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 sharing a story about when he learned that turning the other cheek is actually an act of resilience and resistance, not cowardice. But he also asks: who is getting the most slapped in the face? It’s certainly not him….
From Just Speak, Incorporated‘s Starting Point Event at Red Bull Radio, Detroit, November 27, 2018.
Most importantly, this is only a beginning, but hopefully it has inspired a new perspective and posture on learning, confessing, repenting and taking daily steps to work towards dismantling systemic racism and classism. We confidently believe it is in line with Jesus’ teachings. We pray and hope this spurs all of us towards greater awareness and action.
If you’ve learned something from these past 40 posts, please share them far and wide with love, with hope, and with earnest expectation that we will understand God more when we learn to love one another ever more deeply and ever more truly.
May your Easter be filled with a sense of hope and possibility that Christ died and rose again for every single one of our lives, every single one of our beautifully diverse bodies and souls, and that we can celebrate the good, good work of getting to know the Kingdom here on Earth every single day.
We at The Table Setters would love to break bread with you in that celebration and this ongoing work, soon. – Matthew
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:
Rudy and Celah of Grace And Two Fingers, a show where “a Mexican and Black guy from the hood in Los Angeles talk about what Jesus has done and is doing,” invited Matthew & Marvin on their podcast with the question “why do Black and White people fight so much?” This blossomed into a rich and funny conversation about the intersections of faith, racism, “Whiteousness,” Jesus and the humor that can be found in the tensions when we keep coming back to the tables.
Take an hour and dig in, you won’t be sorry.
While it is frustrating, tragically so, to recognize that the prophetic words of Frederick Douglass from 1857 still resonate today when it comes to racial justice, we are choosing to see it as a light and an encouragement. We know that faith without actions is dead, just as actions without faith are often lacking in wisdom. We are better when we learn from one another.
For a little more on this video, here’s a promo we did with Ambar. Unfortunately, the patchy wi-fi of East Detroit renders Matthew’s portions a bit choppy, but that’s a story of systemic injustice for another day.
A few months ago, my daughter Charlotte said: “Dada, I want to make a video about Detroit for the Table Setters.”
My favorite part of this was that she started writing in her notebook about all the people she wanted to interview so there could be older and younger people, strangers, people who’ve lived in Detroit for a long time and people who are new, and she said, “I know, I know, I’ll definitely talk to people who look like us and people who don’t look like us.”
She decided to ask people what they like about our new city, because even at 7, she’s noticed that people tend to say many negative things about Detroit. Marvin helped her think like a director and an editor, and of course, we helped her learn how to use the iMovie program. She asked me to compose the music, and was very clear about how it should sound. She chose the titles and imagery, and I helped her find some photos to enhance the stories people were sharing.
Obviously, I’m proud of her, but I also think it’s important to note that our kids, (not just my kids, but all kids) can handle thinking about narratives and community and diversity even in grade school. In fact, most of the divisive mindsets people carry around with them originate at early ages.
Without further ado:
Marvin loves to do behind the scenes kind of extra footage, so we did this as a little promo. Of course, we did it on a Friday right after school, she was hungry, and you can see the weekend jubilation setting in. 🙂
Thanks for watching, feel free to share, and any comments you leave will certainly be shared with the producer herself.
I am who I am because of who we all are…I am because we are
I have learned much about the essence of being human through Tom Logan, co-founder of Marion Medical Mission. He and his wife, Jocelyn, have directed the Shallow Well Program for the last 25 years, helping to install about 27,000 shallow wells in Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia, Africa. Those wells have enabled three to four million villagers to have safe drinking water. Only a small number of them have ever had safe drinking water, “since the beginning of mankind,” according to one of the village elders my wife, Susie, and I met in Malawi last fall. We are proud to have assisted with 144 wells of the 2,754 installed in 2016, and we are planning to return to Africa in the future.
Notice I said “assisted.” Tom was very clear that the wells belonged to the villagers; we were only there to assist. They located the subsurface water source, dug the 15 to 25 foot well, formed and baked the clay bricks, laid the brick walls of the well, and created the concrete cap to keep the water clean and apron to drain away excess water. We Americans raised the $450 needed to pay for the cement, pipe, pump, and wages of the African field officers, well building supervisors, and installation supervisors. We Americans drove Toyota Land Rovers loaded with well parts over rough terrain to remote villages. Once there, we recorded the GPS location and construction data on an android, checked the quality and safety of the well, and celebrated the completion of the well with a dedication ceremony.
