Introducing Shauna – Champion for Justice

Safe.

What is the first thought or image that comes to mind when you think about the word safe?

Mine immediately travels back in time to a summer day in 1964. I was four years old, surrounded by many people I did not know, and I could not find my mother. The view in front and behind me was a sea of legs, below a vast assortment of unfamiliar shoes, and when I looked up, the faces of people I did not know.  Panic overwhelmed me, my body shook, and I sobbed uncontrollably. The crowd moved away a bit, and a large woman picked me up and held me in her arms. She told me everything would be ok and that we would find my mommy. I was not comforted and just screamed louder.

Of course, my mother was not far away and came immediately to rescue me. My mother was a practical woman and not prone to indulge or to tolerate theatrics. She wordlessly took me from the woman and put me down. Then she held my hand, and we walked together amongst the crowd for the longest time. I felt safe.

I was a lucky kid. I had two parents; one worked outside the home and the other inside. We had plenty to eat and needed nothing my folks could not provide. I walked freely from one friend’s house to another without concern for my wellbeing. Safety was seldom, if ever, a concern.

Maybe your childhood was similar. If so, imagine living in a home where there is not enough to eat, violence, or neglect due to drug or alcohol addiction, or because the parent(s) are at work trying to make enough money to survive. What if every time you stepped outside of your home, you had to be on the lookout for something terrible that might happen? Or that every day you had to pass by a place where someone committed a crime: A beating, a robbery, or even the murder of a friend? How would you feel; Scared, numb, hopeless, traumatized?

Take a moment to pause and think about the kids and families living under these conditions every day. Does it disturb you; If so, enough to do something about it?

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Safe is defined as to be protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost.

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Part 1 – Pathfinders

Shauna Hunter has dedicated her life to doing “something about it.” She serves as the Executive Director of Pathfinders. Pathfinders is a violence prevention program provided for children and teens from Muskegon and Muskegon Heights. The organization is located within Temple United Methodist Church and primarily serves the African American community.

Recently Shauna and I had the opportunity to meet and talk about Pathfinders and how she sees the world as an African American woman. As I spoke to Shauna, it became apparent that she is a woman that walks her talk. She is a passionate advocate for those she represents. Her faith sustains her and gives her hope for healing and a brighter future for the community.

Shauna shared that the late ’90s were a particularly tumultuous time in parts of Muskegon and Muskegon Heights. Gun violence and drug trafficking increased significantly, and many young lives were lost to death or prison. Concerned community leaders held public meetings and learned that kids living within the troubled neighborhoods longed for a place where they could feel safe. As a result, Pathfinders was established.

As the organization grew, it became aware that the community’s problems and challenges extended beyond gun violence and drug abuse. Many live in poverty with only one parent or absent parents. Others experience violence in their homes and within their neighborhood. Some experience hunger daily. The kids are quite literally traumatized. For these kids, Pathfinders has become their extended family. The mission statement for Pathfinders is to Engage, Empower, and Motivate. They do so through a variety of programs, both in-house and through community outreach. The following are among the programs. Pathfinders offers.

  • Urban Storytelling – To improve literacy within the community, Pathfinders began Urban Storytelling. Books chosen have kids featured/illustrated that look like the kids listening. As a result, the participants can relate more to the characters, accept, remember, and embellish the story, and be prone to read something else on their own in the future.
  • Meals to reduce food scarcity issues – Meals are served in-house during the week and delivered on the weekends in connection with Hand To Hand / Temple United Methodist Church.
  • Counseling/Mental Health Services – Your Heart Matters is a non-verbal aid that allows kids to express their feelings. Each participant receives color-coded hearts that coincide with an emotion, such as, Sad, Depressed, or Urgent Need. Based upon the card, the staff can either assist the child or provide a referral for counseling at Healthwest. Additionally, the Summer Youth Counseling program is available through Hackley Community Care!
  • Life Skills – Cooking, Financial Literacy, and Mindfulness/Meditation are just a few Life Skills taught at Pathfinders.
  • Physical Activity – Basketball, Ping Pong, Indoor Soccer, Dodge Ball, Flag Football, Floor Hockey, and Pool are available to Pathfinders participants.
  • Games
  • Tutoring
  • Personal Hygiene Pantry (in connection with Temple United Methodist Church) – Hygiene items are costly and not affordable for folks living in poverty. The pantry provides a way for poor students to attend school with confidence.
  • Boots On The Ground – Local police departments and folks living in the neighborhood gather to get to know one another. Together they learn how to react to one another when they meet on the street. The ultimate goal is to reduce racial profiling and unnecessary violence between police officers and persons of interest.
  • A-MACK Program – Aniya Mack was a victim of domestic abuse and was subsequently murdered by her ex-boyfriend. The A-MACK program established in Aniya’s memory focuses on domestic violence awareness and prevention.
  • I Am The Village is a Pathfinders campaign that focuses on bringing the community together for one purpose, holding the community responsible for educating, empowering, and rehabilitating itself.

Services Provided to homes during Pandemic.

  • Delivered books, puzzles, and introduced online games and activities to keep kids engaged. And additional groceries such as microwave meals that the kids could prepare for themselves.

At Pathfinders, all are welcome. The intention is that every person that enters is safe. One of Shauna’s goals is to expose the participants to diversity, open discussions, and bond through their shared history despite their differences. Shauna and Pathfinders welcome LGBTQ+ teens. She explains that the coming out process for Black LGBT-Q+ teens can be incredibly difficult and, in some cases, dangerous. Mild harassment, bullying, and even death can occur, especially among transgender teens. Shauna wants her kids to know that they are all someone important and that they are not reduced to limits but that the sky is the limit.

