Monday, October 9, 2017

Columbus Day Monday

I woke up and rolled out of bed--Monday.

But not just any Monday. 

Columbus Day Monday. 

It's been a weird journey in Akron the last month or so. There was an ordinance proposed to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day and it got shut down before it started. I went with my friend Hannah, because we both care about Native people and we wanted to amplify voice in a context without many Native voices. Unfortunately, the meeting didn't even allow for Native voice to have any stage-time, as inter-council politics and dismissive actions towards leaders of color switched the conversation from decolonization to racism. 

To be honest, we need to discuss both in our context, so it wasn't the worst ending. 

BUT it still was discouraging. 

Meanwhile the Cleveland Indians are in the playoffs the same week as Columbus Day and I'm sitting here still just observing everything unfolding, feeling like I'm watching a movie called "Life in a Colonized Context" wherein the main character is me. 

What is life in a colonized context?

I go to exchange the breath of aloha only to be suffocated by plastic leis. 

*  *  *

Katie and I are leading a group of white people in talking about being white. 

I think it's the least we can do, really. 

I didn't really know that I needed to talk about it until I was sitting in a room full of white friends hearing stories about how some have ancestors in the KKK, some are part Native American, and some grew up in really integrated communities. The more we say "white," the less weird it feels, kinda like when you've been keeping a secret for a long time and you finally start to talk about it. 

*  *  *

I don't really know what to wear on Columbus Day. I'm still salty about the lack of conversation around Indigenous People's Day with the Akron City Council so I want to do something pointed. I think being sassy is my own coping mechanism for life in a colonized context. 

Grief is day after day waking up and centering the voices of the silenced. 

I wear my Cleveland Caucasians shirt, because it feels right. A caricature of a caricature, bringing light to racism, colonialism, and exposing things for what they are. 

*  *  *

I park my car at Portage Path CLC and get out. I see the Northern Cheyenne Nation with their regalia gathered on the sidewalk and my heart leaps--I am home.  Last week at CCDA in Detroit I got to meet up with Lisa, a Native sister, who spoke about her aunt telling her that she would be living in two different worlds. I often feel this way about myself, the deeper I get into working in decolonization. I speak two languages which are two worlds, two worldviews, two operating systems. It's not as binary as that, though--it's much more nuanced and layered. I am in-between many worlds, serving as a translator. Many call this intercultural work. I call it following Jesus. 

I slowly approach the masses of children from The Lippman School and Portage Path CLC. I beeline straight for the Northern Cheyenne Nation, though. Let's be honest--they are why I'm here. I'm fascinated by this tribe that partners with a school and shares cultures. I wonder how much they're aware of the context their in, and our blatant disregard of Native people from Chief Wahoo, to Columbus Day, to not recognizing Natives flourishing today. 

There is still clearly an "us" and "them" vibe, and the Northern Cheyenne Nation is part of the "them." Strangely, though, I identify more with the Nation than with my fellow Akron-ites, and so initiating conversation doesn't give me social anxiety. 

I cross worlds. 

"Hi, I'm Amber. Welcome to Akron." 

I shake the hands of young men and older men, distrust in their eyes until one understands my shirt. He laughs, and I am in. All at once conversation is easy and care-free, and we are connecting in depth. 

I've only ever talked story with Indigenous people. I know what it feels like, even as I can't give it a name. It is home. 

* * *

We are going to walk the Portage Path--the path Natives once used to carry canoes between two rivers. It feels like a pilgrimage to me--really heavy and important. Last week I went to Stan Hywet, which is a mansion also on this road where one of the big tire industry leaders lived. Many people credit the tire industry for building Akron. I always get confused by that statement because the land was long before. 

Anyway, I'm thinking of all of that as I'm talking with the Northern Cheyenne Nation. And the girls are wearing regalia and the guys hop in the back of the pick up truck to play the drum and as the steady beat rises, I am in many places. 

I am in Hawai'i on the shore, drums steady from Native Hawaiians, worshipping Creator in song.

I am in Kansas at Haskell Indian Nations University, watching the drum and song in the gazebo reverberating throughout campus. 

I am in a church in Navajoland, listening to a Tribe Called Red as we make frybread with one another. 

I am everywhere and everyone I have grown to love, even as I am in Akron. 

*  *  *

If we think of oppression as spiritual warfare, resistance is a prayer, and resilience is the fruit.

The drum beats down Portage Path, and I know a way is being made where one wasn't before.

Flowers out of concrete. 

