All posts by paulburns

The Circumstance of Privilege

It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve heard the term “White Privilege”.  In fact, the first time was at an event where a speaker was introduced as an organizer for a White Privilege Conference.  My reaction was, “Hey, there’s a conference where I can get privilege?  That’s cool.”  I turned to the podium to see an African-American man and my colleagues at the table appropriately shushed me and my confused look, indicating we could talk about it later.

But honestly, when I first became aware of my privilege was much earlier and had nothing to do with race.  While an accounting student at Morehead State University, my roommate Crystal wanted me to do her taxes.  I assured her that preparing the taxes for her ten-hour per week work-study was something that she could do, but I would help her.  As I guided her through the fill-in-the-blank 1040EZ, she told me that she was the first person she had ever known to file taxes.  This absolutely blew my mind.  I came from a blue-collar family where everyone worked.  There was a time when my mother could have chosen to be a stay at home mom, but wanted to be around some adults.  So she worked.  Then as a single parent, she worked several jobs at a time.  I had never considered that there were people in the whole world that didn’t work.  Crystal told me that both of her parents were on disability.  My heart broke.  How tragic.  Images of “disability” raced through my young, suburban, apparently privileged mind.  Hesitantly, and with as much compassion as I had, I asked what was “wrong” with her parents.  Her answer stunned me and changed the way I approach the world.  She told me her daddy was a drunk and her mommy couldn’t stand very long.

I fell in love with a man that really brought out the best in me, but had a long criminal history and could not stay out of trouble.  After the birth of our first child, I would watch America’s Most Wanted and look at those men and women and think,  “How disappointing.  Someone used to hold you and think you were special.  Look at you now, what a shame.” As my love continued to be unable to function in the world and I learned more about his family, I also learned more about abuse, neglect, and exploitation.  I came to learn that not everyone comes into a world of hope and promise.  I learned that it was a privilege to be the daughter of a hard-working mother who thought that I was beautiful, smart, and could be anything I wanted to be.

When I came to work at a non-profit focusing on the equality and stability of African-Americans, I was only looking for a job.  I had worked in a variety of industries and non-profit was a new industry for me.  I read the mission, learned the way the company functioned and did my assigned tasks.  As in every position I had held, my mission was to support the corporate mission.  I learned about housing inequities, unsafe neighborhoods, and predatory loans.  I learned of many barriers to employment and that a “now hiring” sign is not enough for everyone.  I learned that planning a future is a skill.  A skill that many youth need help developing.  Then on a cold morning while driving to work, I cried seeing people stand in the freezing rain waiting for the bus.  I have had a car since I was eighteen.  I think my work ethic is impeccable, but what if I had to wait in the freezing rain?  What if I had to stand with my sons in the freezing rain?  Access to reliable and independent transportation is a privilege.  A privilege not everyone has.

For me, realization of privilege leads to compassion.  There will always be privilege of some sort.  Some people will be better parents.  Some people will be quick learners.  Some people have a natural charisma.  It isn’t about blame or any kind of negative action.  Be aware of your blessings and show compassion for people who are struggling.

Audrey Poppe, Louisville Urban League

 

Welcome to One Book Louisville

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We are officially kicking off One Book Louisville!  One Book Louisville is my brain child.  I read The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson and I wanted to share it.  I called Jim Blanton, the Director of the Louisville Free Public Library and asked him to partner with me.   Others heard we were doing it and they wanted in.   I called my friends and begged them to read this book.  I asked my board to please read the book.  This book is for everybody.  Isabel Wilkerson educates, moves, inspires and explains America.  She doesn’t make excuses, nor does she place blame.  She simply tells the stories of real people.  People you will come to love, admire, respect, and  want to help.

 The Warmth of Other Suns is about the migration of blacks from the south to the north.  It explains the period when slavery ends and Jim Crow laws rule the south and force blacks to pick up and leave the south in order to find opportunity and work in the promised land of northern cities.   Isabel Wilkerson does a masterful job of walking us through the transitions that take place.   This book took 15 years to write and when you read it you understand why.  The people you learn about become your family.  It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, you just want them to be ok.

You will ask yourself, what kind of strength did it take for Lil George Starling to pack himself into the Jim Crow car, where the luggage was stored, and hear the whistle of the train as it rolled away from his family and everything he had known?  Or how about Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, who watched his father’s dreams die and then had to leave his family in order to have the opportunity that being a doctor should have afforded any man anywhere?  I silently prayed as I read about him traveling alone on deserted stretches of road with no rest or reprieve because the hotels would not accept his kind.  Imagine having the money to pay for a room, but no one even willing to take your money.  Why didn’t he break?  Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, was the personal physician of Ray Charles.  He was the son-in-law of Rufus Early Clement, the first Dean of Simmons College (located right here in Louisville) and also the President of Atlanta University.  You will understand why Ida Mae thought it best to leave Chicago and return to Mississippi to give birth to her unborn child.  The pressure of simply existing will exhaust you.  Trust me, if you do nothing else. . . Read this ONE BOOK LOUISVILLE!

Should I have come here?
But going back was
Impossible. . .
Wherever my eyes turned,
They saw stricken,
Frightened black faces
Trying vainly to cope
With a civilization
That they did not understand,
I felt lonely.
I had fled one insecurity and embraced another.
—–Richard Wright, Black Boy

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Sadiqa N. Reynolds, President & CEO Louisville Urban League

Join us for One Book Louisville

One Book Louisville is a community reading program – presented by the Louisville Free Public Library and the Louisville Urban League – that is challenging our city to read and discuss the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. You can join the city-wide conversation by commenting on this blog, joining a participating book club, or by forming your own One Book Louisville book discussion group.