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During a two week stretch in Summer 2017, I was privileged, and honored, to teach a Christian worldview/ethics class for Cru in Fort Collins, CO. I was told a few weeks prior that I would have a deaf couple in my class. I was asked to make some accommodations for them. For example, I was asked to send my lecture notes for each day, a day prior to this couple. That was a challenge for me because I tend to tweak my talks until the moment I deliver them. However, I did my best to accommodate this sweet couple. (I say sweet on purpose here.  One time they noticed that I was struggling with how to refer to them in class—”do I say ‘deaf’ or ‘hard of hearing'”? And they approached me during a class break, and through their interpreter, said to me, “We saw that you were struggling; it’s okay to say, ‘deaf.'”)

Workplaces accommodate the physically disabled by building ramps and elevators. Workplaces like mine, Made to Flourish, have gone to an open office configuration. However, they have accommodated introverts, like me, and built conference rooms (with doors) when I need to disengage from people (and where I can go to concentrate).

Spaces are wise to accommodate the other; and the other must also assimilate to some degree, however. Spaces have rules and protocols; those that occupy such spaces must adhere or assimilate to these rules and protocols or social norms. Otherwise, chaos would ensue.

All this has got me thinking about African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and those who govern their lives by different religions in predominantly white church and non-church spaces. To be sure, non-whites must assimilate to some degree; and whites most accommodate non-whites too. For example, those in the majority, in workplaces, should allow a Muslim to honor Ramadan and a Jew, yom kippur (Day of Atonement). A church that is predominantly white, for example, should sing songs that accommodate non-whites in their congregation. Similarly, a predominantly African American church should sing songs that accommodate whites and other non-African Americans in their congregation. A company that is predominantly Hispanic should require some degree of assimilation of non-Hispanic employees but also the same company must accommodate the needs of non-Hispanic employees too. Real inclusion requires spaces to accommodate others who are not in the majority. Such accommodating can help mitigate the isolation many minorities experience in majority spaces.

It is not assimilation or accommodation; it is both.

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On a recent delayed flight from Chicago to Kansas City, I sat next to Mike. Mike, a tall African-American man and Chicagoan, sat at the window seat; and I sat in the aisle seat. We were buckled in, and just minutes before pushing back from the terminal, and he began to have muscle spasms. I asked him if he needed to stand up? He said, “Yes.” I got up and rushed to the back to tell the flight attendant why the two African-American male passengers were now unbuckled and standing. She immediately alerted the captain. Of course, this small commotion got the attention of fellow passengers. I finally sat down and Mike thanked me. One of the flight attendants was kind enough to bring Mike a warm compress for his back discomfort. Mike was appreciative. After a few minutes, Mike began to tell me his life story. He was a former gang-banger. “In certain economically depressed neighborhoods in Chicago, this is just what you did,” Mike explained. His father was absent from the home and his mother worked long hours with the United States Post Office. Mike had an abundance of unsupervised time. He routinely saw African-Americans getting shot or killed since he was ten years old. He was shot at but somehow bullets missed him. He was once shot at while driving his car. His car windows were shattered; his dash board was riddled with bullets but again, he was not shot. He has right leg and left arm have been stabbed. He sold crack. Many of his friends and family members are now incarcerated. Even his father is serving time for selling illegal drugs. Amazingly, Mike never spent time in jail. (His grandpa was a deacon and convinced Mike to get baptized three times; and each time he did.  Mike left the church because no one took his honest questions seriously; rather, they labeled him a blasphemer.  This―not answering Mike’s honest questions―makes me so angry but that’s another article for another time.)

One day someone took a chance and offered Mike a job removing asbestos from old homes. He was making nearly $1,000 a week. His eyes lit up when he recounted doing something purposeful, and good with his head and hands. Eventually, that job ended and he said that work experience caused him to be quite reflective. He soon enrolled in DeVry University, graduated with a bachelors degree, and now travels the country troubleshooting cell towers as a part time gig. Mike admitted that his former gang life aged him and makes him “look rough” (his words), but today he is grateful for his gray beard because he did not think he would live to see a gray beard.

May we take a chance with the other and go a step further and help the other find gainful employment because we were made to work.