Emmanuel Christian Academy joins our group, and we all follow the sound of the drum.

We, the pastor and professor who have been at every City Council meeting I've been to. 

We, the neighbors and Akron residents, students and teachers.

We--black, white, Latino, Asian--follow the leadership of the indigenous. 

Those who know the land know before us all. 

I weep, for the Kingdom of God is near. 

*  *  *

Tonight at play practice Nim was talking about Christian missionaries in the refugee camps. He talked about this video they showed, "The Jesus Video," and how they spoke in Nepali and shared the Gospel, "inviting" people to pray at the end. He acted it out with Mega and I screamed laughing. It was like watching my own fundamentalism conversion nightmares unfold, except in another language and in another context.

I still have questions for him about it, like how he felt about the message and what he heard in the message. I know Christianity isn't his home religion, and I want to know how Jesus sounds. I am curious. 

Jesus wrapped in culture is no fun, no matter what culture it is. But Jesus wrapped in Jesus is freedom. 

*  *  *

When I was at Haskell Indian Nations University for "Would Jesus Eat Frybread?" I learned that the campus used to be a boarding school. Boarding schools were traumatic spaces for Native people--they were spaces where they were sent (usually among missionaries), and taught that their Native ways were bad and that white ways were good. The goal was to assimilate, but rather it traumatized, leaving generations fragmented from their histories and stories, a legacy that is still being sorted through today. 

Many of the students felt the terror within them on the campus, speaking in pictures and visions about the atrocities of the boarding schools and how that oppressive legacy remained on the land. After a weekend of community and unwrapping historical trauma, the spirit of the place changed, and students named healing in the land. 

*  *  *

I talked with Anthony of the Northern Cheyenne Nation after the event ended at the Summit County Historical Society.  

"It's rough here," I said. "I don't even know how to explain it. People don't know things, unintentionally perpetuate. I'm really glad you're here. It is good for people to see." 

We talked a bit about the work he's doing to revitalize his tribe's language and be sure it's taught to the next generation. The work is a common narrative I hear among Native people--the work of cultural revitalization. Language, dance, story--all these bear the marks of historical trauma, and it is a people that will ensure that they continue. 

He talked about his reservation and how the roundabout is the latest thing to throw people off. I asked basic questions about size and population, trying to get a scope of the vastness of the Nation. I told him that I spent time on the Navajo Nation, and he said there are Navajos on his reservation. There was a connection in that for both of us. 

Then I started to tell Anthony about Akron, and how we were talking about switching Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day but people don't really understand here why you would switch it. I could see that that didn't make sense to him, but I continued to press in and tell him about the Italian-American community and their deep ties to Columbus, and how because that community is deeply present and the Native community is not, that is why the narrative unfolded as it did. I could see that it didn't make sense to him, which made me laugh because the whole thing hasn't made sense to me, either. 

It makes about as much sense as a "Cleveland Caucasians" shirt. 

It makes about as much sense as Chief Wahoo. 

Colonialism and racism don't really make sense. That's why they're so violent.

*  *  *

Burt Medicine Bull of the Northern Cheyenne Nation spoke some words at the closing ceremony. He spoke about the Portage Path and how as he beat the drums, and watched the dancing, he knew that they were making a way for the spirits to walk this path once more. 

Tears sprang into my eyes, as I know what he was saying to be true. 

Flowers in the concrete.

They walk as flowers in the concrete. 


*  *  *

Sometimes, if I am to be honest, I want to give up here in Akron. I become discouraged at the lack of  immediate Native community and connection to sustain me in this work of decolonization. I feel isolated, alone, crazy.

On my better days I am aware that this is the Enemy seeking to distract. 

Most days I succumb to the loneliness, bitterness, isolation, and cynicism. 

I was ready to toss in the towel this Columbus Day in Akron--giving up on a City that silences the voices of the margins, and centers the voices of the privileged. 

Today I was reminded, though, that the Kingdom of God is like the little bit of yeast that a woman used to permeate an entire batch of dough. 

"Thank you for the work that you do."

Brother, you remind me that I, too, am seen. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


I know what hell feels like
And You're not there.
It's a quiver in my body,
A desperation in my soul,
A loud scream into nothingness
Snatched immediately by brutal air.

Friday, April 14, 2017


What does one do when God is silent?
What does one do when one begs and begs for a word
Any word
And instead receives



It's maddening, this Holy Saturday. 
The space of unknown, denial, grief. 

