It's Political: Deemed Unworthy and Unsightly

In Uptown, some people are deemed unworthy and unsightly at the expense of those considered worthy and highly favored! They are judged because of how they look! They are condemned because of their pasts! They are criminalized because of who they are, not what they’ve done! They are marginalized and not given a voice! When someone faces such judgments and actions, it is traumatic and heart-wrenching, making what shouldn’t be political, political.

This post is part 3 of my "It's Political" series.
In part 1 I looked at my own journey and self-realization from working with those experiencing homelessness. It struck me how what shouldn't be political became political because acts of compassion and generosity are met with contempt and policy. Here's the link: It's Political: My Own Self Realization!
In part 2 I looked at how mass incarceration and the criminalization of the poor makes what shouldn't be political, political. Here's the link: It's Political: The Punishments Do Not Fit The Crimes!

Repeatedly, throughout the years, I've seen how decisions are made to favor those with money, power, and property! Not only that, decisions are intentionally made to make life harder and more traumatic for those already struggling. Decisions are made to appease and gratify those with wealth while ignoring and silencing the voices of those who feel they’ll never be heard at all. This is the never-ending struggle of a gentrifying neighborhood like Uptown. It is the eternal battle of rich and poor coexisting, where the elite win favor and get catered too, while the poor are continually being ignored, forgotten, ostracized and criminalized. It’s always been the case since the dawn of time; those with money and power are heard and pampered, while those without are left voiceless! 

Don’t think this is just an Uptown thing! It’s a world thing because whenever there’s wealth disparity, the elite finds favor and are listened too, giving them the power and privilege! I hate to say it as a follower of Jesus, but it also runs rampant in churches. Unfortunately, we see the same favor happening to the rich and powerful while snubbing those already snubbed. It sadly comes down to who can tithe more and use their influence, while intentionally or unintentionally rejecting those already rejected. Jesus Himself, Paul and James all saw this and challenged this hypocrisy with harsh words, highlighting how the Kingdom of God and churches should not conform to the pattern of this world. They call us to become new creations; by lifting up and loving those the world loves to degrade and hate! Christians, like Jesus, are called to let those on the margins know they are worthy and highly favored by our loving merciful God.

These contrasting displays of neglect and favoritism are prevalent in Uptown! You don’t have to look hard to see the discrimination on one side and the blatant preferential treatment on the other. It hurts me to see this, but more importantly, imagine how much it hurts and traumatizes those affected by all these prejudices! It makes what shouldn’t be political, political! 

Let me give you a few examples of how favoritism and discrimination has and is corroding Uptown, making what shouldn’t be political, political...

Firstly, in Uptown, actions have been taken to exclude and discourage; basketball rims have been taken down, bus stop benches have been ripped out and the police came in droves to evacuate those in tent cities along with their belongings! Such actions make what shouldn’t be political, political!
  • The reason for removal is safety and the excuse being that rims, benches, and tents cause loitering, drug abuse, violence, and gang activity. 
  • The reality is that these 3 things are deemed unsightly and unworthy by our alderman and many of the public who pass these areas. They don’t want to see homelessness and poverty in their own backyards. Oh, the bitter cries and whining of my wealthier neighbors feeling traumatized because they had to walk past tents on the way to the beach. 
  • The result is that local kids no longer had a hoop to shoot a ball into (protests resulted in them being put back up). As a few of my FB friends have documented and photographed, it also resulted in older and disabled folks have to sit on the cold hard ground waiting for their bus. The removal of Tent City has resulted in people having to find porches and hallways to sleep in, which results in them being alone and a higher probability they’ll be bullied and criminalized. 

