Treating Racism Like CoVid-19: Step Four

Subtitle: While introducing you to the new man in our life.

Remember this poster?

Under the BLACK LIVES MATTER headline, it reads,

TREAT RACISM
LIKE COVID-19

and she gives us four steps to do this. So, far, I’ve gotten three blog posts from her list:

Step 1:  Assume you have it

on June 17 when I asked, “When did you first become aware of your race?”

Step 2: Listen to experts about it

on June 24 when I listed resources for listening, reading, viewing, and pondering.

Step 3: Don’t spread it

on July 8 when I wrote, “We’ve given up much that makes us human,” and listed hugs, singing, visits from the grandchildren, and shared meals as measures of just how serious we were to stop CoVid’s spread. Then, I listed ways to get involved.

Today, it’s time for Step 4: Be willing to change your life to end it.

I’ve been chewing on this one from the start. What would I change? What was I willing to change? What did I want to change?

Certainly with CoVid, the wearing of masks was a huge cultural change for many of us. My post in early April on Face Masks and the Power of Culture spoke of this.

The lack of a simple handshake, never mind missing hugs, has been a huge change for me. The disappointment of no more singing in any of my three choruses is topped only by the absence of a summer visit from the grandkids.

So, yes, I’ve changed my life enormously to do my part to control CoVid in my community. I’m proud to be from Vermont, a consistently green state (in so many ways), so perhaps it’s even been easier for me up here.

But how do I change my life to end racism? What am I willing to do? What could I possibly do here in Vermont, not just green but ever so white?

Last winter, I began to work with a few dozen others to establish a non-profit group for the support of asylum seekers here in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Some of you may have seen mention of NEKASAN.org on my Facebook page back in August as my birthday fundraiser. My facebook followers helped me raise $530 and we are thrilled.

Want to learn more about our profit-driven immigration system? Here’s the best source I’ve found, Freedom for Immigrants.org

As we worked to set up NEKASAN, we also learned of a nearby PenPal program where they matched local writers with asylum seekers being held at a detention center in Texas. I jumped at the chance and was soon writing to Carl, a young Cameroonian man, and learning about his country, its history, and its current political chaos and tragedies.

Cameroon is a small country tucked in between Nigeria, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea on Africa’s western coast. But notice the small bulge along Cameroon’s southwest border. It’s important. Here is it again, below.

My thanks to the International Crisis Group for this image.

That bulge is the English speaking part of Cameroon, with French remaining in the rest. Not wanting to go too far afield here, I’ll point you to  a recent report from The New Humanitarian for a good summary of the issues at stake, if you’re so inclined.

Carl’s plea for asylum was denied at his first hearing and he is now in the appeal process, which is inexcusably slow.  But, when you realize these privately-owned detention centers charge the government over $200 per person to house them, it becomes at least understandable. And although these centers receive $200 a day, per person, they also charge these men for nearly everything. A shaker of salt? That’d be $2. Toothpaste?  Soap? The men, btw, can earn money while they are detained. Yes, and they’ll earn $1 a day.

I write also to Carl’s wife in Cameroon who is hiding in the home of a friend — three adults and seven children in a two bedroom house — fearing for her life and that of her young daughter. But she has Internet and we correspond by email.

Carl’s sponsor is a cousin who lives out west somewhere. But we write and that feels good. He is articulate, educated, and open to discussing whatever seems important at the time. Right now we are in the midst of a conversation on how our views of God differ. I find it fascinating.

But Carl is not the new young man in my life I was referring to two weeks ago.

Jeff on my left and Troy, a Ugandan visitor, on my right after hiking uphill most of the day.

In a brief text exchange with one of those Angry Tias y Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley I mentioned in my post on Pastor Steven Tendo, I learned there were men at the center who could be released if only they had somewhere to go.  (In some cases these men have family settled here, but the family lacks the needed residency or income to become the official sponsor.)

Woody and I chose a young gay man, whom we’ll call Jeffrey for now, from a country where homosexuality carries the death penalty. He’d been outed and after a harrowing five months, narrowly escaped with his life. I first mentioned Jeffrey in my post back in mid August, here. Yes, I was musing then on what it might mean to be a soccer mom.

