Friday, April 23, 2021

A Measure of Justice

Marissa and Lindsey at George Floyd Square on the day the Derek Chauvin verdict came in
At George Floyd Square the day the verdict came in.

 My city was on pins and needles this past week, waiting for the verdict of the Derek Chauvin trial.

The trial had lasted a little over three weeks. The prosecution called 38 witnesses and presented their case for 11 days. They presented data showing that George Floyd did not die of a heart attack, a heart condition or a drug overdose, he died directly as a result of Derek Chauvin's knee on his neck for more than 9 minutes.

Photo of Dr. Rich, witness for the prosecution in the Derek Chauvin trial
Dr. Rich, a witness for the prosecution

How can you defend against that mountain of evidence? Derek's team called seven witnesses over two days to somehow defend Derek's actions. By this time Marissa was riveted to the television, watching every witness and piece of evidence.

Every time a witness came up for the defense she would say, "Funny, they don't LOOK like a racist." And then the questioning would begin, the person would speak and she'd say, "Ope, never mind, that's a racist." Because how else could you defend Derek's actions? 

Dr. David Fowler, witness for the defense in the Derek Chauvin trial
Funny he doesn't look like a racist...but his words proved it.

On Monday April 19, 2021, closing arguments were given and the jury was handed the case for deliberation. And the waiting began, the speculation that justice would not be served, that our city would explode in a fiery ball of anger and frustration. The significant National Guard presence throughout the city put everyone on edge, worrying for their safety and the future of our small business owners.

It took four days after George Floyd's murder for charges to finally be brought against Derek Chauvin. It took the jury only 10 hours to convict him of those charges.

The verdict came in at 4:06 pm on Tuesday, April 20. The girls and I sat around the TV, wrapped in blankets and clutching pillows as the charges were read. I felt a great desire to be at George Floyd Square, but did not want to move from the TV to hear the verdict. 

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

We leaped up, hugged, and yelled "Justice!" at the TV. We took great pleasure in watching Derek Chauvin being put in handcuffs and led away. And then we piled in the car and went down to George Floyd Square, to feel the joy of those who had worked so hard for this moment.

The square was packed with more and more people coming by the minute. People greeted each other with shouts of elation, bear hugs with masked faces turned away. You could see the crinkle of people's smiling eyes over their masks. Perfect strangers spoke to each other: "It is a good day." 

There was a microphone set up with a small speaker, too quiet to reach over the growing crowd. We could hear a little of what was being said, of crediting the people for keeping the pressure on, of thanking those who kept "boots on the ground" for justice. And then I heard the calls for justice for someone else, a name I had not heard yet. 

"SAY HER NAME!" the speaker shouted, barely audible over the conversation and jubilation around us. Only those close enough to hear whom the speaker had been referring to responded. 

I thought to myself, "Come on, let us have this moment." The people had just won a huge victory, the first White police officer successfully convicted for killing a Black man in the state of Minnesota, the first in a long line of more than 400 people who had lost their lives at the hands of the police. Just give us a moment to celebrate this before we move on to the next step in changing the system. 

After we arrived home I heard about the girl whose name the speaker was calling: Ma'khia Bryant. She was a 16-year-old girl in Columbus, OH, and had called the police because teen girls were fighting in front of her house and she was scared. I'm sure the details will come out about what was happening. The police showed up and within minutes Ma'khia had been shot four times and was dead on arrival at the hospital. She was sixteen.

My heart sank. On the same day that we received a measure of justice for George Floyd, another Black child in America had lost her life to our policing practices.

The work has not ended, it is only beginning. 

Photo of gas station sign that says "Justice Served?"

Friday, April 09, 2021

The Power of One-to-One Connections

Quote "Only by giving are you able to receive more than you have." Jim Rohn

This is a follow-up to my story about assisting Chandan, a young man who had never lived in his own place, was not employed and needed help caring for his 3-year-old daughter. For more on the original story, read here for the beginning and here for the unfortunate ending.