I attended a Kansas City CreativeMornings event on Friday, August 17, 2018 and the speaker was Katie van Dieren. Katie is a champion for community and the maker movement. She is the owner and curator of one of the world’s top indie craft fairs, The Strawberry Swing, and the co-founder of Troost Market Collective.

During her talk she mentioned this quote by Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Twain and Katie, I believe, meant international travel.

While not of us can travel abroad, we all can leave our little corner of the earth and travel locally and come close to others who are different than us. I believe if we travel and come close, we can collectively, shed prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, learned this lesson from his grandmother, “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance, Bryan. You have to get close” (p. 14). I love grandma wisdom!

I think by traveling to come close to the other, we can not only put to death prejudice, bigotry, and narrowmindedness, but we just might discover that people we thought were monsters are actually human beings who are creative and pregnant with possibilities and dreams. This has certainly been my experience. Might it be so!

My daughter, Briana, convinced my wife and I to take a 30-day break or Sabbatical from Social Media – Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  Here are few things I learned:

(1) I was still drawn to those colorful app tiles on my iPhone screen.  But without active Twitter and Facebook accounts, I was less preoccupied or obsessed with my phone.

(2) I was less distracted.  How did I measure this? I read or finished more books. I completed and/or resumed reading four books: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (Bryan Stevenson), No One Ever Asked (Katie Ganshert), I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness (Austin Channing Brown), and Brothas Be, You Like George: Ain’t That Funkin’ Kinda Hard on You? (A Memoir by George Clinton).  I also wrote a 5,500+ word draft of an essay in less than eight hours.  I suppose what I am saying is I was more productive.

(3) I can get along okay just fine without Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  In fact, I deleted my Instagram account.

(4) At times, I thought I was missing out on what was happening.  But I found other things to do: pittle in the garage, visit the driving range, imagine, journal, and rest. I feared missing important announcements.  But those announcements came via other channels (e.g., my personal email).

(5) A break from social media is a healthy move; a healthy move I highly recommend.

After this sabbatical, I hope not to be enamored or captivated by “likes” and I hope to take more frequent and shorter social media sabbaticals.

Someone asked “what is in a name?” Apparently, a lot. I met a new brother recently, his birth name is Ebenezer but he insisted we call him Ebi. This got me thinking, why? I asked him why via email to explain.  No reply thus far.  I suspect Ebi was thinking about others—he likely figured that Ebi is much easier to pronounce than Ebenezer? I remember a report that found hiring companies in cities like Boston and Chicago were less likely to call in a person for an interview if he or she had a black sounding first name (see Shankil Choudhury, Deep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them, 2015, p. 59).  The odds are greater that Shannon would be invited in for an interview; Sharniqua has less odds. I remember reading about a brown brother named Jose who changed his name to Joe.  Before this renaming, he was not getting frequent phone calls about jobs; however, after he changed his name to Joe on his resume, he started receiving more calls. A colleague, from a country in Southeast Asia, is an immigrant to the United States. Instead of using their given native names at birth, her dad let his fingers do the walking up and down the columns in a white pages phone book in search of American sounding names for his three kids. He renamed his kids; he selected Vanessa for her.  He wanted them to have a better chance of making it in America. A friend named his daughter Courtney—a gender-neutral name—because he did not want her to be discriminated against as a female. A colleague is reading “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness,” by Austin Channing Brown. Brown’s parents named her Austin after her grandmother’s maiden name, but also so she could get job interviews someday. Now everyone assumes she’s a white male. (Brown’s book title reminds me of the Scene on Radio “Seeing White” 14-part series podcast that I highly recommend.)

What’s in a name? By the likes of it, much is in a name.

 

Relocating to a new or different city is quite stressful. Boxes must be packed; boxes get lost.  Boxes seem to multiply. Furniture gets broken.  A new barber, a new home, a new doctor, new routes, a new church home, and new friends must be found. Something else must be found: being known.

