A Slice of Slovenia

Dr. Roxanne Meshar is a past board chair of Mary’s Pence. Dr. Meshar taught Catholic theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota for nearly ten years. In September of this year, Mary’s Pence helped support her participation as the keynote speaker for the international educators’ conference “To Teach is To Build” in Slovenia. To read highlights from her paper, click here

Slovenia was not a country I expected to visit, but thanks to a grant from Mary’s Pence I attended the international educators’ conference “To Teach is to Build” at the Biotechnical Center in Naklo, Slovenia in October. Educators participated from Austria, Italy, Germany, Norway, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain and the United States.

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My paper, entitled “Curriculum Development: Political, Subversive, Dangerous,” explored the social justice implications of designing school curricula. It also included fast, easy classroom exercises to help students develop more compassion and empathy. After I submitted my paper, conference organizer Professor Sandra Žvagen invited me to be a plenary speaker and conduct a workshop. Meeting with other educators and attending their workshops taught me so much.

The Biotechnical Center is a holistic school that fosters curiosity and a safe space for over 600 students from various backgrounds – both rural and urban. Students can learn how to run a dairy farm in a way that is organic and cares for the environment. Other students focus on forest, wildlife and wild animal management. Many of the products students make such as cheeses, dairy products, produce, juices, local teas, floral arrangements and more, are for sale in their store and used in the school’s cafeteria.

Andreja Ahčin, principal of the Biotechnical Center with twenty years of education experience at the school, explained that she and her staff worked to design a curriculum that fosters a holistic integration of the student. This means integrating students’ values with their education and life work while understanding its impact on the environment and the community. This is the same reason I teach theology – to help students explore these fundamental questions; Who am I? What is my purpose? How will I make the world a better place?

My experience also included meeting with instructors and with students in the classroom. English class students were designing their own crossword puzzles, art students were using refurbished typewriters to create amazing pictures with meaningful words and other students were baking cakes and breads to use at school events.LG500 417

Demonstrating their well-deserved reputation for hospitality, school faculty drove us to the Lake Bled area in northern Slovenia near the Alps. We toured a green hotel, Garden Village, where all the landscaping was beautiful, edible and used in the hotel! Teachers Sandra Žvagen and Simona Zabukovec took me hiking in scenic southern Slovenia by the Adriatic Sea. Tina Križnar, who oversees adult education at the school, gave me a tour of the capital city of Ljubljana, existing since Roman times. Prior to working at the Biotechnical Center Tina was a tour guide for Russian and English speaking tourists so she knew well the city and its history.

The conference was an unexpected and amazing experience of another people, country and culture. Thank you, “hvala” in Slovenian, to the Biotechnical Center, conference participants and to Mary’s Pence for making it possible.

-Dr. Roxanne Meshar

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Educators Can Change the Story

Dr. Roxanne Meshar is a past board chair of Mary’s Pence. Dr. Meshar taught Catholic theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota for nearly ten years. In September of this year, Mary’s Pence helped support her participation as the keynote speaker for the international educators’ conference “To Teach is To Build” in Slovenia. These are some selections from her paper, “Curriculum Development: Political, Subversive, Dangerous.” Read about her experience here.

Dr. Roxanne Meshar in Slovenia

Dr. Roxanne Meshar in Slovenia

“The most dangerous question to ask, ‘Who benefits?’”

Asking, “Who benefits?” when constructing or participating in a curriculum is crucial for uncovering bias, recognizing underlying systems, and combating systemic social and economic poverty. Every curriculum comes from a certain point of view, and if this view goes unquestioned, bias becomes part of the lesson being taught.

“Those of over privilege (if we speak of ‘under privilege’ then we must also speak of over privilege’) created an educational system that robs too many children of their cultural heritage while preferencing Euro-centric and androcentric history instead.”

Dr. Meshar explains ways that educators can counter bias by teaching students to identify poverty-creating systems in our society and increase awareness and empathy.  Identifying our own social locations—she gives the example of white, middle class, American, Catholic, female, educated, etc.—is a key way to become aware of bias. We are all limited by our own experiences, so it’s important that everyone brings their perspectives to the table.

