Community Conversation with Faith Leaders
About this Episode
January 16, 2020
This is a recording of a community conversation that took place on Monday January 13th. Sarah sat down with a panel of local faith leaders and discussed how city government can engage faith groups when solving the critical problems we face.
- Pastor Jelani Greenidge
- Zakir Khan
- Reverend Lynne Smouse Lopez
- Katie Schneider
Have a question for Sarah? Email it to [email protected].
Announcer: Welcome to Our Portland with Sarah Iannarone. The following community conversation was recorded on January 13th, 2020 at Portland Central Nazarene Church. Sarah spoke with local faith leaders about how city government can engage faith communities when addressing the many challenges we face. Subscribe to our newsletter at sarah2020.com to be notified of future campaign events. And now, here's Sarah.
Sarah Iannarone: So thank you everyone for being here. Um, yeah, huge gratitude to pastor Huff and his congregation. Uh, the reason that I decided to host this community conversation was in large part because of the work that he and his community have done here over the last couple of years to create a safe refuge for people who are experiencing homelessness. And when I heard about some of the challenges that they faced as they tried to transition away from a temporary warming shelter into a tiny house village, that they could then provide more transitional housing for people trying to get off the streets and into permanent shelter and permanent housing. The challenges that they faced, I thought it doesn't have to be this hard. Why is it so difficult for us as a community, for us as a city, for us as local government to make it possible for people to be helpers in some of the challenges that we face?
Sarah: So we've come at these over the last couple of months from different angles and I just thought it would be very important to hear from our partners in the faith community about what would work for them. So we're going to turn the tables cause a lot of this campaign so far has been me talking at the community about what I think a lot and tonight I'm here to listen to what these folks, who are experts in their own areas, think about what is happening. Before we start though, at the basis of just about everything I do is community building. So I would like us to do a little activity. And I do have another former student in the room. So whenever I have a former student in the room, they always laugh cause I love this activity in the classroom.
Sarah: But I would like us to pair up with someone that we haven't met before. So maybe someone that we didn't come here with and we're just going to take five minutes and I would love for you to share two things with each other. The first one would be, "what is something that you're really concerned or worried about that's happening in Portland right now?" And the second one would be, "what is something that you're very excited or inspired by that's happening in Portland right now?" So something that's troubling you and something that's exciting you, and we'll just take about five minutes for you to take that time and connect with someone on those two issues. And I'm going to ask that you panel do that as well in pairs. Fair enough. Okay, here we go.
Sarah: Beep beep beep beep. I think we're going to come back together now. Maybe I can get the podcast producer to put that air horn sound like they have on morning radio. Right? Sarah, no sound effects. Um, well great. Thank you all for having the courage to do that. I know for some of us that's harder than others and so I appreciate you taking that risk of talking with someone new. Um, and for those of you for whom that's completely comfortable, do more of it and help other people. Um, that's really very good. Um, the first thing I want us to do to get started, just so that our listeners can get familiar with your name and who's talking is if you would take a moment and, um, introduce yourself, give us your name, how you prefer to be addressed, your pronouns, and just tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do in the world.
Sarah: Yeah, I think we'll just go down the line.
Jelani Greenidge: Hello everybody. My name is Jelani Greenidge. My pronouns are him and his, I guess. Um, I currently serve as co-pastor of Sunset Covenant Church in the Rock Creek neighborhood of Northwest Portland. Um, kind of out by tan Warren, if you know where that is. Uh, my background, uh, before I was a pastor was a worship musician. So I spent a long time doing, uh, multicultural worship music with a strong emphasis in hip hop. Uh, cause that's, that was kind of my first musical language. So as a hip hop emcee and producer, I'm known as "G Natural." Um, that's also, uh, how I know Greg who invited me here. So a shout out to McKelvey over there. And, um, also as a standup I go by J G the comic. So that's a little bit about me.
Sarah: No pressure. It's a lot of talent.
Zakir Khan: Good evening everyone. My name is Zakir Khan. I am the board chair with Care Oregon. The Council on American Islamic Relations, Oregon Chapter, Oregon's first Muslim civil rights organization. Uh, I, before moving up here and working in, uh, for social justice organization and in downtown Portland, I spent five years working as a professor and I slowly came to the realization that I needed to be in social-justice work rather than academia because the times, uh, really saw us, saw that it was necessary to do this work to help the marginalized at the rate of difficulties that they were facing. I've been a lifelong social justice advocate. Uh, I worked on a number of different cases when I was in law school from class actions to Guantanamo Bay litigation. Uh, always have been interested in helping the most marginalized, have somebody there to defend them.
Reverend Lynne Smouse Lopez: Good evening, I'm Reverend Lynne Smouse Lopez. I'm pastor of Ainsworth United Church of Christ in Northeast Portland. We are a multiracial, multicultural congregation that is open and affirming to GLBTQ community we're immigrant welcoming and many other things. Um, and I am grateful to be here. Thank you.
Katie Schneider: Hi, my name's Katie Schneider. Uh, I'm the director of congregation Congregation Shir Tikvah, which is the only Jewish synagogue on the East side of Portland. I work with Rabbi Ariel Stone who some of you might know for her social justice work. In our religion, social justice isn't a choice; it is an obligation and we take it very seriously. And uh, I'm happy to be here. I also have volunteered at an organization called Rahab's Sisters on 82nd Avenue that serves dinner every Friday night to marginalized women. Anyone who wants to come and, uh, receive radical hospitality. So that's who I am.
Sarah: Well, I think we'll keep it down at that end. Katie, if you don't mind, and not to put you on the spot, but to put you on the spot a little bit just because we're here. Would you mind sharing with us the answers to that icebreaker that I posed at the beginning, which is what's your biggest concern and maybe your biggest hope for what's happening in Portland right now?
Katie: My biggest concern was income inequality because I think it encapsulates many of the crises that we are dealing with from houselessness to mental illness treatment. Um, and my hopeful point was, uh, Joanne Hardesty is election to city council.
