The recent protests should challenge all of us to reflect on race and the factor it plays in our communities and relationships. Family Promise of Waukesha County is no different. We are not immune from prejudice nor are our families. Most volunteers, staff supporters have most likely heard a version of “concern” about helping “those people.” Our families have felt the division between races even if it is in an unspoken manner. The first time I had to drive our transit van, I listened as one mom, who was African American, was “thinking out-loud.” She was in awe of her surroundings. She commented on the darkness, the stars in the sky, the deer running across the road, the vast countryside, size of the houses, and wondering about the lives of those who could possibly live in such large houses. For her it was like going to a foreign country. The problem with systemic racism is that there is not one person to blame or an easy fix. It is subtle. Her experience was not the result of a specific discriminatory act against her because she was black. Yet segregation between races in southeastern Wisconsin is palpable and prevalent.
Then there are two examples of families at Family Promise experiencing prejudice more directly even if not overtly. Another single mom was working diligently with our Case Manager to find a job. There was much exuberance when the owner of an in-home cleaning company told our Case Manager that they would hire this mom. The next day, after the business owner realized she was black, the position was quickly rescinded. Another mom had a job at a company in Milwaukee. When she came to Family Promise there was a branch of her company in Hartland, which had an open position.
She asked her boss if she could transfer and he said no. Our Case Manager reached out to him to advocate for this mom and during the conversation, it became evident that he was worried that his white customers would have a negative reaction to a black woman working in his store. Now there was never a straightforward comment that race was the reason, but subtle “code words” made their thought process clear. These may seem like small instances, but they did impact these family’s ability to move forward successfully in their life.
When [the families] succeed; we succeed; when they celebrate, we celebrate; when they are hurting, we are hurting. We are involved in the lives of one another. This could be the recipe for healing the wounds of subtle racism. Therefore, racial justice is a priority for Family Promise because we know it provides our families an opportunity for a better life.
Family Promise makes a commitment to support our families beyond their time in the program. The value of community and congregational involvement means that we have a unique connection to our families. They are not strangers. When they succeed; we succeed; when they celebrate, we celebrate; when they are hurting, we are hurting. We are involved in the lives of one another. This could be the recipe for healing the wounds of subtle racism. Therefore, racial justice is a priority for Family Promise because we know it provides our families an opportunity for a better life. We keep our promise to the families we serve when we participate in ending racism and prejudice. It is because of these relationships that we cannot look away or be silent especially when the prejudice is subtle.