After 25 years in St. Louis, MO, I was vested in the city; and I was known by classmates, by colleagues and students at Lindenwood University (St. Charles, MO), by Waterford subdivision neighbors (Ballwin, MO), by seminary professors, and by church members at West Side Missionary Baptist Church, Washington Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, Union Baptist Church of Chesterfield, the Swiss Evangelical Reformed Church of Hermann, MOand First Baptist Church of Chesterfield.

I think being known (not being famous) is a basic human need.  Everyone wants to be known. That’s why it has been a struggle since moving back to Kansas City, MO—my hometown—born, raised and attended elementary and high schools here.  It has been a challenge because I am not known.  June 2018 marks the fourth year since moving back to KCMO. When will I be known? How long will it take?

I was privileged to be interviewed by my colleague and brother, Denis Haack, Co-Director of Ransom Fellowship on that topic that continues to live on, “race in America”.  Article is here. I am looking forward to the day when we are not discussing race so much but rather, celebrating race!

Trade Schools: Alive or Dead?

I recently posted this on my Facebook page: “When I was in high school, some students boarded a bus and attended Vocational (Trade) School. Here, they learned about trades. I bring this up because I attended a half-day seminar on homelessness in Kansas City. For someone transitioning from homelessness to wanting to buy a home, access to affordable housing is a huge deal in Kansas City (because of income deficiency). One presenter said, “There are so many vacant houses that once repaired or rehabbed would be idea for affordable housing.” He also said, “We have found while the houses to rehab are plenty, the number of rehabbers is not.” So, back to how I began — are trade schools still up and running I wonder? If not, what if the church provided trade training to young people?”

For ‘Underperforming Students’

One comment from a former student grieved me although I anticipated a comment like this.  He posted this on my Facebook feed: “One of the issues is that my generation and near mine were conditioned to look down on trade school and those careers. We were told to ‘aim high which meant not using our hands or doing any sort of labor, that’s for the down and out.”  Another person wrote this, “The attitude of the student body of my school was very negative on trade school.  It was seen as remedial.  It was understood to be for people who were underperforming academically and didn’t have many other options for their future.”

I cannot say that I looked down on these peers when I was in high school because my father (Tracy Bobo, Sr.), my stepdad (Robert E. Frazier), my beloved grandpa (Henry S. Bobo) and many African-American men I knew worked in the trades. For example, my grandpa who was truly a scholar-athlete in high school and who later served in WWII in the Navy, owned and operated his brick masonry company.  My grandpa was an entrepreneur.  To say he was excellent at what he did would be an understatement!  Rather than being an underperformer, my grandpa was an intelligent brick mason and company owner.

Feel Their Absence

Once upon a time, I said, “For those who look down on our neighborhood trash collectors and don’t view their work as important, let them go on strike and we’ll quickly see and smell how important their work is.” Similarly, for those who have this negative opinion of those who went to trade school or make their living working a trade, I say that, if tradespeople would suddenly go on hiatus we would certainly feel their absence most acutely.  Think about a clogged toilet without a plumber to unclog it.  Think about a malfunctioning car without a skilled car mechanic to repair it.  Think about a sweltering hot summer with a broken AC unit and no HVAC technician to repair it. Think about the wiring needed for a recreational room without the services of an electrician.  Think about being aboard an airplane needing a repair before take-off without an avionic technician to address it.

Breakdown of the Family: Another Reason

Sadly, I think when our parents or others communicate explicitly or implicitly that trade work is inferior work, this leads to a shortage of men and women considering and entering trade schools to learn a trade.  I think there is another reason why there is a shortage.  While I did not go to a trade school, I learned basic skills that tradespeople do by watching my stepdad, my dad and grandpa.  For instance, I learned how to run wire for a ceiling fan; I learned how to replace the flushing mechanism in the toilet tank; I learned how to change the oil in my car; I learned how to hold and use a hammer — I learned all these skills by watching my father, stepfather and my grandfather.  With the breakdown of the family, many young men, in particular, do not have any idea how to even hold or use a hammer because dad is not around. I wonder if this shortage of tradespeople, even amateur ones like myself, will become even more common as the human family continues to disintegrate?