All hope dashed in the form of a cross
Four nails
Two beams
One death
All death
Why death?--my God
Whose God
Is there a God
What is God 
I don't know.

Why don't you answer to the pounding at your door?
Do you not see earnest hearts in grief?
Do you not hear our cries and wailing?

Silence is the taste of abandonment
And hope dashed against the rocks.

It is the whimper of a spirit in mourning with no one to turn to. 


Good Friday: A Question

are my wokeness and my Whiteness
both held in mercy by your outstretched hands
pierced by Empire?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Palm "Galley Boy" Sunday

I didn’t go to church on Palm Sunday. I didn’t have it in me to celebrate a “triumphal entry” of Jesus and wave palm branches and cry “Hosanna!” I’m a fan of Palm Sunday, don’t get me wrong. I love a good celebration and a good spontaneous party. I’m just also an introvert so the only party I’m probably gonna show up for is one where Jesus is actually processing again and we’re not playing re-enactment cuz I don’t have energy for that.

I don’t know if you know the story, but Jesus comes into Jerusalem and the people are really hype about it so they lay their coats on the road and wave palm branches from the fields and cry “Hosanna!” and welcome him and it’s pretty cool. The religious leaders are in a tizzy, but everyone else is enjoying themselves. The religious leaders wanted a Messiah (Savior) who rode in on a majestic horse or something…I can’t remember. All I know is they didn’t want a donkey and they were like “This Jesus guy is not cool enough/right enough/fit in our boxes enough to be the one who is going to set things Right.” BUT HE WAS and that’s the kicker of the whole Gospel thing is that Jesus was the underdog who was actually the top dog that got executed by the state but that's a whole nother story I digress. 

But I was reading the story and I was like “What…The Triumphal Entry?” (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19:28, John 12:12) Like, triumphal entry for whom? I’m not sure why it’s called the triumphal entry because I’m pretty sure a majority of people were not down with this whole procession thing and it’s further implications. I mean the guy comes in and basically says he has street cred and totally challenges the framework of the place. He challenges Empire. He challenges the very essence of the city. And that never makes the status quo happy. Especially when your whole life work is spent maintaining something and this bro comes out of nowhere and starts eradicating boundaries and laying down a new law for the land.

Like, today. I’m waking up, taking it easy, looking out my window in Summit Lake and wondering what it would look like if Jesus did that whole procession thing in Akron. Okay. First off, there’s a lot of problems with this idea. One, we don’t ride donkeys. There’s no way two disciples are gonna come in Akron and find a donkey to bring back for Jesus to ride downtown. He’s just gonna look waaaaaay strange. Two, we don’t have palm branches that we found out in the fields. I wish we had palm branches. Again, it just ain’t gonna happen. This is a city in the Midwest. Three, we don’t have cloaks to lay down in the middle of the path, nor do we have paths that we use for transportation. How could Jesus even have a procession in Akron?  

So I start to think that maybe Jesus actually sent his disciples to the Metro station to borrow a Greyhound. Their logo is a dog. Dog, donkey—close enough. So the two disciples are drivin’ this Greyhound bus they borrowed (sorry fam who’s about to miss your bus, but trust me you won’t want to miss this procession) trying to figure out how to get back to South Akron where Jesus is but the construction is a mess and so they end up running over a few orange cones and cursing a bit and going down the wrong way of a one-way street but they FINALLY make it back down S. Main St. and out of the city.

Jesus hops in at the faaaaarrr end of S. Main and maybe the disciples put streamers on the back or maybe there are signs saying “Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee!!” but Jesus ain’t that flashy so he probs just gets on the bus and invites people who are walking down S. Main to hop on cuz they can’t afford the bus. Actually, no. I’d like to think that maybe these walkers are the ones who are actually running ahead into South Akron and Summit Lake, frantically knockin’ on doors and gathering a crowd to welcome the slow moving Greyhound bus.

I dunno. Anyway, I’m probably chillin’ in my house in Summit Lake thinking way too intense about life but I hope there’s a knock at my door (probably from a neighbor-kid) shouting at me “JESUS IS RIDING DOWN BROADWAY IN A GREYHOUND BUS COME QUICK” and I’m like “Wut. Who’s Jesus?” and I hop up and get my shoes on tho sometimes I’m slow moving so it may take a while and I’m running out there with everyone and their mother from the Peter Maurin Center and Save-a-Lot and the strip clubs and the take out stores and Long St. and Main St. and Archwood and Church’s Chicken and South Street and the auto shops and the random buildings that I don’t know what’s in them and all the spaces in-between and we’re in a tizzy trying to sort out what this slow moving bus is about but you best believe we know this is no joke so we show up.  

