We asked members of our staff to share what moves them to do justice work. This month Vivan Lucas, Director of the Franklinton Center at Bricks, reflects on the stories, and the lives behind the stories, that inspire her to do justice advocacy.
Because of Our Stories
The middle-aged gentleman’s voice breaks as he tearfully yet powerfully tells the audience about the termination of his continuation health insurance coverage from the employer who laid him off work. Despite the fact that he urgently needs medical treatment for progressively worsening congestive heart failure, he has no job; he has no health insurance; and he has no medicine. His heart is broken.
The single mother of three daughters is desperate for answers. With the little more than $600 in unemployment benefits she receives each month, she cannot pay for food, clothes, rent, and healthcare, much less the exorbitant utilities bill she receives each month. She worries if the lights will still be on when she gets home from job-searching, if her daughters will go to bed hungry, and what she’ll do if someone gets sick. She is depressed.
He is a pastor, husband, and father of two. He serves his church on weekends although he also used to work a full-time secular job during the weekday. It is his sixth month being laid off; his wife’s job ended a year ago. He has not been able to make mortgage payments and the housing assistance programs cannot help because of his history of late payments. Foreclosure is inevitable. His family qualifies for $6 in food assistance. He is anguished; he is anxious; he is angry.
These are just a few of the stories I heard recently during a stopover of the Truth and Hope Tour of Poverty in North Carolina. The tour seeks to put a human face on the statistical evidence that the social condition of poverty has been worsened by the national and world-wide recession. These individuals and families live in communities with legacies of inequality, persistent poverty, and historic injustice. I grew up in one of these communities. I have seen such faces all my life. These are the faces and stories that constrain me to carry out the work of justice.
I am a descendant of sharecroppers, farmers, teachers and pastors in the rural south. I was born and fashioned during a time when Jim Crow laws were a way of life. I was indelibly scarred by a society built upon beliefs, policies, laws, customs, practices, and institutions of racism, political and social injustice, and economic inequality. My parents taught my sisters and me to love God, get a good education, work twice as hard as members of the majority race worked, and live in a manner to help others live a better life. My sharecropping grandparents sent my mother and all her 8 siblings to college despite being threatened to be “put off the plantation.” They had been inspired by lessons on courage, faith and freedom passed on to them in a church started in the 1880s by their family and loved ones. In spite of being poor, my paternal great-grandfather was the first African American certified to teach in Nash County, North Carolina. His brothers built churches in 1916 and 1921 that provided spiritual, social, and academic nurture in a society that did not recognize the human rights of people whose blood derived from survivors of the Middle Passage of American slave trade. Like those before me, family and faith compel me to work for justice for others.
The told and untold stories of the named and unnamed who suffer today, constrain me to work with others so that everyone can have access to good education, affordable healthcare, jobs that pay living wages, healthy food, etc. In remembering why I work for justice, I recognize that it is because of a wonderful and shared legacy. It is not a heritage of pride; rather it is the recognition of the deep appreciation for all workers for justice. And most importantly, it is founded by faith in the Great Liberator, Jesus Christ, who heals broken hearts, lifts bowed spirits, and comforts anguished souls.