623 posts categorized "Advocacy"
I am not into celebrating the lives of my ancestors for just one month out of the year. Rather, I take a moment each and every day to reflect on the lives of my ancestors, on the lives of greatness. Black History Month is not all that exciting for me, but it does serve as a reminder, nevertheless.
During the month of February, I am reminded, especially by others who celebrate the lives of black people, of how educated, beautiful, radiant, talented, driven, brilliant, intelligent, innovative, and legendary my people are. I am reminded that no matter how we are perceived today, that we were once kings, queens, inventors, innovators, educators, leaders, architects, and rulers of great nations, to name a few. I am reminded of how resilient and strong that we have always been and must continue to be.
Having grown up in the rural Mississippi Delta, I am reminded of my sharecropping grandparents who spent many years on a plantation in Leflore County. Many years in which they worked to provide housing and basic necessities for their eldest children. Many years in which they were short-changed daily by their “landlord” and barely made ends meet. It’s similar to the plight of so many residents in the Mississippi Delta, who struggle to provide for their families in 2015. I am reminded of the systemic issue of hunger and poverty that has always been pervasive in the Mississippi Delta due to blacks having little to no access to land or resources. I am reminded of the local, statewide, and federal policies that have allowed these systemic issues to remain commonplace.
I am reminded of great leaders who organized in an effort so that others and I would one day have better lives, opportunities, and a chance to live in a more just society void of systemic issues that plague black communities. I am reminded of Fannie Lou Hamer. I am reminded of June Johnson. I am reminded of Euvester Simpson. I am reminded of Victoria Gray Adams. I am reminded of Annie Devine. I am reminded of Unita Blackwell. I am reminded of Sam Block. I am reminded of Willie B. Peacock. I am reminded of Jesse Harris. I am reminded of Silas McGhee. I am reminded of Hollis Watkins.
In 2015, as we fight to prove that “black lives matter,” I am reminded of why I have chosen what I dare not call a career, but a way of life. I am reminded that the battles that my ancestors fought have not been won yet. The torch has been passed on. The fight must continue.
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” –Assata Shakur, an African-American activist (b. 1947)
Brittany Gray is a regional organizer at Bread for the World.
Photo: Brittany Gray at a Moral Movement Rally in Jackson, Miss. Brittany Gray/Bread for the World.
By Robin Stephenson
Can we turn our faith into action and become conduits of God’s love as leaders in our communities?
Travel writer and Bread for the World member Rick Steves thinks so. Steves talked about the importance of advocacy as an act of faith during the Faith Action Network (FAN) annual fundraising dinner in Seattle, Wash., last November.
Advocacy goes beyond models of charity. For Steves, it is the implementation of God’s love to address structural poverty. It is an extension of stewardship that considers community and neighbor. "We are so richly blessed," Steves said. "I think if we are honest with our faith, we take that stewardship seriously."
Steves used the image of a Whirling Dervish to show how people of faith can be tools of God.
“He plants one foot in community - his home - and his other foot goes around the world, acknowledging the beautiful diversity of God’s great creation," Steves said. "He raises one hand up to God to accept the love of his maker, the other hand, like the spout of a tea kettle, goes down and showers God’s love on his great creation as he whirls - one foot in his home with his loved one, the other celebrating the diversity in his community.”
Steves’ worldview is shaped by his faith and travel. He said that one of the reasons he values travel is that he can view his own country from a distance but also see the different ways communities across the globe deal with similar challenges. “We can learn from other people's experiences, we can share notes,” he said.
Steves’ book, Travel as a Political Act explores how travel can connect people and engender a mutual understanding. Travel opens our eyes because it exposes the similarities and diversities of various approaches to living. Sometimes what we see is gross inequality. But for Steves, that pushes him to engage his elected officials - the leaders who make policies that affect vulnerable people around the world.
Last year, Steves spoke out about a policy provision in a Coast Guard Reauthorization bill that would have increased the percentage of food aid required to be shipped on U.S. vessels from 50 to 75 percent. If passed, it would have reduced the reach of food-aid programs by 2 million people annually. Steves sees short-term profit over feeding hungry people as a problem of perspective.
