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. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

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. 

Sleepless In Mentor – Introducing Justin Bloyd

What are you called to do today? Will you accept the call? Or will you refuse?

There are a million excuses to turn away from the voice within.

  • It makes no logical sense.
  • It will be too hard, maybe even impossible.
  • Who am I to think that I might be able to do that!
  • It’s not the right time.
  • What if I fail?
  • What will my friends and family think?
  • It would change my life.

Conversely, the list of reasons to embrace the desires of your soul is much shorter yet far more compelling.

  • It is my fate.
  • It is my destiny.
  • It is what I am meant to do.

Sleepless in Mentor is the story of one man that was brave enough to take the call. Meet Justin Bloyd.

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It was March 2020, and the United States was shutting down in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Like so many others, Justin Bloyd of RB Sigma was at home, out of work, bored, and binge-watching Netflix. Justin hoped that the virus would quickly pass and that life would resume as normal.

As fate would have it, Justin’s life was about to change in ways he had never imagined.  Justin began receiving calls from people he had worked with within the health care industry. All shared the same concern. Their regular suppliers could not provide enough PPE’s to keep their staff safe. Could Justin help locate supplies? Yes, of course, Justin replied, having no idea how that singular yes would lead to the formation of a medical supply company that employs over 70 people, manufactures masks, and purchases and distributes PPE’s worldwide.

Justin is a consultant that teaches the proven business principles of Lean and Six Sigma to manufacturing companies, health care organizations, and even teachers and students in the Ohio Public Schools. Both systems promote service excellence, efficiency, effective communication, safety, risk management, and much more. The learning process is hands-on and requires all participants to participate in data collection and analysis and implement new approaches based on the findings.

Justin had solid relationships with both the State of Ohio and several healthcare organizations before the pandemic. Additionally, they were aware that Justin had worked with many companies, from small start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, to market new products. Justin’s understanding of supply chain sourcing was a critical factor in creating successful results for the companies he represented. Both the State of Ohio and the healthcare organizations within were betting on Justin’s past success to help them through their current crisis.

Initially, Justin was asked only to help locate products.  Shortly after that, however, it became clear that someone would also need to warehouse and distribute the supplies. Justin believed the task would be much more challenging to pull off but agreed to take on the role in light of the urgency of the situation. Purchase orders from the State of Ohio and other organizations began to pour in, giving Justin the working capital he needed to get his new business started.

Justin admits that the endeavor was incredibly stressful. Once people became aware of Justin’s new venture, the phone never quit ringing. Others were in desperate need of supplies as well. Justin was committed to helping everyone he could.

There was much to be done quickly. Justin worked around the clock, only stopping to rest on the floor under his desk briefly from time to time. Justin needed more sleep but was often too tired to drive home. The solution was to park his camper behind the building that is now RB Sigma’s home office.

Justin was able to locate and procure over three million PPE’s from China. That was the easy part. Merchandise was transported by truck or train from all corners of the nation to an airport in the Northeast. The timing of the receipt of goods was critical. Customs required that all the items be present within seven days of the arrival of the aircraft. Additionally, the Chinese government required a landing permit that was difficult to obtain. Once, in China, there was only a short window of time to load inventory and depart.

If one could go from point A to point B without hiccups, importing goods from China would be easy. But, the current political climate between the United States and China is tense. As a result, the government of China changes policies daily. Justin recalls that there were roadblocks and setbacks every step of the way. Occasionally Justin thought the task was too hard and felt like giving up. But, he had committed, and he would see it through.

Procuring PPE was just one of Justin’s tasks during the early part of the operation. He needed to locate a building, work with twenty contractors to gut and retrofit it for mask manufacturing, purchase mask-making equipment made in Michigan, find a warehouse to store merchandise and supplies, and hire 38 employees. Additionally, Justin met nearly daily with his attorney to set up his business and work with a web design firm to completely rework his website.

Almost one month after Justin agreed to help, the second-largest cargo plane in the world filled with PPE’s landed in Cleveland. Since then, RB Sigma has grown significantly. RB Sigma has over 70 employees, maintains an online and walk-in store, manufactures various masks, and supplies PPE’s to over 290 med centers and prison systems across the United States. They have also shipped health kits to employees returning to work in over thirty countries.

