Reflections of a Volunteer Corps member

“I’m in a volunteer corps.” That statement will get you lots of things and get you lots of places. People will give you rides, offer to buy you drinks, or food, and at a party you always get sent home with the leftovers.

It also means that at your placement, you are temporary. This can mean that people are hesitant to get to know you because they know that before long your year of service will be done and you will be leaving.

Working at Bread for the City though, it means something completely different. Being placed at Bread means that for one year, you gain an amazing loving, supportive, and embracing family. Despite the fact that everyone knew when I started that I was going to be here for just a year, they welcomed me. They got to know me, they helped me, and they taught me.

During my year at Bread for the City, I learned so much from all of my co-workers. I learned patience, kindness, gentleness, budgeting, and bill paying. I have begun to learn about racial equity and more that cannot be put into words. I have also learned to give so much more than I thought I was ever capable of. I have been challenged to grow and have been supported every step of the way.

Kristina HeerenAs an organization, Bread for the City has a unique way of supporting its staff and making sure that we have the training needed to do our work. From the comprehensive, organization-wide new staff orientation that happens every year, to the trainings staff are required to attend, and the trainings each department asks its staff to attend — when you start working at Bread for the City they will make sure that you have every tool you need to succeed at your job.

BFC is also unique in the way we treat our clients. We are taught from the first day on the job to treat everyone with the dignity and respect all people deserve. We are not to look down on our clients or pity them. We are to help them to the best of our abilities and treat them like we would a co-worker or a colleague. I find this approach so refreshing and inspiring. Many non-profits who work with the under-privileged of a community tend to have an air of pity or sorrow. But at Bread, there is no sorrow and there is no pity. I find this so inspiring because I feel that people should be treated with dignity and respect and that is exactly how they are treated when they walk through the doors of Bread for the City.

I am sad to say that my year of service is over, and my time at Bread for the City is over for now. But working here was such a blessing and I cannot imagine having been placed anywhere else. Bread for the City really is one big family and I am so happy that I got to be a part of it!

Thank you to everyone who made me feel welcome and who helped me learn and grow throughout this year!

 

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Bilingual Housing Clinic Coordinator

Wondimu Geda is a full time Bilingual Housing Clinic Coordinator with our Housing Access Program (HAP).  Wandimu is fluent in Amharic, English, Afan Oromo, and Gurage.  He works to make sure that our Amharic speaking  clients have full access to HAP programming and often facilitates other BFC programs.

At BrFullSizeRenderead for the City, we value language access and see it as an integral piece of dignity and respect. All of our staff have been trained on our language access policies and know to offer interpretation services at every point of contact. If a staff member is not available to provide language services or interpretation we will call a telephonic interpretation service. For appointments scheduled ahead of time, we often bring in outside interpreters to facilitate culturally appropriate communication in meetings.

We are also always looking for ways to improve our offerings and reach new communities.  Wondimu has taken the lead in translating program documents into Amharic. He leads a monthly Housing Access Clinic completely in Amharic. The demand for this workshop has been so high—it often fills up within a week of advertising—that he’s expanding it to multiple times monthly.

Here’s a quick interview with Wondimu on why he loves his work with BFC:

What’s your favorite part of being a Bilingual Housing Clinic Coordinator with BFC?

My favorite part of being a Bilingual Housing Coordinator with BFC is meeting clients, discussing issues with them in their native language (in Amharic and sometimes in Oromo language) and becoming part of the solution to some of their problems and addressing their needs. It is interesting that some of our clients who are coming to BFC just to participate on our HAP are accessing other public benefits and social services (like SSI, SSDI, Retirement benefits Health Insurance, legal services etc.) about which they did not know before. I am always motivated by the amazing TEAM work of the BFC family!

Why is your project – Amharic HAP – important? What has the impact been?

Our Amharic speaking clients can get information about the Housing issues in DC areas through the Amharic HAP Clinic information session and the translated HAP documents. I also think our Amharic speaking clients are encouraged to apply to subsidized apartments and are using their worksheets during their applications.

What’s your dream for Amharic services at BFC?

I am hoping that our Amharic HAP will grow and BFC will be more inclusive by addressing our Amharic speaking clients’ specific needs in its housing advocacy work and in its general strategic planning. I hope BFC will continue to expand the bilingual staff across departments.

Taste Your Music!

