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Just Living Blog
In his book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, Peter Temin suggests, following decades of growing inequality, America essentially functions in a two-class system: “One small, predominantly white upper class that wields a disproportionate share of money, power, and political influence and a much larger, minority-heavy lower class that is all too frequently subject to the first group’s whims.”
Temin suggests a lot of factors contribute to American inequality. It is so deeply embedded it could take almost 20 years for one to escape poverty—with nearly nothing going wrong in one’s life.
There is a lot of research about inequality and income disparity. While they all paint an alarming picture of our society, they also begin to draw a clear call to action for change. Research shows that two key components required to make the transformation out of poverty include education and a relationship.
In 2013, The Basilica’s St. Vincent de Paul ministry leadership prayerfully embraced this research. We recognized, as a faith community, we can offer relationships. We looked across the street and saw the gift and needs of Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). Ten percent of the students attending MCTC are homeless. Could we as a faith community, partner with MCTC to ensure two key components needed to make the transformation out of poverty—education and a relationship?
In 2014 we created a pilot program called Hennepin Connections: Basilica SVdP Mentoring Program with MCTC. In early May of this year, we completed our fourth year of this partnership—matching MCTC students and Basilica mentors, one-on-one. Each year we experienced profound and powerful results for both the students and the mentors.
The entire program is built on the opportunity to build relationships with students committed to their education. Relationships built through Hennepin Connections are not easy. They often bring people from vastly different cultures, experience, race and class together. This is, indeed the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of Hennepin Connections Mentoring Program.
To prepare for the mentoring partnerships, we offer resources and training for the mentors. We ground ourselves in Vincentian values and spirituality—recognizing we come to this work in humility and faith. Our mantra, as mentors, is “Accept them where they are.” We are called to listen and support, open our hearts and minds, and be willing to be changed by the experience.
At the end of this year’s program, students and mentors shared the meaning of the experience. It was an awesome and humbling evening. Over and over we heard the importance, for the student, to have someone in their life who was not in crisis, who would listen as they vented and would offer a new network for them in their life.
In sharing his gratitude for this program, a student reflected—without this program, even if he and the mentor had been sitting next to one another at a basketball game, they never would have spoken to one another. Hennepin Connections brought two very different worlds together, and made a difference. He said, “Thanks for creating a space for healthy relationships to happen.”
One woman shared that the mentor was “the missing piece of the puzzle in my life.” Another shared that her mentor helped her find calmness when she felt frantic and overwhelmed.
The mentors consistently shared the inspiration they received from walking with the students over the year. They felt they gained more than they gave.
The Basilica seeks to transform society through the Gospel of love—sometimes one life at a time. We can, and must, be proactive to build bridges and unite our community. If you are interested in being part of this important work, call the Christian Life office.
Racism is not merely one sin among many; it is a radical evil that divides the human family and denies the new creation of a redeemed world. To struggle against it demands an equally radical transformation, in our own minds and hearts as well as in the structure of our society.” Brothers and Sisters To Us, USCCB, 1979
During the summer of 2016, the Twin Cities experienced a wave of protests and unrest after the shooting of Philando Castile by a police officer in St. Anthony, MN. The upheaval throughout the Twin Cities was in direct response to the deep and longstanding effects of racism in our state. Uncovered and exposed were the inequalities and injustices behind virtually every statistic of Minnesota’s quality of life: including our state’s education gap, income disparity, homeownership, and violent crime.
- On April 29, 2016, the Pioneer Press reported “Minnesota has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation—gaps that have widened over the past five decades and that soon may create a statewide economic crisis. U.S. Census data show most Minnesota families of color now have median incomes about half those of their white neighbors.”
- On August 18, 2017, the Pioneer Press reported “Minnesota schools have grown more segregated and the state’s nation-leading academic achievement gap refuses to close.
- Black Students: Reading proficiency, 33% and Math proficiency, 28%
- White Students: Reading proficiency, 69% and Math proficiency, 68%
- Headline in the Star Tribune on August 17, 2017 read, “Already-low homeownership rates of Twin Cities minorities fall further,” with 75% whites and only 23% blacks owning homes.
- A report in August 2017 from the Minneapolis Police Department that covers the period 2009 to 2014 states, while blacks made up 18.6% of the population in Minneapolis, 79% of victims of homicide are black.
During the summer and fall of 2016, The Basilica leadership intentionally engaged in reflection and self-examination: How was The Basilica living faithfully by actively confronting issues of racism and being a force of racial reconciliation in the community? Strikingly, we discovered that, while The Basilica is engaged in the community in many ways, we are not living up to our mission in this area.
