Saturday, September 13, 2008

Barack, Grant and Foogie: Engaged in Community Transformation

The following was written originally and posted on our Borgmann Family List-serve. I'm responding here to my brother-in-law "CJ"'s comments about transforming this country through community organizing and transformation. Chris and I share a deep passion for seeing change in this country. HOW change occurs is an essential question we write about. He, from a Republican perspective, me, a Democratic one.

"What this country really needs are people like Barack Obama in every community, motivating and leading people to change the way they live, and help one another (community organizers I guess!!! Haha)." - cj

What do you think he's inspiring?

I was talking to Grant Foster* the other day over at Brian Mogren's place in North Minneapolis. Grant was there gardening. He does odd jobs for Brian when he's not working at Jiffy Lube. Grant is the uncle of one of my former students that many of my immediate family members has met: Reggie "Foogie" B. Anyway, I know a lot about Grant's life, because Foogie and I have been close, and because Foogie has shared stories of this uncle, and then, the uncle, has come into this circle of my life, by grace, as gift. Grant is 45 years old. A black man. And about 16 years ago he lost his privilege to vote when he committed a felony. He is not unlike any other human who has battled some major issues, in this case, depression and addiction. He has spent time locked up, and time in and out of finding the will to piece his life back together. He's a recovering addict. We all know addicts. (Some of us are in recovery ourselves.) All of us know what it is to fight some demon and work to love and be our best selves.

Anyway, Grant and I were visiting about tomatoes and weeds and the best approach to water and fertilization (Grant loves to garden!). And then he asked, "Melissa, do you know who you are going to vote for?"

I laughed and said, "Yep, I think so! How about you?"

He responded, "Do you know this is the first time in years that I've WANTED to vote? I had to get a whole lot of paper work filled out and mailed in, but my voter registration card came in the mail yesterday!"

He was beaming. So proud. So happy. So excited. I knew his joy. I know who he is voting for.


"America has lost the community spirit it used to have, on a lot of levels." - cj

Again: What do you think Obama is inspiring? More inefficient government spending on programs? Or more people getting motivated and organized to do the work themselves, ie, (cliche, cliche, but true, true): BE THE CHANGE THEMSELVES? Inspiring Grant, in this case, to simply use his voice. To recognize he has a voice! He has something to say in this simple action. (Just like he has this simple gift to garden and do this work to beautify the Northside. Talk about being part of community spirit! About being part of the transformation!)

There's no way government alone can "fix" anything! Just like nothing can "fix" an addict. Or "fix" or "solve" depression. Or "FIX" literacy. WE HAVE TO DO THIS WORK! But our government leads the way in areas like health care, education and basic infrastructure: roads, water, law enforcement...It does so, by providing reasonable and adequate funding for basic things. Providing REASONABLE funding to sustain such basics is essential! It's not a party-affiliation matter. It's a human matter!

Again, after looking at the federal budget information you gathered, don't you agree there is room for some more investment in the American people that could really serve this community spirit and growth? And don't you think Obama's priorities around investing in the American people separates him from McCain's priorities around funding war?

It's not irresponsible to fund basic things. Irresponsible is to create legislation, and then NOT fund items. No Child Left Behind, for all of it's horror, was increasingly horrific, by one simple fact: it was never ever properly funded. But then again: it was the lowest common denominator of anything written and passed by congress for education.


I go back to Grant. Foogie. And wonder really, how much anyone of us really wants to see these men engaged and successful in the world. What is the role of government here and its leaders?

It's only through relationships and taking the time to really UNDERSTAND the disenfranchised people in this country, that we can begin to see ourselves - and engage and transform --together.
I need Grant and Foogie in my life as men who remind me of the gift I have to offer as a woman of care and compassion and dialogue, just as they need and appreciate me in their life as someone who sees them as more than simply failed Black men, but as citizens with something to give. As HUMANS with God-given talents that belong to the world!

Significant learning is occurring in these significant relationships for me.

And to borrow from an Aboriginal woman's words about "being saved" vs. "mutually transformed" I say, "my liberation is bound up with theirs!" Indeed.

Obama does get this. He has lived this. He lives and leads from this understanding. All of this separates him hugely from McCain.

*Not his real name.

1 comment:

bfine107 said...

Thanks for sharing those thoughts