Dr. Meshar also asks: Whose stories do we tell and how do we tell them? Her examples focus on the ways we teach the history of the early Native Americans and the history of slavery in the United States. Early American history is taught with such a Eurocentric perspective that most students only learn how European explorers “discovered” America, and completely miss the thousands of years of Native American history that predates European settlers.

“The U.S. is thus founded on massive wealth for a relatively few European immigrants. This wealth was stolen from the unpaid labor of human trafficking and slavery, the looting of natural resources, and the horrific genocide of First Nations natives and millions of slaves trafficked from Africa and Asia… Students are not usually made aware of this.”

Identifying how wealth is systemically transferred from one group to another is a skill that can be taught and learned. Students can be taught to not only admire great universities, mansions, castles and cathedrals – but also to ask, “Where did the money come from in order to build them?”

“As educators we have an opportunity to change this story. We can teach in a way that builds awareness, empathy and positive change.”

“What negative outcomes do we measure as positively contributing to economic growth? In the U.S. many things we measure positively are really destroying our quality of life… Our economy is our moral and ethical report card. It reflects our social values. Rather than trying to destroy those who are different, our economy can embrace and value our diversity.”

She concludes with the notion that diversity is essential for the health of our society, creating cultural richness, improving empathy, and increasing social resilience. Dr. Meshar sums up the importance of this work with this: “Building awareness and empathy are the first steps in changing what we value in our economic systems so that all are cared for.” But, she warns, this work is by its nature subversive, political, and even dangerous, because it disrupts the status quo.

 “Our diversity is our hope and our future… Diversity creates cultural richness. It increases our curiosity about others, improving our empathy and therefore our social resilience. Building our empathy will allow us to embrace our diversity and the valuable diversity of other species as well. Building empathy is a critical survival skill.”

Dr. Meshar’s work is highly relevant in the U.S. and beyond. The recent controversy over a Texas textbook referring to slaves as “workers”, implying that slaves were paid and not brought to the U.S. against their will, is one recent example of the dangers of an unquestioned curriculum.

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Youth Voices: Creating a Space for Altruism – Youth Rise Texas

Youth Rise Texas is a start-up grassroots organization in Austin, Texas, that provides leadership development for youth whose parents have been deported or incarcerated. The majority of Youth Rise participants are young women of color. A first-time Mary’s Pence grant recipient, Youth Rise completed their first Summer Youth Organizing Institute in August. Mary’s Pence recently spoke with Kandace Vallejo, founder and director of Youth Rise Texas, about the success of the program in its first few months.

“Young people are excited to speak out and to have their voices heard.”

–Kandace Vallejo, founder and director of Youth Rise Texas

This summer, six teenagers came together to share stories of their experiences. They were the first participants of Youth Rise Texas’s 8-week leadership workshop, the  summer Youth Organizing Institute, and they had one thing in common: Each of them had experienced having a parent deported or incarcerated, completely removed from their lives with very little warning or explanation. Youth Rise creates a space for youth to open up about the stories of themselves and their families. Participants then craft and perform monologues from these stories, bringing their experiences to the wider community.

Youth Rise Presents: "My Life Without You" Youth Impacted by Incarceration & Deportation at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center on August 15, 2015

Youth Rise Presents: “My Life Without You” Youth Impacted by Incarceration & Deportation at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center on August 15, 2015

Storytelling Bridges Differences

Storytelling brings participants from different backgrounds and interests closer together. Sharing and listening to one another’s experiences shows them that they have more in common than they would have known outside of Youth Rise.

Participants rely on many different media and modes of expression, including daily journal prompts, drawings, and interviewing each other and family members. To select the stories to be highlighted, they participate in a “dot democracy,” where they display their drawings around the room and then go around placing sticker dots on the drawings they find most interesting. Everyone has input over which stories the group chooses for further exploration and eventual performance, and the focus remains centered on the voice, needs, and experiences of each participant.

Through storytelling, participants become more interested in speaking out, telling their stories, and getting more involved in their community. The program “enables and creates a space for their altruism,” says Kandace Vallejo, founder and director of Youth Rise. They begin advocating for themselves in the community, and this sparks an interest in broader community involvement.

