complex than that, and inextricably mixed.  Even deeper, he said that racism ultimately came from denying, being unable to come to terms with, the “disquieting complexity” of our very selves.  We want simpler reality, simpler selves, clean and easily dealt with.  In an essay on Richard Wright’s Native Son, he comments on a speech given by the lawyer Max.  “It is addressed to those among us of good will,” Baldwin write, “and it seems to say that, though there are whites and blacks among us who hate each other, we will not; there are those who are betrayed by greed, by guilt, by blood lust, but not we; we will set our faces against them and join hands and walk together into that dazzling future where there will be no black and white.  This is the dream of all liberal men, a dream not at all dishonorable, but, nevertheless, a dream.  For, let us join hands on this mountain as we may, the battle is elsewhere.  It proceeds far from us in the heat and horror and pain of life itself where all men are betrayed by greed, guilt, and blood lust and where no one’s hands are clean.  Our good will, from which we yet expect such power to transform us, is thin, passionless, strident….”

RoseanneWill we ever get deep enough?  Will attacking systemic racism finally end up changing our deep national and personal psyches, even our spirits, without too much real soul searching?  Starting there is better than nothing, but it may not be deep enough.  Implicit bias training—all these things driven by good will—might not be either.  It’s ironic that Starbucks, of all companies, should have been the site of one—there are so many!—of our more recent, prominent racial incidents.  This was the company that not too long ago launched an ill-fated “Race Together” initiative aimed at getting people to talk about race.  But it’s also a company whose very presence in a neighborhood often signals the gentrification of that neighborhood, a process that often pushes blacks, other minorities, and poorer people away.  In this complex light, one of Barr’s latest tweets notches up the irony (or white self-pity).  You’re tired of being smeared?  Oh, really.

Posted in Diversity & Multiculturalism, Reviews & Commentary | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Emmanuel House Becomes “The Neighbor Project”

TNP-Logo1In 2016 Emmanuel House was named one of the “Top 100 Most Innovative” social change organizations in the world.  On April 6, 2018, it held by far its most successful fund raiser, a Gala at the Aquaviva Winery in Maple Park, IL.  But in between these two important events many plans were already in motion, plans that would lead towards a merger of Emmanuel House with its long-time partner The Joseph Corporation, the organization that had long done the financial literacy and counseling portion of Emmanuel House’s home ownership program. In fact, the merger was already pretty much official at the time of the Gala, and on May 15th, 2018, hundreds of people came to the Paramount Theater in Aurora to hear the first public announcement of the merger…and to learn the organization’s new name: The Neighbor Project.  Watch a short Video of the event HERE.

♦  You can also read the first NEWSPAPER ARTICLE about The Neighbor Project, Mary Wilson’s piece in the Daily Herald, which has been followed by more newspaper and radio stories since.  And you can watch a draft of the Bureau Gravity VIDEO introducing The Neighbor Project.  I narrate it, though eventually the plan is to fold in other voices with mine, voices with different rhythms and accents and tones—a style designed to represent Moving Forward Together, one of the phrases that’s been associated with the merger and the new possibilities the merger brings.

On the Emmanuel House main page on this site, I speak of helping 20-30 families disrupt their cycles of poverty, but of being poised to double, triple, or quadruple that amount.  That’s now clearly in sight.  100 families.

“I’m so glad it’s your voice on the new video,” said Hayley Meksi, Emmanuel House’s wonderful executive director for the past six years.  She steps away from us for a season to go live in Albania near her husband Lorent’s parents.  Hayley and Lorent have been among the greatest supporters of Emmanuel House from the very beginning, sacrificing their talents, time, and money to keep us going.  We look forward to their return.

At the Paramount, Denny Wiggins, Joseph Corporation’s retiring director, said, “With Rick Guzman at the head of The Neighbor Project, we can’t fail.”  So Rick now returns full time to grow the vision he and his wife Desiree had when they founded Emmanuel House nearly a dozen years ago as a living memorial to Bryan Emmanuel Guzman, Rick’s youngest brother.

Bryan House

The first five Emmanuel House apartments were here at Bryan House.

Rick and I spoke about the possible merger many months ago, and he asked me then what I would think if a name change was a possibility.  Of course, we had gone through one already.  Everything started as Bryan House.  I said my preference was to keep Emmanuel House, but that I wouldn’t want to hold things up over a name.  Since we were moving into the Joseph Corporation’s much more expansive office building and combining staffs, it seemed best to start with a new name, too, rather than favoring one organization over the other.

Besides, Bryan House (pictured above left) will always remain Bryan House.  The name is literally etched in stone by the front doors.  And all houses we added after Bryan House will remain Emmanuel House houses, and there’s even more to come that will bear the Emmanuel House name.  “I have the commitment of our Board and those around us that we will find ways to memorialize the Emmanuel House name…We’re already planning a pretty significant expansion of apartments and so one easy way would be for there to be an Emmanuel House development,” Rick wrote the family in an email right before the big May 15th event.

In my post about the Gala I mentioned above, I hinted heavily that we were going to say goodbye to some very precious things, but not to the values Emmanuel House stood for.  Of course, I’ve thought of what Bryan would have said.  I’ve had conversations with him in my head, and I can clearly hear him say this:  “Name change, huh?  Tell me, Are we going to get better at doing what we’re doing?”  “Yes,” I answer.  “Oh, then call it anything you want.”  He’d say that, I’m sure, with all the ease and good humor he brought, and continues to bring, to our lives.

Much more about The Neighbor Project soon.

Posted in Interfaith Dialogue, Teaching & Speaking | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Gospel Extravaganza 30th Anniversary Video

GospEx30-picBelow is a VIDEO of highlights from the 30th Anniversary Concert of The Gospel Extravaganza, an event I helped start at North Central College that many years ago.  A comment posted on the video I did for the 25th Extravaganza said every song ought to have been shot with a bigger camera, saved, and posted to I-Tunes, Facebook, and other places. “God bless you for doing this even once!” I think the person said.  But there aren’t any fine cameras here: just a few moments I captured on my cell phone and stitched together below.  I’ve said it before.  If you plug in speakers or headphones, you’ll catch about 25% of what the music was actually like (much less if you don’t plug in), but only 5% of the spirit of praise no matter what you plug into.

It’s one way of saying, we hope you join us live one day.

I say “highlights,” though I missed many of them, like Cassidy Campbell’s opening “Namaste,” and the instrumental interludes by the Tyvon Dukes band—actually my wife Linda’s favorite part of the evening—but I did catch a few.  Some moments of emcee Johnny “Blaze” Arrington’s great poetry and spoken word artistry, for example.  And towards the end there’s also some close-up shots, shots I was able to take because they invited me up on stage.  “I know he doesn’t like doing this, but we wouldn’t be here without him,” said Chaplain Eric Doolittle, whose leadership over the last few years has kept the Extravaganza going.

But the moment that gets the Praiseslongest shot in the video below is Phillip Armstrong leading the magnificent Cityside Singers in what to me was the song of the night, and one of the great gospel songs of the year: “Let Praises Rise From the Inside.”  Armstrong, with a great voice himself, took such evident delight in the voices of his friends.  He spoke the words “May you delight,” then raised his arms, his head back, eyes closed, as he bathed in the Cityside singers’ beautiful sung response.  They were singing in unison but moments later, when they broke into harmony, I almost put my phone down, stunned by the beauty of it all.  Luckily I kept filming.  Enjoy.  Then go back to…

  Video highlights from the 25th Anniversary Concert.

  And for some history read “Father Mike Pfleger and Other Gospel Extravaganza Memories.”

Posted in Faith, Music & Meaning | Tagged , | Leave a comment