Little Green and Blue Books October 2016 Editions

Lots of calls requesting copies are coming in!  So… here are the files – if you’re out, please feel free to print them yourself until we can get them out there.  I just sent the files over to Piedmont Graphics to print 20,000 copies, and they should be ready for delivery soon.  With the help of many volunteers, the goal is to have them delivered all over town by October 15th.

The Little Green Book October 2016 Edition

The Little Blue Book October 2016 Edition

 

YES! The City is working towards making it right

Lots of people have asked me what happened after my previous post titled, “We have the opportunity to make it right.” https://wordpress.com/post/themiraclesisee.wordpress.com/592  And I’ve had to respond, “I don’t know.  I haven’t heard anything.”

Until this morning.

Talk about seeing miracles.  About 7:30 am, as I was hugging folks coming through the breakfast line, I heard a voice behind me, “Hey, Miss Amy!”  It was my friend Kenneth Vaughan, with a smile the size of the Self Help building on his face.  I hadn’t seen him in several weeks, and I responded, “Hey, man!  What’s goin’ on?”  Kenneth told me, “The City hired me!  Full-time, $11 an hour.  All because of the work y’all done.”  He wagged his head from side to side, grinning ear-to-ear.  I said, “Permanently?  Do you get benefits?”  He said, “Yep!  We get everything!  Let me go get my chicken – my number is gettin’ close – and I’ll come back and tell you all about it.”   So a few minutes later, Kenneth reappeared, his bag of food in hand, and said, “Yep, it’s a real good thing, what y’all done.  It’s made a big difference for me and other people too!  They hired three of us, and they’re workin’ on hirin’ eight more.  They have to weed ’em out.  They asked me one day if I want to be hired and if I would, could I pass a drug test?  I said yes!  And they said how about tomorrow?”  Kenneth laughed, wagged his head some more and said, “I told ’em, why tomorrow?  What about today?  And they hired me that day!  Been there about a month.”  I hugged him again and said, “It’s a miracle.  Look what God has done!”  And Kenneth said, “Yep.  Soon as this happened, I started doin’ what I know He wants me to do.   Thank you, Miss Amy.  Thank you for everything.”  And I cried.

I am grateful to the City of Greensboro for doing the right thing.  So excited for Kenneth and all the others that the City has and will be hiring.  Hallelujah!

My prayer today is a simple one: that economic justice will continue to move in the right direction.

Children and addiction

Thursday morning, I got a text from a friend downtown that read, “Hey, Ms. Amy.  I was wondering do u know any1 that could help a friend of mine?  Her name is _____.    She has to go to court tmrw, and if she has nowhr for her 2 kids to go, DSS is going to adopt them out!  I can’t help her, b/cuz I have my son and grandson.  Her kids are 1 and 3.”  Late last night I got a call from a pastor.  She wanted to know how to help two women living in their cars with small children.  I referred everyone to Lindy Garnette at the Family Shelter. Thank God for Lindy and her work.

This link is from a graphic and gut-wrenching post this week, https://fatbeggars.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/jesus-the-hooker/#like-1297,  from a fellow blogger, Agent X, Fat Beggars School of Prophets, in Lubbock, Texas.  He has worked with folks dealing with homelessness, poverty and addiction for many, many years – as a volunteer.  He and his wife have recently become foster parents.

His post served as another reminder of the article in the News and Record on August 5, pleading for foster parents in Guilford County.

http://www.greensboro.com/news/local_news/taking-it-to-the-pews/article_8002e856-d1d4-555f-9ecb-620711cca474.html

Last night, a friend and I had a discussion about what we see as the biggest issue downtown.  We both agreed addiction and it’s far-reaching consequences are pretty much it.

I know that posts like Agent X’s often evoke responses along the lines of, “I can’t do anything about that.  It’s too much.”  People feel overwhelmed.  But you can.  If you know anyone who can become foster parents, encourage them to do so.  Right now.

What I’ve learned so far

Y’all might remember my friend Neng, from a couple of years ago.  For some of the background, here’s a link to Jeri Rowe’s article from 2014:

http://www.greensboro.com/news/columns/jeri-rowe-a-quest-for-little-signs-of-warmth/article_0231d848-5737-11e4-b0a2-0017a43b2370.html

In the summer of 2013, when Neng was still living in the woods, I went over late one Sunday afternoon to drop off some cucumbers and tomatoes.  As I crossed the two sets of railroad tracks, climbing the hill to get into his camp, a little wisp of smoke was rising from the woods.   Uh-oh.   First time I’d seen this.