Internships in Advocacy and Mentoring Foster Leadership

A Mary’s Pence grant helped fund a paid internship position for two young women from the summer Youth Organizing Institute. The internships support ongoing leadership development through mentoring and social justice work. The two young women work five to ten hours per week, each exploring a civic issue that relates to her interests, such as immigrant detentions and hearings. One of the young women, Destiny, is currently working on criminal justice reform in her community.

Destiny Fair Chance EOC Speech

Destiny giving her Fair Chance speech

They also mentor a large group of their peers once a month during the school year. This experience allows the two of them to assume leadership and ownership for both their community initiatives and the larger group of young women they lead and mentor.

Youth Rise trains young people to use their own unique interests and abilities to implement social justice work in their communities. This long-term leadership development program allows self-expression to lead to self-empowerment.

“Young people are excited to speak out and to have their voices heard,” says Vallejo. “They’re being heard when they do this work.”

Broader Social Change Emerges Out of Personal Stories

The concept for Youth Rise is rooted in founder Kandace Vallejo’s own experience. When she was a teenager, her mom was deported to her home country of Mexico. Vallejo quickly discovered that social justice work and community organizing empowered her and helped her to heal from the trauma of separation. Today, Youth Rise uses community organizing and social justice work to create a space of empowerment for youth in similar situations.

Now, only a few months into Youth Rise’s Youth Organizing Institute, Vallejo is already seeing the transformative effects of community organizing and social justice work on the participants. She has watched the first six Youth Rise participants “move from places of disempowerment to a new space where they can continue to act as agents empowered to make change.”

Youth Rise goes beyond individual change to instill a sense of community engagement in participants, says Vallejo, “a spirit of social justice that carries through the community, beyond just the issues that affect them, and creates broader change.”

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“Radical Grace” Shares the Radical Spirit of Mary’s Pence

At our October board meeting, Mary’s Pence board and staff watched Radical Grace, a film about three nuns working for social justice. It’s hard to say what was more inspiring, the women on the screen or the women in the room watching the film. One of our board members, Sister of St. Francis Robbie Pentecost, had just returned from touring three states with the Nuns on the Bus. Every single woman in the room was a social justice activist, overlapping passions for peace, equality, economic justice, immigration reform, among other justice issues.


Photo credit to www.radicalgracefilm.com

Radical Grace follows the stories of Dominican Sister Jean Hughes, who worked with formerly incarcerated felons on Chicago’s West Side, Sister of Social Service Simone Campbell, who led a cross-country Nuns on the Bus tour focusing on economic inequality, and Sister of St. Joseph Christine Schenk, an activist for women’s full equality in the Catholic Church.

The work of the three nuns is so inclusive, so engaging, and so determined to build community and create social change that the film appeals to a wide audience. Its message is for everyone, not just for Catholics. The story of Sister Jean Hughes in particular is a reflection on compassion in action. “My goal is to try to love people as unconditionally as I can,” she said, “So that they have that experience at least once in their life.”
Caring for those most in need and striving for equality are values and actions that people all over the world value, so it’s no surprise that so many people are inspired by the compassion and the activism of the nuns.

Filming for Radical Grace began around the same time that the Vatican opened its investigation of American Catholic women religious and accused them of promoting “radical feminism.” When Sister Simone Campbell saw that censure from the Vatican placed American nuns in the spotlight, her reaction was, “This is a moment of opportunity. How do we use it for mission?” This speaks volumes to the spirit of the nuns. No matter what happens, good or bad, they find a way to use it to support their mission of creating a more just world.

Sister Christine Schenk’s response to the Vatican censure was to look right at the camera and say, “If the radical notion that women are equal is a sin, then I’m guilty as charged.”

Who among us can’t say the same?

Radical Grace certainly resounds with the radical spirits of Mary’s Pence board, staff, and supporters. There’s a special energy in a room when the women on and off screen are passionate about social justice, about equality and about caring deeply for their neighbors, across all borders and boundaries.

Radical Grace resonates strongly with Mary’s Pence because we were founded by a group of religious and lay women, and have been funding social justice initiatives across the Americas ever since.

That’s why we’re partnering with the Justice Commission of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and Consociates, St. Catherine University Campus Ministry, and several other local organizations to host the premiere of Radical Grace in the Twin Cities. If you live near the Twin Cities, we invite you to attend our free screening of the film on Wednesday, November 18, 7-9 pm at St. Catherine University, Jeanne d’Arc Auditorium. If you live elsewhere, you can visit Radical Grace Film to look for a screening in your area.