Noble and Dignifying Work

Personally, I think those men and women skilled in trades have noble and dignifying work.  I believe as the late Dr. Martin Luther King said, “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”  Those engaged in trade school jobs – whether it is changing a spark plug or unclogging a fetid smelling toilet or running wire for a ceiling fan – are doing work that has dignity and importance and contributes to human flourishing.  All this makes me think of my nephew, Marcus Johnson.  He is a plumber today and I am really proud of him.  Today, he works for a company but some day he plans to own and operate his business and I will proud of him then too.

I salute all men and women engage in a trade.  Our standard of living utterly relies on your skill and competence. Thank you for your work!

I am a native of Kansas City, MO.  I was born here (actually in Kansas City, KS), raised here, employed here and educated here.  After graduating from the University of Kansas, we – my wife and I – moved and settled in the Kansas City area.  Six to seven years later, we moved to St. Louis, MO with our 1-year-old daughter in tow (our son was born 6 years later in St. Louis).  We settled in Ballwin, MO. We were homeowners in a new subdivision, Waterford.  We built our first house in this subdivision. We lived in this house for 25+ years — many memories were formulated in this house, in this neighborhood, in this quaint subdivision.

Nearly, four years ago, we moved back to Kansas City, MO. After 25 years in one spot, you become known.  And I was known in many ‘circles’ including the Covenant Theological Seminary circle (9+), the Lindenwood University circle (7+), the First Baptist Church of Chesterfield circle (12+) and the Waterford Subdivision circle (25+) to name a few.  The numbers in the parenthesis indicate how many years I dwelled in those environments or better how many years I poured myself into those environments. I poured myself into the city and most importantly, I poured myself into personal, life-on-life relationships.  Needless to say, the transition back to my hometown, Kansas City, has been difficult.

Recently, I had lunch with my dear friend, Elizabeth Dent George, who is also a professional counselor. She helped me to see something: ‘being known’ is a genuine need for all human beings. When Elizabeth moved from St. Louis to Phoenix, AZ years ago, she had to hit the ‘becoming known’ reset button.  Since moving to Kansas City over 3+ years ago, I have had to push the reset button for ‘being known.’ Becoming known again to a familiar and different city, to old and new friends, in old and new circles is a long and arduous process.

One Wednesday evening, I left work and went to the movies to see  Jordan Peele’s inaugural film, “Get Out.” Here are some quick thoughts in no particular order.

  1. Anxiety. The film depicts the anxiety that an African-American partner in an interracial relationship often feels upon knowing that he or she will meet the white parents. This is quite common.
  2. Stereotyping. The film illustrates stereotyping.  I remember teaching a group of white students and many of them shared similar stories to that when the white police officer asked Chris for his ID.  One white female student said, “I was driving and an African-American male friend was in the passenger seat. When we were stopped by the police, the white police officer did not ask me for my driver’s license; he only asked my Black friend for his.” Rose had to come to Chris’ defense. This is a case of using one’s privilege for good.  But how common is this?
  3. Power/Privilege Misused. The film portrays the misuse of power and privilege by the majority culture to serve their own selfish desires. Rose’s dad was a doctor; Rose’s mother a psychologist.  Both used their skills to exploit African-Americans to serve the desire of a white customer. All this began, however, with Rose betraying Chris; she used, manipulated him as she did several others.
  4. Awkwardness. The film portrays how awkward it is when a minority is in the company of the majority culture. To ease this discomfort, Chris sought out others who looked like him…to no avail – they looked like him but were not like him. Yes, it is possible to be lonely in a crowd.
  5. Reductionism. The film shows how a Black life is reduced merely to being a source for someone else’s pursuit of the good life. This is exploitation plain and simple.
  6. Utilitarian. The film exhibits an utilitarian ethic – ‘the end justifies the means’. The ‘Bingo game’ scene was reminiscent of a slave auction (the means).  Chris went to the highest bidder – a blind bidder who wanted to see again (the end).
  7. Beauty of Friendship. The film portrays the sweet gift and beauty of friendship.  Rod, Chris’ friend, despite being ridiculed, pursued Chris and secured his eventual rescue.
  8. Imagination. This film illustrated Chris’ imagination, innovation and ‘quick thinking’. By stuffing his ears with cotton, he was not hypnotized (or controlled) and eventually fought his way out of Rose’s parents’ home.