The crowd is quickly gathering and slowly moving down Broadway and we’re rushing to fill all the potholes with dirt ahead of Jesus and move all the orange cones so the ride isn’t so terrible (cuz this construction is a mess.) We don’t have cloaks to extend on the path, but we do have a deep sense of Midwest hospitality and we know potholes are the worst. We edge closer to South Street, to Thornton, people coming from Summit Lake and South Akron, streaming from the varying buildings offering social services, social support—ALDI’S. THERE IS A CROWD COMING OUT OF ALDI’S. SOMEONE’S BRINGING A CHEESE PLATE! It’s a scene! We pass the Metro station and hit University housing and students join. I hope some bring protests signs because it wouldn’t be a good crowd without a protest of some kind.

We’re entering downtown and we don’t have palm fronds but someone had the foresight to bring hundreds of Galley Boys from Swensons so we’re tossing bags and waving our burgers to welcome Jesus to Akron. IT’S A PARTY IN DOWNTOWN ON BROADWAY. CONFETTI EVERYWHERE. GALLEY BOYS ARE FLYIN’! HOSANNA! HOSANNA!  YAY JESUS! SO MANY RANDOM AKRON-ITES GATHERED TOGETHER AROUND A GREYHOUND BUS!

After Jesus is welcomed into the city he goes to the temple to check it out and sees that people are sellin’ stuff there and he get super upset and flips the tables and drives the sellers out. Holy space is to be kept holy. The priorities of the religious are out of line with the heart of God, and Jesus flips the tables to bring light to this dissonance. That is the role of a prophet—to bring light to the dissonance and challenge the powers that be.

I don’t really know what that looks like to contextualize this part of the story to Akron. I’d like to think that maybe Jesus meanders the procession down to King James Way. I like the dissonance of that—Jesus being in the space where we welcomed another proclaimed King (James) with a giant procession.

I’d like to think he stands on the stage at Lock 3…and just stands there. Maybe all my neighbors from Summit Lake and South Akron are still there, finally eating the Galley Boys, taking a break and resting from a long walk. Everyone else probably left, having more self-proclaimed important work to do.

I’d like to think that Jesus finally opens His mouth to teach, on a sunny April day at Lock 3, and he speaks the words he spoke when he first began his ministry in Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Ooo…Yes. That is a triumphal entry, indeed. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

White Supremacy

I come from a long line of cowards
Who know resistance only as a buzzing gnat
By their ear that keeps them from their livelihood
"We cannot flourish with all this noise."
Head tiled in judgement and disgust,
Nose too high to see that beneath their feet are the masses
A space of supremacy only ever to be occupied by 
An ever-loving, just God,
And never man.
This is the sin we have never named.

I come from a long line of cowards
Who are too proud to admit that they may have messed up
Too proud to repent
Too proud to embrace
My God
I am sick of your games 
And your cowardice makes me ill
If only I might forget that you are
Bones of my bones and flesh of my flesh 
But I cannot.

Once I knew the taste of the air by my tilted nose,
Until one day I looked down
And in the masses swam into clarity the face of my brother.
In curiosity I crawled down,
With the firm, supportive grasps of my neighbors,
Only to see that resistance was the lifeblood of the spirit,
Community the medicine of the soul,
And story the tie that binds.

I come from a long line of cowards 
Who are so afraid of the unknown of our neighbors
That we will grasp (oh so) tightly to the illusion of flourishing
Rather than choosing the courage of repentance, mutuality, and healing.
This is the sin we have never named.  

Monday, January 16, 2017

Building Beloved Community

Building beloved community.

The phrase has been ringing through my head all day. 

I remember during my Mission Year during our National Orientation in Atlanta we walked to the MLK Jr. National Historic Site. There was a flame encircled in brick, forever bubbling from the ground, with a plaque that read "The Eternal Flame symbolizes the continuing effort to realize Dr. King's ideals for the 'Beloved Community' which requires lasting personal commitment that cannot weaken when faced with obstacles." 

Building beloved community. 

"I want to canvas on D'vyne's street and bring her coffee," I whisper to Ruth. We were down at the Summit Lake Community Center gathering with other local leaders to hand out flyers to let people know about our community meeting this Thursday. 