“Sure, we have our economic challenges,” Steves wrote in The Seattle Times last June. “But 90 percent of humanity would love to have our crisis. Half of humanity is struggling to survive on $2 a day. When you travel, you understand that’s a real crisis.”
By speaking up in your communities and with your elected officials, advocates like you and Rick Steves, helped put a stop to the harmful provision. God’s love for humanity channeled through God’s people triumphed. That is faith in action!
A Whirling Dervish, perpetually in motion and radiating God’s love and promise out to the world, is a nice metaphor for what we do as faithful advocates. By urging our elected officials to craft programs and policies that celebrate human diversity, while acknowledging that we are one people tied together by God’s love, we most certainly do turn our faith into action.
Watch the video of Rick Steves' presentation on the Rick Steves' Europe Blog.
As the 114th Congress begins its work, we’ll need your help to ensure that food-aid reform is a priority. Bread will continue to work on this issue and urge Congress to pass legislation that helps those who need food the most to get it. Learn more: U.S. Food-Aid Reform.
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and a senior regional organizer at Bread for the World.
Photo inset: Whirling Dervishes. Tomas Maltby/Wikimedia Commons.
By Jon Gromek
We live in a country where nearly 16 million children (1 in 5) live in homes that struggle to put food on the table. This year, Congress will debate the funding and policies for the programs that feed our children and nourish the minds and bodies of our brightest future. We will hear a great deal of facts and figures, statistics, and the minutiae of policies and programs. As important as these things are to the debate, one of the most important aspects in this national discussion is YOUR VOICE.
The decisions made this year will affect the health and well-being of mothers and children for years to come. Last week, Bread for the World officially launched its 2015 Offering of Letters: Feed Our Children, which means it’s time for Bread members across the country to start writing letters to their members of Congress! The Offering of Letters kit is a great resource for people everywhere to engage in advocacy and raise their Christian voice. Some of the most effective tools are the videos produced for the 2015 Offering of Letters campaign.
Be sure to watch the “Lunch ‘n’ Learn: The Importance of Child Nutrition Programs,” video and also the 60-second trailer. Share them with a friend, or show them in preparation for a congregation-wide Offering of Letters. Use the videos as a tool to engage and educate people in your congregation or community. Share them with friends and your congregation on Facebook. Post them on blogs. Show them during a Sunday school class, and invite reflection and discussion afterward. The videos not only put the issue of hunger in context, but also help put a face to what we are fighting for and the children who struggle with hunger every day.
Through these short videos you can meet Barbie Izquierdo and her children, Aidan and Leylanie, a Philadelphia family that has benefited from child nutrition programs; hear from staff at elementary and high schools in Pennsylvania and Maryland who speak first-hand about the importance of investing in our children’s growth, development, and education. Use the stories as inspiration to go out into your own community to meet and talk with students and educators who live these programs. They are representative of families and community members in every corner of our country, and they are the reason to write, call, email, and visit your congressional leaders and tell them to “feed our children.”
Jon Gromek is a regional organizer at Bread for the World.
By Robin Stephenson
Tonight at 9 p.m. EST, President Obama will deliver the State of the Union address – a time-honored tradition – and outline his priorities for next year. Immediately afterward, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) will deliver the Republican response. Will hunger and poverty rank as priorities?
“The State of the Union matters to those of us working to end hunger,” says LaVida Davis, director of organizing and grassroots capacity at Bread for the World. “Both the president and the response will give clues as to what will be prioritized in next year’s budget. If they aren’t talking about ending hunger, they won’t fund the programs that will.”
Although the economy is improving, millions of families still struggle to make ends meet - 45 million Americans live at or below the poverty line. Policies that marginalize groups of individuals increase food insecurity in the United States. Laws passed with the aim of ending hunger make an impact. Internationally, the implementation of smart policies has achieved dramatic progress against hunger and poverty; the number of people living in extreme poverty has been cut in half since 1990. We believe that we can end hunger and poverty by 2030 if our nation’s leaders make it a priority.