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A Pilgrimage of Hope: Nuns on the Bus 2015

Mary’s Pence Treasurer and Sister of St. Francis Robbie Pentecost traveled with the Nuns on the Bus to Greet Pope Francis in Washington D.C. Along the way she connected with many people who shared their stories of despair and hope, struggle and triumph. Here she reflects on the ways the Jesus worked through the Nuns on the Bus to bridge divides and how the journey became for her a pilgrimage.

Making a pilgrimage to a sacred or holy place is a common ritual encouraged by many religious traditions. In some religions it is a required journey, for others it is a spiritual journey. Climbing up the steps of the bus for the journey with the Nuns on the Bus to Washington, D.C. and to greet Pope Francis as he arrived in the United States became for me a Pilgrimage.

The Nuns on the Bus crew. Bridge the Divide 2015

The Nuns on the Bus crew. Bridge the Divide 2015. Sister Robbie is in the front row, second from the right.

I’m not sure where along the way I began to recognize that this was a sacred journey, bringing hope and dignity to those we met, but I suspect it was at the first stop as we were greeted by the 6th grade class at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Indianapolis. These 6th graders and their parents hosted us for dinner and then participated by sharing their concerns and solutions with an audience of over 400 people. They had developed prayers concerning how people are treated in the workplace, honoring the dignity of each person regardless the things that often divide us: race, gender, religion to name just a few. These prayers decorated our tables with more personal messages on the back, thanking us for giving them hope and being courageous.

The sixth graders at St. Thomas Aquinas and their parents welcomed the Nuns on the Bus!

The sixth graders at St. Thomas Aquinas and their parents welcomed the Nuns on the Bus!

It was again reinforced through an email from a woman I had encouraged to share her story with our videographer – she was embarrassed to be seen as she was without teeth as a result of cancer treatment, but wanted people to know how the Affordable Health Care Act helped her get the treatment she needed. Without this help she would not be here today. I began to realize it was not anything I had done, but rather Jesus working through us in the simple act of listening is hope planted.
On this journey, which started in St. Louis and traveled through seven states before embarking on Washington, D.C., we heard stories of hardship, pain, concerns, injustice but also innovative solutions to pressing problems, communities coming together and intergenerational gatherings that respected different voices. Nuns on the Bus 2015 was about Bridging the Divide: Transforming Politics, but it was also about lifting up the words of Pope Francis who calls us to conversion and community.
Stories of efforts in St. Louis to bring healing after all of the racial turmoil resulted in a group of black mothers inviting white mothers to join them in conversation. Part of that conversation was the opportunity for the black mothers to share what they must teach their sons that white mothers don’t have a need to. One woman, a college professor, shared that often she quizzes her two sons as to what to do if stopped by police. Recently, the 8th grader asked his mother, “Mom, when will this end?” To which his mother replied, “Never.”
In Kansas City they heard from a 15 year old young girl whose parents were deported as they went to pay a traffic fine. She and her 5 siblings are now being raised by their grandmother who the young woman applauded for all that she is doing. But it’s hard for someone on a fixed income to raise 6 children. Her 12-year old sister thought it would be easier for the rest if she was gone and so she attempted suicide. Perhaps the best message, at least for this family, was that Pope Francis also the son of immigrants.
In the midst of deeply troubling moral issues the Mid-Ohio Food Bank is a sign of hope in this nation that so often blames the victims of poverty. Over 60% of the food they distribute is fresh fruits and vegetables. The have a Leeds Gold status facility (an indicator of a highly energy efficient building) that was the result of renovating a vacant warehouse. They are certainly an example of corporate and community efforts coming together to serve the common good. The Chair of the Board shared the story that one day a family came to pick up food and the staff offered them fresh peaches. The woman looked at the staff person, thanking her but said, “It’s not my day to eat.” The reality that members of families take days not eating is a moral issue in a nation of plenty.

The Nuns on the Bus traveled to Washington DC to greet the pope.

The Nuns on the Bus traveled to Washington DC to greet the pope.