Justin ended reliance upon products made in China as quickly as possible. Justin has since purchased or manufactured all the PPE’s needed from companies within the United States, except for gloves. Gloves are currently only manufactured in China and South Korea.

Justin credits his team for making the venture successful. Justin hired people he could trust with proven track records within manufacturing, warehousing, management, marketing, and more. Team members include family members, a few long-time friends, and many business associates he has worked with throughout his career.

Justin is both motivated and inspired by family. He honors his grandfather, Robert Bloyd, by using his initials as depicted on the family cattle brand as the company logo. Justin’s grandfather served in WWII. Robert Bloyd’s job was to bring ammunition to the troops on the frontline in Iwo Jima and the Guadalcanal. Justin likens his role now to that of his grandfather’s. Though it is a different kind of war, Justin believes he is doing his part by bringing PPE’s to front line workers.

There are many words I could use to describe Justin Bloyd. Humble, generous, kind, a hard worker, a man of vision, a family man, a good friend, driven, and committed, are just a few. Justin’s word for himself, though, is lucky. Because of that, Justin believes it is essential to share his good fortune with others in need. Justin donated the workforce and transportation needed to deliver over 70,000 PPE’s to the Minneapolis Police and Fire Departments after their buildings were burned down by rioters reacting to the death of George Floyd. Additionally, he donated 400,000 masks to ensure every poll worker’s safety in the state of Ohio.

Justin Bloyd is an American hero. He was called to action during an unprecedented time in our history. He accepted the call and, as a result, delivered more than was asked or expected. No doubt, Justin’s contributions have saved countless people from contracting or dying from Covid-19.  Most people will never meet or know the man behind their mask, but if they did, I believe that, like me, they would not be able to find the words to express the depth of their gratitude. Thank you, Justin.

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What are you called to do today?

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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. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

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. 

Forsaken – Introducing Dody

Death & Dying During COVID

Hold my hand, she said, her eyes pleading with mine. Please, she repeated, hold my hand when I go. I do not want to die alone.

Nearly ten years ago, I kept my promise and held my mother’s hand tightly as she passed from this world into the next. Five hours later, I did the same for my father. Witnesses were present. A hospice nurse and a few friends and family showered my folks with love and compassion during their last hours. They were not alone.

Afterward, more friends and family arrived. They brought food, embraced me, and helped me to get to the next step. There was a funeral, and more people came. Ken, a childhood neighbor, led the service, weaving in humorous and heartfelt tales about my parents. There was a lot of laughter, some tears, and immeasurable love in the room. I was not alone.

Alone.

The word echoes in my mind as I write. I pause and feel its gravity. When my parents died, they and I were surrounded, enfolded, and lifted in love. And still, I felt alone.

Imagine the countless number of people who died alone in hospitals and long term care facilities this year due to safety precautions related to COVID-19. While healthcare workers have done their best to fill the gap, it is not the same. How many people were denied the ability to keep their promise to hold their beloveds’ hands as they left this world?

Consider the unbearable grief of the forsaken. They waited from a distance as their loved ones passed. And, afterward, they were unable to gather to support one another or attend funerals or memorials. Those left behind have suffered in isolation. They are, indeed, alone.

Dody, a hospice bereavement counselor, volunteered to share her thoughts and experience related to death, dying, and serving those left behind during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dody first speaks about the five steps of grief, as defined by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler Ross. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Each stage of grief must be experienced for closure to occur. The steps are not static and can be experienced multiple times before acceptance occurs.

Dody points out that during the COVID-19, pandemic grief has been further complicated as both the dying and survivor experience feelings of abandonment. In Florida, where Dody resides, visitation to patients in hospitals and nursing homes has been severely restricted or disallowed since March.

Funerals, memorial services, and celebrations of life are the first step toward healing. Dody explains these events are severely delayed or not happening. There are several reasons. Government restrictions currently disallow funeral homes from conducting services, and crematoriums have a large backlog. Additionally, family and friends’ are often unable to gather due to travel restrictions and quarantine protocols.

As a result, the survivor’s grief is greater than anything Dody has seen in all her years as a bereavement counselor. Never have the bereaved felt so isolated.

Dody believes her role as a bereavement counselor is to be a supportive presence for her clients. She helps the bereaved accept the reality of loss with tools designed to assess clients’ most urgent needs. Each client is encouraged to keep a journal. Additionally, Dody listens. Most of Dody’s counseling sessions are currently held online via Zoom.

