Last week, co-founder Matthew was asked by the Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice to participate in a panel about the current realities of Michigan. Sr. Simone Campbell, from Nuns on the Bus, brought together urban and rural Michiganians working in housing, community development, journalism, and social justice to establish contrast and dialogue. Interestingly, more points of commonality were discovered than anyone expected! Along with Matthew, panelists included Bankole Thompson (Op-Ed Columnist at Detroit News), Carina Jackson (COO of Mariner’s Inn), Joan Ebbitt (Associate, Adrian Dominican Sisters), Lynne Punnett (Former Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Lenawee County), and Laura Negron-Terrones (Adrian Dominican Sisters, Immigration Office).
Co-Founder Matthew is serving as a Challenge Detroit Fellow for 2017 and 2018 with 25 other entrepreneurs in the city. This week, his work is being highlighted here, copied below.
Tell us about one of your favorite neighborhoods in Detroit and what makes it unique?
In 2016, we packed up our life and moved back to Detroit from Los Angeles. Darcie and I had been feeling increasingly called to move back, so we took a leap of faith with our two daughters. I had grown up in the suburbs, at 13 Mile and Southfield, and had always loved spending time in the city, mostly downtown and Southwest. Knowing that one of our deepest longings was to live in closer context with neighbors, and that our girls would be raised in a diverse community, both socio-economically and racially, friend after friend kept pointing us towards the 48214 zip code and the Mack Avenue Church community. For about 8 months, we rented an apartment in Pingree Park and worked jobs with Lyft, The New Teacher Project, and Citizen Detroit. And then in May of 2017, we were able to buy a home for our family of four, just a block away. We have been blown away by the kindness and intentionality of our neighbors, both from within and outside of the church. Sitting on our porch swing, walking to the park, clearing out overgrowth in alleys, and even having to get up early to shovel snow has provided a tapestry of invaluable moments connecting to families and people who’ve lived here for decades. MACC Development, the CDC of our church, has just opened The Commons, the first laundromat/coffeeshop/tutoring/ community gathering space at the corner of Van Dyke and Mack. It’s only been open for two weeks, but already I’ve caught conversations about the pros and cons of charter and public schools; a hearty Kendrick vs. Tupac debate; and a sustained celebration of the new Black Panther movie. All over the low buzz of laundry and espresso machines doin’ their thing.
Tell us about the challenge project you’re currently working on, what are you learning from the experience?
Currently, my team and I are working with the Detroit Land Bank Authority to help them streamline the process of selling vacant lots to community partners and non-profits. We have interviewed about a dozen representatives from churches and service agencies looking to buy adjacent land for community gardens, outdoor performance spaces, and other projects they hope will bless their neighborhoods. The process of buying any property can be daunting and intimidating, but the mission of the DLBA is to see lots purchased and re-activated by Detroiters as soon as possible. I’ve learned that there is some confusion between the function of the DLBA and that of the Wayne County Treasurer, the entity involved in foreclosing and auctioning homes, too often starting a process that evicts people from homes they’ve lived in most of their lives. It is also clear to me, that if not done with ample care for these long-term residents who have challenging financial situations, the Land Bank’s urgent mission to deplete their property holdings as soon as possible will tip the balance of ownership towards those with the most ability to pay quickly. Thus, the Land Bank must proceed thoughtfully and attentively if they are to ensure that Detroit remains a city that is truly for everyone, and not just people like myself who had the means to move back from Los Angeles and purchase a home.
Tell us about your host company and your role in the organization.
At my host company Teen HYPE, I serve as the Manager of Mission Advancement. Teen HYPE’s mission is to Celebrate Youth, Confront Barriers, and Build Bridges, and they do this in a variety of ways. Each year, the organization produces a stage production that shines light on a particular aspect of being a teenager growing up in the Detroit of today, so the play is written in large part by the students themselves. This year, our topic is the negative impact of long prison sentence on the families of the incarcerated, particular the kids. With my experience having served at the Prison Creative Arts Project at the University of Michigan, I was brought on board to help develop the curriculum and plan some events. We had learned that about 90% of the teens that make up the leadership of Teen HYPE are experiencing a parent or close family member either in prison or currently on parole. Where I grew up, just north of 8 Mile, this is definitely not the reality. So, we watched Ava DuVerney’s documentary The 13th, exposing the massive expansion of private, for-profit prisons in our country, and the troubling reality that slavery might be operating under a different disguise. We pondered the ideas of over-incarceration and over-policing of some communities. Ultimately, we asked: what are the emotional, social, and economic impacts on the kids who have to live in the reality of having a caretaker taken away? We invited students and people who are currently incarcerated to submit artwork for a gallery and community conversation, and this ultimately led to our stage production called Mis-Taken?, performed 5 times in early March of 2018 to roughly 4,000 student and community members. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
What kind of impact do you hope to have with your host company and within the city?
Teen HYPE is doing critical work. I hope that while I’m here I can do my part to get the story out to both Detroit as well as the suburbs. I know full well how suburban folks often misunderstand my neighbors in the city, how that trickles down to expecting the worst from our local teenagers. These misunderstandings lead to ill-informed assumptions and continued disconnect, and this nudges people into making both political and everyday choices that continue to damage communities outside of downtown. I am living a very different reality, seeing every day how resilient and brilliant our teenagers are, how they have hopes and dreams and ideas that could truly move Detroit towards becoming the kind of city that sets an example for the rest of the country. I will continue to build bridges towards new perspectives and possibilities.
What are you most looking forward to during springtime in Detroit?
This will be the first spring in our new home in Pingree Park, so I’m excited to start planting vegetables in our backyard garden, to finish fixing our porches, and to start having neighbors and friends over. I am also looking forward to cheaper gas bills, as it’s been a really long and cold winter!