Sarah: And how about you, Reverend Smouse Lopez:
Lynne: and you can call me Lynne. I, um, my biggest concern was houselessness and an attached to that was also the lack of mental health support and, and services. And my, um, excitement or something that inspires me is my granddaughter's school in North Portland, James John, and her second grade teacher. She's in a Spanish immersion program and they are really, uh, concerned about lifting up culture and music as well as some historic culture and also, uh, present day justice issues. And I'm just so impressed with that.
Zakir: So something that gives me, uh, pains at night is, uh, the LOC, the persistent lack of centering the most marginalized voices in our community in a lot of the conversations that happen quite frequent — frequently in the public space. Um, and so that can range from houselessness to, uh, the Muslim community setting on important commissions, uh, across the state. But that's a real worry for me. Um, especially with what the community is facing. I think something that gives me hope is that there's a lot of leaders of color that are just now rising up here in Oregon and they're not asking for permission to do good. And that really inspires me because if we had to consistently wait for our turn, it will not arrive as we know.
Jelani: I would say I'm probably the, when you asked the question, my immediate thought went actually to transportation safety, uh, and like, you know, fatalities with, um, bicycle, you know, and the scooters and all that. But my actually, when you say, when you said what keeps me up at night, uh, the most honest answer is, um, our climate of, um, um, there's all these, there's all these different ways of describing it, but, um, some people call it "cancel culture," but I, I'm thinking of this sort of adversarial, um, zero-sum political climate that we're in where, um, in order for someone, uh, on the other side to win, I have to lose. And vice versa. Um, I mean there are definitely aspects of politics and of governing in general that that does require some zero-sum thinking. But, um, in general, I'm really concerned about trying to find more constructive ways to collaborate with those with whom we disagree or with whom we are just generally unfamiliar, even if we don't know enough about them to know what we disagree on.
Jelani: Um, I actually just released as a hip hop artist. I released an album called actually a double album called how I resist, uh, volumes one and two. And I wrote and released those songs because I think it's just as important to assess how we are being effective in our resistance rather than just saying we are doing it. Uh, because resistance means a lot of different things, a lot of people. And um, what gets me excited, uh, actually kind of in that same vein is the way that Portland is developing this reputation for being a hotbed of creativity for artists, uh, for musicians, for, uh, comedians. Um, and I feel like in that space, there are opportunities for collaboration where we can come together and unite around the things that we do agree with and not be so, um, be so insistent upon tearing each other down because of what we disagree about. Um, and so I think there's a lot of tremendous opportunities. And that's why I said yes to this event.
Sarah: Well thank you for being here and thank you all for sharing that. I really appreciate the work. As I've been out campaigning, I've noticed the intense amount of work that's going on in our faith communities in terms of addressing social problems. As someone who's running for local government office, obviously I have a certain set of tools at my disposal with which I'm going to be able to affect change. But those tools are very limited. And so what I'd really like to hear from you are, "what are some of the priorities that your congregation or your organization or your network is addressing?" and "what, how are you doing what you're doing?" So what tools do you have at your disposal and how are you doing the work in the community from your perspective outside of government? And feel free to anyone start who just wants - popcorn style on this one.
Lynne: I'll try not to talk too long. We're doing a lot these days. And one of the things that we have: a group that's very engaged in a sacred conversations to end racism. And we have dealt and worked with and talked about racial justice throughout the years, the whole serve years of the life of the congregation. But we decided we needed to go back and really intensely work more on that. And we're unfolding a program that will started at Martin Luther King Day celebration that we have every year. This year we're going to unroll a bigger program to do more with historic study about racism, racism in Oregon and so forth. In addition, another thing that we had gone through last spring was the wise process and it's welcoming, inclusive, supportive and engaging people with mental illness. And we decided, voted to become a congregation or by consensus, a wise congregation. And so we have focused on how can we respond to people struggling with mental illness, how can we help support them in leadership and involvement, total involvement in the congregation and what can we do for people in the community.
Lynne: In addition, we are working on housing issues and we house the HIV Day Center for Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. They're in our lower level during the week. It's a day center, gives a community for people with HIV hot meals. And then they leave. A number of the day center clients are homeless, marginally housed. A number have drug addiction and other issues. And so we've opened an extreme cold weather shelter and we are about to open this week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday again. And it is for extreme weather at this point so that those day center clients don't have to leave on the really bad days of weather. They can stay and stay the night and then go back to the day center the next day, or during the weekend, have other places to go. But this is a small way we're trying to do that and we're also investigating ways that our congregation can be involved in developing low income housing.
Sarah: Lynne, just for our listeners who won't have a chance to interact with you here, do you want to give a pitch about where they can find your MLK day event?
Lynne: It's at Ainsworth United Church of Christ on Northeast 30th and Ainsworth in Northeast Portland. And our worship starts at 10 and we will have, on the Sunday of Martin Luther King weekend, worship. And then with special music and prophetic preaching and a feast, a potluck feast. So we invite people to bring food and then have a program attached with that.
Sarah: And if they wanted to maybe volunteer in your day center or your cold weather shelter, how would they find you that way?
Lynne: The day center, they could call directly to Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon Day Center, (503) 460-3822. Or to volunteer for our shelter, you should call me and the church, (503) 284-8767, or find us on the website and our information is there: ainsworthucc.com. Thank you. Hopefully we'll send some folks your way. Anybody else want to weigh in about some of the projects that you're working on and the ways that you're setting your community out to address some of these issues?
Zakir: I'll go next. How many of y'all in the audience have Muslim friends? Let's take a quick poll. Okay. How many of y'all have like Muslim male friends? Okay, y'all ever wonder where they disappear off to on Fridays sometimes, right? They're going to Friday prayers. Okay. They're going to Friday prayers and they're listening to stories and they're listening to different stories about their faith, about how they ought to act. And it's a constant reflection every week of hearing these stories. And so one of the things that we really focus in on as an organization is telling really effective stories that have really important talking points attached towards them. And people are always wondering like, why are you going in that direction? Or what are you trying to do? We're trying to use the story to create the opportunity to create something new that people aren't thinking about with a particular issue.