Dody feels that it is an essential part of the healing process to maintain a bond with the deceased. She encourages anyone who has lost a loved one to continue to celebrate holiday traditions, make a dish or meal that your loved one enjoyed preparing, or anything else that might sustain the bond.

Dody’s beloved father died three years ago this month. Among Dody’s most cherished memories of her father is that he was always singing and dancing. Music is healing for Dody. Dancing in the Sky, by Dani and Lizzy, is a song that brings her comfort and keeps her father alive in her heart.

Thank you, Dody, for participating in A Time to Heal!

For your work with hospice, I applaud you. It cannot be easy, and I suspect there are days that the emotional burden becomes unbearable. Yet, you continue. The gift you give to those in your care is immeasurable. In this blog post, you have given voice to those grieving in isolation. I hope and pray that in some small way, they feel heard and lifted.

Follow the link to Listen to Dancing In Heaven By Dani and Lizzie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UR4T0av0o40

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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 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.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit will be on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon, beginning September 3, 2020, to October 10, 2020. Please check the website before attending to verify hours of operation. http://citycenterarts.com/

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. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

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. 

Love One Another – Introducing Father Robert

Follow Father Robert on Facebook, and you will find a man that desperately wants the world to be a kinder, gentler, and more just place. His desire to lift others and let all people know that God loves them is evidenced by his posts on Facebook. Here are two examples.  

  • “We all make errors in our theology; you and me both. So my recommendation is to err on the side of love. Why? Because … God is not doctrine. God is not denomination. God is not war. God is not law. God is not hate. God is not hell… God is Love.” (Brian Zahnd) 
  • “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!” St. Catherine of Siena 

Father Robert is an Apostolic Catholic priest and a passionate supporter of the LGBTQ-IA community. He first became aware of the mistreatment of the gay community in 1969 during the Stonewall riots. He would not think much about it again until the late 70’s when he worked as a high school social worker. A distraught young man entered his office, closed the door, and began to cry.  

Father Robert asked, “What is your problem?”  

The student responded, “I am gay.”  

Father Robert was confused and asked again, “No, really, what is your problem?”  

And the student replied, “I just told you, I am gay.”  

Father Robert told the student, “That’s not a problem! It’s ok.” 

Afterward, Father Robert contemplated what the student shared with him. He thought to himself, we are not going to do this. We are not going to treat people this way. This is not what Jesus had envisioned or taught. 

Father Robert felt called to action and created support groups to listen and encourage this student and others like him.   

In the late ’80s, during the AIDS epidemic, Father Robert became further involved with the gay community. Nursing homes and care facilities would not accept residents with AIDS or HIV. The disease was new, and very little was known about how it was contracted or treated. Fear and lack of knowledge prevented many from receiving the care they needed.   

The director of Muskegon Community Mental Health asked Father Robert if he would open a foster care home for some of the men with HIV/AIDS. He did, and as soon as the doors were open, three men arrived. Shortly after, the house was filled to capacity and remained that way for about two years. There was little that could be done medically for the men that resided at the foster home. Instead, love, compassion, comfort, and support were given in abundance as each man traveled to the end of his life. For most, the final journey lasted only one to five months. 

Compassionate care at the end of life is not too much to ask. Is it? Homosexuality, AIDS/HIV were controversial enough in the 80’s that only two foster care homes for men with AIDS/HIV existed in the state of Michigan. People were outraged that Father Robert’s foster care home existed. The media frequently dropped in for impromptu and uninvited interviews exposing the location of the house. The garage was firebombed, cars parked outside the house were damaged, and rocks were thrown through the windows. To keep the residents safe, Father Robert moved the residents to a different place. 

Father Robert continued holding support groups for the LGBT community after the foster care home closed. But, in 2014, Father Robert read about the suicide of a transgender woman named Leelah Alcorn, and his commitment once again deepened. He was utterly devastated. He thought, this poor child. My God, now we have people killing themselves because they are not allowed to be who they are. Jesus would not want this.  

Leelah was born male, but from the age of four felt that she was a female. She longed to find a way to transition to the body that matched how she felt. However, this would never happen. Leelah’s family held conservative Christian beliefs, and being gay or transgender was not seen as acceptable. Leelah was sent to conversion therapy in an attempt to help her overcome her gender identity.  

