Faith-Rooted Organizing by Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel

A Reflection on chapters 1- 5 by Rev. Dr. V. Y. Conner

The Church is challenged to find paths that help it fulfill its destiny as a bearer of God’s “shalom justice.” Shalom Justice is rooted in a worshipful acknowledgment that God the creator is present in all creation and is graciously working for the redemption and reconciliation of the world. The search for shalom means joining the struggle for justice with wisdom and long-term commitment. This is a work in progress!

We are called upon to recognize and move to action based on our interconnected set of values that construct a meaningful whole and deep ethical respect for the dignity and wealth of all God’s handiwork.  Research supports the idea that communities with high rates of violence tend to have little social cohesion – the willingness to participate in collective action for the common good.[1]

Summer 2017 we established a network to recruit a cluster of community leaders representing clergy, laity, and others who are members of the human service profession. These recruits completed the required 6-hour training, successful background checks and committed to providing support to for students in partnership with neighborhood schools. We met with decision makers for the school and the neighborhood, requested funding for background checks, received a promise but not one dollar of funding. Yes, the background checks were still fully funded by another source. To God be the glory. In the short-term, none of the targeted schools generally funded by neighborhood decision-makers accepted our preparedness and outreach to offer support. The statement below carried no weigh or push any positive momentum or hopeful impact toward our quest to be helpful:

Enhancement Ministries, Inc. (EMI) has supported the well-being of students attending CMSD schools and students enrolled in surrounding Cuyahoga County school districts through its community-based academic tutors, suspended student support and alternative learning programs since 2007. EMI continues it work, doing business as Education in Motion (EIM), providing one on one tutoring for 2nd-4th grade struggling readers. EIM worked exclusively at CMSD’s Willson School during the 2016-2017 school year.

Just as the vision for a better Cleveland cannot be achieved in one generation, neither can it be determined by a continual use of the dominant culture single story definition of what’s valuable leadership. The change needed takes multiple generations, so we need a significant sampling of a cross-sectional community outreach. Let’s all recognize the long arc of our work for reformation of ourselves, our community, and those called to a life of human service.

Somewhere in all this dissecting one’s approach to challenges, I wonder what the impact of a person’s exposure to traumatic circumstances has on their long-term approach to meeting and processing challenges? Some of us see ourselves in the children we reach out to assist. For me, I used the term “implied love.” Meaning, whereas I can’t remember being told as a child or ever hearing either of my parents or other adults in my inner circle say “I love you.” Now, remember in my conscious mind, I didn’t ever see this as a phrase missing from my environment because it was implied rather than demonstrated in connections with my well-being. I only think of this in hindsight now at my ripe old age as I read more about children and their exposure to various types of trauma, some of which punctuated my life at an early age.

How is responsiveness to love demonstrated over a lifetime for children who are raised in households where implied love is the order of the day? My love for Jesus came after I was convinced that Jesus loved me. I need to repeat this for my own self-healing – I don’t actually remember hearing an adult saying – “I love you” at any point during my childhood … even when I take time to ponder that phrase for a moment and give it some quiet though! Hmmm … during my first nine (9) years of living, I remember being yelled at for some child-like act of poor judgment but not being openly told that I was loved:

  • I remember being yelled at for taking one too many nibbles out of a watermelon stored in the fridge. Just sampling it without supervision until, lo and behold I eventually consumed, all by myself, what we called in Mississippi the heart of the watermelon. That didn’t set too well with my mom – I definitely got a yelling at and maybe a slap on the head or face too. “Implied love.”
  • Then, there was the time I had a razor blade, why I don’t recall but I do remember being told – “don’t you cut a hole in that water hose” … needless to say, I cut the hose, why I don’t know. But it wasn’t long before my mom experience low water pressure in her delivery system to the washing machine that she was filling with water. And, yes, for that stunt, I got a “beating” and had to spend the night locked away in a separate space that had once been a common kitchen area for families living in a shared housing complex … long before highrise apartments. The next day my mom came and unlocked the door and set me free … was this “implied love, too?”
  • The next little episode that sticks out in my mind as I think about my childhood (with a smile) is when my mom told me to iron a ribbon; I ironed the wrinkles out and continued ironing it until the ribbon started getting wrinkle again. Heck, I didn’t know at that time that this was an indication that I was burning actually burning the ribbon. But, mom knew so she yelled and gave me a backhand as part of my training.

These are but a snippet of what shaped me in those formative years before I experienced the death of my mom at age nine (9) and started another layer of my complex journey to reaching out to children impacted by life’s circumstances.  It’s only now that I am starting to unpack my now in the context of spiritual story narrative to honor God and those with whom I journey as we seek to do all the good we can based on our collective understanding of love, shalom justice and the call of the Church to promote change.

[1] A New Model for Addressing Youth Violence as a Public Health Issue” by City of Cleveland 2017

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