I’m panicking, thinking OMG, is something on fire?  But as I walked into the woods, I could see Neng, squatting, cooking on a makeshift grill, a low, old barrel with plenty of rust on it.  There was a wood fire in the barrel, and on some metal bars across it were two halves of a chicken.  He didn’t have any tongs, and about every thirty seconds, he’d reach over and grab a chicken half with his hands, and turn it so it wouldn’t burn.   I said, “Where’d you get the chicken?”  Neng responded, in his very staccato way of speaking, “Mexican store!”  That meant he had walked to Compare Foods on Summit Avenue and gone shopping. (By that point, we’d gotten him food stamps, so he was no longer killing and eating squirrels and birds.)

After a couple of minutes, he took a chicken half off the grill and tried to hand it to me.  I said, “Ouch, that’s hot!”  He grinned and laid it on a plate.  Remember, we are in the woods.  There is no running water, no way to wash dishes.  But that chicken was the first thing Neng had ever had to give me.

He’d also bought canned Cokes, which were yucky hot, it was summer.  So he handed me a Coke and one of the cucumbers I’d just given him saying, “You!  Eat!”  So…. I started chomping on the whole, unwashed cucumber, quietly considering what insecticide I might be ingesting.  And eyeing the chicken, knowing I had to eat it.  And then… Neng pulled another chicken out of a plastic bag on the ground.  No cooler, no refrigeration.  He cut it down the middle with just a couple of strokes of an apparently very sharp knife, and plopped it on the fire.  No handwashing between cooked chicken and raw chicken, no washing of utensils, or the old piece of wood he was using as a cutting board.  I gulped, still eyeing the chicken he’d already put on the plate for me.

Well…. I’m very prone to food poisoning.  I’ve had it umpteen times.  So I said a little silent prayer, asking God to please let me not get sick.  I picked up the chicken, and started eating.  It was very done, which gave me a little hope to be well the next day.  Neng and I chatted away, as much as we could with his very limited English, me watching this man cook with no tongs and somehow not get burned.  When the second chicken came off the grill, he handed it to me, saying, “You, take!”  Conscious of his food stamps, I protested, “No, you keep it!”  But he insisted, “NO!  For YOU!”  Neng can get very loud, as he seems to think raising his voice somehow makes me understand better.  And I realized right then that I should take the second chicken.  He had something to give that day.  Did I eat it later? What do you think?

Now…. this post is not about Neng.  It’s about the two most important things I’ve learned in my journey of the past 3-4 years.

The first one is the significance of really getting to know people that we tend to “other.”  Knowing people who are different from you on a personal level is “othering” prevention.  As far as I can see at this juncture, it’s the only way.

The second thing is empowerment of the individual and thereby the community.  Having something to give, anything, and having a way to contribute, are both personal power.

As I strive to understand what will make this world a better place, at this point in my experience (and oh, boy, I know I don’t know all the things I don’t know J), here’s where I stand:

I’ll support any effort that brings communities together, black and white, rich and poor, from any class, for the purpose of knowing each other better and breaking down the barriers.

I’ll support any effort that empowers, but does not cause people to be beholden. 

I’m aware that change will be much slower than molasses.  But we have to, tiny change by tiny change, start making this world a better place, being cognizant of what we’re doing. Getting to know people and empowering them.

I will be writing to our Monday Breakfast Crew today to propose that we bring the food on Monday mornings and our friends downtown serve it.  Every one of the Crew should be with our friends in the serving line, and we should all eat together.  Otherwise, isn’t the Monday Crew the other?  And wouldn’t serving give our friends purpose, and something to give those who bring the food?  Just one tiny change in the world.

I am thankful to the Good Lord today for what I’ve learned so far, and prayerful that He will continue to let me learn and grant me an open heart.  Amen.

Prayer is the answer?

Late last night, I checked the Facebook page of my friend, Shannon Stewart.  Shannon lived outside for five years and last year got into the Rapid Rehousing Program.  For several reasons that I won’t go into right now, he didn’t make it in that program.  So he is back living in the woods.  With all that is going on, I wanted to see what Shannon is thinking, as I won’t see him until breakfast tomorrow.  For those that don’t know this, it’s not like you can always just pick up the phone and call people living in poverty.  Not everybody has a phone all the time.  Phones are kind of a fluid thing.