Our community council is a crew of unlikely partners, all brought together by a deep care for the Summit Lake community. We've revitalized the monthly neighborhood meetings, with a desire to build greater connection in our neighborhood. And here we were, 9am with Dunkin' Donuts in hand, getting ready to go out in pairs on MLK Jr. Day and hand out flyers.

"LET'S GO TEAM!" I screech in excitement as we walk outside in the cold. My enthusiasm is met by laughter, but I just can't contain it. So many people I respect and care about walking around talking to my neighbors whom I respect and care about about a community meeting that I respect and care about. It's like a Director of Communication and Advocacy's dream!

My team is Jeremy, Ruth and I and we get in my car and park at my house because we were given Long St. as a canvassing route. I'm really excited about it because it gives me an excuse to meet a lot of neighbors I haven't gotten a chance to meet organically, and a chance to visit neighbors I haven't seen in a while. Darren meets us so then we're a team of four, splitting up the street and taking sides. Ruth and I are having a blast, walking from door to door, cracking jokes, making Instagram stories. I watch her be a complete rock star, telling people about our community meeting, the importance of their perspectives, and an invitation to come join us. She leads in confidence at such a young age. 

We visit our Girls Studio friends, I see some AfterSchool loves, and we connect with parents, grandparents, teens--people in our community who remember Summit Lake in many different seasons. We hear concerns for our community and curiosity about the neighborhood association. We are connecting people, connecting story, sharing life. 

Somewhere at the end of Long St. I realize that we are building beloved community.

*  *  *

We're back at the community center and Jeremy and Darren have left and it's just Ruth and I. "I want to go bring D'vyne some of this coffee," I state. Aliyah joins us and we hop in my car with the coffee to bring some to D'vyne. It feels like we're having a mini Girls Studio reunion and I love it. 

We pull up to her house and hop out of the car and stumble onto the porch, rap on the door to see an unfamiliar face opening the curtain, asking who we are.

"We're here for D'vyne--it's Aliyah, Ruth, and Amber." We hear the message relayed to the adjoining room and then we hear an excited scream and D'vyne tumbles out of the house and wraps us in a hug. We're laughing, just laughing, shoving Dunkin' Donuts coffee in her face and she's grabbing her shoes and vanilla coffee creamer and Mama comes out and says she can go wherever because she trusts us. 

All of life is but an adventure.

We end up at Save-a-Lot because it's Aliyah and Ruth's mom's birthday so we decide to make a surprise birthday cake for her. She likes chocolate a lot but there's no chocolate icing so we choose brownies and powdered sugar instead. I grab chocolate pudding, Ruth grabs candles, D'vyne grabs frozen Chinese food and we're hustling through the check-out line. 

Finally we're in my house taking off our shoes and letting out a sigh of relief. This space is a safe place--a place where we've laughed and cried, a place where we've met for Studio, a central hub, a hang out spot. They said they just wanted to chill, and so we chill. We bake a surprise birthday cake. I make us lunch. We take a nap. They do the dishes. We laugh. We live life.

We are building beloved community.

*  *  *

Later in the day I'm at our AfterSchool volunteer orientation, laughing with our incoming interns and volunteers. One is a high school friend of mine, two are interns from Malone, and the third is stepping into being Program Director while I begin to do more Communications and Advocacy work at South Street Ministries. We play a couple of games, eat pizza and wings, and talk about AfterSchool as a program. I think about the AfterSchool families I visited today while canvassing, telling them that program was starting this week (to which one grandma firmly said: "Oh, they'll be there!" as her four grandkids buzzed around her asking question after question). 

In the same day I've connected with AfterSchool families and AfterSchool volunteers. It's such an unlikely partnership, but that's what we're about at South Street. We're about putting people that don't make sense together into relationship because we believe that God is there in those in-between spaces. We believe that shared risks are the vulnerability on which trust, empathy, and healing are built. We believe that renewing our community is a process that is always undergoing and never complete. We believe in Jesus, who taught us to be a neighbor--who taught us to center our lives and decisions to include and amplify the voices of the most marginalized.

After orientation David insists that we go get the mango drink at the taqueria that I rave about. We pile into the South Street van and head to the plaza in Firestone Park, only to find that the place is closed for the day. Thankfully the little grocery store next to it is open, so we walk out with three Jarritos and a wave to the local store owner.  

We are building beloved community.

*  *  *

"Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday dear Mom
Happy birthday to you!"

My heart is so full of the laughter and love for this place, for these people, for this work. 

We are building beloved community as an active verb and not a passive, idealistic noun. 

What a raw, clumsy, tangibly beautiful life.