Tonight we will listen for hunger-ending key words. Below is a list of the words or phrases we hope to hear. Positive reinforcement helps, so we will praise each mention as we live tweet the speeches from @bread4theworld.
Child nutrition: When one in five children lives in families that struggle to put food on the table, passing a child nutrition bill with improvements will give more children at risk of hunger access to healthy food. Protecting SNAP (formerly food stamps) will also be key to reducing child hunger.
The earned income tax credit (EITC) and the child tax credit: Low-income tax credits pull more children out of poverty than any other government program. It is time to make the credits permanent.
Paid family leave: The president will take executive action to extend paid leave to federal employees, reflecting a key recommendation in the Bread for the World Institute’s 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. Congress should follow suit with policy changes that will benefit all U.S. workers
Mass incarceration: Policies that regulate our criminal justice system are increasing hunger and poverty in low-income communities, especially communities of color. Passing smarter sentencing laws and improving the re-entry process for returning citizens would help restore fairness in our justice system.
Immigration reform: An estimated 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants live in the shadows where hunger and poverty persist. Reform should include a path to citizenship and also address the root causes of migration to the United States.
Feed the Future: A global hunger and food-security initiative, Feed the Future is a driver behind recent progress against global hunger. It is time to codify the initiative into permanent law.
Food-aid reform: By updating our food-aid policies, we can help feed millions more with no additional tax dollars.
AGOA: The African Growth and Opportunity Act seeks to increase mutually beneficial trade ties between the United States and Africa and can help move millions out of poverty.
Join the conversation on Twitter, and help us empower our leaders tonight. When they talk about hunger, make sure they hear us applaud with a tweet. Let’s start by asking them to talk about hunger now.
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior regional organizer at Bread for the World.
By Bread Staff
Jesus never avoided uncomfortable subjects. Where polite society might frown on talking openly about money, Jesus confronted people’s beliefs, both spoken and unspoken, regarding finances.
He understood how much of human life is affected by our attitudes toward wealth, by the way workers are compensated, and especially by economic realities—including taxes—that affect everyone.
More than once, Jesus was questioned about the morality of paying taxes. In each case, he acknowledged the responsibility to pay taxes while drawing attention to the deeper questions about the place of economics in our lives.
When asked to pay the temple tax, he directed his disciple to catch a fish, whose mouth held a coin worth enough to pay for both of their taxes (Matthew 17:24-27).
When asked about the lawfulness of paying taxes to the emperor, he reminded the Pharisees that their first loyalty is owed to God. Everything belongs to God, the first and greatest giver.
Since we are made in God’s image, we can follow that example and order our economic life, including our tax policies, accordingly (Matthew 22:15-22).
An Economics of Sharing
These stories affirm the central place of an economics of sharing in a life governed by love for neighbor.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, who provided for the needs of a complete stranger after he had been beaten, robbed, and left for dead (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus told that story to expand our understanding of who is our neighbor, not to tell us to wait until someone is bleeding by the roadside before we help.
In telling his disciples to “go and do likewise,” isn’t he also calling us to make provisions for our neighbors who are victimized by their situation in life?
This call to seek justice for hungry and poor people requires us to take such compassionate actions to another level, moving beyond simple acts of sharing with those in need to the more encompassing action of advocacy. Through our advocacy for better government policies, we can help more families receive sufficient resources so they can keep from going hungry.
Proverbs 13:23 states, “The field of the poor may yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.” Today the labor of poor people is essential to the success of our economy, yet many workers do not see a fair share of the harvest. It is unjust that many who may work full-time at low wages will not take home an amount adequate for their families’ basic needs. The biblical call to do justice compels us to make sure that more of the harvest reaches those who produce it.
This year, we can help prevent the erosion of income by supporting tax credits for low-income workers. These tax credits can help millions of American workers support themselves and their families. Our efforts can put food into the mouths of hungry children, and restore hope and dignity to millions of households. It’s compassionate justice in action.
Find more reflections like this on the Bread for the World website.
