In the mid-70s, my parents adopted a child from South Korea—an infant girl left on the side of the road in a basket. She was strategically placed near a route where the orphanage workers traveled.
I’ve often wondered if her mother or an older sibling watched to make sure that she was safe, just like big sister Miriam watched Moses as he floated downstream in a handcrafted vessel. In a poor section of town, in a culture that has little use for women, I like to imagine that someone peered from a safe distance—hoping that, like Moses, my sister would find a better life.
But she didn’t float to it. She flew.
That basket took her to a new world. Seoul’s loss was our gain.
America was supposed to be the great melting pot.
Millions of people come to the U.S. through adoption and immigration, people of other races and other lands. It is the great melting pot. Or it was supposed to be. It was for my family.
It was a gift to be raised in a home where skin color didn’t matter. It was a blessing to see, firsthand, how melanin didn’t determine value. Or potential. Or love. My sister would turn a deep shade of mahogany after five minutes in the sun. I would turn pink and peel. It didn’t matter.
But where you live did matter. It still does.
If my little sister still lived in a shack somewhere in southern Asia, there’s no question that her life would be very different. Her education. Her opportunities. Her equality. Her safety. Her faith. Her home. She would have a very, very different life.
Skin color didn’t matter in our upbringing, but zip code did.
The lessons I learned in the 70s and the many decades that have followed, sadly, don’t apply now. Skin color does matter. It does determine value, potential, and love. This is what we are told.
I’m not going to argue that point. I’ve never lived a moment in any other skin than my own pasty-white shade of flesh. I don’t have any right to go there. I have experienced discrimination because of my sex, but never because of my skin. The fact that some people still suffer injustice because of an immutable characteristic that makes them unique and beautiful, makes my stomach turn.
But I want to present an important part of the argument, not my own, that resonates with what I see, with what I’ve experienced—a point of view that isn’t discussed nearly enough.
Where you live matters.
Where you live is a huge factor in education, safety, income, opportunity, equality, and ultimate success in life.
Or rather, I should say, where you can afford to live.
We must take instruction from those who have found their way out of poverty.
I’ve been listening to a long list of brilliant black and brown voices talk about how they clawed their way out of poverty, and how the system is set against people who live there.
People like Dr. Carol Swain, a tenured professor from Princeton and Vanderbilt University, who was a single mom with three children by the age of 20. Divorced and desperately poor, it wasn’t easy, but she found a "basket." She found a way from that world to another.
People like Vince Ellison, one of 8 children born to sharecroppers on a cotton plantation in West Tennessee, whose father constructed a basket for each of his children through ingenuity and hard work.
People like Dr. Ben Carson, a world-renowned neuro-surgeon and the 17th U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, whose single mother worked multiple jobs to fashion baskets for her two young sons.
People like Bob Woodson, one of the few remaining original civil rights activists, who left the movement 40 years ago because, after decades of fighting for change, he was convinced that the people in charge didn’t really want change. They wanted power. So he left the party of hope and change to start the Woodson Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping at-risk youths find a way out of the projects.
Woodson wants to weave as many baskets as he can so that people of color can escape the effects of crime-ridden neighborhoods, failing educational institutions, crippling poverty, and despair. The world needs more baskets—baskets that can transport people from one world to another.
Our politicians aren’t making baskets.
And the world needs more politicians who truly care about changing the neighborhoods where the impoverished live. An overwhelming majority of inner-cities are run by a party that claims to care, that claims to have the answers, that claims to fight injustice, but they never affect meaningful change. And finally, some of them are admitting it.
In a recent op-ed from the New York Times, former Minneapolis Mayor, Betsy Hodges, addressed how liberal policies create police brutality in the inner city:
“White liberals like me ask the police to do our dirty work—dealing with the racial and economic inequities our policies create. Normally, we turn a blind eye to the harsh methods that many of them use to achieve our goal of order, pretend that it isn’t what we’ve done and then act surprised when their tough-guy behavior goes viral and gets renewed scrutiny.
