DEEPLY ROOTED By Leah Prescott Burgess & Kate Foran

Dear Leah,

I thought I would just start to write to you, and as an investment in our growing friendship I thought I would tell you about a conversion experience:

I was a white do-gooder living in the North End of Hartford.  We put a sign on the door for “bread” when a bakery dropped off day-old loaves for donation. Ms. G., a social worker with many clients in the neighborhood, would come by to collect loaves for them.  She was always friendly and willing to chat for a bit.  One day she told me she was one of the first Black students to integrate Manchester High School.  “What was that like for you?” I asked.   Her voice was kind but her response was frank: “Well it made me more comfortable talking to white people.  I’m talking to you aren’t I?”  And it may sound silly, but I was completely taken aback. For the first time in my “good white girl” life I realized that I could be a threat.  Scales fell from my eyes and I realized that I could go my whole life with racism being someone else’s problem, or I could understand that it was my baggage to unpack and work I needed to commit to doing.  It was the most loving thing she could have said to me.

I could write more, but I wonder, for you, what does it mean to be rooted in Love?  What does reconciliation look like?

Dear Kate,

I’m not sure if this answers your question about being rooted in love or reconciliation but this was on my heart to share with you. I enjoy giving of my time, resources, talents, and myself to people who are in need.  I am accustomed to people (particularly People of Color) showing appreciation for what is being shared. Including but not limited to those folks looking to build relationship with me beyond the crisis.  Interestingly in this past year some folks that I have attempted to share with some White folks who are not in crisis and who I feel are not interested in my time, resources, talents or my personhood. I want to walk through this world noticing various intersections.  As a Christian, Black, Wife/Mother, part of the fabric of the North End of Hartford, CT; a community that is plagued with poverty, violence, and an overwhelming need to grow metaphorical trees that bear much fruit.  I notice a community blooming with love and compassion for neighbors.  I need to name and bring attention to how race & class at the very least meet Christ at the cross. I desperately need racial & financial reconciliation here in my home, church, and neighborhood as it is in heaven.  I desire a time and space where true personal anti-oppression, particularly racial & economic reconciliation work is not forgotten for the sake of people being nice. I don’t know all the answers or all the right questions to ask in order to rid our nation of oppression
– I just trust that Jesus is the way to get there.

Dear Leah,

I love how you note that communities that experience poverty, violence, and oppression are already “blooming”–in spite of attempts to “help” that only seem to recognize the need without seeing the gifts (and maintain problematic power dynamics). This insight makes me think about my own complicated relationship to our culture’s take on “evangelizing,” which unfortunately has too often been used as a tool of domination and colonization.  I think the way of Jesus (which as a Catholic I attempt to follow) is not just an acquiescence of the heart but an uncompromising break with the “business as usual” of systems of domination and oppression.  I think the church is a community in recovery from the addictions of the world, always in need of re-examining its own process in light of the good news–which should preclude any self-righteous lines being drawn between the “saved” and the “lost.”  I find my own practice of relating to other white people to be a similar process (I have been especially struck by this list of guidelines for helping other whites to become allies:

Dear Kate,

I want to name & notice God’s presence already at work in every community like the North End of Hartford.  There is an inherited failure in relationships between people of difference (race, class, gender etc…).  The failure shows up in our classrooms, family barbeques, our invitation lists to weddings, and who shows up to funerals.  We typically stick with our own kind until we feel a deep calling to go & “help.”  What I struggle with is who do we help, where do we help, and how do we help? Does “help” need to be “brought in” from outside of the community?

I recognize that the destruction of oppression and division is deep but I am confident that the unfailing love and power of Jesus the Christ has roots that are far deeper, more perfect, and constantly at work to overturn every form of oppression.

Biographies of the Authors:

Kate Foran was formed by the nonviolent resistance and radical hospitality of the Catholic Worker movement, and has been inspired and challenged by other communities of love & struggle (including the Beloved Community Center in North Carolina) whose faith drives their work for social transformation.   She is grateful to Leah Burgess for friendship & for opportunities to practice reconciliation.

Leah Burgess has spent 11years working in the anti-sexual violence movement at the local rape crisis level, at Dartmouth College, and now presently as a Victim Advocate on the Sex Offender Supervision Unit in CT.  She has consistently been challenged to do this work in ways that engage the intersections of oppression and sexual violence.  She and her husband are also House Managers living in an Intentional Christian Community in the North End of Hartford, CT. She is thankful for the level of transparency exercised in her growing friendship with Kate Foran.
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