Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Detroit and Flint: Runis of Past Economic Empires

During the super bowl, a commercial for the Chrysler 200 was aired.  Images of urban industry and a former glory are pieced together, in what seems to be Chrysler’s attempt to reinvigorate the power of a once thriving city.  Detroit is a city that has been “to Hell and back,” is what this commercial rings, and I can only wonder, “Did they really come back?”   “This is the Motor City, and this is what we do.”   While Chrysler has produced a moving advertisement, I’m afraid the facts point to reality.

The reality that as of last May, Chrysler was the only automobile company to have more than two production facilities in Detroit.  Looking back over the last 50 years, just Ford and General Motors Company moved more than forty production facilities from Detroit, and many of those moves have been within the last thirty years.  Now include other automobile companies in the mix, and that number increases to at least 100.  If you look at nearby Flint, Michigan, you will see the same story as playing out in Detroit.  Can Detroit continue to be called the “Motor City” when, like most cities, built upon the foundations of the industrial revolution, changes in business practices, and technology have led to the downfall of an economic empire.  Why produce in Detroit, when you can produce in states or countries where production and exports cost less?  Capitalism says, “Follow the money,” which ultimately leaves places like Detroit and Flint, Michigan devastated. 

Many have taken on the automobile industry, Michael Moore being the most public figure, to show what their decisions have cost the people.  However, I think the greatest picture of this impact was released this week, with the result of the 2010 census data.  “…Census data on Tuesday showed that Detroit’s population had plunged by 25 percent over the last decade” (New York Times).  From the time of the Ford’s automobile revolution, Detroit grew to be among the largest cities in the country.  Today, it is known as the city with the largest percentage population drop in history, even larger than the drop in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (New York Times).  While population loss is one affect, look at the social affects the decline in employment has birthed, including increased crime, increased poverty, and declines in infrastructure.  Detroit is currently the third most dangerous place to live in the United States, not to mention Flint, Michigan is number four.  Determined by the reported amount of  violent and property crimes per 100K, one can only imagine what it would be like, had things been different, had the automobile industry stuck with the people, for the people.  What will happen to places like Detroit in the days to come, we can only speculate, but from where I’m sitting, I doubt Chryslers’ commercial will lead to any major improvements.  

To see the Chrysler commercial visit:

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My First Residency Experience

This spring, Jeanette King began the program in the Youth Leadership concentration.  She is one of our many "non-traditional" students returning to college after few years of life experience away from academia.  The residency was filled with events such as classes, meals, fields trips, and special presentations.  Pictured is Jeanette Kin with Jim Ellis at the Salvation Army Kroc Center. Here is her reflection:
Approximately 22 years after completing a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice I found myself sitting in a college classroom at Eastern University, East Falls Center for my first residency experience.  My first thought was residency – I’m not attending medical school only doctors and other profession types do that.  I had no clue!

On Friday, February 11, 2011, I experienced Day One of my very first residency.  It was nothing like what I had envisioned.  After meeting some of the people my fears and anxiety lessened.  Well… I survived Day One and quickly made the decision I can do this.    

Saturday, February 12th - Day Two I shared in the Welcome Back Dinner where I met students from the Community Development and Arts in Transformation concentrations along with those following the Youth Leadership track.  What a great time I had meeting and talking with former graduates and second and third year students!  No, residency was nothing like what I expected.

By our third gathering I was definitely enjoying what I had decided to embark upon – a new career!
All of the students I was with from Wednesday, February 16th – Friday, February 18th, were persons I had only meet via the discussion board.  It was nice to finally put a face with a name.

Tuesday night I participated in the Faculty Fireside at BuildABridge International.  What a wonderful illuminating experience!  The student success without a doubt is because of the tremendous commitment and dedication of the faculty and staff.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Island of Misfit Toys- Erin Thomas

The dancer with street grit to survive, but the softest heart for kids...
The tailor-artist who sees potential in young men the rest of us overlook...
The pastor who sees beauty in the broken Church...
The writer filled with wisdom, draped in jewel tone scarves..
The peacemaker spanning generations of older sages at home, sharing her love with us...
The community centre leader who sees truth past her superiors...
The youth worker with superheroes on her shirt...
The kids' worker who's soul's delight is blowing bubbles...
The tree hugger with a tonne of kale...
plus a few more ragtag punch'n'judy types...
... and the abolitionist who walks into bad situations without a second thought, but fears saying "hello" in church, has the oddest sense of empathy, tires of people easily, has this rather funny way of losing or tearing her clothes at the most inopportune times, and questions, questions, questions...
Meet the Misfit Toys living on the Island of Misfit Toys.

Most of us feel we don't fit... even agree that we were not meant to fit. Yet we see life on the frontlines each day, witness the oppression and suffering of others, suffer the crucifixion of ourselves, and wonder how our heads, hands and hearts could ever make a difference when we're so... mis-matched.
Society claims that individuality is revered.

That being so, why... us? If everyone's individuality is so prized, then technically, the Master of Arts in Urban Studies students of CCGPS should be as equally accepted and understood as everyone else. Our Island should not exist. Yet we do. Here we are. Just a few steps left of where normal left off.