There are so many lessons to be learned in this experience. The biggest one I'll be adhering to is to donate to organizations instead of to the people those organizations are helping, unless it's someone I personally know and trust. But there are other, smaller, more hopeful lessons to be learned. Truly, every day that someone reached out to me to ask what Chandan needed or made a donation to the GoFundMe campaign, my heart filled with gratitude. 

I learned that people genuinely want to help others in need. One of the reasons why the fundraiser for Chandan was so successful was because all of the donations were helping one person who shared his story. The need was clear, the impact of giving was obvious. In the Twin Cities there's an organization called Bridging that basically does exactly what my donation drive was doing: provides furniture and household goods to people coming out of homelessness into housing. People donated furniture to my request and not to Bridging. Why? Because mine was going to a single person with a face, a name and a story that they could understand.

I also was surprised by the number of people who, when the donations fell through, asked for their donations back. I'm not saying they are greedy, my point is that they weren't going to give these things away in the first place. They were inspired by his story and chose to give away items that they intended to use themselves.

Some more incredible stories of generosity that inspired me in the past few weeks:

  • A woman shared the story of having to escape an abusive situation early in her life. She was able to do so thanks to the generosity of complete strangers who supported her after she got to a safe place. She considered her donations as a way to pay back for the kindness shown to her years before.
  • One person had thousands of Amazon points in her account. She used the points to buy a brand new, adorable bedding set for his daughter, new kitchen supplies, cleaning supplies, a hamper, and other items that people experiencing homelessness usually don't own. She was happy to be able to use the points to help someone else when she could have used them for her own family.
  • Someone reached out to me after the donation drive had been going for a while to ask what was still missing. I had secured dining room chairs but not a table. She went to a local Goodwill, purchased a table for $50 and her husband refinished it for Chandan's apartment. The labor of love that went into this was so inspiring! When the donation fell through, they decided to keep the table and will use it as a card table in their basement. 
  • One of the donors runs her own company staging houses for sale. She has a garage and basement filled with furniture, small appliances, household goods and other items that have never actually been used, just displayed and then put back in storage. It struck me how she owns nearly two households worth of goods while people in other areas of our city don't even have one. I'm not faulting her for her company or what she does, it's simply another example of the difference between the "haves" and the "have nots." 

When our house was remodeled in 2016 we made a significant donation to Bridging, getting rid of furniture that was perfectly good, just no longer needed. One of the workers who came to pick up the items said, "Wow, this stuff is in really good shape. This is better than the furniture we usually get."

People in my community put decent furniture like ours on the curb for solid waste pick-up every week, while people in other areas of this city would love to have that piece of furniture in their home, yet they don't have the transportation to retrieve it. For many of my friends and family, making a $100 donation to help someone out is no big deal, while for someone else, an extra $100 means they don't have to choose between rent or food that month. 

I've done a lot of learning about the history of Minneapolis, about how white people kept Blacks out of the desirable areas in Southwest Minneapolis using racial covenants and redlining practices and how BIPOC folks were given little choice but to live in what is now the notoriously poor North side. The disparity between the resources of North side and the wealth of the Southwest area is staggering. I have to believe that there is a way to make a direct connection between those with excess to give with those in need.

I'm not going to be fundraising for a single person again, but I will be reaching out to organizations working in the North side neighborhoods to see how I can help make connections to people in my area of the city. There's got to be a way we can do more to help people in my own city. 

Thursday, April 08, 2021

"Trust" is a Big Word

A pile of supplies, furniture and other goods that were donated to help furnish an apartment.

I need to complete the final chapter of the story of assisting young Chandan White. Things did not turn out as expected. 

I had reached out to Chandan because I saw a young man in need, asking for help and not getting his needs met despite his multiple requests in the "Twin Cities Mutual Aid" group on Facebook. One of the challenges of our city and society is that we all live and work in segregated circles. People who have more than enough live among other people who have more than enough. People who need assistance live among people who need assistance. So when poor people cry out for help, the only people who hear them are other poor people.