Shannon’s Facebook page right now is all about “black on black violence.”  Yes, he is black. And he is screaming that no one is paying attention to this issue.  And he blames the black people.  Here’s where I think he’s missing the point.  Well, there are actually several places.  One of them is this, from a New York Times piece yesterday:

“In the wake of these deaths and the protests surrounding them, you, white America, say that black folks kill each other every day without a mumbling word while we thunderously protest a few cops, usually but not always white, who shoot to death black people who you deem to be mostly ‘thugs.’

That such an accusation is nonsense is nearly beside the point. Black people protest, to one another, to a world that largely refuses to listen, that what goes on in black communities across this nation is horrid, as it would be in any neighborhood depleted of dollars and hope — emptied of good schools, and deprived of social and economic buffers against brutality. People usually murder where they nest; they aim their rage at easy targets.

It is not best understood as black-on-black crime; rather, it is neighbor-to-neighbor carnage. If their neighbors were white, they’d get no exemption from the crime that plagues human beings who happen to be black. If you want interracial killing, you have to have interracial communities.” – Michael Eric Dyson

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/10/opinion/sunday/what-white-america-fails-to-see.html?emc=edit_th_20160708&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=76057648

Yes, deprived of dollars and hope.  Education being gutted.  People being expected to shut up while they’re being paid $7.25 an hour – even by the City I live in.  And they watch the rich white people build a $65 million dollar performing arts center.  How do you think they feel about that?  How would you feel?  Friends telling me they never see any poor people. What about the person who checked out your groceries at Harris Teeter, or the person who poured your coffee when you swung by McDonald’s on the way to work?   You don’t have a clue about the stress that comes from trying to raise children in a family where single moms work two jobs.  And on TV, they see “conspicuous consumption.”  Why is there so much substance abuse?  Well, why do you think???

If you think prayer is the answer, you might want to stop reading right now.

I refuse to go to any prayer meetings where we wring our hands and sit around and talk about how awful everything is, and ask God to fix it. Hand-wringing and prayer that make us feel like we’ve done something are empty words.  And it’s all about us.  And then we’ll go about our business like all is well.  Until it happens again.  And then what?  Judging by past history, more hand wringing and prayer.  I think if we want God’s help to build a house, we better pick up a hammer.  If we want God’s help to keep this country from rotting from the inside, we better wake up and realize that it’s a lot more complicated than prayer and listening to demagogues.

And then I hear, “What can we do?  The problems are overwhelming.  I can’t do anything about that.”  Yes, you can.  First, get out and go into the homes of poor people.  See how they live.  Understand what the problems are.  You can’t do anything about anything that you don’t fully understand.  I don’t understand yet myself.  Tons to learn.  And I’m working on it.

We say, “God help us.”  Do we actually want God to help us?  Do we want to get our hands dirty?  Or do we really just want to sit around and pray?

We have the opportunity to make it right

“Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.”  If you remember that quote, you’re as old as I am – no spring chicken.   Anyway, that is what I will attempt to do in this post, just report the facts.

Several weeks ago, as I hugged my friend Kenneth in the Monday breakfast line, I said, “Hey, man!   Where’ve you been?  I haven’t seen you in a long time!”  My buddy responded, “Yeah, good to see you.  Me?  I’m working. I don’t get up here much.”  I said, “Great, awesome that you have a job!  Where are you working? “ Kenneth said, matter-of-factly, “Oh, I’m still with the City.  Been there four years, but they don’t pay but $7.25 an hour and you can’t live on that.”

Oops.

I had just read in the newspaper twice in the preceding weeks that City Council had voted to pay all temporaries $10 an hour, and all permanent employees $12 an hour.

So I said, and I’m sure he could hear the outrage in my voice, “What did you say?  You’re working for the City at minimum wage?”  And Kenneth said, “Yeah.  Through Patriot Staffing.  The City contracts with them.”

I told Kenneth about the newspaper articles and he got all excited.  He said, “Me and a whole lot of other people are working for that pay too.   Can you get us more???”  I asked what kinds of work they’re doing.  Kenneth said, “Cleaning the streets, working at the landfill, the water department, you know, lots of stuff.  Some of them have been working for Patriot for more years than I have.  I know Jerry’s been there, at the landfill, for about ten years.”

My blood boiled.  And yes, I am still reporting facts.  Well, I guess your blood can’t boil.  So not quite the facts, but you get the picture.