 Leelah grew more depressed after conversion therapy. Her hopelessness led her to write a suicide note on her Tumblr account and schedule it to post a few hours after her death. She walked several miles from her parents’ home and then walked in front of a semi traveling on I-71.  

Since Leelah’s death, conversion therapy has been severely scrutinized. Many believe that the treatment does not work and only leaves the participant with feelings of more profound shame, lack of self-worth, and causes depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Conversion therapy has since been banned in many states and communities.  

Father Robert was determined to open a center where everyone would be welcome and feel safe. It took him over a year to find a location that he could rent. He viewed eleven available properties in Muskegon and Muskegon Heights to be told that they were no longer available when the landlord found out what Father Robert intended to do with the property.   

Finally, Father Robert found the perfect space in Muskegon Heights. The center offered various support groups for the LGBTQ-IA community and their families and anti-bullying and suicide prevention courses, AA and NA. The center experienced some success, but the location was an issue for many people. Muskegon Heights is a mostly black community, and many white people feared going there. And, many of the black participants feared being seen entering the building.  

Father Robert was back to the drawing board. He found a new location in North Muskegon, and all was going well. However, once the community learned what was being done in the building, the landlord ended the three-year lease at 11 months, stating, we don’t have those problems. 

Another location was found in Muskegon. It was opened with a broader concept and included a used clothing store where people could get used clothes for free. The center hosted Halloween and Christmas parties for the community. Everything was going great until the churches got involved. Once again, Father Robert found his dream of offering a safe place for the LGBTQ-IA community and other at-risk persons smashed. 

Father Robert has not given up. He has moved to a rural community north of Muskegon and will start a community center in Shelby. His plans are on hold right now over social distancing concerns and his own recovery from COVID-19. Father Robert was diagnosed with the illness on June 1st. While he has recovered, he continues to have fatigue, breathing problems, and internal damage that will never heal.  

Father Robert shared many thoughts about the LGBTQ-IA community, organized religion, Christianity, COVID-19. 

Father Robert believes the following related specifically to LGBTQ-IA. 

  • That biology creates the body and that God creates the soul. He advises you to always follow your soul.  
  • Transgender persons have a more challenging time being accepted and understood than any other LGBTQ-IA community member.  
  • There are consequences when a person is expected to hide, keep secret, or deny a part of themselves, such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and suicides. 

Father Robert shares the following related to Christianity. 

  • Christianity is not an easy thing to do. Love people that hate you. That’s not easy. Turn the other cheek. That’s not easy. Forgive people. That’s not easy either.  
  • If we could ever get to a point when people who consider themselves Christian to actually become Christlike, we would not be dealing with all these issues. The problems would be resolved. Poverty, hatred, and so much more! It would all be gone. People have missed the boat.  
  • If you are a member of the LGBTQ=IA community and the church you attend will not let you to take communion, marry you, or support you to adopt children, find another church.  
  • Tolerance is not love. Acceptance is love. 
  • But it is written in John 15:12 This I command you, that you love one another. 

Father Robert’s concerns about COVID-19

  • Wear A Mask. It could save a life.  

Thank you, Father Robert, for sharing your passion and deep care for the LGBTQ-IA community. Your commitment to choose love and compassion over fear and judgment is evident in all you do. I will end this post with the final thought you shared. If there were only one verse in the Bible, this would be a good one to live by. 

John 15:12, “This I command you, that you love one another. 

__________________________________________

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 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.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit will be on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon, beginning September 2, 2020, to October 10, 2020. Please check the website before attending to verify hours of operation. http://citycenterarts.com/

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. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

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. 

Free To Be Me – Introducing JT

JT arrives at school early to plan for the day that lies ahead. Soon his classroom will fill with the chatter, laughter, and mischief accompanying any group of 3rd graders. In the quiet before the storm, JT takes a moment to ponder and reflect. JT loves teaching, his students, the camaraderie he shares with his fellow teachers, and being a part of the community. JT’s heart is full! He is at home.

But for most of JT’s career, he has known that one rumor or complaint could lead to his prompt dismissal.  That is, until the summer of 2020. On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Supreme Court released JT and all members of the LGBTQ+ community from a prison of silence, fear, and secrecy.