Literacy is an issue and often cited as the key to resolving other problems within the community. Shauna points out that it is difficult for kids to learn in school because they are too distracted, just trying to survive circumstances most people never experience. Shauna and Pathfinders are working diligently to help resolve the challenges that serve as roadblocks to learning, literacy, and success.

Funding for Pathfinders is provided through grants from the United Way, Community Foundations, and Alcoa. However, it is not enough to cover all the expenses the organization incurs. Can you help? Follow the link provided to learn more about or make a donation to Pathfinders. https://www.pathfindersofmuskegon.org/.

Part 2 – Candid Conversation with Shauna

The year 2020 brought race, racism, White privilege, and police brutality within the United States to our attention in unprecedented ways. The video of the murder of George Floyd served to open the eyes and hearts of many. A lot of people began to examine and acknowledge their cultural bias and White privilege sincerely. Many purchased books on racism, churches formed study groups, and conversations of awareness and healing began. More people tuned into Podcasts related to the subject than ever before. And, White people joined in Black Lives Matter protests that occurred around the nation.

I am among the group of White people described above. Thus, when Shauna graciously agreed to speak with me, I was thrilled and honored. Shauna spoke candidly about what it is like to be Black in the United States.

Shauna shared many experiences that disturbed me, but the words that echo in my mind the most are that being Black in America is exhausting. How can the color of one’s skin cause exhaustion? As Shauna and I spoke, the answer quickly became clear. I don’t wake up thinking I am White or even become concerned by my Whiteness. I don’t worry about what clothes I wear to the store, or if my purse is too big, or if I might be stopped by the police when I drive my car. I have never been followed in a store or accused of shoplifting. No one has ever wondered if my baggy clothes are a cover for all the goods I plan to steal. Nor have I have ever been treated like a criminal solely based on the color of my skin. But Black and Brown people wake up every day, knowing that they will face these challenges and more.

Another thing Shauna told me was that she chose a non-ethnic name for her daughter intentionally. She did not want to limit her daughter’s chance of receiving a job interview or college admission based upon her name. Though a non-ethnic name would not guarantee her daughter would obtain a job or college entrance, it would likely keep the application from being discarded prematurely.

We also spoke about the Black Lives Matter movement. Shauna believes that God loves everyone and quotes Jesus’s command given in 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, love one another.” She explains that all lives matter, but until all lives are treated the same, we must remind others that Black Lives Matter.

I asked Shauna if racism in the United States could be fixed. She believes that it can, but that there is no overnight solution. In the past, White people have denied that racism exists. However, seeing it is believing. Images like those caught on video of the George Floyd murder make racism and police brutality real.

Frequent conversations regarding cultural bias and racism will be necessary to undo messages from the past. Shauna says that the “old ways” are not that long ago. Many Black people living in this country today have great grandparents that were slaves. The civil rights movement, the right to vote, desegregation, and the abolition of Jim Crow laws have only occurred in the past 70 years.  

In Shauna’s case, her grandparents were born in the United States but did not have birth certificates. They fled the South after crosses were burned in their yard. Her grandparents could have shared bitterness, anger, and hate with Shauna. Instead, they taught her that despite the cruel treatment they had endured, that there are good people in the world.

In her lifetime, Shauna has witnessed countless government programs intended to resolve issues of racism, poverty, education, and more fail over and over. She feels that the people in power are not asking the right questions or listening to those that the programs are meant to serve.  In other words, someone or entity is making decisions about what is best for a community that they do not belong to or fully understand.  

At this point, Shauna reminded me of the story in the Bible of Nehemiah. Jerusalem was in shambles after an invasion by the Babylonians. Warriors destroyed the temple and most of the city, burned the gates of the wall surrounding Jerusalem, and left other stone wall sections in piles of rubble. When Nehemiah, the cupbearer to the King, learned of his ancestral home’s state, his heart was burdened. The King noticed Nehemiah’s despair, and upon learning what was troubling him, granted him safe passage and supplies to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem.

Nehemiah was wise and understood that the wall was not the only thing that was in disrepair. The people living in Jerusalem were also broken. They had witnessed their once vibrant community destroyed. Loved ones were killed during the invasion or sold into slavery, while others escaped and lived in exile for many years.

Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah surveyed the damage and petitioned the residents and religious leaders to reconstruct the wall. As a result, the people of Jerusalem worked together tirelessly to complete the 2-mile long wall repair in 52 days. During the nearly two month project, the community residents healed wounds from the past and became friends and neighbors.

Shauna believes, like Nehemiah, that community involvement is the key to healing and resolving issues. She states that we must meet as neighbors, get to know one another, and together, do the work that will make things better.

Shauna is the Executive Director of Pathfinders, but the job she is called to do is to be a Light. If you ever meet Shauna, you will immediately know that she does her job very well. Guided by her deep faith, Shauna spends her days planting the seeds of love, hope, and peace in the hearts of the people living within the community. She believes that with God’s help, the seeds she and others like her plant will take root in fertile ground, grow strong, and reach their greatest potential.

Thank you, Shauna, for what you do at Pathfinders, in the community, and in the world. You are indeed a bright and shining Light.

Suggested Video

Race and Racism – White Privilege and Privilege Explained By Justin Wilford

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GyXEMg03EI

Something Happened In Our Town By Donald Moses and Marianne Celano

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whR_JIzknpo

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A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the project, A Time To Heal, is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

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2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

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