So I started investigating.  Called Patriot Staffing.  They gave the politically correct run-around answers, as I expected.  So I called a high-ranking City employee that I know well.  She said contact the City Manager.  I wanted things in writing so I emailed him a whole bunch of questions, like how many people as temps, how long are they temps, etc.  Took more than a month to get any response – and I kept calling and emailing.  Finally, I got an emailed formal response.  This is copied directly from it, my question is first in black, and the City’s response is in blue:

  1. What is the compensation rate per hour paid to the employee by the employer, for example, Patriot?

The records responsive to this request would be in the custody of the staffing agency.  You may wish to contact them to obtain this information.

So… I had already called the staffing agency, and of course they’re not going to tell me what they’re paying these folks.  I thought about it for a couple of days, and contacted our local paper, the News and Record, who has been reporting the “great news” that City Council had voted to increase pay for temps .  So, the News and Record looked into it and reported on it.  I gave them all the info I had.  I drove out to the landfill and talked to many more of the guys myself.  Yep, $7.25.

And then, well, the “what happened next” part is in the email I’ve pasted below.   On June 6, I sent this e-mail to all City Council members and several people at the News and Record:

——— Forwarded message ———-
From: Amy Murphy <amymurphywooga@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Jun 6, 2016 at 6:42 PM
Subject: The opportunity to make it right
To: “Vaughan, Nancy (Mayor)” <nancy.vaughan@greensboro-nc.gov>, “Fox, Jamal” <Jamal.Fox@greensboro-nc.gov>, Sharon Hightower <Sharon.hightower@greensboro-nc.gov>, Justin Outling <justin.outling@greensboro-nc.gov>, Nancy Hoffman <nancy.hoffman@greensboro-nc.gov>, Mike Barber <mike.barber@greensboro-nc.gov>, MariKay Abuzuaiter <marikay.abuzuaiter@greensboro-nc.gov>, tony.wilkins@greensboro-nc.gov, Yvonne Johnson <yvonne.johnson@greensboro-nc.gov>
Cc: Susan Ladd <susan.ladd@news-record.com>, margaret.moffett@news-record.com, “Johnson, Allen” <Allen.Johnson@greensboro.com

Mayor Vaughan and Council Members,

We have the opportunity to make it right.

I think we could all agree that it is not right to employ anyone for ten years as a temporary at minimum wage, as in the case of Jerry Long in Margaret Moffett’s article, http://www.greensboro.com/news/chicken-lady-don-t-blame-hb-for-city-s-wage/article_4a72be00-a2ad-5077-8056-45f71335401c.html, on April 30.

From the article: “Those contracts and others like them are binding.  Even without the new provision in HB2, the city couldn’t change those contracts to require higher minimum wages, said City Councilman Jamal Fox.  Temporary workers should earn as much as city employees for doing the same job, he said, but ‘Our hands are tied.’ ‘There’s only so much we can do,’ he said.”

And now that has changed.  We no longer have a contract with Patriot Staffing, as I learned this morning.

Mr. Kenneth Vaughan, who has been working for Patriot as a temp in various positions, such as cleaning the streets and working at the landfill, came to breakfast this morning when we served downtown.  Here is what he said: “Amy, Patriot lost the contract!  Now, there’s like 100 people out of work.  They told us this morning.  I just came from there. This includes people cleaning the streets, working at the landfill, working at the Coliseum.  What are we going to do now?”

Excellent question and a golden opportunity for the employer – you and me, the governing body and every taxpayer – to make it right.  HB2 does not affect what we as a city pay temps or permanent employees.  We can do what we should have done years ago: the city should hire the people directly who have been faithful employees for years and pay them fair wages.  It is time for us to step up to the plate.

We all know the money paid to temp agencies is far more than the employees ever see.  We should employ them and raise their standard of living.  Now is the time.

Kind regards,

Amy

 

I didn’t expect to get a response – and I didn’t – but I’m not giving up.  We have the opportunity to make it right.  Every one of us is the employer.  And why would we be okay with the people we employ waiting in a bread line?