This summer, Bread for the City was chosen as beneficiary in a special community outreach project called Taste Your Music. Presented by two local arts organizations, Gourmet Symphony and Capital City Symphony, the program provides meals, performances, and fellowship to DC’s residents in need.

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As part of Taste Your Music, this past June we welcomed a professional string quartet for a chamber music concert to our rooftop patio for the first time ever! The musicians performed for our staff and clients, sharing their talent and love for music with all present.

Our guests also enjoyed a refreshing beverage prepared by Gourmet Symphony’s co-founder John Coco. He served a delicious “strawberry basil smash” using leaves from our very own garden. The drink was the perfect sweet pairing for a sunny summer afternoon. In addition to their visit, Gourmet Symphony and Capital City Symphony are donating essential kitchen items for grocery bags to be distributed later this fall at Bread for the City.taseyourmusic2

As the summer project comes to an end, we would like to invite the Bread for the City community to join Gourmet Symphony and Capital City Symphony for the Taste Your Music Benefit Concert at The Hamilton Live on Thursday, September 3. This event celebrates the program’s success with an evening of cuisine and live music, featuring a full symphony orchestra with soprano soloist and a 4-course dinner menu created by chefs from The Hamilton and Beuchert’s Saloon. The Benefit Concert will also provide us with a platform to showcase our work in the community.

A portion of the event’s proceeds will benefit us as charity partners in Taste Your Music, as well as two other local service providers.

For tickets and sponsorship information, please visit www.gourmetsymphony.org/tymbenefitconcert.

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Tai Chi at BFC? Yup!

Hi, have we met? I’m Gail Knight. I lead workshops and discussion at Bread for the City to help reduce stress and balance the mind, body and spirit.

I conduct these workshopGail Knight - Tai Chis using a combination of gentle movements and postures, progressive relaxation, massage, breathing practices, visualizations, and healing sounds from various components of Tai Chi Chaun.

Although I’m still getting acclimated with working with Bread for the City’s Client Advisory Council, I’ve been facilitating a Tai Chi Chaun workshop with the WomenStrong DC Program for quite some time. My workshops emphasize the vital need for self-care which includes:

  • Better spiritual, physical, mental, emotional responses to common stressors and their effect on various health conditions
  • Body strengthening, enhancing internal organs, and applying these techniques to managing pain
  • Reducing stress and encouraging healing

Not familiar with Tai Chi? Here’s some fundamental information:

Tai Chi Chaun is an abridged name of Tai Ji Quan/Tai Chi Chaun/Taj Qi Gong/Tai Chi Kung. Tai Chi translates literally as “the Great Polarities of Yin and Yang,” while Quan/Chuang/Gong means “fist,” Chi equals energy. The philosophy is known as the “Classic of the Way and Power.”

Tai Chi Chaun involves using the mind and breath to control the movement of energy in the body. The movements of Tai Chi can be done slowly for health purposes, or quickly for self-defense. Tai Chi can be done safely by people of all ages, and regular practice promotes mental tranquility, organ toning, as well as physical strength, balance and flexibility.Tai Chi WS

Tai Chi is one of the most advanced Chinese martial-art forms. Its fundamental structure is based on combat and self-defense moves.

My journey began with a call to move beyond the ordinary, to rise up in the face of pain, exhaustion and deep fatigue. My interest in traditional Chinese medicine and the healing arts lead me further. I was cleared by my physical therapist to incorporate Tai Chi into my self-care and became certified. Although my own journey continues, I’m inspired to help others.

I invite you to consider Tai Chi as a self-care and fitness resource, maybe as a desire for connection, a curiosity to discover something new, an experience of something inspiring or beautiful, or a sense of balance. Perhaps you’ll find all of these things and more. My contact information is: lg.ii.q.ii@gmail.com or 240-670-4474 for questions or further information.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this: when life deals you a tough blow, it’s easy to get down and feel powerless. There is power in calmness. You have the power to enlist all of your resources in your effort to overcome a challenging situation. You have the power/calmness to take that first step, even if you can’t see beyond it.

Bread for the City’s WomenStrong DC is proud to be a consortium member of WomenStrong International (WSI), a new network of organizations worldwide dedicated to empowering women and girls and to sharing what works. For more, and to learn what you can do as part of this effort, see www.womenstrongintl.org.

It’s Kind of a Big Deal, Too!

Hey, guess what, everyone???