Whatever else you want to say about police officers, they know—whether they articulate it neatly or not—that we are asking them to step into the breach left by our bad policies. The creation of more just systems won’t guarantee the prevention of atrocities. But the status quo in cities, created by white liberals, invites brutal policing.” (Betsy Hodges, The New York Times, July 9, 2020)
The progressive status quo “invites brutal policing.” It produces inequality and injustice. It furthers the racial divide. It keeps minorities trapped in failing systems. The record is clear as most U.S. inner cities have been run by one party for decades, and yet the very people who have failed are now gaining more power.
Our leaders need to be held responsible.
For the past few months, I’ve nearly worn a hole in my skull scratching my head over how the party responsible for most of our inner cities manages to escape any responsibility for the inequity, brutality, and injustice their policies have created.
Where is the report card?
Where is the reckoning?
Kimberly Klacik, a brave new candidate for congress in the 7th district of Baltimore, is calling for that reckoning in a viral new ad for her campaign. Her video gives a very honest but disturbing report card.
And like me, Bob Woodson is scratching a hole in his head. In a recent interview, he said:
“So many of those people taking office use this money to create a class of people who are running these cities, and now after 50 years of liberal Democrats running the inner cities, where we have all these inequities that we have, race is being used as a ruse, as a means of deflecting attention away from critical questions such as why are poor blacks failing in systems run by their own people?”
Who is ultimately responsible for helping the poor?
The party of hope and change isn’t making baskets.
And the other party hasn’t made an effective case for how they can do better. Often they are too afraid to step into the fray for fear of being labeled something nasty.
Neither party is making baskets.
Honestly, I’m not sure that either party can.
Let me be clear—our politicians could do a lot better. They must.
But ultimately, the best baskets don’t stop at transporting a person’s body. They transport a person’s soul. The best baskets don’t just give us a new physical address. They give us a new spiritual one.
Our government could do a lot better, but it can’t do that. It can’t instill purpose. It can’t provide lasting hope. It can’t heal a person’s wounds. It can’t change a person’s destiny. It can’t transport a person’s soul.
ONLY GOD CAN DO THAT.
We must follow the example of others who are making a difference.
I happen to know some amazing, God-inspired basket-weavers—Keith and Cissy Crowe, a couple of ordinary Christians with an extraordinary call. At a time when most people are downsizing to gated retirement communities, Keith and Cissy sold their safe home in the burbs to move into one of Birmingham’s toughest neighborhoods. There, they spend day after dangerous day cooking meals, housing the homeless, creating jobs, providing opportunities, inspiring kids, speaking Truth, instilling purpose, giving hope, loving their neighbors.
Keith and Cissy founded Hope Street Christian Ministries, a mission that fashions vessels to transport people from one world to another. They spend their lives making baskets.
What segregates us in modern America are zip codes—zip codes that are run by politicians who don’t really want or know how to help people stuck in those zipcodes. Zipcodes housing precious people created in God’s image, people that many of us avoid, ignore, judge, or don’t make the effort to understand.
Our politicians can’t fix the problem. They can’t bridge that divide. And neither can we.
Only one Person can.
We must follow the example of Christ.
That Person traded a heavenly zip code for an earthly one.
That Person arrived in a manger but was foreshadowed by a boy in a basket. A boy who floated from a shack to a palace. A boy who saved his people from slavery. A boy who said “let my people go” to the mighty leader of the land. A boy who marched his people to a new zip code, spiritually and physically.
So did the Messiah in a manger. Only He liberated us from a different kind of slavery, a slavery to sin. He gave us a new zip code with a heavenly address. He told us that we would always be foreigners in this land, but we should lay down our lives to help people find a zipcode in heaven. He spent his life weaving baskets that will transport you, me, and whosoever will from this life to the next.
Let’s weave some baskets with Him.
Let’s help people find a way out of this life’s poverty in the hopes that, one day, they will find a better life in this world.
And one glad morning, they will find paradise in the next.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo courtesy: Sam Balye/Unsplash
Catherine Segars is an award-winning actress and playwright—turned stay-at-home-mom—turned author, speaker, blogger, and motherhood apologist. She is matron of the Mere Mother website, which delves into critical cultural issues that affect families and marginalize mothers. This homeschooling mama of five is dedicated to helping mothers see their worth in a season when they often feel overwhelmed and irrelevant. You can find Catherine’s blog, dramatic blogcast, and other writings at www.catherinesegars.com and connect with her on Facebook.