Zakir: And in terms of creating and crafting those talking points, eventually there's a policy goal that comes to mind. But critically, we're always thinking about " how can we shift the Overton window on all of these issues?" Because especially here in Oregon, our community's voices are traditionally not heard, right? We'll say something and people will be like, "Oh, okay, cool" or "well, we'll vote for a new president. And then all of the racism and the discrimination will magically just resolve itself and then we won't have to worry." But we have found critically that when we tell effective stories and we use multiple channels to do so, and that we have these talking points that we really stress and for hate crime reform, that was one of our major legislative efforts that we spent two years just dwelling upon the same talking point over and over again, that then it became really easy to move people, especially in a critical time in which the legislation actually got stuck in the legislature and wasn't moving.
Zakir: And then, because we had spread that story so effectively, that this is what communities of color and marginalized communities are going through, when we picked up the phone to say, "Hey, from across the state we need your help", people didn't have that cognitive dissonance of like, "maybe I shouldn't do something." It was like, "how can we help?" And I think that's really important to really spell out to people that if you can get a good story within people's hearts, right? And you can tell them about what to do about that story, what emotions to utilize in terms of that struggle or that change, you can start to shift the policies that are then impacting everybody. And then as a result you can shift society not only here in Oregon but also in other states. So we passed this landmark hate crime reform package that other states like Washington, Colorado, and Arizona already want to emulate. And that's a rare thing like for Oregon to be a model of like hate crime reform legislation that people then want to copy in other places.
Sarah: Thank you.
Katie: So I'll piggyback on that because to tell a good story, you need a very good storyteller, and my boss, Rabbi Ariel is an exceptional storyteller and advocate and I think one of the strengths of our community is that we support her to do the social justice work that she does. So she will organize a protest at ICE and then she will be at a houseless vigil and then she will be gathering food for people and organizing our community around those events. And part of it is that if she were here, she would tell you that the one thing that's repeated the most in the Torah is the phrase, "You shall not oppress the stranger." And she takes that very seriously and urges us all to take it seriously. And part of the Jewish experience right now is that I, as the director, I'm spending quite a bit of my time on security, making sure we have a guard for anything that's publicly announced, making sure we have panic buttons, making sure that we now close our doors then that they're locked all the time.
Katie: And we do not necessarily want to live in fear, but the reality is that Jews have been marginalized at different times. The same time, we realize we're extremely privileged here in Portland. And so one of our challenges is how do we connect with people who have been othered? How do we strengthen our support of them? And it was really moving to me personally when people from all the faith communities came to the vigil that we had after the tree of life massacre last year. And we're excited to have an event with pastor E.D. Mondainé who runs the NAACP and to get to know other communities better. And I think that's the silver lining in the cloud that we're all living under is that we don't want to be othered. We don't want to other anyone else. I want to know who you are. I want to see if I can help and we'll see what comes of that.
Sarah: Wonderful. Thank you.
Jelani: I'd actually like to piggyback off of that because as I was listening to all of you talk, I was thinking, "man, my church is not doing anything nearly as cool as any of that." And yeah, as I started thinking about our own individual history. So just as a brief recap, I've been pastoring for about three years and it's a very small insular older white church. And yet they hired me. So obviously they were looking to shake things up and about two years ago, well, actually on the eve of the midterms I was preaching out of a book of the Bible where the author's talking about the metaphor of one body and many members, Paul talks about how there's one body and but many parts of the body.
Jelani: And I use the example of Black Lives Matter to illustrate a principle that was a very biblical part of this text, which is to say at times we choose to give special honor to those who have been dishonored so that there can be no disunity in the body. And as I said that as I was preaching that a member of our church, I could tell he's visibly upset. I expect him to walk out. He actually jumped up and he started like verbally accosting me in the middle of the service and it turned into this really big, ugly display. His wife had to like drag him out. And it was, I mean, at first it was kinda funny to me, but he left and then he came back and a lot of people were like really triggered. Cause some people thought, you know, this, does he have a weapon?
Jelani: Like what's gonna happen here? But in the aftermath of that, in the Sundays and then the small group times that followed, it provided an opportunity for us to share on a deeper level than we ever had about our experiences of race and ethnicity. And I'm actually in the process of trying to plant a new church in the same space that is intentionally multicultural, intentionally multi-ethnic. And we started with that incident as a jumping off point. And then we started leveraging other existing resources. So this last summer I gathered about seven or eight other friends of mine who were looking to kind of be a part of this movement. And we read through a great book by Jemar Tisby called "The Color of Compromise", which looks at the role of the American church in the history of American racism.
Jelani: And we're going to be doing something very similar with the movie "Just Mercy" that just came out, the Bryan Stevenson story with Michael B. Jordan. Shout out to Black Panther. And we, my point in saying all of that is to say it started by saying, let me tell you what happened to me. Let me tell you what that was like for me. And then people said, okay, let me tell you what that was like for me. And that power of story ended up being a very binding, galvanizing thing that helped to create change in a space that would not seem to be, that all that hospitable to change and yet a change is happening. And so I just want to affirm that the power of story is a, is powerful.
Sarah: Wow. I need to take my breath. I don't know about all of you here, but I'm quite impressed, overwhelmed and immensely grateful for what each of you are doing in the world. And so thank you very, very much for that. Maybe can we do a quick round of applause for that cause that's just absolutely incredible. As I listened to you talk, I could relate on this front of this sense of optimism, this sense of making lemons, lemonade from lemons, right? This sense of can-do-it-ness which I see on display here and which is what brought me to politics in the first place, which is we see something going on in the world. It upsets us, it keeps us up at night. It irritates us or agitates us to that point where we can't sit with it any longer. And so the sitting is no longer an option.