Bread for the City is pleased to announce that we received a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to provide quality primary care to under-served DC residents. And this grant isn’t just a new source of funding for us – it means that our clinic is officially a full Federally-Qualified Health Center! (Or FQHC –and brace yourself for more acronyms to come, as this is a blog post about the federal government).

As we wrote a little over a year ago when we became a FQHC Look-Alike, it’s kind of a big deal. Being certified as a Look-Alike (LAL) allowed us to receive 100% reimbursements for our patients on Medicare and Medicaid—revenue which closed the planned budget gap we had been running, earlier than we even expected. Now that we’re a full FQHC, we qualify for extra grants from HRSA, like the New Access Point (NAP – see what I mean about acronyms?) grant of $541,667 that we just received.

HRSA

What does this mean for Bread for the City, you may ask? Well, to start, it means that our clinic can keep growing. (Good Hope Road, here we come!) New Access Point grants are actually designed to fund healthcare for those who are not covered by insurance plans and/or do not have a primary care physician, so Bread for the City will now be working with two other clinic recipients (congrats to La Clinica del Pueblo and Elaine Ellis Center of Health, too!) to provide healthcare to almost 7,000 people in the District who were previously uncovered. In other words, this isn’t funding for our existing patients – this is funding to care for those in DC who have been without healthcare for far too long.

What this WON’T mean, however, is any major changes to our mission itself. We are still committed to making our clinic a “medical home” where patients feel heard and cared for by their physicians. We still believe that the disparities in healthcare access that we see in our patients are based on far more than insurance status alone – race, ethnicity, immigration status, language access, are all structural forms of oppression that hurt our community. We fight these oppressions every day by providing culturally and linguistically-competent medical care, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. We’re going to keep doing this – we’re just going to be doing it for more people now, and we can’t wait to get down to work!

despicable-me-minionsThe work of Bread for the City’s Medical Clinic is partially funded by HRSA, the Affordable Care Act, the DC Department of Health, and the DC Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs.

 

Back to School Made a Lot Easier!

At Bread, we know that back to school time can bring a lot of stress for parents, with all of the additional expenses of school supplies, new clothes, shoes, etc. So, in stepped in one of our amazing donors to lighten this burden, by not only donating a number of book bags, but school supplies as well!

Catherine Kello has been a fabulous, Bread for the City donor over the years, regularly donating school supplies right when they are needed most.school suppliesbook bags

This year, with her generous donation, we have packed 20 brand new book bags, inside of which are an assortment of school supplies, from notebooks and rulers to crayons and glue.

Throughout this week, clients can enter their names at the front desk of both of our centers for a chance to win one of the book bags.

On Friday, August 14th, 10 names will be drawn at each center and those winners will receive the goodie-filled book bags!

Winners will then have a week after being contacted to pick up their bags. With the start of DC public schools right around the corner, this raffle is just in time to help out our clients and their families.

Thank you, Catherine!

Bread’s Volunteer Program Gets a Boost thanks to the Taproot Foundation!

Over the past year, Bread for the City has had the pleasure of working with a team of pro bono human resource consultants in partnership with the Taproot Foundation. The goal of this partnership was to improve our volunteer program. Since our founding, service has been a pillar of our work at Bread for the City. Volunteers assist in all of our core service areas providing both direct and indirect services to help us accomplish our mission.

Several years ago, Bread for the City’s leadership recognized a need for greater support for the volunteer program and re-vamped the program’s staff structure. With this change, the ground was laid for the program to grow and develop, which is why we jumped at the opportunity to partner with the Taproot Foundation. After a competitive grant application and interview process, Bread for the City was awarded a service grant and officially kicked off the project with our pro bono consultant team.

During our year-long collaboration, our pro bono team holistically assessed our volunteer program by meeting with volunteers and key staff, developed short- and long-term recommendations for improvement, and created action plans to implement changes in two focus areas: orientation/training and volunteer role development.

TAPROOTLogoResulting from this good work, Bread for the City will be introducing a new volunteer orientation and training process, which will help our volunteers start their service with a more thorough understanding of our philosophy, including our racial equity work, and the issues we address. We will also be creating several new volunteer positions to build capacity within the volunteer program itself. These changes will help to enhance the quality of our program to better serve our volunteers, staff, and clients.

We are extremely grateful for the time, energy, and ideas contributed by our pro bono Taproot consultants and are looking forward to continuing to improve our volunteer program in the long term.