How do you believe your fellowship will shape your career moving forward?
Challenge Detroit has provided me with a range of Detroit perspectives on business, politics, development and community activism. Just over half way through this fellowship, I am grateful for the stories and lessons I’m learning. I will continue to work on The Table Setters, the non-profit that Marvin Wadlow Jr. and I officially launched in 2016 to produce improved relationships across humanly created racial, socio-economic, political, and religious lines. We combine launch events in churches, schools, businesses, and civic institutions with customized plans for ongoing cultural accountability. We’ve seen that diversity training days are never enough, but that ongoing relationships that nurture connections and share brokenness, hopes and dreams, can be mutually healing and productive. Challenge Detroit has revealed to me, time and time again, how very true and critically urgent this is, what with the rancorous divisions in our city and country. I also sense that I will reconsider my call to ordained ministry, as this Fellowship has required me to take a significant break from my coursework at Fuller Seminary. I sense a growing call to community development, to continue learning how to really listen to people, story by story, and discern how to rebuild, or many times, build for the first time, trust between neighbors and neighborhoods in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs.
Matthew was asked to join a dynamic group of panelists tonight on Leading Questions with Calvin Moore at Podcast Detroit. Hear Rabbi Glenn Harris of Shema Yisrael, Bloomfield Hills; Cheri Wellman, former Pastor of 37 North in Southgate; Singer-Songwriter Steve Phelps; Travel Agent Gaye Bri Moore (who also happens to be Calvin’s Mom); Matthew and hosts Calvin and Kent weigh in on what it means to be a follower of Christ today. From the personal to the political, from the aspects of finding a personal relationship with Jesus to the call for racial and social justice, this panel covers it all. Parts 1 & 2 below:
Leading Questions w/Calvin Moore Season 2, Episode 12
EPISODE TITLE | Capital Punishment: Justice or Revenge?
CONTENT | Calvin & Kent sit down with lawyer Katie Blair, activist Matthew John Schmitt, former prison warden Rick Goldberg, & Jacob Smith of the Returning Citizen Podcast to discuss the purpose of prison, the use of capital punishment, and whether the practice should continue or be abolished.
LISTEN HERE | http://bit.ly/leadingS2E12capital
Today I’m joined by Matthew Schmitt, co-founder of The Table Setters, a new organisation running diversity workshops, and doing consulting that helps to develop culturally integrated lives in churches, schools & businesses in the US.
Matthew and I talk about issues of race and equality in the US today, and the challenge of what it really means to love your enemy. The concept of the Table Setters is to bring people of different perspectives, races, backgrounds, beleifs around the same table and have healthy dialogue, and Matthew and I discuss together what this looks like – in particular in the current political climate in the US.
And with the election of Donald Trump as President, we talk about how progressives and conservatives, instead of hating on each other, might follow Jesus example, come around a table together, and hear each others stories – and how that is what may bring about the change we desperately need.
Matthew is a truly inspiring man, doing some groundbreaking work, and his words will both encourage and challenge you. Listen below:
From February 1, 2017
Calvin, Kelly, and Kent sit down with Steve Phelps, Matthew John Schmitt, & Dr. William Byron Reese Jr. to discuss their thoughts on the practice of peacemaking and the barriers to it. From December 23, 2016
Too often people have a hard time talking about race. White people don’t understand black people. Black people just shake their heads at the behavior of white people. It’s rare that they’ll actually sit down and talk about it.
It’s not that white people and black people don’t talk. But they rarely talk about race.
Marvin Wadlow Jr. and Matthew Schmitt organized an effort called the Table Setters to help facilitate that conversation. They joined Stateside today.
It started when Wadlow and Schmitt were working at a non-profit ministry together in Hollywood to help the homeless population there.
“We recognized that there was a need to sit at a table,” Schmitt said. “A table is an equalizer. A table is a place where everyone is on the same level, literally… a table is where you share a meal and break bread. Coming from a Christian background, there’s a lot of tables throughout scripture and we really believe that being at diverse tables and being able to sit with people who don’t look like you and have respect, is really the heart of what all reconciliation work is.”
The idea of race and race relations is not a new concept, but the Table Setters are hoping people will find commonality when they sit down with each other.
“This issue of race has been going on since African-Americans were stolen and brought here,” Wadlow said. “And just that statement alone gets the room quiet. So what we say is ‘Look, we want to break bread with you. I think we have more in common than we have separate.’ That tends to get people at least to the table.”
The real challenge comes when individuals on both sides come to the table with concerns about talking about race.
“I think a lot of white people are interested in the dialog of, ‘What do we say, what do we do? It’s so confusing, if we say this, it’s wrong, if we say this, it’s wrong,'” Wadlow said. “And on the other side of the coin, black people are just like, ‘Here we go again.’ And they’re frustrated and they’re tired.”
Listen to the full interview to learn why we shouldn’t wait for a traumatic news story about race to have these conversations.
from November 16, 2016
The Brain Candy ladies are in a post-election tizzy. They are mourning the loss of their candidate, and as such, kick things off with wine time. Susie and Sarah discuss the 2016 election results and why it was a trigger for Sarah’s childhood sexual abuse. We learn about how Sarah is coping with the loss with a weaving loom (oh geez). We discuss how America has elected its first reality television president. Plus, we talk to the founders of the Table Setters who teach people how to facilitate racial reconciliation. (Table Setters Segment starts around the midway point.)
How is it that a 58-year-old Black man and 38-year-old White man come to have the same understanding about racial issues in the United States? Two words… Holy. Spirit.
Marvin Wadlow Jr. and Matthew John Schmitt have both witnessed the injustice and trauma that has happened racially throughout the United States yet, through very different lenses. They both see a need for people to find language for healing to come. Together they created The Table Setters. Continue reading here…….