I started a GoFundMe for Chandan with a goal of $5,000 and, through a generosity of spirit, people responded. Within a day the fundraiser was at $1,000, by the end of the week it was at $3,000. This was a far cry from the $5 and $10 Chandan had been receiving previously through the mutual aid network.

Those who donated began to ask what else Chandan may I asked him. People had furniture to donate, did he need furniture? Did he need kitchen supplies? I asked and he said yes, he needed everything. 

I asked him to put together a list of what he needed but he didn't know where to start, which makes sense considering he's never had his own place before. Being a project manager and Excel geek, I put together a spreadsheet of what I thought he may need and ran it by him. I did not want to be a pushy donor, getting things for someone who doesn't need the items and is too polite to turn me down. I called myself a "meddling white woman" to him in a message and told him to tell me to back off if he needed me to. He "LOL'd." 

With the incredible generosity of my friends and community, I managed to get an entire apartment of furniture and supplies donated. The only thing missing was a sleeper sofa — the apartment was a studio and his bed had to also be his couch, and that's a purchase better made by the person who would be using it.

He and I arranged to meet at the apartment complex on April 1 at 11 a.m., move-in day. I coordinated with my sister Kristi and a neighborhood volunteer, we packed all the items into our three cars and drove to the apartment complex. 

No Chandan. And...when I inquired at the management office about helping Chandan moving in, she told me that they did not have someone by that name renting from them. They have a months-long wait list for people who have applied for housing, no one was moving in April 1 as no one had moved out.

Chandan and I had only ever communicated via messenger and other social media sites. I had reached out to him the day before to confirm that we were meeting him there, only to get a message that "this person is no longer available." It was suspicious, but we still showed up as he and I had agreed, only he wasn't there and there was clearly no apartment for him.

I was angry. Embarrassed. My heart actually hurt that day, a heaviness lay on my chest thinking that the entire story had been a scam. 

The three of us brought everything back to my house and stored it in the garage. I let it simmer a few days, hoping (but not hoping) that perhaps something had happened to him, that he would reach out to me eventually with a reason why things fell through.


Five days later, I informed the community that had generously made all of these donations what had happened and offered to return them or donate them to nonprofits where they would eventually go to those in need. I also encouraged people who donated to the GoFundMe — which at this point had raised $4,400 — to report the fundraiser and get their money back if they believed fraud had been committed. 

Finally, days after all the donations were being re-distributed and the fundraiser frozen, I heard from Chandan.

He told me that his phone had broke it took a few days to get a new one, and that he was waiting a week to hear back from the place to see if he was going to be able to move in there, and eventually was going to put a deposit down on a different place if it didn't work out. This was all via text. I asked to talk, and he called me.

I give him credit for calling me. 

When I look back at our many text conversations and think back to our discussion over a plate of French toast, I don't believe that his entire story is untrue. I think he is someone who doesn't understand how securing an apartment works, has no idea of the amount of work it takes to put together a household, and doesn't want to say "no" to a woman twice his age who wants to help. He told me he was able to buy a vehicle, which I was glad for, as that was a part of why we were raising money for him. If that's what he used the money for, then great, it will help him secure employment.

By the time he and I chatted I was over my anger and grief and had informed everyone involved of the outcome. I let him know that the fundraiser had been reported. I have no idea how much money he has withdrawn from it or how he's spent it. He thanked me for everything I did for him to help him get a car.

I was relating this entire experience to someone who works in the nonprofit world. I said that within the Mutual Aid Network, people gave to others in the hopes that their stories of need were true. It's one of the reasons why people only give $5 or $10, because if the need wasn't real then at least it was just a small amount. She said to me, "Trust is a big word."

And she's right. When we as donors give to a nonprofit, we have a base line of trust. To become a 501c3, paperwork must be filed, bylaws written and adhered to, and donor intent is the golden rule. I had taken a leap outside of the world of nonprofits and had gotten burned.

Clearly, I will no longer be fundraising directly for those in need, but giving to the organizations that exist to help them.