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06/12/2012

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George Reyes

Doggone it Emily. Now I have a book to add to my Father's Day request for new slippers. Often when someone asks where I grew up I simply say Chicago. I seldom elaborate that it was Chicago Public Housing in the Lawndale community from 6 weeks after I was born until I was almost 15 years old. The 'Projects' was where my parents weren't rejected housing as had been the case when they tried to move into the White areas of Chicago. That was 1950. They married in 1944 when my Dad came home from Service. Service to this country as an American citizen of Filipino race. My Mom was Scot-Irish and being married to a little brown skin Asian was a big no-no back then. We didn't suffer Jim Crow exclusion from much else, just the housing. We did get strange or disgusting looks from White people when we went downtown to shop in Sears or Goldblatts. As kid I didn't know why. But, our Black neighbors simply accepted us as friends. I was 14yrs old when my Dad died in 1965. My Mom and I moved to the Northside of Chicago within a few months after that. The world and my world were changing. What a shock it was to then understand the meaning of Jim Crow.

Emily McGinley

Thanks for your reflections, George. What you shared, I think, is a perfect example of a racial caste system, where some stigmas are applied while others are not. That your family had the "option" to move to the North side after your father's death speaks to the system's capacity to adapt to changing realities in the U.S. once you were deemed more "acceptable." As someone who has served as an elder for over 40 years in the PC(USA), I wonder how this has shaped *your* leadership in the church!

George Reyes

Fortunately, when I was 12 years old, I began to attend 3rd Presbyterian Church on the Westside. It was an integrated church. It had a liberal view of the Gospel and it had terrific Sunday School teachers right through my high school years. At the young age of 19 I and one other young person, a Black 19 year old girl were elected to serve on the PNC. Later I was elected an Elder and had a wonderful learning experience from a board of Asian, Black, Hispanic and White church members, both male and female. It was from these Elders and teachers that my commitment to Social Justice began to formalize. When this church evolved during the 70's and 80's and moved to Melrose Park I felt I needed to find a church within Chicago that addressed the needs of the entire local community, the needs of the wider community and advocate for justice in Third World countries. After visiting several 'liberal Presbyterian churches' I found one that had the ideals and were actively involved in those ideals. My learning experience and opportunities to serve and lead grew even more at Lake View Presbyterian Church. I look back on my experience in the 'Projects' and merge it with my experience in the church. Retrospectively the Projects were serendipitous once my church experience led me to understand God's providence in my life and my calling.

Cynthia Holder Rich

Hi Emily, thanks so much for this! Dr. Alexander will be speaking at the General Assembly, on Friday evening, June 29, at the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns Ice Cream Social -- it's free!

Byron Wade

Great post, Emily. Just to add my two cents to the questions you asked - I think because of two reasons: 1)Americans have this mentality that no matter how poor or underprivileged one is, everyone (supposedly) have an opportunity to better themselves. When talking about the plight of those underserved, people will say "well I grew up poor and made it. They can do it too if they want." Or "Why don't they do XYZ? They are just lazy!" We tend to forget that even in America, people do not have access to the same resources; 2)Like it or not, we have not fully dealt with our own (personal or collective) racism. We can accept a few who don't look like us but when we approach a certain "tipping point" flight happens.

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