by Leah Landry, Precious Blood Volunteer
Most white people do not want to talk about race. In fact, I feel uncomfortable typing this article right now. I am so scared of saying something wrong or implying something hurtful so it would be easier to stay silent. But after Chicago Regional Organizing for Anti-Racism’s training (C-ROAR), I realize it does not matter what I want or what is easy: we have to talk about race.
I knew early on that racism existed. When I was eight years old, my brother’s best friend joined our family. Shaun is African American and I saw that he was treated differently than my Caucasian brothers in our predominately white neighborhood. I remember Shaun and me getting weird looks when we were together and the police pulling him over much more often than my white brothers. But our conversations at home were about how other people were discriminatory, never about how racism worked through us as white people. I knew I had white privilege, but I did not realize I was part of the problem.
As a year-long volunteer at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR), all my suspicions that racism ran deeper than I could articulate intensified. I see every day how people are discriminated against because of the color of their skin. In the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, I was overwhelmed and appalled by the disproportionate number of black and brown teens my city locks up. While working at PBMR, I accompanied a young woman to court and was immediately told I could use the shorter line because the guard mistook me—the only white woman in the crowd—as a lawyer. I met young men who were given tickets for jaywalking and biking on the sidewalk while I had escaped every instance of a police stop with nothing more than a warning. I witnessed intense poverty: people struggling to pay rent, afford clothes, or feed a family, always one crisis away from losing everything. I saw all this and knew that there must be root causes, but I did not understand the depth to which racism and white supremacy created and perpetuated these circumstances.
Through the anti-racism training and researching on my own, I learned that racism is at the heart of every one of these issues. I discovered that nationwide policies of redlining forced black families into segregated neighborhoods and denied them access to the same government-backed loans that allowed my own grandparents to buy a home (“A Case for Reparations”, Ta-Nehesi Coates). I found out how the criminal justice system is designed to target, imprison, and harass people of color (The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander). I learned how the inequities originated: not because of something inherent or lacking in communities of color, but because of structures that intentionally privilege white people and subjugate people of color.
The hardest lesson I learned is that racism is not just the overt, stereotypical racism we immediately think of, like the KKK or the rally in Charlottesville. It is the deep-rooted racism of unconscious bias that lies within all of us, because we were all raised in a racist society. This was and still is hard to fully comprehend for me. I, in my ignorant whiteness, perpetuate racism, even though I have a black brother who I love dearly, even though I say I am committed to racial equity and justice, even though my family told me to love everyone regardless of race. I have centuries of ingrained white supremacy born into me. I was raised in a society that was built on the backs of enslaved people of color and live in a country that continues to privilege white people.
The anti-racism weekend was transformational for me. It highlighted how entrenched white supremacy is and now I cannot un-see it. The most challenging part is that now I see racism play out in me. I catch myself stereotyping, preferring white people and white practices, making myself the center in spaces of color, and poking holes in stories of discrimination and racism. One particularly poignant moment of recognizing my own racism was when a person of color in the anti-racism training called me out for my racist behavior during the training itself. It is painful and embarrassing to admit it, but I know it is the truth. I hope that acknowledging my faults can clear the way for other white people to start noticing their own. Nothing is going to change until white people recognize that we are part of the problem, that we are perpetuating the system of white supremacy, whether consciously or unconsciously. But we cannot stop at recognizing that racism works through us, we also must begin to change.
Every time I recognize a way in which I am perpetuating white supremacy, I try to change my behavior and truly stand up for communities of color. I repeatedly question my actions in all my work at PBMR, since I am in a position of power over women of color. I am trying to rework the system so that the young women can be in charge. I am continuously investigating how I, as a white woman, can play a role without recreating unjust structures. I am educating myself on both the oppression and strengths of different communities of color, as I know that each community—and each individual for that matter—has a unique experience of discrimination. I am constantly trying to learn how to be more aware and understanding.
I know talking about race is hard. Believe me, writing this article was really hard, and scary. And we are going to falter and err sometimes. But that’s okay, because mistakes are part of the learning process. The only real mistake is if we do not try at all.
Leah is a current Precious Blood Volunteer serving at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago.
To learn more about becoming a Precious Blood Volunteer go to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org.
by Leah Landry, Precious Blood Volunteer
Current Precious Blood Volunteer, Martin Echtler, was recently featured on German TV. He was interviewed about how he has continued to follow his favorite German soccer club, FC Augsburg, while living and serving in Kansas City. The first video is from FC Augsburg and the other is from Deutsche Welle.
Martin is currently serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer at the Bishop Sullivan Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
You can apply to serve as a Precious Blood Volunteer at the Bishop Sullivan Center on our Apply Page.
— FC Augsburg English (@FCA_World) January 3, 2018
by Martin Echtler, Precious Blood Volunteer 2017
Before I left my home in Munich to move to Kansas City I had a lot of different feelings and expectations regarding the Precious Blood Volunteer program and the United States in general. There were a lot of questions in my mind like “How it will be to work as a volunteer?” “Which people will I meet?” or “How will I deal with cultural borders or language limitations?” Besides these “big questions” there was another aspect, more ordinary, which was not really on my agenda in the run up to my journey – the question “How will I get around in Kansas City?” I was not worried about it, because I thought it would be like in Munich where a wide variety of different public transportation options makes it not too complicated to get from point A to point B.