    Frenchie... Gone, but not forgotten! 
Secondly, Uptown has a sad history of slamming programs, organizations, and ministries that help those deemed unworthy and unsightly. This is often done by using their political privilege, block clubs, and their so-called inclusive committees that are highly exclusive. Through using such tactics, we’ve seen the likes of the Salvation Army food truck, SROs, subsidized housing, clinics, and homeless shelters judged and put through the ringer time and time again. Programs have ended, buildings have shut their doors, food trucks have been forced to leave and funding has been cut due to these exclusive clubs and political inner workings, where the voiceless have no way to make their voice ever be heard. Such actions make what shouldn’t be political, political! 
  • The reason for this prejudice is simple! They feel agencies bring a negative element into the neighborhood, compromising any sense of safety and sanity they want to feel. Again, there’s a different set of rules for the poor and homeless as they feel they attract alcoholism, drug abuse, gangs, violence, and loitering. 
  • The reality is that these organizations are also deemed unworthy and unsightly by our alderman and many of the public in Uptown. They don’t want to see homelessness, mental illness, and addictions in their own backyards (while excusing their own of course), so instead of providing solutions, they cry for evictions. Their answer is to shove them out of our Ward and into another. The Salvation Army food truck faced this when they were being forced away because feeding the hungry is just “putting a band-aid” on a greater issue. It doesn’t help property values when poor hungry people line up to get a bowl of soup. Thankfully the complainers didn’t get their way, because many in the community rallied together and we saw one of the biggest 46th Ward protests in front of Cappleman’s office. Uptown’s blatant discriminatory tactics and nimbyism were shown to the nation that day! 
  • The results of these actions are often tragic and the examples are many. Because of homeless men looking unsightly we at CCO had funding cut in 2004, and as a result of our men’s shelter closing, chronically ill Nick retreated to a park where he passed just weeks later. Zoning was the tool years later, where we had to close an older men’s shelter, this resulted in men like 86 year old Humberto having less rest and more strain on their fragile sick bodies. Just this week the closing of the Wilson Men’s Hotel looms near, an SRO judged and harassed for decades for housing men deemed unworthy. Men like Bart (who is legally blind and 84) and Joe (who just suffered cardiac arrest) aren’t moving into homes, but shelters, where their health will be seriously compromised. And what about the block clubs trying to nix the development Sarah Circle was making to assist more women experiencing homelessness? These are just a few of the many examples. Such moves cause greater suffering and trauma to an already traumatized people! 
Thirdly, this Ward also has a reputation for slamming and shaming individuals who the so-called elite deem unworthy and unsightly. The police are frequently called and their faces are plastered all over the internet. Just as a small town sheriff treats an outsider and tells them to leave town or else, I know one particular lady who has been told by our alderman she’s not welcome here. Many of our brothers and sisters experiencing homelessness feel that same rejection. Such actions make what shouldn’t be political, political! 
  • The reason once again comes down to fear and their illusions of safety. Their excuse is how many times they’ve been arrested, the fact they stand on the corner, they may be addicted to substances, and possibly struggle with mental illnesses. Through the use of the internet (their propaganda tool) they present these women and men as subhuman, as magnets to gangbangers and violence, and people unable to be redeemed. 
  • The reality is they don’t want to see them in their own backyards. They want them gone! They want them to disappear. They fear they’ll wreck their idealistic view of what they think Uptown should be. I know many of these individuals personally. I know their struggles and I see how, against all odds, they keep moving forward. I know they don’t like to be watched and bullied by so-called “concerned citizens” and "positive loiterers". I know they have goals, dreams, and want peace, just like all of us. 
  • The results are often unnecessary arrests, exclusion from housing possibilities, delayed assistance, and all the trauma and setbacks that come from Mass Incarceration and America’s infamous “War on Drugs”: I already wrote about this in depth in “The Punishments Do Not Fit The Crimes!” Yet, two things the “powers-that-be” in Uptown are ignorant about are how resilient the ones they pick on can be and how strong a community of forsaken brothers and sisters can be and will continue to be. 

Do you know what blows my mind? 
  • The resilience and strength of those deemed unworthy and unsightly.
  • The hope and faith of those deemed unworthy and unsightly. 
  • The love and compassion of those deemed unworthy and unsightly. 
Do you know what makes Uptown, Uptown? It's not the gangster politicians, their deceptive committees, or the block clubs, it's not the exclusive favoritism, it’s the resilient people coming together, loving each other, and keeping hope alive! It’s a community of people who’ve been deemed unworthy and unsightly, willing to rise up together and say, “we’re worthy, we will not be bullied, and we will be seen because we’re human beings who deserve to be heard. We need love and respect too!”   