By Stephen Padre
Sometimes we say we have an epiphany when our minds reach a breakthrough on a problem. Another way of saying this is that a solution has revealed itself – it has come out of darkness and seen the light.
Today is the Epiphany of Our Lord. Christmas Day begins the actual 12 days of Christmas, and when those run their course, we arrive at the day of Epiphany – today. Christian churches that follow a liturgical calendar celebrate the Christmas season followed by the season of Epiphany, which runs until Ash Wednesday, the start of the season of Lent.
Bread for the World’s year-end campaign used the theme of “Shine your light. Give life.” (based on John 8:12 CEV: “You will have the light that gives life.”) During Christmastime, we celebrated the birth of Jesus, who is the light of the world and who brought us life. So Christmas is a season about Jesus as light, but Epiphany just makes it all the more official.
Whereas Christmas is the season of Jesus coming into the world, Epiphany is the celebration of Jesus going out into the world – Jesus’ light being taken from Bethlehem into the far, dark corners of a world broken by poverty and hunger and other sins. Traditionally, Epiphany is the day on which Christians celebrate the arrival of the Wise Men at the manger where Jesus was born – the “outside world” discovering, in a sense, the savior of the world, and then spreading the light that was revealed to them as they return home by a different route.
So, on this day of Epiphany, as we assess our year-end campaign that has just ended, we come to you with thanks. Due to your generosity, online gifts in the final days of December totaled more than $75,000. Your year-end gifts to Bread for the World have not only provided light – refilled our lamps – during the Christmas season, but they will allow us to transport those lamps across the country and illuminate our message of ending hunger. Your gifts will be the Christmas light of Christ and the Epiphany sharing of that Christ light across the country and into the halls of Congress. Your gifts will mean the warmth of Christ is shared when more people receive the food they need when our government acts to end hunger.
Thank you for giving to Bread for the World.
The light and life you have given will shine throughout Epiphany and beyond.
Stephen Padre is the managing editor at Bread for the World.
By Cameron Kritikos
A few days before Thanksgiving, the Food Recovery Network at Calvin College, as well as many other hunger-focused groups on campus, gathered and decided to host a Bread for the World Offering of Letters.
Our purpose was to get students to write letters to our Michigan lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the state’s junior senator. As the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Stabenow is a critical voice when it comes to making laws that can help end hunger. The committee has jurisdiction over SNAP (formerly food stamps).
At Calvin College, students involved with the Food Recovery Network retrieve leftover food from the dining hall and donate it to local food banks or church congregations that serve nightly meals.
With last spring being our first semester recovering food, my leadership team and I wanted to be more intentional about seeking food justice at the systemic level. Calvin students are beginning to do this by watching documentaries, such as A Place at the Table, and writing letters.
I got involved with food justice because I was utterly fed up with the way in which people who are struggling financially are treated in this country, especially those who benefit from SNAP. We have brothers and sisters here in Grand Rapids who not only do not have the financial capital to purchase groceries, but also live in areas where grocery stores are scarce.
Hunger is a problem, and at Calvin College, we are no longer going to ignore it. We can’t.
I have a friend who has a sticker on her laptop, one that inspires me. It’s a quote from William Wilberforce, the English politician and abolitionist. It reads: “You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.”
Those involved with the Food Recovery Network at Calvin College can no longer say that we did not know. We no longer have the luxury of living in ignorant bliss. Instead, we have been called to live faithfully on the front lines of food justice, fighting the cause in this country and throughout the world.
And we will do it one plate of mashed potatoes and one handwritten letter at a time.
Cameron Kritikos is a sophomore at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. He is studying international development, Spanish, and church-based community development.
Inset photo: Cameron Kritikos for Bread for the World.
“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:3b).
As you pull down the tree and pack away the lights, now is a good time to make plans for 2015. In addition to shedding those last pesky five pounds or searching for a new job, consider making a few 2015 resolutions that can help end hunger.
- Resolve to coordinate an Offering of Letters at your church. In 2015, we will be advocating to protect and strengthen child nutrition programs as Congress begins their work to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act. Contact your regional organizer for more information. Kits and companion website are expected to be available by the end of January or early February.
