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I Have a Hidden Basement (or Why I Joined the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center)

I have a hidden basement in my 1922-built house.  The floor in my kitchen pantry is a thick board that lifts up and opens to a ladder. Below is a 12’x12’ room with a concrete floor, open rafters, and exposed wiring. The single light bulb creates a cozy interrogation ambiance. Whenever the basement happens to cross my mind I often wonder this: Would I ever hide people down there?

I blame Corrie ten Boom.  My mom gave me her own childhood copy of The Hiding Place at a very young age.  I think I read about the secret room in the watchmaker’s house and Corrie’s sister Betsie dying in a concentration camp at the ripe age of eight.  But even now at 30 I ask myself: If Memphis went back in time and became early 1940s Netherlands, would I help my Jewish neighbors escape the Nazis?

I do this with a lot of points in history. When I go to museums I can’t help but take my own lived experience with me—the color of my skin, my gender, my religion, my age.  I look in the exhibits for people like me to see what they were doing. Sometimes I think it’s an egocentric and selfish practice, because certainly I ought to put myself in the shoes of the marginalized, oppressed, the other. But truthfully I look for the woman who looks like me on paper and consider her courage. She’s practicing civil disobedience or direct rebellion, pioneering in a male-dominated discipline, treating the forgotten with dignity, sheltering widows and orphans. What would I have done?

I can muse about a role reversal with the likes of Corrie ten Boom and Joan Trumpauer Mulholland all day but it’s a complete waste of time. The real question is where am I supposed to show up courageously right now in my own life?

This is why I joined the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center.

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It was time to show up, time to do more than post thought-provoking blog posts on facebook. After Ferguson, the question I’d pondered in the middle of biographies and historical markers blazed anew and soon my wise friend Ace voiced it aloud: If you’ve ever wondered what you would have done in the Civil Rights Movement, now is the time to find out.

Thanks to Ace, I knew my first step was becoming a member of the MSPJC. I joined in 2014 by donating $5 a month. It was a small amount but I’ve learned every little bit helps.

Justice is simply the right exercise of power so my best friend Civil Rights Attorney Bryan Stevenson is correct to declare, “The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth, it’s justice.” For over 30 years, the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center has worked to see power exercised rightly in our city and around the world. I’m proud of the work they do because their mission is to organize around important issues affecting the most vulnerable among us—issues those of us with means and privilege often overlook—and let the folks most affected by these issues lead the way in seeking change.

I’ll never need to hide a refugee in my basement, although with the current cultural climate on refugees I probably shouldn’t speak so soon, but this year I’ve finally begun to see where I’m supposed to show up against injustice.

It’s at protests and boycotts for Darrius Stewart because black lives do matter.

It’s giving money to support “Know Your Rights” workshops for immigrant communities taken advantage of by “notarios” masquerading as immigration attorneys and consultants. 

It’s supporting the Memphis Bus Riders Union when they say downtown trolleys for tourists shouldn’t take priority over hard-working men and women who need a bus to get to work from their neighborhood.

It’s giving money towards theater workshops for high school students needing to understand what to do when they’re stopped by police.

It’s advocating for women not only experiencing homelessness but also sexual abuse in unsafe shelters.

It’s giving tenants exploited by a neglectful slumlord a platform to tell the truth and get help.

Even though I can’t physically show up against the injustices above as much as I wish, my dollars given to the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center continue to do the work through passionate, smart, tireless organizers and faithful volunteers. This year I’m asking everyone to join this work by becoming #MyMSPJC sustainers. You can give any amount monthly, but I’d like to suggest $25. If you were planning to give me a Christmas present, please give a one-time gift to MSPJC instead. Let #MyMSPJC become yours. Join the justice movement in Memphis.

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