By Peggy Hahn
The Citizens with the Saints Tour, featuring David Scherer and Rachel Kurtz, will be happening in our synod at the Advent Marketplace, December 10, 2011 at Faith Lutheran in Bellaire, TX. For more information and to sign up click here.
Deep in the heart of New Orleans, beneath the obvious – historic, delicious, religious, carnival, etc.– are stories that will bring you to your knees. Even as I write this, I have a lump in my throat, because this is my home town. I think you may want to know that while we are preparing for the ELCA Youth Gathering, we are engaged in deep listening that is teaching us a ton. The kind of listening we are doing could happen anywhere.
Last month we sat at the Juju Bag Café with Ms. T who, before the storm, was one of the few black women who lived on her street. She talked with tears in her eyes about Mr. Nelson (who she said she called Mr. not because he was white, but because she calls all old men Mr.) who called her “nigger” for the first few years of their “relationship.” After a few years he called her “that negro woman,” then “the black neighbor,” followed by “neighbor,” because she was one of the few people left six years ago and by the way, one of the only people at his funeral. Racism, she says, is alive and well but relationships make all the difference.
She talked about her desire to open a book store only to learn no one had time to read, so she opened a restaurant. And the story goes on… MissT is the real deal. She has a PHD and is trying to think of ways to help people in the city get an education, learn to read or just get through the day with a good cup of coffee.
Sometimes when you take time to sit and listen to people you can feel their spirit. You can actually see God in their eyes, their words, their flesh – that’s what Miss T is like.
We met with the Literacy Alliance (located at Loyola) and learned about their work in adult digital literacy (most people in New Orleans do not own a PC) to increase capacity for employment, their network of ESL class sites because of the huge increase of Hispanics in the area, their “Word Play” project holding poetry slams for youth… I could go on. The creativity around increasing literacy for people of all ages is endless.
They are convinced – and so am I – that education IS the way out of poverty.
We met with a group of about twenty environmental educators. They are teaching people how to set up rain gardens (no drought in Louisiana), design organic community gardens, replace light bulbs for energy efficiency, plant trees, rebuild wetlands. Again, I could go on. They are working together on something they call “Tip the Block” where they identify a neighborhood with needs and work together on that neighborhood to restore, recover and reclaim the environment. It is amazing to see the changes they are making in people’s lives and in the environment.
They are convinced –and so am I- that education IS the way out of poverty.
There are more stories, more amazing organizations that are working together to make New Orleans strong. I thought you would want to know because we can be part of increasing literacy in Louisiana and in Texas. Louisiana ranks 50 in the nation for education and this is in our synod – not some other country.
What can you do?
- Give to the literacy projects that the ELCA Youth Gathering will be engaging.
- Meet with your local schools to ask “How can my congregation support literacy in my neighborhood?”
- Make the problems in your community a strategic ministry in your congregation. In other words, join organizations that are working to reduce literacy.
- Read. Read to your own children and grandchildren. Give books as gifts.
- Mentor adults who struggle with reading – especially mothers as they will work with their own children.
You can start listening too. Every congregation is located in a community with needs. Following Jesus makes these needs our problem. We can’t solve everything but we can do something.