JT always knew he was different. But how? He wasn’t sure, but he began suppressing “it” when he was a very young boy. During 5th grade, JT began to understand what “it” was when he noticed boys in a new way. He was shaken and a bit confused. Though he could not wholly define “it,” he knew that it was not acceptable.  He vowed to himself to work hard to quash the feelings as they surfaced.

JT, fueled by denial, successfully avoided his sexuality for most of his life. When JT was in high school, and unwanted thoughts would enter his mind, he would tell himself, “that can’t be me; I am an athlete.” JT was not just an athlete but accomplished enough to be offered scholarships to several well-known colleges. JT turned down all of the offers and entered Spring Arbor University, a private evangelical Christian college. Looking back, he understands that he did so to avoid his sexuality.

 Ironically, it was when JT was in college that he had his first experience with another man. Both were surprised and confused by the experience and made many excuses to explain away the incident.

Soon after college, JT met and married his wife of five years. JT states that he did feel love for her and that he thought marrying his wife was the right thing to do. JT believes that marriage’s commitment is not to be taken lightly, and he put all of his efforts into making it successful. But the couple faced many challenges.

JT and his wife desperately wanted a baby but could not conceive. After years of trying, they agreed to adopt. During the adoption process, it became clear that they had grown apart and that the marriage was not viable. The couple divorced, and JT was awarded full custody of his beloved daughter Natalie.

Though his marriage was over, JT had a new lease on life. JT was a dad! His love for Natalie made him take a long hard look in the mirror. Who was he, and what did he have to offer his child. JT realized that if he wanted Natalie to live in a world where she could express her truth, it was time to embrace his own.  JT, at 29, finally fully accepted his sexuality. He had hidden, denied, and suppressed who he was all of his life, and he was tired. JT could no longer keep up the façade.

JT began to live his life as an openly gay man in his community. He knew that in doing so that there would be a risk that he could lose his job should an angry parent complain. None-the-less, JT determined that there was no turning back and continued to teach in the same manner he had in the past: Professionally and with no discussion of his sexuality.

JT’s commitment to live his truth was tested in the fall of 2019. One of his students came to him and shared that there was a rumor going around about JT being gay. JT kept a calm demeanor and told the student that rumors are what they are and that it was his job not to spread them. JT was shaken. He could lose his career and the ability to provide for his daughter.

JT quickly made an appointment to speak to the principal of the school. During the meeting, JT shared that a rumor was going around that he was gay, that it was true, and that he feared losing his job. The principal was kind. She reminded him that she was the one that had asked him to apply at the school. She had suspected that he was gay when she hired him but that she had hired him based on his merit and the difference he makes in the classroom. She further explained that she had not hired a gay or straight man. She had hired a male third-grade teacher with a stellar work record and had no plans to get rid of him.

JT was relieved to have the principal’s support but knew that it was not a guarantee that his job would always be secure. JT’s concerns were short-lived when the Supreme Court unexpectedly decided that Title VII provided employment protections for the LGBTQ+ community.

When JT recalled the day the Supreme Court’s made its ruling, he was overcome with emotion. Tears sprang from his eyes, and he was unable to speak. After a moment, JT collected himself, swept away his tears, and triumphantly declared: “I am finally free to be me. As a teacher, I am always on the frontline. Everywhere I go, someone recognizes me. There are no words to describe the sense of relief that I feel. Now even if a person disagrees with my lifestyle, they cannot do anything about it. I am safe.”

JT is just one voice within the LGBTQ+ community. Over nine million people living in the United States identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Imagine the collective sigh of relief that nine million people experienced on June 15, 2020. Consider the gravity of this monumental decision. In a single day, nine million people let go of their fear of discrimination in the workplace.  And, nine million people, like JT, realized that they too were free to be themselves.

Thank you, JT, for sharing your story. You make a difference! Your love and light shine brightly in the classroom, as a father, a friend, and in your family. And, now, for me and those that have read this post.

I am grateful.

————————————————-

Authors Note:

Despite the Supreme Court Ruling related to employment discrimination, it is still legal in 25 states for landlords to refuse to rent to members of the LBGTQ+ community. Additionally, in 35 states, a banker can legally deny a loan based upon the applicant’s sexual orientation.


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 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.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit was on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon, during September and October 2020.  http://citycenterarts.com/

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. 

Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/livingatlakehouse/

The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gratitude_by_lakehouse_photo/

2021© 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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