Only together, Africans and Americans, were we able to be who God created us to be. Only together did safe drinking water become available to thousands of villagers. Together, people of color and white people actualized a dream, became friends and established relationships, and served one another. Together, we sang songs and praised God for His goodness. The attached video is a gift of song to my wife and me for coming to their town in Malawi and assisting with wells. The verses are, “Who will enter into Heaven? Our father is there. Only the holy will enter. You are holy. Enter into Heaven. Our father is there.” Susie and I felt we had entered into Heaven for those moments of the song. I still tear-up when I watch that video. Gestures of love from God’s children are powerful. The people of Malawi have such open and warm hearts.
I write this story to illustrate how people who are different can effectively come together and achieve a dream. In this land the “American Dream” is at stake. The only way people of color and white people can actualize that dream is to become friends, establish relationships, and work together, as we did in Africa. The time for such an encounter is now; it is long past due. And, if we do not succeed today, what kind of world will our children and grandchildren inhabit tomorrow?
Ubuntu, I am who I am because of who we all are. Invite the Table Setters to your church, school, business, or community organization and allow them to facilitate relationship building. It’s diversity training on a personal level. Many of us know very little about people who are different. Come to the table; share at the table; stay at the table; and come back to the table. Only through relationship building can we learn who we all are and, as a consequence, learn who each one of us are. I am because we are.
It’s been 11 months since we displaced ourselves from Los Angeles to Detroit. But yesterday, I got to come back to Hollywood, thanks to an incredible exhibit called “Displacement and Gathering” at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood which featured a live artistic performance of a Table Setters gathering around a table to discuss race, politics, the idolization of all things white. We talked about what we might learn from other cultures, other perspectives, and other people with whom we might expect to disagree with, be afraid of, be opposed to meeting. We talked about why God created diversity to begin with, if it wasn’t to learn how to appreciate God’s love for beauty in variety.
Marvin’s All-American photos and videos with quotes by Frederick Douglass and Andre Henry were featured alongside original artwork by Hyung-in Kim, Maria Fee, Anne Baumgartner, Andrea Kraybill, Brian Fee. I want to let you have a glimpse of that work below.
For me, personally, I felt “gathered,” after being displaced. I was invited to play piano again during the worship service. I was invited to dinner with old friends. I got to hang out with the old team of Discerners from the Gregory avenue neighborhood, kids I knew since they were kids, and now they are all hovering around 21. It was great to be gathered back. But I also thought of how many people get displaced and are never able to return to glimpses of home. I think of Native Americans pushed off their land. I think of people living homelessly in Hollywood who get shuffled along, especially during the Oscars, every year. I think of warriors snatched out of their homelands to come build a country for white men. I think of refugees fleeing impossible situations, either economically or politically, to do right by their families, to survive.
I think of all the many people in Detroit who’ve been told their house is not worth the cost it would take to fix the roof, so they just have to slowly let the water seep in. I think of what it might mean for us to turn back that tide. I think of what it might take. I pray to God we have the strength and courage to dismantle the walls that divide us, and I think Whiteousness has always been one of the most formidable. Like the forcefield blocking entrance to the planet with all the secret codes in Rogue One…..
This week: we moved into a new house. Another displacement and re-gathering. We are trying to buy this house, but are facing challenges because, like many of our neighbors, it is not being valued as high as the seller is hoping to sell it. What is value, and who decides? The nature of this post is understandably scattered and questioning, which I think fits well alongside the artwork to follow. Let it speak to you too.
What if we could allow everyone to be considered, “white?” Of course, i think that would be a terrible idea, as whiteness is the problem. But, what if we could truly understand each person as a beloved child of God, as beautiful as God intended?
But first, listen to the incredible Diane Ujiiye deliver an opening prayer of sorts through spoken word:
Displacement and Gathering
“Remembering for Refugees” by Hyung-in Kim: the interlacing strands were produced in art workshops. In these educational venues the artist directed participants in the shared activity of braiding bands as a pedagogical tool to raise awareness of cultural diversity and to build empathy. Her project also commemorates the 25th Anniversary of the LA Riots.
“Pourous Wall” by Maria Fee: a wall is erected as a barrier: it can contain, or it can keep things at bay. Boundaries are necessary to create distinction. Yet when a wall is impenetrable, how can relationships occur between what’s inside and outside? When a wall is too high, how can the strange draw nearer to become more familiar?
“Alienation” by Brian Fee: to exist is to struggle. In attempt to elevate the self, someone else may be pushed away. This brings about a double alienation: the one who is cast off, and the offender left alone.
“Gather and Embrace” by Anne Baumgartner: welcome can function in many ways, both literal and symbolic. Through words, expressions, and physical space, God utilizes the particularity of place to gather the many in order to embrace them. How can we create room for each other and also the Holy Spirit?
“Interwoven” by Andrea Kraybill: the multi-layered bands installed above the church’s entrance, found near the intersection of two streets, further speaks of hospitality. It provides an alluring invitation for passersby to enter into a meditative space for renewal and refreshment.