- Resolve to start a study group. The 2015 Hunger Report, When Women Flourish…We Can End Hunger, includes a Christian study guide.
- Resolve to make hunger an election issue. As we enter into a new elections cycle, urge potential leaders to talk about hunger and poverty publically. If you live in Iowa, Florida, Virginia, or Ohio and want to get involved in the campaign to make hunger an issue in the presidential elections, contact Stephen Hill, our senior organizer for elections issues.
- Resolve to use social media as an advocacy tool. Are you active on social media and interested in being part of an online team? Do you want to use your blog to help educate others on the problem of hunger? Contact Robin Stephenson, Bread’s national lead for social media to learn more.
- Resolve to meet with your member of Congress. Early in the new year is a great time to set up a meeting with your legislators or their staff. Contact your regional organizer to help you.
- Resolve to take action. When Congress is considering a piece of legislation that affects hunger, we’ll let you know. Sign up for action alerts, and resolve to write your member of Congress at least six times this year. Add your name to Bread’s email list found on the upper right-hand corner of our website.
- Resolve to make it public. Write a letter to the editor and submit it to your local newspaper. Your regional organizer can provide you with talking points.
- Resolve to join the Bread Rising Campaign, especially its prayer component. Include prayer for the end of hunger in your daily prayer life. One way to do this is to think of ending hunger when you pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
We all know that making a resolution is easier than keeping one. A good way to remind yourself of your advocacy resolution is to print out this page, circle your resolution, and then put it up on your fridge.
We look forward to working with you in 2015 as we use the power of our voice and citizenship to answer God’s call to end hunger.
Photo: Capitol Christmas Tree. Angela n./Creative Commons.
On any given Thursday when Congress is in session, the smell of Oregon’s finest coffee wafts through U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley’s Washington, D.C., office. Oregonians gather in a bright blue conference room exchanging greetings and stories as they wait to meet the senator for a quick conversation.
As an anti-hunger advocate, I am always trying to get a message to my members of Congress, but I rarely meet with them personally. I usually pass my message through a staff member. Because legislative assistants advise members of Congress, it is important to communicate with them. However, face time with elected officials themselves can leave a lasting impression.
While in Washington, D.C., last week, I dropped by Merkley’s office for coffee and spent several minutes talking to him about an issue I am really worried about: schools eliminating free and reduced-price lunch programs in rural Oregon, where child food-insecurity rates are as high as 30 percent. I also talked to him about a food-aid reform bill I want him to cosponsor. He asked me some questions before we took a photo together. Afterward, he sincerely thanked me and told me that my advocacy work was very important.
It is no secret that I am a fan of the senator. I learned about the power of advocacy by working on a payday loan campaign in Oregon that he spearheaded. It might be easy to think he doesn't need to hear from me, but my showing up reminds him that he has constituents at home who count on him to continue being a champion for vulnerable people.
Many senators host weekly meet-and-greets for their constituents who are visiting the nation’s capital. Some offices have traditions that go back decades. These events are one way lawmakers can connect with constituents from home.
Using coffee chats as an opportunity to talk about poverty is nothing new to Bread for the World members. U.S. Sen. Tom Udall’s office does coffee with a distinctly New Mexican flair; they serve biscochitos (butter-based cookies flavored with anise and cinnamon) and green chile pistachios, says longtime Bread activist and current board member Carlos Navarro.
In addition to one-on-one time with Udall, Navarro says he enjoys meeting other New Mexicans working on anti-hunger issues in his state. He met AARP state director Gene Varela at a 2013 coffee meet-and-greet in Udall’s office. “The contact turned out to be very important, since I was able to connect with him later about the Hunger Summit in New Mexico in the summer of 2014, which AARP was cosponsoring,” he says.
And there is something about meeting over coffee that makes talking to a U.S. senator less intimidating. Rev. Libby Tedder Hugus has written about how coffee eased her nerves when speaking with Wyoming’s Sen. John Barrasso. I can totally relate. Part of why I like “constituent coffee” is because it brings a little bit of home to our nation’s capital, and I’m just one Oregonian talking to another.