Again and again along this 7 state journey (although I was only in 3 of the states) we heard how Nuns on the Bus brings hope. In Yellow Springs, Ohio a community choir sang, “You are the Nuns we’ve been waiting for.” But in reality it is the message that Jesus brings of Peace, Hope and Love that people are waiting to hear. The significance of this journey hit a deep chord for those of us on the bus as we entered Washington, D.C. amidst tears, laughter, song and silence as the silhouette of the city was enlarged. Gratefully much of this journey was captured on video to be shared with Pope Francis.
While the opportunity to see and hear Pope Francis both at the welcoming ceremony at the White House and again after his address to Congress was indescribable, without the 5 day journey to Washington D.C. and all the voices that we were lifting up, it would have only been an individual spiritual journey. Instead, this was a pilgrimage with others carrying the stories and experiences of thousands of folks along our way. Truly sacred ground!

Sister Robbie Pentecost

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She Who Walks With the Lions – Genesis, Oakland, CA

Shelley Coppock is a Mary’s Pence board member who lives in Oakland, California. She recently met with Mary Lim-Lampe, Genesis Lead Organizer. Genesis is a two time Mary’s Pence Grant recipient that develops community leaders who collaborate to solve community problems.

Genesis is an interfaith coalition of congregations and other institutions located in California’s Alameda County, Oakland East Bay area. Created in 2007, the values-based organization unites a broad base of people to work on issues of social justice and racial/economic equity. Affiliated with the international Gamaliel Foundation and following in the Saul Alinsky school of issue-oriented community organizing, the group emphasizes training and leadership development in low-income communities to help create the “Beloved Community.” Its active participants include youth interns, and “leaders” (not just volunteers) from its various constituent organizations. They encourage members to reflect on what is keeping them from taking leadership. As an organization, Genesis always thinks about and inserts an understanding of institutional racism into its work and consciously “talks to the middle” instead of speaking only to groups and individuals who already agree with them.

Octavia speaks at the September Youth Action Protest of the Freedom Riders regarding the free youth bus passes.

Octavia speaks at the September Youth Action Protest of the Freedom Riders regarding the free youth bus passes.

Genesis received its first Mary’s Pence grant in 2013, enabling a group of young women to participate in Gamaliel’s national community organizing training program for women, called Ntosake, an African word that means “she who walks with the lions and carries her own things.” The orientation of the training by Gamaliel and Genesis is agitational: to help politicize young women through seeing and experiencing themselves as powerful people.

The young women also participated in Genesis’ two-year issue campaign to obtain free youth bus passes in Alameda County, speaking out at large public meetings and to the media. Octavia Moore, a Genesis youth intern from Oakland’s First Congregational Church, told her story of the challenges and costs of relying on the public bus to go to school and back home to a local environmental group. Afterwards, one of the leaders of the group told her that, as a result of Octavia’s personal sharing, she had changed her mind and decided to support the group endorsing the measure. In 2014, Alameda County voters passed a measure allocating $15 million towards a county Youth Bus Pass Program.
Genesis received its second Mary’s Pence grant in February of this year to support further leadership training for young women as well as Genesis’ Freedom Riders program that seeks to influence the implementation of the Youth Bus Pass Program. According to Genesis’ full-time lead organizer, Mary Lim-Lampe, in many ways, this is an even harder fight than getting the measure passed by voters because it involves going to seemingly-endless and boring task force meetings that are held at times when it is difficult for youth to attend. In early September, Octavia Moore and other Genesis youth activists led a direct action on the office of the County’s Deputy Director to obtain a commitment to implement the free youth bus passes that young people need.

Octavia listens to Mary Lim-Lampe, Genesis Lead Organizer, speak at the May Genesis Issues Task Force meeting.

Octavia listens to Mary Lim-Lampe, Genesis Lead Organizer, speak at the May Genesis Issues Task Force meeting

At the same time that Genesis is working on implementing and monitoring the youth bus pass program, the group is in the process of selecting a new issue around which to organize. Part of its organizing strategy is that to build power, we need to ask for things. Through an inclusive decisional process, its issues task force does the “issue cut” by discussing a variety of issues that are winnable, concrete, involve a short timeline, have a specific target, and are in the hearts and minds of people. The next step is to do a series of meetings to obtain more information, using what they call the “radical tool” of listening.

