What We’re Reading at Lydia’s House: Eloquent Rage

Image result for eloquent rage

 

I’m Mary Ellen Mitchell. I’m the co-director of Lydia’s House, a shelter for homeless families, a mom of 3 young kids and a Cincinnati native. The many balls I juggle dictate that my reading list is short each year, and if you’re in this camp with me, I want to say that this book is worth the cut.  I want to give my strongest endorsement to “Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers her Superpower.” After finishing this book in February of this year I sent the author, Brittney Cooper, a fan girl style email that said “This is the truest thing I’ve ever read.” And even after I’ve come down from my post reading high, I stand by that statement.

At Lydia’s House, where I work, we seek to be a feminist anti-racist organization. We also see the reality of racism in our city play out in such a raw way because we answer devastating phone calls from women, most of them young black mothers, who are living in cars or storage units with their children. We hear defeated voices on the other side of the line, and constantly intersect with child protective services and the many other agencies that steer the course and dominate the time and choices of the families we offer shelter to.

Into this storm came a glimmer of light when, during Lent, our staff discovered and read together this most recent work of feminist academic Brittney Cooper. Out of our collective rage about the election of 2016, confusion about gun ownership trumping the safety of our children and families, and continual rethinking of why women of limited economic prospects embrace mothering came this succinct treatise that addressed it all and tied it together as only a brilliant social analyst can. To be clear, this isn’t a book about poverty—this is a book about one woman’s rage over structural injustice and how that injustice is keeping us all down. We’ve all felt rage in the last 12 months or so—what Brittney Cooper does is put that rage to work.

Image result for brittney cooper eloquent rage

Clearly some specifics about my life led me to seek out this book but I want to reiterate, you need to read this!  I think you should read Eloquent Rage because, while many of us may be clear on who and what we’re against in this troubling political time, we may be less clear about who we’re for. Brittney Cooper argues we need to be for Black Women. She outlines the specifics of oppression against black women and balances it shrewdly with the unique skills, adaptations and gifts of “black girl magic.” She intertwines recent history and the long history of race relations of America; she deftly balances competing forms of oppression; she shares raw personal experience and backs it up with demographic data. This is all done in such an artful way that it makes really difficult topics like white privilege and women turning on other women amazingly easy to digest. I literally couldn’t put it down. I told my co-worker “It’s like mental pop rocks.” You’ll feel smarter when you finish this book.  But you won’t be let off the hook.

If you’re ready to get real about black feminism, violence, white power, and intersectionality then this is a must read. I’d love to talk more about it when you’re done!

Springing into Spring: March in Review

March Worship: A Lenten Reflection

On the first Sunday in March, we gathered for our monthly in-house worship service. We listened as Mary Ellen shared a reflection on Lent, the special season before Easter. The word comes from the “lengthening” of daylight hours as we move from the darkness of winter to the new light of spring. In particular, she reflected on Jesus being led into the desert by the Spirit, the humanity of Jesus in experiencing and confronting Satan’s temptation, and the role of Angels in this story. What was the purpose of this desert experience? Why were angels sent to him after he was tempted? Jesus not only observed humanity, but he lived it. During those 40 days in the desert, he must have been hungry. He must have felt doubt. He must have had questions. If we know where to look, we can find courage and strength in Jesus’ response to each of Satan’s temptations. And we can find understanding in his compassionate, loving and merciful response to to others who experienced and gave into temptation.

Second Annual Volunteer Appreciation Brunch

A dozen folks were able to join us on March 10 for an appreciation reception and brunch. We celebrated with a brief liturgy, following the format of Lydia’s House weekly staff meeting and volunteer affirmations. For those of you who were unable to attend, we want to take this opportunity to affirm you!

“In this room are representatives of every kind of volunteer who makes life work at Lydia’s House.

Thank you meal angels. In 2017 we never missed a dinner meal, from Sunday – Thursday a hot, nutritious and thoughtful meal was on our table! Thank you for homemade yeast rolls, for extravagant desserts, for bringing your own ingredients, for introducing new dishes, and for responding to guests needs, wants and allergies. Meals at Lydia’s House are so much more than food: they are the epicenter of community, a place of learning, and something that is dearly missed by guests after they leave.

Thank you board members. The board members that are here today have been with us from the start. They’ve attended meeting that, sometimes, last until 11pm. They review financial reports, write minutes, consult on personnel policies and ask their friends and families to support Lydia’s House financially. It is not a glamorous job to be a board member, but it is so vital to our operations so thank you.

Thank you maintenance volunteers. It’s hard to estimate how much of our operations budget has been saved because of volunteer maintenance, but it’s a lot! But what’s more is that our maintenance volunteers probably do a better job than anyone we could pay. Thank you for responding to tedious to do lists, painting precisely, turning over rooms, fixing things small and large and doing it with such grace. We appreciate you.

Thank you House duty volunteers. House duty is an ever shifting entity but we’re grateful for those of you who’ve been willing to sign on to do anything from sit in the living room and read to shuttle folks to the emergency room. We need you to keep our space safe and beautiful, to provide respite to our live in crew, and to be an extra listening ear and thoughtful presence in the life of our community. We’re grateful for you.

Thank you fundraisers and gatherers of needed things. Lydia’s House experiences abundance because of you. Thank you for finding things we need, buying things you can’t find, dropping off, picking up, responding to our lists and requests and making it possible for our guests to live a richer life because you take some burdens and expenses off of their plates.”