An unlikely pair

Three years ago in October I met a 19 year old kid I’ll call Reggie at Church Under the Bridge one Saturday night.  He was carrying a laptop, and he had on a red cap that looked kind of like a beret.  He was clean cut, tall, African-American and good-looking.  He walked up to me and said shyly, “Excuse me.  Are you with StreetWatch?”  I said, “No.  Why?  What do you need?”  He said, “A tent.”  We talked for a few minutes.  He told me he was living in the woods somewhere off Battleground and that he had been outside for about three months.  I asked why and he mumbled something about a stepmother.  Then someone else walked up and interrupted (happens a lot with so many people) and that ended the conversation.

I didn’t see that young man until the following January.  I was at Gift Community Church one night handing out toboggans and gloves.  It was like three degrees and they were doing the emergency shelter.  They didn’t have any cots, and everyone was sleeping on the cement floor.  He was hunched over his laptop towards the back of the big, crowded room, sitting up on his sleeping bag.  I slowly made my way through the crowd, squatted down beside him, and said, “Hey, Reggie!  What’s up?  How are you?”  Still shy, he smiled a little and said, “Good.”  Reggie doesn’t talk much.  I asked what was going on and he told me he had moved over to Tent City.  My heart sank.  That was the roughest, druggiest camp in town and was closed by the City after a woman died of a heroin overdose July before last.  I asked if there was any way I could help him and he replied, “No, I’m okay.”  I asked again about family and he said, “I can’t live there anymore.”  When I shared with Beverly Lee from StreetWatch that he had moved to Tent City, her face fell, she shook her head sadly, and said, “Oh, no, oh no.”

I started seeing Reggie most Monday mornings at breakfast.  He was still quiet and shy, but smiled more as time went by.  He’d adjusted, made some friends who lived outside, and become a part of the homeless community.  Nothing really seemed to be going on with him, but, a hopeful sign, I never saw him high or drunk.

Then…. Last summer, Reggie walked up to my friend, Lawrence, at Monday breakfast, and said, “Mister Lawrence, I heard you can help people get back in school.”

And it was on!

Many deadlines had already passed, like the one for his FAFSA, but Lawrence is a very determined person.  He went after it like a dog with a bone!  And when the door to anything (admissions, financial aid etc.) was closed, Lawrence just wouldn’t take no for an answer.  They found him an affordable place to live quickly, no small task.  He and Reggie ran around everywhere, working on getting him into Guilford College.  Turned out he had to do a year at GTCC first, get his grades up, then he’d have the option to transfer to Guilford this fall.

So, thanks to the determination of this big, white older man, and this tall, young African-American kid  (they look like such an unlikely pair), Reggie got an apartment, furniture, clothes, financial aid, bus passes, everything he needed to start a new life.  He made it through the first year of school, and has decided to continue at GTCC.  All has not been exactly smooth, but they have both hung in there.  Lawrence and Reggie have lunch together every week.  Reggie calls Lawrence frequently, asking him all the questions you would ask a parent.  Recently, he had a date.  Without revealing too much, I think Lawrence, soon to be 71 years old, has become a daddy.  Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!

And (drum roll, please) a couple of weeks ago, Reggie got a job!  He needed one to stay in his apartment for the summer.  And, with Lawrence’s encouragement and support in many ways, he got one!!!  Lawrence was beside himself.  I have never seen him so happy.  This will be Reggie’s third week as kitchen help in a very high-end restaurant in Greensboro.  I met them for lunch the Friday before he was to start on Monday.  They told me he needed a bike to get home from work – his shift ends at 1 a.m.  I posted it on Facebook, and donations poured in.  Thanks to a friend of Judy Helms’, he got a brand new bike.  Crissy Pulliam-O’Connnor (a FB friend I’ve still not met in person) bought him a new pair of Dr. Scholl’s black work shoes and dropped them off in my carport.  Others donated money and Lawrence and Reggie were able to buy him white polo shirts and black slacks for work, a sturdy bike lock, lights for his bike, everything he needed for his new job.

Reggie sent a message to Lawrence Friday night, asking if he would share it with the folks who have helped him this past year.  And here’s what he said:

“Mister Lawrence, I wanted to ask you if you could thank the people of your church and others, for me.  I honestly couldn’t have made it to where I am without the support of people like you and them.  And not just financial support, but emotional support as well.  Knowing that people believe that I can do well and hope I do always kept me going and I can’t thank you enough.”

Okay, I can hardly write now through the tears.  Makes me think of that old song that goes like this:

“I’ll shout it from the mountaintop!

I want the world to know.

The Lord of Love has come to me.

I want to pass it on!”

That, friends, I what I believe life is all about. An old man and a young kid.

Miracles.