What my 50th high school reunion primed on Facebook

These are an original post with two follow up comments from the conversation on the original post:

From my Facebook :A comment on the picture of Doreen Thomas and I dancing at our reunion got me to thinking (I know…dangerous.)

As Selma Fearno Luetkemeyer can attest, the school district she and I were in the 1950’s where I attended most of my grade school, Jerseyville, IL, was all white, rural, southern Illinois. I do not remember any conversation in our house (a pastor’s parsonage) about race. We I am pretty sure were seeing some national news about the beginnings of the civil rights movement, but nothing is clear to me.

In 1961 we moved to Sandusky, OH for my 7th grade where my class was 500 with a significant percentage of African-American students. It was like from 0 to 100 mph about discussing race in our household. In early 1962 my mother was the only white teacher at the beginning of the Head Start program at Ebenezer Baptist Church. My father developed close relationships with African-American pastors as Jennifer Ashburn can attest. He and Jennifer’s dad, the pastor of 2nd Baptist Church developed a close relationship. (Where I believe you are pastor now, Jennifer, right?) At that point dad was the only white pastor involved interracially in Sandusky. I remember the conversation in our house about whether dad would go to Selma. He did not because of my mother’s fears. But then by 1964 we started receiving anonymous phone calls and letters warning dad to stay out of race matters in Sandusky. I do remember in the early 60’s in Sandusky there was great “scandal” over what was called the “Salt and Pepper Club” which was black young men and white young women meeting together along Columbus Ave in their cars in front of dad’s church, Emmanuel UCC. I think dad was approached both as a a minister and because of the proximity of the church building by some leaders in Sandusky to help “do something about this.” The insinuation being that the black young men were enticing the white young women into lurid activities (which was going on anyway in segregated settings among the students!)
I can’t remember thinking about asking out any African-American young lady, but then race had nothing to do with that lol asPaula Siegel Barone could attest to!!!! Awkward and tongue tied! I do remember always being struck by your beautyLynn Diana Daniels Amison-Dupree (I was out working in my garden after posting this and I heard in my head my daughters’ voices “Dad!”…and Lynn your beauty is still evident but I see online and saw this weekend in person it is more than skin deep) Not sure we ever even talked in high school. I suspect we talked far more this weekend then over the four years we were in school together. 

By 1966 things had really heated up for our family due to dad also publicly speaking out against the war in Vietnam and Jay Wagner the owner of WLEC editorializing that dad had been duped by Communists and the Sandusky Register not taking a position on it but covering the controversy with an above the masthead front page coverage of it. Then the anonymous messages began talking about killing. I was home alone that summer for two weeks as the rest of my family was on vacation because I worked in the city greenhouse and parks department. They left right after the newspaper article. I received the brunt of those phone calls and letters as a 17 year old. Also that summer Danny DuVall who is African-American and was the only close friend of mine who was black killed his step-father as he was attacking his mother. The older city employees I worked with were only concerned if he played football since he was black.

That’s why I say our household went from 0-100 in 4-5 short years.

In 1967 it was announced at school that the Ohio Beauticians Association was sponsoring a college scholarship contest based on giving a speech on the UN as a peace force in the world. That was right up my alley! So I applied. Our family found it interesting that the local Sandusky contest was at an African-American church which was just west of the high school and north of Strobel Field. I don’t remember the name. I was the only contestant. And the local folks were all African-American. In fact many knew mom and dad. So I was the official representative of the Sandusky chapter for the state contest which was to be held the summer of ’67 at the state convention in Springfield, Ohio. When we arrived, we were the only white folk among around 500 total. And for the contestants I was the only white among 13 and…the only boy! I won the 3rd place scholarship. I remember thinking two things that day. The unbelievable hospitality that we received both back in Sandusky and especially in Springfield. And as much as I could as a white in a predominant white culture/society, this is what black folk felt like racially often, but did they receive the kind of hospitality from white folks I was receiving from black folks. BTW, I remember to this day how good the fried chicken was at the meal afterwards and how they made sure our family was at the front of the line of all 500 because we were on our way to northwest Ohio for an extended family gathering.
I remember Rev. Ashburn’s family and our family getting together even after we left Sandusky. And there was that notorious time around 1970-71 where I had driven my brother Phil Loar and sister Ann Loar Brooks over to see the Ashburns and I lost our car keys and one of our parents had to drive over from Stow, Ohio where they had moved in ’69 with another set!

With ALL of that being said, I know in too many ways the very same issues that were obvious back then and were latent are still functioning among us. And I was fortunate to move to Sandusky in many ways but most importantly was about this matter of race. And to have had especially a father, Alton Loar, who seemingly on a dime due to the times and setting, as a pastor and a white man became almost a lone voice for a few years in Sandusky from within the white community on race.  

I am a white racist male because of the society we live in. I have privilege and opportunity that the young man I have mentored for three years years, Jovan Travis, has not had. And the strange awkward and yet deep conversation he and I had a year ago due to the circumstances of his family life, with a 6 ft 2 inch African-American male about caution and awareness due to the color of his skin, his gender and his size.