Sarah: So getting up and doing becomes the mandate. And for each one of us, regardless of where we are in the process, at the beginning and planting the seeds or growing, and tending or creating things that may be going far beyond our place here and spreading around the world as we know so often happens from Portland as well. What I find are there are these points where the obstacles feel like they're almost so great that you can't surmount them and you wonder why does it have to be that hard? And what I'm trying to do through some of these conversations is think about how when we come together as community members, as citizens, if you will in the loose term, the lower case 'C' to say, we are going to comprise our government, we are going to be the people who both elect leaders to create laws on our behalf. And we're going to transform those over time. Like, how are the ways that we need to start shifting how we create civil society, how we, what do we expect from government that can make it easier for can-do-it people like we have assembled here today and I'm sure who are listening to us as well. Like what do we need to do to make it easier for you to thrive and prosper as you go out trying to transform the world?
Lynne: I would have to speak for a group that I'm just one small part of where our congregation is a member of the Leaven Housing Cohort. The Leaven Community has organized in our neighborhood but also got expanded. It's an interfaith coalition of congregations that are seeking to look at their land and possibilities for developing low income housing. One of the members is the Portsmouth Union Church in North Portland who has been working for years to develop low income housing and trying to, they'd step over one barrier and there's another and another and another. We're looking at it just at the very beginning levels and seeing, you know, this, this rule, this law, this, this charge for permits and this cost and thousands of dollars and years of waiting is ahead of us. And so what we need and what we are working on as a coalition, as a cohort, is to say, "you need to remove some of the barriers."
Lynne: The government needs to remove some of the barriers. Some of the costs need to be offset as residents of Multnomah County and Portland, we voted on taxes and special things for housing to support housing and there are special monies opening up in the state level too. We need to see that to be able to use that to develop small projects of low income housing, not just huge developments that may or may not end up low income or affordable. That may be one unit out of a hundred might be affordable. But we need to be able to use that money to develop many small projects to provide it. That's my biggest point right now.
Sarah: Yeah. We've been hearing that a lot out in the world that we wish it were, the barriers to creating that were lower and that there were more resources for small projects to come online. So thank you for reinforcing that and sharing that with us. You were going to say something, Katie?
Katie: And one of our biggest issues in the last year was pretty immediate because we rent a space from a church and we had people camping in different places on the property and the church, we had a disagreement with them because my perceived threat level is different than theirs. And so as we were working through that and the church was more willing to have people camp on the property and I was uncomfortable with it more people started staying and then it did become a volatile situation, but there were no resources to call to, because nobody wanted to call the police.
Katie: I don't want to throw anybody's stuff away. The one person who was a consistent camper, we called crisis intervention, but he was not willing to go to a shelter. He was not willing to go to the different available options because he didn't trust them. And he could explain exactly why: I have PTSD. I can't be in a group situation. If we go into this situation, I'll get kicked out at 10 o'clock at night and I won't have my stuff. What do I do? And it became very difficult to find a solution for people that sleeping in our doorway is not a good solution for them or for us. But there seemed to be no solution that was available so the crisis response teams that the city is testing out, I would love to see rolled out on a larger effort with more resources to be available. So that that person feels comfortable going to a place where they will actually get services and not just be sleeping on somebody's porch.
Sarah: And if I can respond back to you, maybe to make sure that I'm hearing what you're saying is that maybe some mediating presences that are compassionate alternatives to something being criminalized simply because it's slightly problematic in the moment. Right? So if we had alternatives for people who needed different kinds of shelter or different levels of shelter, more access to things like the street response team, which is a non policed response to people in crisis and things like that. A wider range of those alternatives and maybe better understanding of how to reach them?
Katie: And not just for the person who was in crisis, but for us, if we had had a social worker who could say, all right, we'll work with him over the course of a week. We'll work with him over the course of two weeks. If we felt like there was a plan for in particular this one individual who needed help we would have given him the time. But it's when it's open ended and you don't know who else is sleeping there overnight. And then you have people who are elderly, who are your volunteers coming in early in the morning to set up coffee. It just didn't feel safe or predictable. If there were some structure around it that we could have put in place. That would have been easier for us as people who are trying to do the right thing. We didn't want to do something cruel, but we didn't really feel like we had an option eventually.
Sarah: Yeah, that's solid feedback. Thank you very much.
Zakir: I'll go next. So when I moved to South Florida, that's where I was for a couple of years in beautiful Fort Lauderdale area, which, kind of missing some days. No offense to anyone.
Sarah: To people listening on the podcast - we're expecting snow out there. So we just looked outside.
Zakir: So when I first moved to South Florida, I took the reigns of a speech and debate team at Broward College and they had never had a speech and debate team before. And we were the one team in the state that was one of the most diverse teams. It was all people of color and they were coming from some of the poorest parts of South Florida. And I just remembered thinking to myself that I could, if I could just build skills within these students. Right? It wasn't about the memorization of vast amounts of nothingness, which is what traditionally happens in school.
Zakir: If I could just teach them the skills, then what they could do was they could teach other people those skills as well. Right? Build skills, teach skills. Because if you can teach the skills, then you can truly master the power behind those skills. Right? You just know it as second nature. And I thought about this really critically all throughout the year. I remember when there was a tournament in Pensacola and one of the kids didn't have an ID, so for nine hours we had to drive back from Pensacola, which was on the tip of Florida near the border all the way back down to South Florida. And I was pissed. But I was like, well, you know what, for the next nine hours we're going to build skills. Okay? Until you have all of these skills that you need necessary for debate to be memorized.
Zakir: And then when they went to the state championship tournament, they ended up victorious. But they didn't end up victorious by themselves. Right? Like they had the skills, but then they also had a huge following behind them because they went out and they took all of the teams that were bad at speech and debate or didn't have like the best coaches or came from other marginalized backgrounds and they taught them. And so when they won they won as a community. And I think that we critically need to think about how we are building skills within movements, how we are teaching those skills and then critically like especially within school, how are we teaching kids to tear down systems and create new and better ones? Because it doesn't matter the field that you're in, right? It doesn't matter the field that you're in. You can always create new systems that are better for the next person that comes through. Right? I fully acknowledge that the work here that CAIR Oregon is doing and the way that we have been successful is tremendously built upon the backs of and the history and the experience of the African American community here who, without their lived experiences of holding the line, we would not have been able to accomplish anything. And it is because African American communities built skills that were then taught to other communities that we were able to be successful on the issues that we've been able to be successful on.