Many of the member congregations of Genesis have been very affected by the Black Lives Matter movement and have had challenging discussions about how to respond to it. In addition to the issue of police accountability and community violence, Genesis is considering organizing around issues of the school to prison pipeline, health, and human trafficking. Through this ongoing process Genesis continues to strengthen the voices and confidence of young women community leaders to create healthier communities and plant the seeds of sustainable systemic change.

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Issue of Justice: Black Lives Matter

Katharine Garvey-Hall is the older sister of Mary’s Pence Development and Communications Liaison, Grace Garvey-Hall. She grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis, MN, studied social justice and education reform at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, and earned her masters in Urban Education at the University of Chicago. She currently teaches middle school in the Chicago public schools. As a white woman and a daily witness to racism, she offers unique insight into the role of white people in the growing Movement for Black Lives.

The origin of this grows out of a family dinner conversation. Let me set the scene: I am sitting in my parent’s backyard on a cool August evening. I am visiting my childhood home in a suburb of Minneapolis, MN from Chicago where I now live. Today, Black Lives Matter protesters marched to the gates of the Minnesota State Fair to call attention to the lack of vendors of color at the fair, in addition to the broader Black Lives Matter platform such as police brutality. The protest sparked controversy in our community that reflects a national conversation about Black Lives Matter.

Katharine Garvey-Hall at the front of her classroom teaching Math.

Katharine Garvey-Hall at the front of her classroom teaching Math.

“I guess I just don’t understand what they are trying to accomplish” one of my family members says.  Another offers a critique about the process: “I agree that police violence should be stopped, I just don’t feel like they are going about it in the right way.”

These are refrains that I have often heard before. Honestly, I’ve made comments like these before too. It is in those moments that I have to pause.

I spend a lot of time in spaces that belong to people of color. I am a middle school teacher at a public school on Chicago’s West Side. My students are Black. The majority of my co-wokers are Black. As the Movement for Black Lives has gained momentum it has become more and more a topic of conversation in my classroom. During one discussion about police brutality with my class of 8th grade boys I asked the class “How many of you have had negative encounters with the police?”

Every single hand in the room went up.

My job in that moment was to listen to my students, who are only children, share story after story about the rude, cruel, and downright demeaning way they have been treated.

Never having experienced this first hand it is difficult to hear. It is difficult to believe that the police, who have always made me feel safe and respected, don’t treat my students the same way.  I have to understand that the Movement for Black Lives isn’t about me, it is about those who experience violence and racism first-hand.

That is why I have to pause when I want to say that I disagree with the methods of Black Lives Matter protesters. Who am I, a white woman, to assume that I know more about the needs of people of color than people of color themselves? Since I have never experienced violence or hostility from the police, how can I assume that I know the “right way” to address police brutality? This type of thinking is the root of white supremacy. How easy it is for me to feel entitled to dictate a conversation in a space that simply doesn’t belong to me.

Furthermore, these critiques deflect the responsibility that I have to the movement. While this movement focuses on Black lives, it doesn’t mean that White people don’t have a supporting role to play. I agree with the concept that black lives do in fact matter. That is enough for me to throw my weight behind the movement.

I’ve come to understand my role as twofold, first a listener and second as an amplifier.

Besides listening to my students and friends of color, another way that I “listen” is by doing a lot of reading and research. Many, many people have written blogs and articles that serve as educational tools about the Movement for Black Lives, the importance of the movement, and the stories that inspire it. Much of this is available for you on the internet. If you are curious to learn more about the movement, Google and Facebook can be your best friends for gathering information to better understand the movement, especially if you live your life in predominantly white spaces and don’t hear these narratives first hand.

My role as a listener enables me to then amplify the black voices in spaces where they are not often heard. As a white person the things I say about race are often perceived differently than when Black people speak. In predominantly white spaces my voice carries a different tone. I can push my family, friends, and colleagues to think about race in a way that my friends of color cannot. I can push back on thinking without having my white friends shut down.

I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine around the time the officer who murdered Michael Brown was acquitted. While we agreed with about the tragic nature of the event we disagreed about appropriate legal outcome. She told me about an article she read explaining the legal outcome and why they legally couldn’t charge him with the murder.

