Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Disinherited of Detroit

Desire is the kind of thing that
eats you
leaves you starving.

Nayyirah Waheed

Within a ½ mile radius of our place in Southwest Detroit, there are four Dollar stores, three “gentlemen’s” clubs, four cash advance outlets, four liquor stores, a McDonald’s, a Church’s Chicken and the famous Telway where you can get 4 burgers for $3. This is how an economic system cashes in on impoverished people trying to survive: cheap, low-quality consumer goods and addictive entertainment, food & drink to cope with the deep pain & suffering of constant adversity. It’s a highly toxic environment.

On the bright side, in this neighborhood, we have found it possible to rent a 2-bedroom apartment for $450/month (month-to-month). This is how author Rebecca Solnit simplifies the situation in the U.S.:
The United States can be mapped as two zones now, a high-pressure zone of economic boom times and escalating real estate prices, and a low- pressure zone, where housing might be the only thing that's easy to come by.
Moving from a “high-pressure zone” to a “low-pressure zone” has been, simultaneously, both intensely uncomfortable and immensely congruent. We walked into McDonald’s to get an ice cream cone a few nights after we moved here last August and immediately we became the source of multiple appeals for cash to buy food or bus passes. For them, McDonald’s is not “Food, Folks & Fun.” It is where spare change might be the only meal they get. Or just the extra they need to purchase their next hit.

Their rugged outward appearance alone plants seeds of the precious stories about each of these children of God (those Jesus called “the least of these”) losing their job, home, marriage, teeth, hygiene and/or mind. Desperate economic times, addiction & failed relationships had taken their toll. These encounters leave us overwhelmed & tasered with guilt over our massive privilege.

This has been an opportunity to see hardscrabble Reality for what it actually is. In this new season of life, we are daily confronted with some of the marginalized masses of those the late Howard Thurman called “the disinherited.” Martin Luther King carried Thurman’s book Jesus & The Disinherited (1949) everywhere he traveled, chronicling a faith that prioritized & privileged an active solidarity with “those who stand with their backs against the wall.”

Thurman & King, in their writings and sermons, consistently reminded their communities that the Transcendent is experienced in a special way among the disinherited, as we cultivate a deeper source of empathy for their plight & actively commit to coming alongside them with their struggle to be liberated. We are beginning to get little tastes of this promise.

The disinherited of Detroit have little or no access to a quality education, health care, water, healthy food, jobs and transportation. They, quite simply, have not had the same opportunity for health, growth, learning & safe community that we have had growing up in South Orange County. This leaves us humble, grateful, prodded and determined.

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