Sarah: And I think you raised an important point, which is part of these community conversations, which sometimes I get pushback when people will say, Sarah, what's your solution to homelessness? And I say, well we need to rebuild our civic fabric, right? We need to have a healthy civil society because if we can't have these connections where we're transferring information, connecting, educating other people in how this needs to work and making improvements through that process, we're not going to make progress. It's going to be stagnant. And so I really appreciate that point.
Zakir: Can I just add on one more thing?
Sarah: Yeah, please.
Zakir: So, a critical part of that too is knowing when you need to step back. And that's hard for some people to do, right? People get their voice out there and they're like, how do I know when to step back? And so I'll tell you a real quick story. Last week I got a call from a reporter and they're like, "do you want to comment on the situation at the border with the United States and Canada and the Iranians who were stuck at the border?" And I took a pause and I'm like, you know, it's our organization that's working up there on the border to get those people back here, but I'm not Iranian. Right? And it's better if you go and you ask somebody who's actually Iranian, what they're experiencing. And then what you saw from the last week was that the Iranian American Association of Oregon, I think that's the name of their organization, spoke up and there were all of these narratives that started appearing on TV and on OPB. And those narratives were not out there before, but now they are, you know, and part of it is like we're building space, but we're also holding space so that other communities can come in and be a part of that conversation.
Sarah: Excellent. Thank you so much.
Jelani: I would say too, that I really liked the way you put it about, I forget the exact words you said, but kind of rebuilding or, reweaving our civic fabric together. I think there are critical opportunities where representation at civic events matters. You know, I'm old school Portland enough to remember when it was Union Avenue instead of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. And I remember the push back, matter of fact, kind of a lot of the same pushback that we went through with the whole Cesar Chavez thing. I remember when that was going on with MLK, even though I was very young, I was in elementary school, but I still remember people holding signs and all of that. My point is to say that there are times when representation, and when I say representation, I'm talking about people of color on stage, as speakers, as business owners, as faith leaders and as entertainers. Like I think as black people, I feel like there's a narrative, in people where—and when I say people, I mean white people—where they say, well, I don't want to be racist, but I am concerned about this, that, and the other. And really a lot of it, what it boils down to is they don't have a narrative that tracks with the reality. So the, the popular narrative of blackness and popular culture is either of extreme criminality or extreme entertainment value, and I feel like there's a wide swath of—and I'm just speaking about blackness, but it's true about a lot of different ethnic cultures—there's a wide swath of culture that doesn't get publicly represented to represent the City of Portland. You know what I mean? Like it may get represented as, oh, this is some splinter group or you might see blackness represented at Good in the Hood, but when it comes time to represent the city for official city events, I feel like some of that is missing. And so I'm not here to make specific suggestions or specific acts, although I am available, if you want to book me, but I'm more saying just to think more broadly about who we have on stages, who we have giving introductions, who we have to present awards to, who's receiving the awards and why. All of those things kind of help to shape the broader public narrative that helps people to understand. I spent some time, you heard me say this earlier, but the folks listening on the podcast didn't get to hear this. I spent some time working for the Bureau of Emergency Communication, which is actually just down the road over here on 99th and SE Bush street, and—for you, those who don't know, that's the 911 agency—so if you, if you have an emergency you call 911. I worked in that Bureau for a little while doing call taking and dispatching, and one of the things I kept hearing from people was, well, I'm just not comfortable with that person. I'm not saying they're up to no good, they just make me uncomfortable. And I think part of our job as city leaders is to help create a space where everybody can feel comfortable. And not always all the time. I mean, nobody feels comfortable all the time, but where there are enough alternative narratives of, I hate that word, but of, you know, respectability, that people cannot be so uncomfortable when they see me on the street. Like, you know, I, I'd like another option besides, you know, uh, is he on television? Does he play for the Trailblazers? You know what I mean? There should be another seven or eight, nine questions. Like why does he seem familiar to me other than those two extreme examples?
Sarah: That's all very valuable feedback. Thank you for your thoughtful responses.
Announcer: More of the community conversation continues, but we just wanted to remind you that Sarah 2020 stickers, spoke cards for your bike, and posters are available for purchase online at sarah2020.com/store. These items are sold at costs for less than $2 each, so please consider supporting the campaign by adding a donation to your purchase. It's a great way to show your support and raise some money for the campaign. To request a lawn sign or volunteer for the campaign, please visit sarah2020.com/volunteer. Now, back to the community conversation with Sarah Iannarone and faith leaders, recorded on January 13th.
Sarah: How about a speed round? You ready? Hot mics. So I diss local government a lot because I'm running for office against an incumbent. And if I was happy, I wouldn't need to run for office. However, giving credit where credit is due, I think there must be something that's working here. So in that vein, what's something that we're doing well in Portland right now and we should try to do a lot more of it.
Jelani: I'll jump in.
Sarah: Too long a pause!
Jelani: Transportation alternatives really well and can continue to do more of it. There's a lot of different ways to get around the City of Portland. Obviously this far east in Portland, there are maybe fewer options than there should be, but I think Portland can continue to be a leader when it comes to alternative transportation, public transportation especially, but also other forms of private partnerships. Your Lyfts, your, I forget all the scooter company names are that thing. That was supposed to be fast. Sorry.
Sarah: That's cool. That's still pretty speedy.
Katie: Parks and community centers. More and more and more and more and more.
Zakir: I'll say I'm always tough but fair when it comes to policing. Okay. So we can claim that I'm not, but I'll say that Portland Police have gotten a lot better about dealing with hate crimes and the DA's office has gotten a lot better about triaging as well.
