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The latest news and perspective from the Director of Urban Homeworks
For the past few months, we have been hearing what is on the hearts and minds of Urban Homeworks’ Director team. For Jess Mueller, our Director of Development and Marketing, the face to face reality of the work being done at Urban Homeworks feeds her belief in the mission.
Yesterday morning started off like the others. I dropped my kids off, watched them run into Ascension Catholic School with one skirt on backward and all shoes untied, and drove away feeling exhausted… at 7am. In spite of that, the 3 block drive to from there to the Urban Homeworks office hit me differently that morning.
In the first block, I drove past Families Moving Forward - a non-profit that exists to help families in emergency transitional situations. The families meet in their office, busses take them to local church basements, they set up sleeping bags and get ready for bed. They wake up to be bussed back to the office where parents use any available resources to find a more permanent situation. As I drove past, several parents were loading their kids into taxis to send them off to school.
That reality woke me up. A number of historical, social, and economic circumstances have left me equipped and with resources to provide stability for my kids – to be honest, my biggest problem is making sure the kids eat all of their breakfast. Many of the parents we are walking beside are coming from situations where they are sleeping in a different house, on a different couch, surrounded by different people for months on end. My exhaustion is nothing in comparison.
But… on the next block, I drove past three beautiful Urban Homeworks properties. I know that eight families live there. I know that it’s likely they’ve experienced long-term stability. In fact, I know that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that at least one of them is moving toward home ownership.
And then, finally, at the end of that 3-block continuum, there sits a run-down multi-unit building. I’m never certain whether it’s habitable or has been sitting vacant for too long. What I do know, is that we are sitting in the space which allows for action and change. Working at Urban Homeworks brings me face to face with opportunities to rebuild a block and reclaim hope...so more families are dealing with the regular exhaustion of parenting instead of the uncertainty of instability.
As we hurtle toward the end of the year, you can join me in fueling the hope of families. You are unleashing new hope for individuals needing that bolster of support.
I am from a sandbox, treehouse, and a 3010 John Deere pick’n rock;
I am from 3-wheelers and 22 caliber rifles popping off bird-shot (to manage the sparrow population of course) in air pregnant with soil and sugar beet residue signaling fall;
I am from flat-lands, prairie-country, from rises and falls of the sun and the emergence of weather on the horizon so magnificent I’ve wept.
I am from Adaline, Janice, and Sheila… the legacy of a women present, persistent, powerful and purposeful;
I am from Sunday night song services and “our father, who art in heaven”, “I believe in God the Father Almighty”, Zig Ziglar, Earl Nightingale, Vic Conant, and where “you little shits” was a phrase of endearment;
I’m from “sauce” from the fruit room, soaked raisins on ham, and where the presence of pickled herring was the sign of a superb affair;
I am from uncles and aunts roaring with laughter and retelling the same old stories on a Sunday afternoon after church… and the silent hope that those stories tickle my grandchildrens’ ears someday…
Where I’m from isn’t where I AM. I am here.
I am here to build upon, learn from but not be defined by where I’m from. I am here to live into the best version of myself in such a way that allows and encourages you to live into the best version of yourself. I am here to work toward growth, betterness, and fullness for all of us and especially those of us struggling with scarcity.
I am here rooted by faith and I am here living into the richness of community and life.
I am here out of being shaped, sometimes forged, honed, invest in, and transformed by the past 16 years this work and life has had upon me. I am here better… than when I came… from where I’m from. I am from a rich and beautiful people and place. I’m here to live into an even more beautiful people and place.
Last year I talked about courage and invited you to take courage with me and this team to courageously do what needs to be done. This year I’m inviting you to Feast. I’m inviting you to dance.
I’m guilty of talking about this work as a ‘struggle’, and ‘a fight’… and there are certainly struggles and fights along the way, but it’s MORE than that. I’m changing my language in order to elicit a more whole and accurate idea of what we are working toward: I’m inviting you to a grand pot-luc feast, where we all have something to give, and we all have something to receive… AND, there is ENOUGH for everyone…
This is beyond a struggle and a fight, this is a sliver of living a real, genuine, authentic, and deep life.
I find it encouraging that I’m not the only one that needs to be reminded of picking my language carefully. As Emma Goldberg said: “if I can’t dance, it isn’t my revolution!” Instead of talking about the ‘margins’ I’m going to talk about the ‘horizons’. Instead of talking about issues surrounding racially concentrated areas of poverty, I’m going to talk about the issues triggered by racially concentrated areas of wealth. Instead of allowing my faith to be unconsciously defined by a socio-economic political stance, maybe, just maybe I can define my socio-economic political stance through the lens of kindred embrace that’s illuminated by faith.
I think the old Prophet Isaiah cautiously shaped his call toward images of beauty and fullness about 2500 years ago, here’s a cliff-noted version of Chapter 58: What I'm interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families…. 9-12"If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people's sins, If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. You'll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You'll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.