In the fall of 2016, The Basilica Parish Council unanimously voted to support a parish-wide, sustained effort to address the issue of racism. In February 2017, a Basilica team met for the first time—a team to help shape a parish wide initiative for racial reconciliation.
The team began slowly, prayerfully discerning direction, sharing stories, and developing trust. This Lent, The Basilica officially launched Imago Dei: The Basilica Initiative for Racial Reconciliation. Imago Dei—the Image of God. Rooted in the absolute belief that all humans beings are created in the image of God, The Basilica will devote itself to this effort by praying for empowerment to overcome this radical evil in our lives and communities, by learning about institutionalized racism and its insidious presence in our Church and society, by engaging across lines of difference, and by advocating for social change.
The Basilica of Saint Mary is dedicated to the eradication of racism, and seeks to become a community of racial reconciliation. Look for ways to engage in this important work. This is the work of our time. For more information, contact Janice.
IMAGO DEI: INITIATIVE FOR RACIAL RECONCILIATION PRACTICING RECONCILIATION
SUNDAY, MARCH 18, 11:00AM-12:30PM
SAINTS AMBROSE/TERESA, GROUND LEVEL
Please join us for the last session in this series and hear first hand from Oshea Israel and Mary Johnson about the power of forgiveness.
The Immigrant Support Ministry team welcomed the third family we co-sponsor with LSS on February 23rd of this year. They are a Karenni family of five, two parents and three young children. The parents were originally from Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The family came to the US from a refugee camp in Thailand. The father of the family had lived in the camp for the last 17 years, since he was a teenager. His wife had lived in the camp for nearly as long
With the help of the Basilica four person mentor team the family has been settling into their new home. The first task was to get them warm clothing. Coming from a tropical climate the Minnesota winter was quite a shock. The mentors have taken them shopping for groceries--and they were excited to find a nearby market that has foods similar to those from their home country. The team is also helping to find them a dentist for some needed dental work. They have been available to help get their apartment set up with many necessary items. Coming from the refugee camp, the family came with very few belongings.
The two oldest children have recently started elementary school and LSS will be arranging ESL classes for the adults. Betsy Hasselman, from the mentor team said that she has enjoyed her time with them so far and has been inspired by their determination as they start the their new lives in the US. She looks forward to getting to know them more and being able to be part of their journey.
In this year of Mercy, the Basilica decided to accept Pope Francis’ call to welcome refugees into our community and joined forces with Lutheran Social Services (LSS) to co-sponsor a refugee family. Last December we held a second collection to raise funds for the effort and our generous community donated enough money to support not only one but three refugee families. It was an overwhelming response and we were truly blessed and inspired by the generosity of the community. The refugee committee, composed of approximately 40 Basilica members, quickly got to work to prepare for the arrival of the first family, who arrived safely in February 2016. Now, almost a full year into our efforts, the committee wanted to share how the funds have been used and the impact it has had on the families we’ve supported.
When co-sponsoring a family, the Basilica provides both financial and mentoring support to the family. From a financial perspective, the primary way the Basilica helps the family is by paying their rent for the first six months. When a refugee family comes to the United States, their housing is not subsidized and they are responsible for paying for their own housing. Coming from a foreign country, many refugees struggle with English at first and it can be difficult to find a job with so many things to work through, especially in their first few months here. During that time the family is trying to set up basic needs such as registering with the appropriate government offices, obtaining identification cards, getting their children enrolled in school and attending English as a second language classes. Through the Basilica’s donation of the rent for the first six months, the family has some time to get things in order, search for work and save some money for future needs. In addition to helping the family with rent, the Basilica also supports the family by providing basic clothing and household supplies. Each family’s needs are different and varies somewhat based on their culture however, some common items that are provided are winter clothing for the parents and children and some household items such as a used vacuum cleaner, computer and television set to help the family adapt to their new life.
The second way the Basilica provides support to our refugee family is through a mentor team. The key role of the mentor team is to help the family get acclimated to their new culture and to make sure the family knows that someone cares about their wellbeing. The mentor team is made up of four parishioners who meet with the family about once a week, helping with various items. These activities vary from family to family but some common themes have been helping the adults prepare their resume and fill out job applications, taking the family to the grocery store so they can buy food, helping the family budget for expenses, teaching the family how to navigate the bus system, and helping them obtain library cards at their local library. The mentors also go on fun outings with the family taking them to places such as Como zoo and other local parks to expose them to the great things in our community.
Thank you to everyone that has supported our efforts to co-sponsor a refugee family in this year of mercy.