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You’re Invited: Cooking Demonstration with Chef Bob Tomorrow, August 4th!

Bread for the City is pleased to welcome back Chef Bob for a cooking demonstration at our SE Center tomorrow, Tuesday, August 4th at 11:00 AM! The demonstration will be led by Chef Bob with Gate Gourmet, an organization that specializes in in-flight catering. All are welcome to attend!

During the event, participants will learn how to prepare three healthy summer menu items, including creamy pasta primavera with ground turkey, a three bean salad, and watermelon yogurt popsicles. We’ll also be sharing samples and recipe cards so that participants can re-create the dishes at home.

To reserve your spot for the cooking demonstration, please email Donnie Hampton at dhampton@breadforthecity.org or call 202-587-0530. Please note that space is limited. We look forward to seeing you tomorrow!

Gate Gourmet

Chairman’s Corner

This is the launch of  a monthly series “Chairman’s Corner” – where our Board Chair, Paul Taskier, will write about a variety of topics that impact Bread for the City and indeed the community and nation at large. We invite you to Read, Enjoy and Share!

We have all just witnessed momentous changes in our national landscape. June, 2015 will long be a month remembered for the changes it ushered in, or cemented in place.

President Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, has now survived two serious legal challenges and appears firmly in place, providing protection and affordable health care for millions who were refused coverage or who simply could not afford its substantial costs.

Deeply held religious beliefs to one side, this month also marked the demolition of barriers that prohibited same sex marriage, finally erasing a prohibition that denied equal protection of the laws to those who love and wish to marry a person of the same sex.

These are sea change events in American life, but I believe that while we celebrate now that our world has changed for the better, we will, as time passes, adjust to the ‘new normal’. We, or our children, will take these as indisputable truths. Of course we have health care insurance that covers us notwithstanding prior conditions, of course we all have to share, depending on our means, in the cost of care for everyone, of course anyone can marry anyone he or she loves, of course it’s unacceptable to discriminate against someone because of sexual orientation.

But this month we have also confronted the shocking and horrible murder of nine righteous people who opened their hearts and their church to a stranger. And while we witness national outrage at that act of terrorism — ostensibly undertaken to provoke a race war — and are gratified that the Confederate battle flag, a mark of racist hatred to blacks, is finally recognized as being inappropriate outside a museum, the struggle against the systemic racism in our society is barely in its infancy.

Why, when the Emancipation Proclamation was over 150 years ago, and Brown v. Board of Education was 50 years ago, do we still have issues? If we can readily accept that there is a sea change in how we approach universal health coverage or whether it is a civil right to be LGBT, why is there still any issue about full racial equality? Why is it not universally accepted in America that of course it doesn’t matter what color your skin is? How is it that we can accept sea changes in other parts of our national life and blithely deem full racial equality as unattainable in our lifetimes?

There is no doubt that our national landscape has changed from the times of slavery and segregation – an African-American President is solemn witness to that. But as President Obama said in Charleston at Rev. Pinckney’s funeral, we’ve had conversations about race, endlessly; it’s time to stop talking and start doing.

I have previously written about Bread for the City’s commitment to racial equity, and how we require all of our staff members to attend two days of training on racial equity. It is, essentially, sensitivity training to help us understand the daily burdens that our society’s history of racism places on black Americans. Our clientele is almost wholly people of color, the vast majority of whom are African-American. So, in the way we approach our clients — and in the way we understand ourselves — we need to embrace the stark divide in racial equity and in our awareness of racial inequity.

White people, I am sorry to say, are mostly unaware of their sense of societal privilege vis-a-vis black Americans. Centuries of oppression, slavery, degradation, denial and diminishment weigh heavily. Do we really need to ask why white financial net worth is, on average,14 times greater than black net worth? Or why more black men are imprisoned, mostly for minor drug offenses (many of which are no longer crimes in many states and the District of Columbia), than there were people in slavery before the Civil War? Or why the cities with majority black populations have significantly higher percentage populations living below the poverty line?

After Trayvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Freddie Grey in Baltimore and the tens of thousands of other, less known, victims, is there any question that black men are treated differently in our society? Can it be in any way acceptable that black children have to be carefully taught how to interact with police lest they become victims themselves? Or that African-American drivers always have to be concerned lest they be pulled over by the police for DWB – Driving While Black? A grim joke – far too often a reality.