Jeff crossed our border a year ago and had been in the PenPal program I spoke about, writing to a woman who spoke highly of him when I contacted her. Jeff’s Texas attorney guessed he could be out on parole by late October, so we filled out the needed paperwork for sponsorship and I got busy raising money for NEKASAN and our next asylum seeker.

But in mid July, we learned Jeff would be released on parole in two days.

And so he was. The Angry Tias set him up in a motel room for another two days after finding him a local CoVid test. Once his negative results came in, he flew into Boston (thanks to frequent flyer miles organized by NEKASAN), was picked up and driven to a local quarantine apartment (NEKASAN again) and arrived at our home certifiably CoVid-free on August 1. Really, it helps to have a village (or two).

Adopting an asylum seeker is a bunch more hassle during this CoVid era. But once he arrived, he joined our little bubble.

Jeff speaks good English, though it is not his native tongue, and is a gentle soul who loves his local music, which we are getting to love as well. Jeff’s not crazy about our food (We won’t be eating lobster again anytime soon.) but we’ve learned to add rice to most every meal and that helps. He’s also taught Woody how to make chapati, a native African bread he enjoys very much, and the Uganda version of rice and beans. And he insists on doing our dinner dishes each evening.

Having him here has brought back pleasant memories of our years as a host family for ESL students in Philly. There are significant differences (financial, legal, and cultural to start) between those students and our new young man. And some of those differences, I trust, will make good blog post material now and then over the next few years.

My question as I leave you, what would you MOST like to know about our new situation? 

Oh, btw, NEKASAN became officially incorporated as a 501(c)3 in February of this year. I serve as secretary. And chair of the FundRaising Committee.

[Names and particular details of Jeff’s story have been changed for privacy as well as security issues].

6 Responses

  1. Cathy Miles Grant
    | Reply

    Janet, what you write brings vividly home the individual lives that our immigration policy can help or, as is devastatingly the case in the present, hinder. Thank you.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thank you Cathy, and welcome. Our guy is lucky he got out when he did. The push now seems to be to deport, no matter what state their case is in; just move them out. Where there were over 1200 detainees when J was there, there are now fewer than 200. A handful have found sponsors and homes, yes. But far too many have not. This is not the America I grew up in. It’s not what that Statue of Liberty was given to us for. It’s funny, this post has brought in more email comments than usual, and fewer blog comments than usual. Not sure what to make of that. Your comment here is much appreciated.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Treating Racism Like CoVid-19: Step FourMy Profile

  2. Tim Fearnside
    | Reply

    Great stuff, Janet. What a wonderful act on your and Woody’s part. I’m glad “Jeff” escaped and made his way to you both. One thing I’d like to know is what comes next for him?

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks Tim. It’s been a fairly smooth adjustment, all things considered. The most important issue in this work, no matter who it is, is getting his asylum case heard — what’s the legal term for settled, resolved, adjudicated? — He is, after all, still an “asylum seeker.” He’s just able to live outside the despicable detention center while he waits. We could have gone with a pro bono attorney here in VT but chose instead a firm in Boston (the closest immigration court is in Boston) who has a paralegal who speaks J’s native tongue. AND, she tells us we won’t get a “calendar hearing” (when his case gets scheduled; not heard, just scheduled) until 2022! The immigration courts are so terribly backed up. It’s truly immoral. NEKASAN will cover the $5000 “low-bono” fee (with some special contributions including the $530 I raised through my Facebook Fundraiser).

      In the meantime, he got his working permit and social security number a few weeks ago and just last week began a full time job in his former field. His boss tells me it’s been impossible to find folks willing to do this work (I won’t yet say what it is). And he also tells me that J’s better at it than he said he was during his interview. Always nice to hear.

      His more immediate order of business (as far as I’m concerned) is to get his driver’s license. Woody’s been driving him into work each morning at 7:00. NEKASAN volunteers bring him home.

      Thanks for asking.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Treating Racism Like CoVid-19: Step FourMy Profile

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a blog you'd like to share? I use CommentLuv Click here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.