Lynne: And I was going to say parks, but green space and parks and, and there's a lot of program availability for children and for all ages.
Sarah: I love all those things. So yeah, let's do more of that. And before we get to the Q&A, I did want to ask one more question that was a little hard for me to come up with, but I think it's important. And it came to me when I was at a house party. You know, we do these events where we gather 10 or 15 people in the living room to talk about the issues and um, in your network, your family, your neighbors. And when I told one person that I was having this event, they were very upset. They were LGBTQ and they had had bad experience with a church in their past, and so thinking about the fact that I was going to be entertaining a faith based conversation in the government realm, with the separation of church and state, gave them a lot of anxiety. And I thought, how can we acknowledge that, encounter it, engage in it meaningfully, and at the same time recognize that faith is an important part in a pluralist society, that people's faiths are an important part in a diverse society. And also that if we're going to be equitable and inclusive as we do service work, we have to maybe be engaging with people who are from communities that are different from ours. So I'd like to hear your feedback about inclusivity, about how you engage with people who are from different faiths in ways, especially if they're doing things that may not fit with your core values or I guess just exploring some of that for me because I don't know exactly what challenges you face, but could you explain to us a few of those challenges and how you grapple with them as we explore all of this together?
Lynne: I'd have to speak as a pastor in a United Church of Christ and Ainsworth very much mirrors the national United Church of Christ in the very progressive stands we take. One is the open and affirming to GLBTQ community. And I've done many same gender marriages and so forth. And as a UCC pastor in Northeast Portland 23 years ago when I came, I joined the Albina Ministerial Alliance. And I am white, I was the only white woman part of the group. There were only at that time, two women in the group and one other white pastor. The rest were African American. And we worked together on a lot of different issues knowing full well that for a lot of the people in that group, they were very much not in the same way that our church was. They were against open and affirming, not, not everybody, but a number were. What we did was we found ways to work together and respect and really love each other, even though we disagreed with some fundamental things, because the goals we worked on, police reform, gang intervention, parenting and those kinds of things were common goals and values. I've always been very upfront about who we are as a United Church of Christ, and we welcome everybody. We are able to work together interfaith wise, even if some of the other communities are not open and affirming, but we are not, we are very clear that we will not give up our values and we will, we are very clear about how inclusive we are and, and because of who we are, we, we've engaged with people from the GLBTQ community in particular, who have shared stories about how they had been, you know, kicked out of communities, disowned by their congregations or their families or whatever. And it's been very heart-wrenching and I understand the concerns and so forth that they have. So it makes me very strong and my commitment to be open and inclusive.
Katie: Yeah, I think our community makes a big effort to be open. One of the, our newest board members, I have a lot of respect for her as a trans woman who was honored as our female volunteer of the year, kind of at a citywide banquet, a Jewish organization, and she runs a torah study at Coffee Creek in the women's prison. And we're all better because we're inclusive. She teaches me a lot and knowing people of lots of different backgrounds has helped me in my family to just be more open in general. So I'm a big proponent of that. And I would, tell your friend, I'm sorry for their experience because religion should not be something that beats people over the head. I think we're in an odd position a little bit because we're quite open and politically progressive and the progressive left sometimes doesn't know what to do with Jews these days, because of the issues with events in Israel. So sometimes the left is, is less welcoming than we would like sometimes, and I think to be inclusive, you have to listen a lot. You have to assume the best of people and you have to be pretty firm in what you believe in and quietly go about your business. You know, trusting.
Sarah: I'm hearing some tolerance in there too.
Katie: Yeah. I'm in front of people, so I have to be polite. No, but seriously… and you have to realize what you don't know. A lot of times you walk into situations with your assumptions, Oh, this is how this conversation should go. And when it doesn't go that way, you get angry. But it's because the other person has a different culture. And if I want to be respected, I have to respect their culture and learn about it and not think that I know everything. And I think for white people in general on this culture, this is the wake up call to start doing that for real as much as you can.
Jelani: I would only just briefly chime in to say that one of my mantras is that people are complicated and, you know, that the theory of intersectionality says that everyone operates on different axes, different layers of privilege and also struggle. And, you know, I'm black, but I'm also a man. I'm also able bodied. I'm also cisgendered, so I have to do my best to allow people to start from the baseline of the person that I'm talking to isn't just an archetype. They are a fully formed human being. And then I have to ask what in my background and my experience, is causing me to look at them a certain way and vice versa. And then, then we go from there.
Zakir: Well, I would say that the Muslim community is certainly not a monolith, and so that's an important caveat to put out there. I think for me personally, one of the things that I think about and that I thought about all throughout working on hate crime reform, and we were one of the organizations that in addition to Basic Rights Oregon, pushed for gender identity to be a protected class, is that there's an important saying in the Quran, um, and that often and Muslims say, which is that if you save the life of one person, it is as if you have saved the entire world. And I also, I think critically about that statement, and I also think critically about what Hasan Minhaj, I probably just said his name wrong so that when he interviews me, he can tell me how wrong I said it. Uh, which is a whole skit if you look that up, but what's something that Hasan Minhaj said lately has really struck a chord with me. And it's something that we keep reflecting upon, which is that his parents' generation was just trying to survive, but I'm trying to live is what he says. Right? I'm trying to live. And so that's why I'm like arguing the nuances of names. But I also think critically for me, I want other people to live too. And when they can bring their whole selves to work, when they can bring their whole selves to whatever they do and they don't have to have what you know, like a dual consciousness walking around, I think that's better for everybody. I think it allows us to build beyond tolerance, to build to acceptance and to truly learn from one another rather than putting up artificial barriers between each other. Because honestly one of the critical things that I think about is in the wake of 9-11 there were so many LGBTQ+ attorneys that stood up and defended Muslims in the courts and they didn't have to do that. They really didn't. They could have just let all these people languish in Gitmo and not even given two craps about it. But they chose in the moment to stand in that moment of struggle to stand up for other people. And I think there's something really unifying and something really poignant and significant we should learn from that which is that intersectionality can lead to such great growth in moments of great struggle, and I think we need to take more time and opportunities to really reflect upon that going forward.