My view would change after a few days in the city, when I realized that most of the people drive their own car to get around. After realizing this I thought “Well, I don’t think it’s a big deal, because I’ve heard Kansas City has a new street car and a really good bus system.” After using the street car the first time my view changed a little bit. And after a few (long) times waiting at the bus stop my view changed a little bit more. My first conclusion was “Oh boy, it would be so much easier to have a car to get around.” But during the next months my point of view would change again.
The more time I spent in Kansas City with different people at work, at home or somewhere else dealing with lots of different situations, the more I realized that indeed I don’t have a physical car, but I already sit in and drive another, special kind of “car.” At this point you might think “This weird German guy must be crazy, because he can see invisible cars.” But let me explain this within a poem I wrote. It deals with my time here as a volunteer in the Midwest of the United States and that it feels like a car ride – an inner car ride. I started at one point to “drive” and since then I’m “on the road”.
Always forward – straight ahead or taking curves, uphill or downhill, slow or fast.
Look to the rearview mirror from time to time. Look to the exterior mirror from time to time.
Watch the lane, watch the vehicles in front and behind, watch the oncoming traffic, watch the signs, watch planned destinations.
Pay attention to passengers, watch out for other vehicles.
Don’t exceed the speed limit.
Don’t lose sight of the goals – don’t miss exits.
The fastest ways are not necessarily the most beautiful. Beautiful ways lead also to destinations.
Don’t forget to watch the gas gauge. Don’t drive too long distances in a row – take brakes and recharge batteries for the onward journey.
Pass cars sometimes – let cars pass you sometimes.
Rev the engine sometimes, crash sometimes, repair or get repaired sometimes.
Stop sometimes and ask for directions – drive away sometimes and ask for a stop.
Focus your view on the horizon sometimes – focus your view on the steering wheel sometimes.
Escape to the front sometimes – let your gaze stay on the rearview mirror sometimes.
Take curves from time to time – and avoid it from time to time.
Sometimes it’s necessary to select one lane and sometimes it’s necessary to take the other – it is necessary to ignore obvious signs that wants to lead sometimes – it is necessary to consider hidden signs sometimes.
Let the engine howl sometimes – drive quietly sometimes.
Talk to your passengers sometimes – just listen to them sometimes.
Follow their advice sometimes – ignore them and follow your instinct sometimes.
Once in a while take a deep breath of air.
Once in a while dim your lights.
Wait sometimes and sometimes let wait.
Drive in circles sometimes – take exits sometimes.
Pick someone up sometimes – leave someone behind sometimes.
Face the sun, face the clouds, face the wind.
Sometimes being driven – sometimes drifting.
Now and then do not know further – now and then knowing with new knowledge again.
Switch gears now and then – brake now and then.
Laugh sometimes, cry sometimes, sing sometimes, whisper sometimes, keep silent sometimes.
Drive aware – drive by yourself.
The few metaphors show that there are a lot of things you have to deal with when you’re “on the road” – even if you don’t own a physical car. Besides all the aspects I’ve named I’ve learned one very important lesson during my journey, which I want to emphasize at this point. Of course it’s important to look back and to plan next steps, but keep your main focus on the current street you’re driving through and the environment you’re passing right now. And also pay attention to the people who are driving with you just in this moment. Be aware about the current time, because the past is gone and the future is unwritten. A deep focus on the street you pass right now helps you to enjoy your ride more, it keeps you awake and prevents you from accidents.
This consciousness let me “drive” through Kansas City without having a car. All the love, friendship, beauty, hospitality, open doors and smiling faces I’ve already passed on this journey make me grateful and happy!
You can learn more about serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer by going to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org
You can learn more about our placement at the Bishop Sullivan Center by going to www.preciousbloodkc.org/bishop-sullivan-center/.
By Hector Avitia, Precious Blood Volunteer
Last week my community had its first house meeting. We divided up the chores and the first floor of the Formation House in Chicago (my floor), was assigned to dinner duty on Wednesdays. Up until this point I had been able to avoid cooking for the whole house because two of our community members took care of most of the cooking. I decided to bite the bullet and I volunteered for the first scheduled dinner for our floor this week. I don’t remember the last time I was this nervous about dinner. I wanted to get home early enough to cook patiently and diligently but that did not happen. When I got home I got so nervous about cooking that I had to get my mother on video chat to help walk me through the process. So there I am, making a mess in the kitchen while I spoke Spanish with my mom and dad over video chat, rushing and managing several pots and pans all at once. It was definitely a sight to behold in a house that is usually calm and quiet.
Thanks to God who, through my mother’s love and direction, allowed me to make a full meal that consisted of chicken enchiladas (garnished with freshly cut lettuce, tomato from the garden at PBMR, and avocado), rice, and beans. The kitchen didn’t burn down and the portions I made were enough to feed the whole house. I have always been uncomfortable about cooking, but not until I thought back to our cooking class at Orientation and the reflection given by Lucia, the facilitator of the cooking class), did I really figure out why I was such a nervous wreck. Preparing a meal is a very deep way that we connect with friends and family. In a way, I was sharing an intimate, a spiritual, part of me by cooking a meal for the house. I think we all seek acceptance when we open ourselves up to others like that, and making this meal made me vulnerable to the other guys in my house. Thanks to the support of my housemates, I am excited to cook again for my house when my turn comes around.
Hector is a current Precious Blood Volunteer serving at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago. To learn more about becoming a Precious Blood Volunteer go to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org.