I’m from 7060, 120th Avenue SE, Clara City, MN and I’m also from 5151 Humboldt Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN. Both have prepared me for this moment… to perpetuate the Hope of Jesus Christ by Restoring Place, Reconnecting People, Realizing our power to build upon the past 20 years so that in 20 years from now, a 1000 people could stand here and recite a poem something like this…
I am from the Northside/Southside/Frogtown/The East-Side…
I am from a time back in 2015 when my neighbors of color were 23% more unemployed, 29% more likely to experience poverty, 16% more cost burdened, $35,000 less in average household income, 18% less likely to graduate, experienced 14% more crime, 7% of our housing stock MORE vacant, and… AND
100% committed to betterness.
I’m from the Northside, with effective tools at my disposal, like Urban Homeworks, that over the past 20 years has helped me:
Stabilize my housing, Move me to homeownership, build some personal wealth while localizing the economic benefits, SO THAT I can meaningfully participate in shaping my future and the future of my community.
I am from a community that saw our assets, realized our power, reached out our hands to willing partners, and now, 20 years later can even more proudly say that I am from the Northside…
I am from a community that is like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
I am from a people that used the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
I am from a place where we’re known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
I am from the Northside.
I grew up in a tight knit community, and I can still close my eyes and see the majority of our neighbors, and call them by name. I was chastised by other adults on the block (when I had it coming), I knew it was safe to go next door and help my neighbor in the yard, we played kickball on the corner, and when we needed a new retaining wall the community came out and helped us build it. It was a community where I experienced “community engagement” before I even knew there was such a thing.
This community is North Minneapolis.
Here I am years later, and I still get to enjoy the things that I did as a child. On the community engagement team we get to talk to neighbors, and hear their stories. We get to participate in the successes, failures, struggles, and triumphs of our neighbors. We see the real story, of the hard working people in the community that, despite the systemic disparities they face daily, they still love the community in which they live. Despite the narrative that paints this community as unworthy, as unsafe, uneducable, and unemployable, the Community Engagement team can tell you that is not the truth. We live and work in a community that has its challenges but, is still the same community that is tight knit, loving, helpful, and compassionate.
It is community engagement's priority to challenge the prevailing negative narrative in North Minneapolis, and bring forth the real stories of this beautiful part of the city.
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. – Leo Tolstoy
The deep wound of slavery and racism is far from being healed in our country. Lately, we’ve had access to raw, heartbreaking footage that exposes the ugliness and depth of our problem. As a person of privelege, I have had the option to respond at my own leisure – in the past I would acknowledge events as sad and frustrating, but then move on. I’d perceived myself as an advocate, but, though ashamed to admit it, I realize I didn’t care enough.
Working with a team committed to reconciliation, living in South Minneapolis, and attending a diverse church all persistently bring about greater awareness for me. But having two black children necessarily “brought it home.” I reflect on incidents I experience or see in the media and find myself trying to make sense of them. Often my first reaction is to find a reason of why race is a not really a factor or why people are overreacting. Why I am playing out this internal narrative. What does it mean?
Probably it means I’m unconsciously racist, because as a white American I believe it is impossible not to be. Maybe deep down, I’m scared to consider the true cost of reconciliation. Accepting that my internal narrative is my part of this huge and complex problem is my first and necessary step. It gives me the platform to start working on my recovery and liberation. Without it I’ll never be able to challenge that narrative, and ultimately see the change that I want so desperately for my children.
Now, when I hear a story like Tamir Rice’s I’m terrified… and motivated. My son will be a young black man before I know it, which scares me to my core. I view Eric Garner’s story with a different lens. The “Emanuel Nine” breaks my heart – but it also causes me to move and be a part of a solution NOW.
Urban Homeworks works diligently to live out our core values of “Compassion that Cultivates Dignity”, “Relationships that reconcile people to God and to one another”, and “Biblical justice that liberates individuals and communities.” It’s an impossible task without God, each other, and an overflowing measure of grace and forgiveness. I am hopeful, encouraged, and motivated. But the work won’t be done until we live in a day “where every life is liberated, every relationship reconciled, and every day is dignified as evidence of the hope of Jesus.” Thank you for journeying together with us.
2014 might go down in my mind as the year of the “Over-Arching-Goal”. Just in time, too. UHW has been concrete on values, level and plumb on mission, and in 2014, we now have a blueprint depicting our long-term goal: By 2025, will be building power with 1,000 of our neighbors by organizing ourselves, our resources, our real estate, and our relationships. Power defined as the ability to effect positive change.
The Hope of Jesus is Powerful.
It’s ‘just in time’ because it frames up beautifully how to observe, celebrate, and build upon the past 20 years as preparation for this next season.
For Africa to me ... is more than a glamorous fact. It is a historical truth. No man can know where he is going unless he knows exactly where he has been and exactly how he arrived at his present place.
- Maya Angelou
In 2014 we got a lot done… and we decided on where we are going. The past 20 years are ‘more than a glamourous fact’, and although not as deeply profound as Africa is to Angelou… where we’ve been brought us to where we are and frames where we go next. It’s time. Thank you for being a part of the past 20 years. Thank you for charging forward into the next. You are just in time…