Our national conversation on race must take on new urgency. One hundred fifty years after the end of slavery we should not learn that good people were slaughtered because of their color and to force others, through fear, to “go back.” Go back to Africa?! After 300 years in America, after building this country, shedding blood in its wars, and taking part in every piece of the American story? How can such a demented narrative even be enunciated in this day and age? I myself thought that narratives like this were the product of a past long overtaken, and I am horrified to learn that apparently hundreds of thousands of Americans still subscribe to profoundly racist beliefs, and belong to organizations deemed racist by the Southern Poverty Law Center. If nothing else, we must support the Southern Poverty Law Center and help it in its struggle to identify and shut down seedbeds of racial hatred.

But we also need to engage in introspection. White attitudes to people of color are steeped in privilege, entitlement and, all too often, a sense of superiority, fostered by the systemic racism that pervades our society. We need to think more deeply about attitudes that are so ingrained that they are almost reflexive. How often have I heard racist or anti-Semitic jokes or off-hand comments by ostensibly good people? How do those words even pass their lips? I think it’s because they don’t question the underlying assumption of superiority that whiteness in America provides. That – the underlying assumption of superiority – must be challenged, from within and without. We cannot achieve racial equity unless that is purged from our common understanding.

I fear though, that the ‘new normal’ of health care coverage and LBGT rights will not translate as easily or readily to racial equality — not with the burden of 300 years of oppression weighing it down.

Bread for the City addresses the daily burdens of that oppression: poverty – poverty that limits food, limits housing, limits representation and limits medical care. We alleviate the burdens of poverty and make poverty survivable. A modest goal, and a worthy one. But we also strive to address the conditions that perpetuate poverty. Racial inequity over-arches all those conditions, but three main areas can make real differences: housing, jobs and education. With stable housing, a good job and an education that makes a good job attainable, people have the basic tools to lift themselves from poverty.

Bread is already a leader in preserving housing options for the poor. Our Legal Clinic lawyers have saved thousands of people from losing their affordable housing, often the one thing that is keeping their families stable. Bread is also engaged in helping people prepare themselves for a good job. Without any experience in a work setting or any exposure to the routines, norms and mores of a daily office work life, people in poverty often fail to make a transition into the working world. To change that dynamic, Bread has a Pre-Employment Program in its Southeast Center, a six week course that over the last decade, has taught hundreds of people how to manage a job. And we provide paid internships after the program that can lead to a full-time job.

These are approaches that are within our collective reach, modest in scope, but deeply important to the people whose lives they change. As I’ve recently noted in another blog, our May Board strategic planning retreat committed us to ramp up our advocacy, to engage with others in the city in leading the charge to obtain 22,000 new affordable housing units over the next decade. We hope that will make a real difference in preserving our city neighborhoods, protecting diversity, preventing gentrification that uproots families from their homes of decades, and gives housing as a stable base for education and work.

One of Bread’s bywords is “Justice.” The Bible teaches us: “Justice, Justice, you shall pursue.” The commentators explain that because God gave us every word in the Bible, every word has meaning, and so, when God repeats a word, it is because He wants us to pay special attention. So we are particularly commanded to pursue Justice, in all its manifestations.

We have far to go to achieve a sea change in racial equity comparable to the sea change we are witnessing with health care and LGBT rights. I wish people were as impassioned about seeking justice in racial equality as they are celebratory about gay rights.

We need to look within and root out the attitudes that were implanted by a society imbued with its own superiority. If we can do it with gay rights, something that could hardly be spoken of in decades past, we can surely make the same efforts with race. It is long, long overdue.

Over 50 years ago, one of the giants, and martyrs, of our time, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Let us focus on that and make it happen now. All of us are equal; all of us deserve equal opportunities. Let us take that into our hearts and work within ourselves, and with others, to make that a reality.

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How Social Security Gets Racist Without Really Trying – Part 5

Normative Family Structures

On June 26, 2015, millions of Americans celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to affirm the love and commitment of same-sex couples who asked, in the words of Justice Anthony Kennedy, “for equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”

Sometime between June 26 and July 6, 2015, a group of nerds got together to amend the Social Security rulebook to reflect that they were “no longer prohibited from recognizing same-sex marriages for purposes of determining entitlement to, eligibility for, and amount of benefits and payments.”

