Growing up I never had a real idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up. In first grade I wanted to be a scientist, a few years later it was a teacher. A few more years later it was an artist, later on a photo journalist. Since I never had a real idea I took the first semester off after high school before I started college. I did two years on a path to becoming a high school art teacher. I had wanted to teach in the public school system but realized that things economically were not looking to be that great. The public school system in Milwaukee was always facing budget constraints and the first things to always get cut from the budget was the arts. I didn’t feel that my future was that secure if I continued on this path so I stopped going to school all together.
For the next twelve years I worked at two different jobs. One was as an office assistant at a local private college. My goal was to work there for a year so I could go to school free. I only lasted a year at hat job. I then went to work at a bank where I became an underwriter for home loans. I am currently still employed at the same bank and I have seen the industry go from one end of the pendulum to the other. I have read about many people who have lost everything in the financial collapse of 2008 and I think about the policies that my employer had in place and how they contributed to this fiasco. I remember the numerous times that management ignored the employees concerns about lending the amount of money we were lending out to individuals on fixed incomes or selling products we knew would be difficult for customers to afford later on. I wasn’t joking when I said to my family that it felt like my soul was turning black at times.
Eventually I moved into a department where I could see a little bit better what type of positive impact I was having on some individuals. This might have been just being someone to talk too for the eighty-five year old gentleman who just lost his wife or the young family who was trying to consolidate their debt into something easier or the middle aged couple trying to pay for their child’s college education. There was some value in what I did and I hung on to that as a way to make myself feel better about what my company was really pushing; more profits by whatever means necessary. The profits were seen by only those who were high enough in the ivory towers and who did not have a direct connection to the people who were putting themselves at the mercy of the bank.
In 2008 I became pregnant with our first child. Half way through my pregnancy is when my husband found out he would be laid off. He worked at another bank for ten years. A week after he got his notice, my bank announced 150 layoffs. I dodged a bullet but I had close friends who didn’t. as I continued to work I saw the banks policies turn a 180 degrees. The policies had become so strict that it was extremely rare to even approve one loan a day. I was now in a position where I was telling people no to their dreams. The one thing that made me happy in my job was gone.
I had one loan application for a person who had lived in Louisiana and survived Hurricane Katrina. He was once a successful owner of a seafood restaurant. The hurricane had destroyed his restaurant and his home. He had to rebuild from the ground up. His application came to me three years after Katrina and he was still living in his FEMA trailer in the front of his house. He wanted a loan so he could buy furnishings and appliances for his home. All the insurance money was gone from having to rebuild his home and he just needed about twenty five thousand dollars to furnish his home so he could move in. This man told me many stories about what he had to endure. It made me so sad but I did everything I could to get the deal approved. When it was, he was so thankful and he cried to me on the phone. I thought I really did help make a difference. I found out that later on down the process his application was declined. He could not pass the income verification and no one was willing to make an exception for this man. I was devastated.
I ended up going to the highest level of management at my location pleading this man’s case. I was given answers that were very by the book. I understood them but I just thought that maybe there was something more that could be done. After my conversation with the manager he said to me that I was a good underwriter but that sometimes my compassion gets in the way of making good underwriting decisions. I walked out of his office and immediately knew this was no longer the place for me and started to investigate new careers in which compassion was something that was not only respected but required.
When I came across the Community Leadership and Development degree at Alverno I truly felt I had found what I was looking for. I made in inquiry that same day. Within a few hours I heard back from an admission counselor. I scheduled an appointment to meet with them in two days on a Saturday. When I left, I went right home and requested my transcripts from my previous college, applied for Alverno and financial Aid. My husband still had not found a job and we had a nine month old daughter at home but I needed to make a change.
I didn’t truly understand how Alverno worked at first. They did not have grades, there were these eight abilities and you had to do self-assessments. All of this was very foreign to me but what was amazing was that I immediately felt like I fit in and I knew I was in the right place. I found myself much happier at home and at work. I now saw a light at the end of the tunnel for my current job situation. What I never fully expected was how much more my life would actually change.
In my second year I had taken a class that had to do with Jim Crow and Black Lives. I did not have to take this class as I had transfer credits to satisfy it but I really wanted to take it so I was able to apply the credit towards an elective. I am so glad I did because this class changed my life.
Two of the eight abilities at Alverno are developing a global perspective and valuing. This class expanded this area of my studies a great deal. I realized that I was a bit naive when it came to the relationships between African Americans and Caucasian people. Even though I knew things we not the best as far as African Americans being treated equally; I did think that things came far enough since the civil rights movement that things could only get better with each new generation. This class made me realize that it simply does not work that way.