Sarah: This has been such a wise group. You have to, I can listen to you all night. I know Greg is going to tell me to wrap it up soon, but I did want to get into some of our audience questions if you will. And for folks who did submit a question, if I don't get to it tonight, I will address this on the next podcast, which we'll do all Q&A from both this and the housing policy. So even if you don't hear it addressed here tonight, it's just because we have more than we can get to. And so what I'm going to try to focus on primarily are the ones that were directly related to the faith organization, just because we have the experts here who can answer those and I won't be able to answer them without them, obviously. But a quick one, maybe just a yes or no, and also everyone doesn't have to feel like they have to respond if you want to pass or whatever that's fine. Should churches and faith groups talk about politics more or should they get out of politics altogether? And what do you do about someone like Donald Trump and, um, his close ties with the American evangelicals in that and the equation of religion, if you will, with Donald Trump? How do you deal with that?
Lynne: First of all, we are not allowed to be endorsing anyone. We're not allowed to be partisan, or especially in partisan… and in church we're not allowed to lift up one candidate or another. So I avoid that at all costs, but we have every right to critique government. We have every right to critique whoever's in the president and what they're doing and what they're not doing right and what they need to change. And we have every right to look at government and talk about what the weaknesses and the strengths are. The other thing I always say is wherever two or more are gathered, there's politics. So we can't really avoid it. There's always conflict, there's difference of opinion, there's politics. And so we are very, very clear about justice issues and about the role that we have as individuals and as a congregation, but also as the, the government has and different, what the government can do or doesn't do.
Katie: And in Judaism, it's a, um, imperative to always wrestle with the text and what the text says about moral obligations. And, uh, rabbi will raise questions and let people wrestle with them. And you don't have to mention a candidate or endorse a candidate, but it's very clear, especially now what behavior is ethical and what behavior is not.
Jelani: I will also say briefly, the song I wrote called, "We Are the Resistance [Push Back]", at the end of the first verse I end it with these words. "And people will be like, why you gotta be confrontational when you talk about race? And I'd be like, did you read the part where Paul wrote, he opposed Peter to his face." The idea there is that sometimes there are critical moments where a public rebuke is necessary if the nature of the offense affects the nature of the community as a whole. And I agree. As a pastor, it's not my job to endorse candidates. It's not my job even to promote a political party and say you should be Democrat or you should be a Republican. But I think it is my job to help equip people who call themselves Christians, to equip people to understand the teachings of Jesus. And if there are clear examples where I feel like policy in general conflicts with that, then I have a mandate to speak about it. But that doesn't mean that that's my job, generally. I feel like there are certain moments where that's appropriate. And other moments where I step back and just say, y'all, that's your thing.
Zakir: I'll drop some scripture here. "Oh ye who believes standout firmly for justice, even if it is against yourself." So if you're going to ban Muslims, we're going to have to talk to the manager about that. And the form that that is going to take us through litigation. You know, we are a Muslim civil rights organization. We are one of the organizations who sued when Trump started banning Muslims. And even as there's talk now of another Muslim ban potentially coming, you can rest assured that you will see us in the courts. And we will fight, you know improper policies and unconstitutional policies wherever they may lie in this country, especially as they marginalize communities. And they don't - And I tell this to people sometimes they look at me kind of funny cause they don't understand what a Muslim civil rights organization does. We stand for all marginalized people. That means when free hot soup wants to give soup to people in Portland parks, we go and we connect Muslim community members to like a legal organization that is going to advocate for them in the form of the Oregon Justice Resource Center. So, you know, critically, you know, we don't, we're a 501(c)(3), we don't endorse political candidates, but where policies are improper, we will challenge them in court.
Sarah: And that leads to one question that was to me, which is, "Sarah if a church feeds our houseless without permits, would you stop them?" And I think my answer is, "no." I'd probably give them a little cash, right? But that's our thing, right? What is it, what is the legal thing to do and what is the moral thing to do and how do we find that boundary? Katie, I'm going to send this one your way just because as the meetings I've had with other Jewish congregations and even the Jewish Federation here is about gun violence. And that has to do with the fact that it keeps impacting places of worship. What do you need from local government and what do you need to be allowed to do in order to feel safe and to keep yourself safe?
Katie: I feel like the reality is that if somebody wants to shoot me at work, they're gonna shoot me at work. And if somebody wants to shoot my kid at school, they're gonna shoot my kid at school. Because we have, there's nothing that's gonna keep me safer at work if somebody really wants to go after me. The Jewish Federation, to be perfectly honest, is taking and advocating that we take grants from the Department of Homeland Security to fund security efforts at our places of worship. And I personally find it reprehensible that we as a society say we're not going to do anything about guns, but everybody pays tax money and we'll scare monger everybody till they're so worked up that they'll shoot you and then we'll give you grant money to protect you. To me, that just seems crazy and I can't, I can't go there. So I've done my, you know, trauma first aid classes and I have some, some police training and and I'm ready to protect somebody at the synagogue if I have to, but I'm not gonna put up the bulletproof glass and take the money from DHS.
Katie: And, I appreciate the police. We have had to call them at different times and had extra patrols. I appreciate that. I would love the police to have more deescalation training in general. And yeah, I mean, I don't have an answer in the climate if we're not going to get rid of the weapons on some level at some point.
Sarah: Did anybody else want to weigh in before I move on? Okay. Here's an interesting one. How do you think faith groups can help us on the climate change issue?