Normative Fam Structures 2Same-sex couples will no longer be stuck in the limbo that United States v. Windsor left them in, when their marriages were sort of recognized by SSA depending on what particular benefit they were seeking and where they happened to be living. Once the dust settles from Obergefell, same sex couples will presumably be stuck in the same strange Social Security ship as opposite sex couples. This includes the good (spousal and survivor benefits), the bad (the SSI marriage penalty), and the just plain weird (rules about holding out as a married couple and the validity of marriages performed in Jamaica under West Virginian law).

Some more radical writers like Bea Esperanza Fonseca of Black Girl Dangerous observed the growing divide within the LGBTQ movement between “those of us who want to enjoy privilege and exploit others just like white straight men, and…those of us who seek liberation from the exploitative system itself.”

As a cis straight white man who has largely flourished because of this exploitative system, I’m not entitled to a seat at the table as the LGBTQ movement decides what comes next. But as a person who has lived with and loved queer friends, and as a person whose understanding of love and family has grown through encounters with clients at Bread for the City, I hope I can offer a worthwhile critique of a somewhat hidden part of the Social Security system: benefits payable on the basis of marriage.

Over a fifth of Social Security beneficiaries are people other than the workers who earned the benefits, including children, spouses, former spouses, widows, and certain parents of the workers who earned the benefits. (The raw data, using 2009 statistics, is available here. Other statistics in this blog are based on my calculation from this data, and I would be happy to share my spreadsheet if you email me.)Normative Fam Structures 1

Spouses, divorcées, and widows account for nearly two-thirds of these beneficiaries, and their benefits account for nearly three-quarters of the total benefits paid to those other than retired and disabled workers.

Married people do not pay more in Social Security than unmarried people, but they are eligible to receive more in benefits.

White people are more likely than black people to benefit from marriage-related benefits. According to a Pew Research study discussing 2012 data, 36% of African-Americans over 25 have never been married compared to 16% of whites.

Although my focus here is racial, these rules discriminate based on other characteristics of identity. Even with Obergefell, it seems unlikely that gays and lesbians will marry at the same rate as heterosexuals anytime in the foreseeable future. People with disabilities—especially people of color with disabilities—are far less likely to marry than the population as a whole.

Among whites, there are 30% more marriage-based beneficiaries per worker-beneficiary than there are among African-Americans. Social Security paid about $5.6 billion per month to whites based on marriages compared to $435 million for African-Americans, nearly a 13:1 ratio. For benefits paid to workers, the ratio was just above 9:1.

The racial gap in marriage-based benefits will likely grow as the generation with the lower marriage rates and the larger racial gap in marriage rate ages into peak disability and retirement years.

These benefits were designed with good intentions in mind. They protect women in particular by mitigating the effects of lower lifetime earnings. But they turn out to be one of “the extensive ways,” to borrow phrasing from Rutgers Professor Brittney Cooper, “that our societal structure only rewards one type of family configuration—heteronormative, middle class, property-owning, and generally white.”

Social Security allows married people—at no extra cost—to enhance their spouses’ financial well-being without providing similar benefits for other enactments of love and support.Normative Fam Structures

But the fact that some people are not married does not mean they don’t have people who love and depend on them.

Black families have been under attack in this country since their members were bought and sold as discrete units of property. The rules designed by the inheritors of slavery’s legacy still attack the creative and resilient families black people make for themselves.

During DC’s most recent budget season, we saw this dynamic play out at a Department of Human Services hearing. (Start around 6:15—this is a must see of American Democracy in action). As soon as two of our client leaders were finished testifying about their experience with homelessness and Rapid Rehousing, they were interrogated about the status of their children’s fathers.

The two women, Jeneil and Shanee, bravely challenged the assumption that adopting a normative family structure would solve their problems. Shanee spoke about pressure she and her child’s father were receiving from government service providers to get married in order to be allowed to live together. She said, “I don’t think that has to be a lawful thing to just say OK you have to [get married] just to be involved in the child’s life.”

From housing to Social Security and far beyond, the American system fails to support those families which—by choice or necessity—fall outside its norms.

“We don’t need more rules to police parents of unconventional families, writes Dr. Cooper. “We need better options for what families can look like in the first place.”

Just as those who have found their life partners and whose love and commitment is affirmed by the state should have the right to earn Social Security for their loved ones, so should everyone else.

Click here to read Part 1. 

Click here to read Part 2.

Click here to read Part 3.

Click here to read Part 4.