Mary Ellen shared 2017 accomplishments (2017 Report to Partners) and changes to life at Lydia’s House, including new Lydia’s House staff members Elisa (live in associate & volunteer coordinator) and Laura (occupational therapist), apartment building updates and plans for 2018. Laura presented on her new role and associated responsibilities, including guest intake, life skills building, and spearheading our aftercare program with former residents.

Credits & Special Thanks: Taylor Hand for designing the invitations; Kathy Aerni & Bellarmine Chapel for donating a beautiful, handmade quilt to each Lydia’s House guest.

M’s Baby Shower

Friends, family, staff and associates gathered at the house to celebrate the impending arrival of baby C. Hosted by a former guest, and catered by the guest of honor’s uncle, it was personalized and full of love. We played games and competed for prizes…

We tried our hardest NOT to say the word BABY…

We attempted to guess the mom-to-be’s belly diameter in # of toilet paper squares…

And we raced to come up with baby names A-Z…

A few of us made it into the winner’s circle…and, mostly, the rest of us were all gracious losers.

There were presents galore, a Bugs Bunny cake a la Anne, and plenty of baby snuggles.

Easter Celebration

Easter worship service children’s sermon

In a stroke of good luck, we enjoyed a sunshine and family-filled gathering. The kids, separated by age group, hunted for eggs scattered throughout the front, side and back yards and competed (not really… everyone’s a winner) for prizes – generously donated Easter baskets filled with toys, books, and crafts!

Check out some of our cute contestants:

What better reward to end the celebration with than a Chinese buffet? YUM to the YUM.

Credits & Special Thanks: Taylor Hand for the handmade invitations; Kasia & Heather for the awesome kids gift baskets; Sally for being our day-of volunteer extraordinaire; Maria for the desserts.

House Outing to African-American Art and History Exhibit

Lydia’s House guests, staff and associate volunteers took a trip to The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in downtown Cincinnati to check out The Kinsey African American Art & History Collection, one of the largest private collections of African American art, artifacts and documents- spanning 400 years of history, on display through March 3, 2018.

Amassed during more than four decades of the Kinseys’ marriage, the collection features work by Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence and Richard Mayhew alongside archival material related to Frederick Douglass, Zora Neale Hurston and Malcolm X.  The collection has been cited for three national awards, one of which includes the President’s National Award for Museum and Library Services.

The exhibit challenges and redefines African American identity and representation in history and the arts. We were amazed to learn of the many stories that span from even before the era of the Underground Railroad. It was a very powerful experience to share with one another.

As Bernard Kinsey shared during the exhibit’s opening reception, “We are honored to return to Cincinnati with an even larger collection that is especially important during these critical times for people to gain a deeper understanding of our history as a nation. The real history of African American triumphs and contributions should no longer remain a secret. It should explode into our collective conscience.”

Here at Lydia’s House, as we look from the past and into the future, we couldn’t agree more.

Beating the Winter Doldrums

Our proud graduate (middle) from Dohn Community High School! Guests, volunteers, staff and family members gathered to celebrate her success. And, of course, there was a celebratory house dinner complete with homemade hot fudge cake at the graduate’s special request.

Proud graduate and son strike a pose.

The birthday girl, all smiles, dressed up for her party at Lydia’s House.

Groundhog’s Day: A wacky, annual tradition at Lydia’s House. Because who doesn’t need a reason to celebrate in February? We played games, the kids ran around in (lots of) circles.

Anne made chocolate mousse with a Groundhog landscape on top (we forgot to take a before picture…), complete with green coconut grass, sour earthworms, and oreo dirt! It was amazing.

We set S.M.A.R.T. goals for the year 2018. What kind of change (s) do we want to see in ourselves and in our lives and how are we going to get there? Some, more literal, like on a bike…!

At this month’s worship service we learned about our namesake, St. Lydia, who always had an “open house” for missionaries. Her gracious hospitality was evidence of her faith and love for God. She was also a conscientious business woman who sold purple dye.

Some snaps from a newborn photo shoot with Baby T and big sister T (Photos taken by Julie Boehm).

As part of our advocacy initiative, Lydia’s House had the pleasure of hosting several local politicians including Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune (pictured above); Ms. Alea Brown, SW Ohio Regional Director in U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown’s office; Senator Cecil Thomas and Rep. Brigid Kelly.

We’ve had lots of guest transitions this month. Three move outs and three move ins!  This bunch sure loves to be silly and try new things! We are looking forward to spring and the new life that it brings.

 

A Lydia’s House Christmas Party

Survey the scene: grown-ups, children, Chipotle, presents, desserts of all shapes and sizes. It’s a joyful occasion, when former guests, current guests, volunteers, and staff come together to celebrate.

Behold the joyful melee!

 

Baby’s first Christmas!

 

Delight!

We ate our fill, played games, and gratefully received gifts.

This child was screaming with happiness about the shoes she received, but we couldn’t get a picture of it. Use your imagination!

 

This Starbucks giftcard will be put to good use by this coffee lover (the adult, not the toddler!).

 

A sassy play-mat for a juicy baby!

 

Stayin’ warm in “Frozen” gear!

 

Then karaoke began. Kaelyn kicked us off with “My Girl”.

 

Twinkle-Toes sang “Let It Go”, but no one could resist joining in the chorus.

 

Check out this girl band!

 

Little Anna-Kay raps, with support from back-up dancers.

 

We closed the night with a group Cha-Cha-Slide.

Another Christmas party bites the dust; fresh clothes and toys go to their new homes, wrapping paper and plates get cleaned up, and Chipotle leftovers are quickly consumed. We are grateful to Chipotle, for catering. And we are so grateful to all the folks who donated gifts, from Christ the Savior Orthodox Church in Norwood, and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Kenwood.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!