Even though the negative forces are strong and seem overwhelming. Even though our thuggish politicians offer nothing but despair, I want to end on a positive note. I believe in the power of people coming together. I believe in the resilience I witness every day. I believe there are people of compassion and mercy in this world of exclusion and retribution. I believe in the loving God who sent His Son to die and rise again for us. I believe Jesus came to embrace and offer hope to all who've been rejected and brutalized by those with money and power. This gives me hope!

Good things happen when people come together and speak as one voice. Protests, marches, and movements for the "least of these" have resulted in positive change. Shelters (like Northside Housing) have remained open, other shelters (like Sarah Circle) have been able to expand, the basketball rims were replaced and the Salvation Army Food Truck still serves meals. 

Last year Uptown Tent City was evicted, causing so much pain and grief, but because caring people came together and gave power to the people, positivity came out of it! Politicians used what happened to toot their own horns and now use it as leverage in their campaigns, proclaiming they are the ones who brought about the success! Let's look at the reality though; the 75 women and men who successfully moved into housing did so through a network of people fighting with and for them. Without all the activists, outreach workers, case managers, clergy, and countless concerned citizens who sacrificed their time and money for the sake of their neighbors living in tents, none of this would have happened and they would have vanished into the homeless vortex. 

If you don't believe me, ask them yourself, most of them are willing to share their experience. Robert (who lived in one of the tents) came to see me today. He told me that if it wasn't for us (he named a few specific people who'd made it happen), he'd either be at the bottom of Lake Michigan or struggling to survive in Chicago's homeless wilderness. He wasn't joking and he finished by thanking us for seeing him as someone worthy to be seen and for saving his life! 

Robert's testimony teaches us that good things happen when people go against the norm and love their neighbors! You can't protest without being concerned about the individual and you can't love if you're unwilling to resist the powers-that-be. Jesus taught us that too. When the religious leaders brought the woman caught in adultery to him, he didn't say "I love you" and walk away. No! - he knew she was in danger, so as an act of resistance he stuck by her and pointed out their hypocritical judgemental ways.

Uptown is full of stories of hope like Robert's! Most days I talk to people who've been deemed unworthy and unsightly, but they've found hope and love in the midst of it all. They keep my faith in humanity alive. The community won't let them fade into black! 

Within the past week, I've had the honor of speaking to and helping 3 people who've been plastered all over the local websites. Their mugshots, arrests, and convictions are displayed for all to see and scoff at. The police have been constantly called on them by "positive loiterers", who use their phones and keyboards as weapons. Yet, just like Robert, these 3 are making giant steps forward and hope is alive and well. Two of them were recently housed, and the other has reunited with her family. They inspire me, they're sober, they know they're loved by God and they're not letting the discrimination they've faced bring them down. 

This gives me hope and shows me that politics and politicians do not need to have the last word. These 3 wonderful human beings show that change happens thanks to those in the community that say "welcome" and lets them know redemption is possible. Change is happening, thanks to all who continue to fight on the ground for them, challenge the "powers-that-be", show them compassion and let them know that they are loved. 

One of these 3 is the lady I mentioned above, who's been dubbed unredeemable and told she's not welcome in our Ward. When I was talking to her, she told me something that made me ponder! How I should respond more lovingly to those in need? At first, she thought I didn't like her because I didn't say "hi" or acknowledge her. This challenged me because when someone's been judged unworthy and unsightly for decades by countless people, they start believing it too. They think they're unworthy. They think they don't belong. It's up to us to change the script and let people know that they're equal, they're loved, they're worthy and we take delight in seeing them.

I want to close with this word from the book of James, letting us know that Jesus loves the poor and hates displays of favoritism and neglect! Therefore, our call, our challenge, (especially if we call Jesus "Lord"), is to embrace and include those who are discriminated against...


"My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?"
(James 2:1-7)
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