We come from places that demand conformity, we come from places of fear, we come from places that have done things just so for years, and we are a threat to new ideas... or even old ones. We come from places that are apathetic, we come from places that are seeking change but cannot recognize change for when it comes, and we come from places that would seek to shut us up.

So we all wind up together. Some with wings where there ought not to be (so sayeth the world); some with one arm or half a leg; some with fluorescent fur; some with blind eyes... or no visible eyes at all, the buttons having fallen off.

We are the ones who are questioned, wondered at, held in suspicion, examined, and even persecuted. There is certainly acceptance and love in some places, but only some... and only so far.
Don't be afraid.

We have not come to save the world. That's already been done. We bow to Him, the Ultimate Misfit. Our allegiance is to Him.

We are your dreamers and poets and fools. We are your clowns and court jesters and mad prophets. We are your silver linings in dreary days of war, famine and disease. Do not discount us. We are creatively and wonderfully made servants that ache to love the world about us, as we love our Lord. No greater than everyone else, we do not seek to be like everyone else... we seek to be the winged, one-legged blind creature God took such great delight in making. In a world that needs to see truthful beauty and beautiful Truth, He has made His dwelling among us.

Welcome to the Island of Misfit Toys.

Written by Erin Thomas, Abolitionist and student at Eastern University 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Guns, Violence, and Hunting

Guns, Violence, and Hunting
Growing up in central Pennsylvania, I rarely remember hearing of the need for gun-control.  Guns were and continue to be an accepted part of my community's culture and not viewed as an unnecessary evil. As a child, it was not uncommon to walk into a home with a gun case by the door and a deer head mounted on the wall.  While my family did not hunt or own guns, most of my friends grew up looking at guns, hearing hunting stories and even hunting with their family.  I grew up in a culture where guns represented our rights.  Patriotism was connected to the right for gun-ownership and even the churches taught this was a God-given right.  Perhaps being from a family that did not own guns or being active in urban ministry from a young age gave me a different perspective, but I still understand the historical and cultural value of owning a gun in many American communities.  

Until this week, I did not know that gun violence was not a wide spread issue until after the 1980s, when the gun industry needed to revamp marketing strategies Any rural community member knows the handing down of hunting rifles from father to son is a rite of passage, but how many of us ever thought about how this ritual impacted gun sales?  The demand for hunting riffles was decreasing, so guns as a means of protection became a strategy to access a new market of customer.  Unfortunately, this marketing strategy created a new societal ill along with more revenue.
I will not go into the statistics, but studies by reputable institutions show the irrefutable truth that the presence of guns increases gun-related deaths.  I must emphasize, for the sake of rural communities though, that the need for regulation is not necessarily to impact the sale of  hunting rifles but instead handgun sales to the general public.  Guns designed to kill people, not animals, are by far an unnecessary evil in communities. 
Legislation must be changed enforcing more thorough background checks, to create limits upon purchasing, and improve regulation on gun-shows as well as other measures to eliminate straw purchasing.  If you are not aware of why these reforms are necessary, I urge you to research!

At a conference I attended last week (2011 Congress on Urban Ministry), I had the pleasure of participating in a workshop facilitated by Dr. Drick Boyd, faculty of the Urban Studies Department.  In this workshop, Dr. Boyd emphasized the importance of reaching the complacent middle.  This makes sense, as the majority of people are not extremists on either side of the issue.  Therefore, if we are going to reach the complacent middle, I believe we must bring an particular experience to places, like my hometown, that the NRA culture fails to expose.

I admit that I have been a part of the complacent middle.  What made it easy for me to be complacent as a young person was that I was directly impacted by gun-violence, at least this is what I though.  After listening to Dr. Boyd’s presentation, I now realize my life was very directly impacted by gun violence.  For the predominately white rural community, citizens may never have had a loved one murdered or killed by a gun.  Furthermore, they may never meet someone who has had this experience.  What they will more likely have experienced is the loss of a loved to a self-inflicted gun-related death.  Suicide is an issue that my community has experienced many times.  Suicide has been a tragedy I have experienced.  At age 4 my uncle committed suicide with a gun.  My life was greatly altered as the result of gun-violence.

I do not bring this point to the table saying that limited access to guns will eliminate gun-related suicides.  Instead, I am challenged to think of what it would have been like to have lost my uncle to gun-related homicide. I am challenged to think about how it would have impacted me, if he had been killed just for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Legislation reform could eliminate some of gun-related homicides completely.   In my home community, many people can relate to the pain and anguish of losing a loved one to gun-related suicide.  When given this reference point, people can begin to understand the cries of victims who experience other-inflicted gun violence.  This reference point helps people to relate with a mother who has lost a son to an accidental shooting.  This reference point helps people to relate with a husband who has lost a wife in a hold-up. 

In order to move from complacent to active, people must have the ability to relate and understand the necessity of change.  Dr. Boyd talked about the importance of story-telling and shared symbols to combat the culture created by the gun industry.  I have experienced this necessity and agree that facts are facts, but there is a reason our history is but a shared collection of stories.  Facts cause us to shudder but go back to our own daily lives.  Experience and empathy is what causes people to act!  What I propose is bringing stories told by the victims of gun violence as well as raising awareness of the amount of gun-related suicides in rural communities and in predominately white suburban communities, where the complacent middle tends to live.