Not by our own bootstraps, but as community

Paisha Thomas listens to an issue overview on HB 390 at HNO’s Advocacy in Advent event on November 28th.

Paisha Thomas listens to an issue overview on HB 390 at HNO’s Advocacy in Advent event on November 28th.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

In our very busy and full lives, it can be easy to get consumed with our own problems. I can recall a time when I lived in a world which I tried to believe was post-racial. A world in which I had actually achieved the impossible task of pulling myself up by my own boot straps. I had found a way to gain the education I needed that helped me to get a job with the State of Ohio, thereby ending my ten year reliance on government aid to help me to provide for my children. I can still remember writing that letter to my irritable caseworker and how happy I was that I wouldn’t have to deal with her condescending to me any more. “I wonder how she would be if she were in my shoes.” I often asked myself. But it is easy for humans to forget about the challenges of others and that often the barriers to stability are outside of our control. I, too, learned to forget. I would soon become that state employee walking the streets of downtown Columbus, irritated by the amount of times I was asked for money.

One day, my very oppressive work environment taught me that we are not in a post-racial world after all. My coworkers and I, all three black women, found ourselves reporting to a supervisor who frequently referred to us as “angry black women” and treated us accordingly. We learned quickly that we would not win our complaints of his racial discrimination. I left the oppressive work environment so that I could have dignity in myself and answer my vocational calling as an activist and artist. Despite education and a strong work ethic, I found myself in housing crisis - a foreclosure, and a lack of rental history to obtain decent housing. Some days, we are those who can serve those who are hungry and in need and other days we are the person in need who needs support. I carry these experiences with me, because in times of joy and stability, God calls me to remember God’s presence in my neighbor just as people were willing to to show me kindness when I have struggled.

On November 28th, The Hunger Network in Ohio hosted our annual “Advocacy in Advent’ Advocacy Day at the Ohio Statehouse. HB 390 will make changes to Ohio’s eviction laws, and result in fewer days for households to remedy a crisis after notice of an eviction is provided. Advocating against House Bill 390 on Advocacy in Advent Day was an authentic and powerful opportunity for me and other constituents with similar stories to join with a network of people of faith to speak up for those whose voices are not heard. We are among those lucky enough to have the resources around us to know that we will be ok. We are humans who sometimes forget that God is in the people whom we serve, and are grateful for these moments when we remember that it is by God’s grace that we are kept safe from such hardships. Let us continue to be God’s body, advocating for our siblings who are still struggling to find shelter and sustenance in our communities.

Written by:
Paisha Thomas, ELCA Hunger Advocacy Fellow