This class made me really take a look at myself and my values. I found myself becoming more aware of my thoughts and I was made to analyze why I thought a certain way. For example, I was on the city bus and it was crowded because the previous bus had broken down. This route had double the amount of people on it then normal. With each stop I was pushed further and further back. I was all the way to the back of the bus when this young man got up and gave me his seat. It was a gesture that took really stood out to me. When I relayed this I made it a point to mention that he was a young black man. Afterwards I found myself analyzing why I felt the need to mention this man’s race. It was as if it’s a rarity for this to happen and everyone should be amazed that it did.
I realized that no matter how much I believe that society is less racist than it was prior to the civil rights movement the truth is that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. This class made me realize what white privilege is. It made me aware of how often it happens and just how insulting it is to my African American counterparts. I could see it being applied at my work and all around me and it made me upset. I had a new perspective of how unfair our society can be too minorities. This was made so prevalent to me when I was speaking to a friend who was black and the mother of three teenage boys. She explained to me that every time they are out with their friends or if they are driving around she has to stress to them to be extremely careful when pulled over by police. She is always telling them that if they are confronted by police to keep their hands visible. She explained the anxiety she feels when they are out because they are all at that age where things could go really south and she loses them either to gang violence, drugs, or racial profiling or they can come through it safe and sound. I never will have this fear for my own kids. I know I might tell them once but the truth is that is not something I would normally worry about like my friend does. To me, this speaks volumes.
This class also made me very aware of the importance of words and even though they might appear harmless on the surface the reality is that they can be the tool that continues to spread prejudice. Words like “wigger” and “ghetto” and “thug” are meant to invoke the very stereotypes that make me find it important to mention a young man’s race when being a gentleman. It is these deeper meanings to these types or words that many people do not realize or they choose not to acknowledge them. It’s the wide acceptance of these words and how they are used all throughout society and by all ethnic groups that continue to out a strain on race relations and instead of finding words that we all have in common we use those that tend to put more distance between us all.
It was with this new perspective that I was gaining through this class that I was able to write a paper about the movie “Birth of a Nation” and really analyze how society still views race today. With this new perspective I have been able to see when this happens and articulate it to others. My hope is that I can pass that on to my daughter. I firmly believe that in order to become a less racist society we all need to stand in our own truths and acknowledge that things like white privilege exist. If we can do that, and make it a priority to point it out when it is happening I think everyone will be more comfortable and the relationships between all races can be better. It was because of this class that my interest to get involved in civil rights has become a lifelong obsession and has helped dictate my career path.
I was in another class called Community Power and Change that Ii continued on my learning path about the social injustices that minorities faced. The instructor had given a power point presentation about the incarceration statistics for African American males for drug offences compared to whites, Hispanics and other minorities and the data was frightening. I remember seeing these statistics where there were about the same amount of blacks and whites admitting to using marijuana but the arrest rate of blacks was like four times as much as whites. These young men enter into plea bargains for whatever reason and it tarnishes their records. It can disqualify them from financial aid to go or college or even a job. To know that their white counter[arts are getting off scott free or law enforcement is turning a blind eye makes me furious.
I took this frustration and another ability I learned called Effective Citizenship and helped start a student organization called Project VIBE with two of my classmates and dear friends who were African American. Vibe stands for Voting Informed Breeds Empowerment and our main goal is to help educate voters in Milwaukee and Waukesha county and engage citizens who are not normally involved in the democratic process. The other goal of Project VIBE is help educate individuals on how to research candidates, who to contact when they have an issue or want to make their voice heard, and how to lookup voting records of elected officials. The goal is to make individuals feel empowered and realize that their vote is their voice and just how important it is.
My degree in Community Leadership as really opened my eyes to how everything is intertwined with in the community. Choices we make today can make a positive or negative impact not only in our immediate communities right now, but they can stretch far into other communities in the future. Having people, groups and organizations who have a strong sense of how important community is helps keep our streets safe, our kids well educated, and our elderly well taken care of. I have seen through the research I have done for papers I have written that without a strong sense of community people are vulnerable. When a community is vulnerable, business start to give up investing in the area, jobs are lost and good people start to move out. Poverty starts to put its choke hold on the community. Violence increases and the quality of the schools start to decrease. The only way to truly overcome these crippling affects brings us right back to the community. A strong community means people care not only for themselves but for their neighbors. It is with this that we can continue to understand each other and our differences and celebrate them too.