“What I’ve been reading about in the wake of this,” I said cautiously, “is that this incident is only further proof that the laws are unjust. This is only further proof that there are systems in place that make it acceptable to kill young black men and women free of consequence, that’s why this isn’t an isolated incident. I can send you the links to some of the blogs I’ve read if you want.”  A few days later I sent her an email with a few links and a space for continued dialogue, and we did continue the conversation. This was an important opportunity to amplify voices she may not have previously heard, and in doing so I found my voice and space in the dialogue.

I used this same approach of careful dialogue and sharing with my loved ones at the table on that cool evening in August. And I will practice listening and amplifying as the national conversation about Black lives continues.

Check out these links to learn more about the Black Lives Matter movement:

Black Lives Matter on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BlackLivesMatter?fref=ts

A profile of the Black Lives Matter, St. Paul leader: http://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/10/02/black-lives-matter-rashad-turner

The Wikipedia overview: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Lives_Matter

The official website: http://blacklivesmatter.com/

The Black Lives Matter Policy Platform: http://www.vox.com/2015/8/21/9188729/police-black-lives-matter-campaign-zero


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Interview with Gaby in La Voz Latina

Gaby Bandini, new ESPERA Business Facilitator, was recently interviewed for an article in La Voz Latina, a Spanish language newspaper for the Latino community in St. Paul and Minneapolis where Mary’s Pence offices are located. We have translated the article here for your convenience. You can click here to read the original article in Spanish.

Gabriela Bandini, New Business Facilitator for Mary’s Pence
By, Leonor Villasuso
Translated by Grace Garvey-Hall2015 gaby in la voz

Located in St. Paul, MN, the organization Mary’s Pence works to fund projects that benefit women who lack resources in six countries on the American continent and the Caribbean with the goal of contributing to the betterment of their physical, social and economic conditions – to date there are a little over 900 women participating across the ESPERA Program (Economic Systems Providing Equitable Resources for All). Mary’s Pence donates money to the nine groups of women they work with, and the women take out loans that they use to start agricultural or artisan projects or small shops. Many of the participants are illiterate, which is why it is especially important that they have someone who can teach them accounting, budgeting and marketing, and why Mary’s Pence has recently hired Gabriela Bandini (Meixco, Federal District, 1983) as the Business Facilitator for the ESPERA Program which operates in Meixco, Central America and Haiti.
Bandini joins Mary’s Pence with ample experience working with rural communities in Mexico since 1985. She worked as an External Consultant for Corazon Verde – Central de Comercio Justo and the Instituto de Liderazgo Simone de Beauvoir, both in the Federal District, Mexico; a Project Consultant for Espacios Alternativos, S.C. in Oaxaca and Chiapas; Inter-Organizational Relations Coordinator for the Red Binacional de Mujeres Niu Matat Napawika in Puebla; Regional Field Promoter for the Fundación Tarahumara Jose A. LLaguno; Barter Centers and Fair Trade Coordinator for the Centro de Desarrollo Alternativo Indigena, both in Chihuahua; Rural Women Project Director in the municipal of Zaragoza for the Universidad de Monterrey, in Nuevo Leon. She also has a degree in international business from the Universidad de Monterrey (2007) as well as an international masters in rural development from the consortium of European universities of the University of Ghent (Belgium), Humboldt University (Germany), Slovak University of Agriculture (Eslovaquia) and Wageningen University (Holland), and she graduated with honors from both.Gabriela_Voz
In an interview, Bandini spoke about her role as the Business Facilitator: “My role at Mary’s Pence is to collaborate with the organizations of women in the ESPERA Program to encourage and support their different economic activities. Promoting all of those forms of production and consumption that consider the well-being of all and good use of natural resources, assuring access for future generations. The objective of my job is that the economic initiatives of the women generate income and at the same time permit them to access different resources that support their quality of life like: making decisions for themselves in their family life, their communities and with the different organizations they participate in; adequate access for the use and management of natural resources; formation of equal relationships; access to good health for them and their loved ones; the opportunity to participate in actions or activities that make them feel fulfilled and the opportunity to develop or strengthen their abilities. These, among other resources that will also be to their benefit.”
In conclusion, about her expectations of this new position, Bandini mentions; “… That there is more just trade and that there is broad recognition of knowledge, of the productive and organizational processes of local women and their communities, that will positively influence the regions and countries where we live and work. I hope to be able to be part of small transformations that through bettering the economic initiatives of these women will serve to construct a better society.