If you are planning to visit Washington, D.C., for any reason, call your senator’s office ahead of time and find out if they host a constituent coffee.
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior organizer at Bread for the World.
By Eric Mitchell
I was at a gathering of national faith leaders in St. Louis, Mo., last week discussing criminal justice reform following the Ferguson decision, when I heard the news that a grand jury in Staten Island, N.Y., would not indict a police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.
The fact that a Staten Island grand jury made the same decision as the Ferguson grand jury sucked the air out of the room. An hour later, a young man who had been actively involved with the Ferguson protests broke down crying and left the room.
In pain, he passionately yelled out, “what more do they need?” referring to the Staten Island grand jury decision. “What did we do to deserve this?” He then declared that he doesn’t even want to have children with all that's going on in the world. Holding back my own tears, all I could do was hug him and whisper into his ear that he is a King (in control of his life), and that he cannot let anyone break him, regardless of the circumstance.
How did we get to this point? When a young African-American man, who wants to have children, is afraid to bring life into this world? What is he experiencing that has led him to this decision? What really hit me was not the tears, but what this young man was saying. I am the father of two beautiful girls. It may sound cliché, but it is my daughters who drive me to be a better husband, a better father, and a better person. I can’t imagine how empty my life would be without them.
What happened in Ferguson and Staten Island is not unique to those cities. A grand jury in Cincinnati, Ohio, decided not to indict police officers for fatally shooting John Crawford III at a Wal-Mart. These cases have brought national attention to the injustices that many African-Americans have experienced for decades.
Racism is America’s cancer. Slavery and Jim Crow laws gave this disease time to fester and mature in the body of America. During the last 50 years, there has been great improvement to ensure equality for African-Americans, but the disease of racism has had time to infiltrate other aspects of American culture, the same way cancer attacks different organs. And unless this cancer is treated aggressively, it will slowly and painfully destroy this country.
While I don’t have the answers on how to cure us of this disease, I do know that it can no longer be ignored or written off. While in St. Louis, I joined many of the young people at the federal courthouse to protest the injustice that many African-Americans have experienced at the hands of law enforcement. And while the recent decisions moved me to go, I was also there to speak out against my own experiences of bigotry as an African-American man in this country. What I witnessed was that we were not out there just to speak out on the injustice of police harassment, but we were speaking out against injustice – period! We were calling for the right to employment and fair pay, access to quality housing and education, and an elimination of the prison industrial complex. These are demands that transcend race, and are not unique to Ferguson.
What we have seen over the past week are African-Americans, whites, Hispanics, Asians, and others standing up to the injustice and inequalities that still exist. In the Christian faith, which has in the past helped to perpetuate the sins of this country, we are seeing white Christians speaking out and standing with African-American Christians. In my own experience, over the last week, a number of my white colleagues and friends (conservative and liberal alike) have come to me expressing their frustration about the lack of justice as it relates to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. These events have opened the eyes of many white Americans.
Regardless of where you stand on the specifics of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases, we have to recognize that inequality still exists in this country, and that it will take a collective of people to change it. Apathy is the biggest threat to any movement. While meeting with some of the leaders of the Ferguson movement, they challenged us to find our own Ferguson. There are injustices happening everywhere, whether it is Ferguson, Staten Island, or Cincinnati. And it’s not just the criminal justice system. The remnants of America’s cancer has affected other areas such as hunger, public health, education, wages and employment, and housing. Find your movement. Civil rights leader and Georgia congressman John Lewis often reminds us that “you have to get in the way.” This is our moment to let the powers that be know that we are speaking up and speaking out. It’s our moment to get in the way.
Eric Mitchell is the director of government relations at Bread for the World.
Editor’s note: Bread issued a statement on the killing of Michael Brown on Nov. 14 and you can read it here. For more information on race and justice, read resources from our partners, the National Council of Churches and the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference. You can download here the latest fact sheet on hunger in the African-American community.
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