Georgia On Our Mind
This fall we were invited to Atlanta to share the story of Braid.
Our dear friend Martha Sterne is serving in her retirement as the interim priest at All Saints Episcopal Church, which is a wonderful Episcopal church that is large and thriving.
When Martha invited us to be part of All Saints’ Preacher-Teacher lecture series, we were thrilled. However, as issues related to foster youth are national, we soon found ourselves invited to visit with other churches and other social organizations to converse about our mutual work. This was equally exciting, as we were interested to learn what was happening in another part of the country.
Our first stop was with the Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta, Rob Wright. We broke open a box of See’s candies that we had brought as a gift (nice guy sharing his chocolate) and told the story of Braid. As a part of our conversation he told us some fairly harrowing statistics with regard to the plight of children in Georgia. The number of foster youth in the state has doubled in the last five years, and those numbers are expected to increase from 14,000 this year to over 16,000 next year. We heard about the crisis of children being trafficked in the area, primarily due to Atlanta having the busiest airport in the nation.
Rob stated quite categorically that statistics compiled by the Children’s Defense Fund show that Georgia is the worst state in the nation in which to be a child.
Sadly, we heard that statement about Georgia (a state in which we have much family and many friends) time and time again.
As we were wrapping up our time with Bishop Wright, he asked us to consider something as we travelled around the city that week. He noted that our shoes were covered in the muck of the Tenderloin (the neighborhood in SF where we have our offices and whose streets are filthy). In Georgia, they have red clay. He asked if Braid could wear the red clay of Georgia – that is, could Braid be translated to the context of those youth in need in Georgia. As we met with churches and organizations over the next two weeks, we kept this question in mind.
So we spent time sitting at the tables of those who work in the red clay, who go into the ditches and look for youth who have fallen by the roadside:
- We listened to the Mission Core Team at Holy Innocents Episcopal Church as they described their night-long vigil praying the names of every child who dies at the hands of violence in the state each year.
- We met with an incredible organization that reaches far into many of the challenges facing foster youth including housing, mental health and stable environments, Chris 180.
- We were blessed to spend some time with the champion of children’s causes in the state, State Representative Mary Margaret Oliver.
- We visited Operation Hope, located at historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, and their life literacy program teaching families and youth financial literacy.
- We met Ron Scroggy, who has dedicated 40 years working to improve and legislate for better lives of youth and foster youth, now executive director of Together Georgia, an alliance of children and family services providers.
- We met the priest at St. Julian’s Episcopal Church, whose Starting Over ministry hosts safe space for parents to have monitored visitations with their children in foster care.
- And we chatted with a professor from Emory University who works with a program that offers prenatal and maternal care to women who are in prison and pregnant.
These and others wear the red clay of Georgia on their shoes and continue to walk in the face of a legislature that is less than sympathetic to their work.
As we had done in San Francisco, we took the time to learn about the great work others were doing, discovered the issues as they saw them, and heard their needs and concerns. We were reminded of the truth that while foster care is ubiquitous, every locale has its own unique challenges. We were reminded that while we can set up a mentoring program where the work of the teams looks the same, every child and youth is an individual and has an individual story.
We have come to realize that we are not in the franchising business.
While a fast food chain can reproduce the same hamburger everywhere, ministry to the foster care system doesn’t work that way. One can’t simply take the ministry that has worked in SF in and reproduce it in Georgia or every other state in the country. That is not our mission. As difficult as it may be, and as laborious as it may seem, we have an obligation to do our best to recognize that every youth, every mentor, every facilitator, every supporter is an individual who is a unique gift from God, and then engage them so as to build a relationship. And as we all know, no relationship will ever look like another. Because we all have a story.
A story born in the fog of the cool gray city of love.
A story born in the muck of the Tenderloin.
A story born in zone 1 of Atlanta.
A story born in the red clay of Georgia.
Each one unique.
[Listen to Chris’s sermon at All Saints Atlanta on November 13.]