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Meet Mary’s Pence- Taylor

Greetings, Mary’s Pence community!
My name is Taylor Harwood, and I will be providing development and communications support for Mary’s Pence this year as a St. Joseph Worker volunteer. The St. Joseph Worker Program is a year of service for women committed to social change. A ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the program focuses on the core values of community, leadership, spirituality, and social justice. Mary’s Pence is an ideal fit for all of these values, especially with its connection to global social justice.

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This spring, I graduated from St. Catherine University (St. Kate’s) in St. Paul with degrees in English and History. My senior history thesis centered on experiences of Japanese American students at colleges in the Midwest during World War II. For my honors thesis, I wrote a modern screenplay adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1869 novel, An Old-Fashioned Girl. Writing is a lifelong passion for me, and I hope to continue writing screenplays and other stories in addition to the writing I will be doing at Mary’s Pence.

Opportunities to study abroad during my undergrad opened my eyes, hands, and heart to global perspectives. A semester in Wales and a month of traveling through Europe increased my independence and ravenous thirst for both travel and interacting with people from diverse backgrounds. Part of the reason Mary’s Pence is already so close to my heart after only a week of working here stems from my month-long visit to Guatemala last January for a social justice- focused class. I continue to be moved by the beauty of the land, the warmth of the people I met, and the systemic, unjust social and economic problems I observed (many of which are directly linked to actions by my own country, the United States).

When I first learned about Mary’s Pence, I was intrigued: A feminist, international organization, advocating for social change through empowering women? How had I not heard about this before? After doing more research into Mary’s Pence, I was fascinated to discover that there are Mary’s Pence grantees all across North America as well as Central America. I was further drawn to the organization by Mary’s Pence’s emphasis on following the principles of Catholic Social Teaching and helping communities advocate for themselves. One week into my year at Mary’s Pence, I feel humbled and amazed to be part of an organization where the values align so precisely with my own.

More than anything, the strength and ability of the women at Mary’s Pence inspires me, grantees, donors, board members, staff, and volunteers alike. I am looking forward to all I will learn from Mary’s Pence this year, and I am excited to contribute to the hard work of everyone involved in Mary’s Pence.

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Stories of Success – Asylee Women Enterprise

Asylee Women Enterprise helps women seeking asylum to rebuild their lives and their spirits. Asylee Women Enterprise (AWE) provides transitional housing, companionship and community to women seeking asylum by offering a safe and nurturing home, opportunities to connect with women in the larger community and each other.
AWE has received two Mary’s Pence Grants. Recently, they shared this deeply moving story of what their work meant for one woman, T.IMG_1142

T. is a 37 year-old woman also from central Africa. She had worked for a major airline as an airline manager. She was gang raped and left for dead because she would not allow a known terrorist to board an airplane. She thought she was doing her job but unfortunately the employer and the government did not protect her. She arrived in the United States with only the phone number of someone that knew her uncle. That family said that they could not help her but sent her to live with another family.
When she arrived with that family she realized that they had taken her in to be the “third wife” to the husband. The other two wives had six children between them. T. was not allowed leave the home at all. She was locked inside all day with the children. She was forced to clean, cook and take care of the personal needs of the children and adults. Daily the other wives would tell her, “We could kill you and dump your body and no one would know it.” “No one knows you are here or cares that you are here.” One day the second wife threatened to throw acid on T. That is when she broke a window and fled, once again, for her life.
Luckily, T. ran to a church that knew about AWE and called us. We were able to offer her housing. We helped her find an attorney and she is currently awaiting her asylum decision. She attended the co-op on a weekly basis while she was awaiting her work authorization. During that time she created a resume, worked on her English pronunciation and networked with many volunteers. Once she was authorized to work, AWE helped her to find employment. She is working full-time – with benefits! She recently moved into her own apartment and plans to purchase her first car!

Mary’s Pence loves to partner with our grantees to empower women and change lives. To learn more about AWE visit: http://asyleewomen.org/

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