Zakir: So I was recently in Indonesia, a country that is facing climate change in a way that many other places aren't. They're literally moving their capital city to something that's not sitting on the ocean anymore. Right? I think faith communities are really connected or can be connected to communities across the world. And in witnessing that, one of the things that we did when we traveled to Indonesia was we saw in the art museum, there was like these really amazing political paintings and we were going to visit the city that these artists were from. And we went there and with no expectations or anything. One of the things that they talked about was really a transformative experience of actually coming to Portland. We didn't know this. They came to Portland and they painted with artists here. And the themes were consistently the same, which is corporations abusing the environment.
Zakir: And then them painting about it as a response to try to motivate, you know, society to change it, to advocate on these issues. And I think that the really powerful thing about faith is that it can really take us beyond borders. It can teach us about empathy, can teach us about fighting for people that we don't know. You know, that's like a campaign slogan now that the Sanders camp is using. But I actually think that started in faith. We're fighting for people that we don't know and we haven't seen. And so I think critically what we can view from faith is our responsibility to fight for people all across the world so that they don't have to suffer for some of the choices that this country has made when it comes to you know, destroying the environment.
Lynne: I think as a congregation ,we are trying and starting to do some more. But we have a green team and we're trying to even live out better environmental ways to live even in our congregation and promote that in our homes. But also we are activists and a number of us show up at the climate change rallies and worked for the, we were working for the, the cap, what was it? The environmental cap, but that was at the state. Yeah. At cap and trade and different things that we speak up in local and state and federal government. We speak up for different measures and issues that we want to see passed.
Jelani: I would just say briefly, I think some faith organizations can play a role in helping to reshape [the conversation around the climate]. Because for some people, you know, the word 'environmentalist' or 'environment' even, evokes activism and sort of contentious struggle. But some of the most passionate environmentalists that I know of, are Christians who just are trying to be good stewards of the world. A wise person once told me, "Do you know the difference between a custodian and a janitor?" I was like, what's that? They said, "a janitor cleans up, but a custodian loves and has custody of a place." And he was saying, we are to be custodians of the earth. And when you think of it that way, then it's like, yeah, if you like your apartment, you clean up your apartment.
Jelani: If you like your room, you clean up your room. If you like the natural space that you're in, then you try to take care of it. And that idea is not at all in opposition with the traditional Christian theology of creation. I think there's opportunities to collaborate and there's opportunities to push compatible narratives even if we're not collaborating on a super hyper-specific policy, let's deal with cap and trade way. We can still advance the idea of 'Hey, we live here, let's take care of it', because that's good for everybody.
Sarah: And just one last question before I get roped off stage here. Because we have a diverse set of people in the audience and listening. So what do you need from other sectors that aren't government or faith groups? So what do you need from the business community, chambers of commerce or other nonprofits. Like what can they do to help you be more effective in addition to some of the things that you need from government? What do you need? Tell us what you need and how we can help. And don't forget to plug your website and anything you got working as we go through this last one, because it's the end.
Katie: If anybody has $1 million to give us our own building, we would do great things with it.
Sarah: Never doubt the power of positive thinking. Right?
Lynne: For our shelter, we applied for some grants and didn't get them. So we're hoping to get a grant to be able to hire a PIC (person in charge) for the shelter so that we have somebody who's steadfast and able to give the time to just call the volunteers and make sure things are going and run the trainings. Because I'm running out of time.
Zakir: We'll take your donations. And the other thing is, we'll take your presence. Because on January 24th (which is Friday of next week), we're having our inaugural banquet and we're having Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib come into town (a member of the squad) to be our keynote. So this is an event you will not want to miss. I've got flyers on me here, and I'm also connected on Twitter. We really want y'all to come and show up and be a part of that process...not process... I'm thinking like a board chair there. I want you all to be a part of the banquet and the celebration because we're going to be celebrating a lot that night and we need to take time to celebrate, especially in these times in which a lot of things are difficult.
Sarah: Do you want to give your website or their contact?
Zakir: It's cairoregon.org. Again, cairoregon.org. Don't confuse us with the insurance company, wrong sector, although I had a really nice conversation with them and they're going to be at the banquet. So it's like a nice little tag team there.
Jelani: I'll say, briefly, one example of the things that I'm doing that I could use some partnership in is - I started an internet radio station for Christian hip hop and other music that centers around the artists of color that don't normally get played in Christian radio. And as you can imagine, none of the big evangelical organizations were interested in supporting that. But I still know tons of people who are like, 'Hey, I actually listened to your station and it was amazing' and 'I had to stop self producing it out-of-pocket because that gets expensive'. But I think there are more opportunities, so if you're interested in that you can check us out at Flip Radio Music on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. If you're interested in my church, you can check us out at sunsetcov.org.
Sarah: And also you want them to get the How I Resist album.
Jelani: Oh, definitely get that. "How I Resist", Volumes 1 and 2, by G-Natural available on Apple Music and Google Play and Amazon, all that.
Sarah: Every place those things are found. Can I get a huge round of applause for this amazing panel?
Gregory McKelvey: Check, check, check. Thank you everybody so much for coming. I also want to thank our amazing volunteers. Jen, for helping out with the questions. Our host here, Pastor Matt Hough. Joel with the food back there, super helpful. Josh does all of our video work over here too, so thank you. Reed is in the front, so thank you to all of our volunteers.
Greg: Oh, oh my god, Yeah! And Andrew for the interpretation. Thank you! If it wasn't for everybody, we wouldn't be able to do all of these events and keep them going. Our next one is actually Monday, February 10th, which is going to be centered around economic equity and resilience. And we're gonna keep these going. Keep the podcast going. So please find the podcasts at OurPortland podcast. You'll find it wherever you also find G-Natural's album. Thank you everybody for coming. Please drive safe and we'll see you at the next community conversation.
Announcer: Thanks for listening to Our Portland. If you have a question for Sarah, record a voice memo on your phone and email it to [email protected] or use the #OurPortland hashtag and send us a message on social media. If you appreciate a campaign with straight talk on issues that matter, consider signing up to be a monthly supporter of $5, $10, or even $35 between now and election day in May, 2020. Find out more at sarah2020.com. This has been a production of Friends of Sarah for Portland.