Some of you will say things are all better. They may be in some level. But I would say in many ways they continue and are different, yet racist. That is why we whites who react to being called racist are trapped in time in an awareness of racism that is based on legal segregation rather than systemic institutional racism. And truth be told the strange thing about Doreen and I dancing today compared to back then was due more to my social awkwardness than a matter of race. But I also know, the truth, it wouldn’t have been some outside social force that would have stopped me back then. It would have been my own insides which for as liberal and racially conscious as we were as a family, I could not imagine me as a white boy with a black girl.

Another piece of this I just remembered. In late August of 1966 dad was invited by around 5 industrialists/business men to a private dining room at the Hotel Rieger. Apparently this was a private meal they shared regularly. They basically told him to cool him and to quit messing with their town. He was flabbergasted.

Two bookend pieces to this experience. I went from a class of 3 in a one room school in a town of 200 in Wisconsin near Appleton for kindergarten to 2nd grade, to a class I think of 150 in Jerseyville in the 3rd grade, to a class of 500 in Sandusky in the 7th grade. My first grade year in Wisconsin I was home and not allowed to move out of bed for a year because of rheumatic fever. One other classmate had polio. So our remaining class member was a class of one for the first grade.

When our family moved to Stow in August, 1969 while I was in college, as the new minister in town for the community Thanksgiving service at the local Catholic Church, dad was invited to preach the sermon. The morning of the service the rectory received a phone call saying, “Don’t let that communist Loar speak in your church tonight.” He had only been in town from August to November. That was the first time we were aware of some “network” whether FBI or otherwise that was tracking dad.

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The pictures below are from my 50th Sandusky (Ohio) High School reunion. You can read how this unfolded below the pictures. 

I didn’t know Doreen Thoms well in high school. But at lunch on Saturday at the Dockside after our picture at the flower mound, we sat with each other and had a nice visit about Sandusky. She has lived here her whole life. I only did 1961-1969 and the last two years I was in college. 

As the band started the first song Barry Vermeeren and his wife started dancing. Shortly Doreen started walking across the floor using her cane. It looked like she was just passing through, but she stopped and started dancing. It came to my mind “this lady needs a dance partner” and thus this. The look on my face is as we were talking and dancing, I turned to see Joyce Finley Byington taking our picture. Thank you Joyce. This was a moment I appreciate was captured.

Yesterday at the brunch Doreen and I shared a hug. We apologized to each other for stepping on each other’s toes. Lol. And we thanked each other for the dance. This for me was one of the moments of beauty that the Sandusky High School class of 1967 reunion enabled!

What does it mean to be white in America?

The “Akron Beacon Journal” newspaper asked for comments in response to the question in the subject line of this post. Here is my response:

To be white in America means to live in a culture and society that has been set up historically to enable your race to not be a detriment for you. It is to live at some level in a naive racial cocoon that does not experience and thus cannot understand what the color of your skin means to your survivability. To be white means we must learn how people of color and particularly blacks have had to live in humility and still often servility. We whites act often as though our nation, our society and our culture provide equality. Whites have had privilege throughout our history as a nation. To say there is equality of opportunity in our nation means that those who are not white can try to squeeze in whatever room might be available beyond what we white folk have filled up. We think it means we all have the same starting line of opportunity and the same finish line. That is not the case because whiteness fills most of the space of our nation, culture and society.

The quiet path of change

Starting a reading binge at an easy pace of Thoreau, Thomas Merton, Aldo Leopold, Loren Eiseley, Wendell Berry, David Kline, ML King and Gandhi. The order of nature calls for simplicity and enjoyment. My bees. My plantings. Walks and hikes through the gift of nature and parks around here. Watching the birds at the feeders in the backyard.

I am reminded again of a truth I saw about my own life some 25+ years ago. With all the effort I was putting in to work for justice and peace in the world, my methods were creating a lot more of chaos than constructive steps for peace. My intentions were good but my methods created the opposite.

I don’t think we will overcome in this world what Trump is a symptom of by trying to “battle back” with force against force. I think we fuel the beast, add fuel to the fire that we are attempting to overcome and put out.

I am enraged, but rage & anger in and of themselves accomplish little other than leading to self-righteousness. As M L King said, it isn’t passive to non-violently resist. But just to be actively and continually resisting does not necessarily lead to the change I seek and hope for.

We need a reasoned, reflective resistance that is more dependent on a sacred Spirit than on self-will. Chaotic, flailing resistance/activity may create something more a kin to anarchy than true social change with the attributes of justice and peace.

The intracies of US immigration

What is a refugee?

Who are these people?

In the last few weeks by happenstance, I have learned a lot about the folks we tend to lump together on immigration conversations. This is what I have learned:

(I discuss undocumented immigrants farther down)

– Immigrants are folks who have applied through the US immigration laws and who fit into the categories and quotas that US laws stipulate. I know the least about these folks. They have to be extensively vetted and must have avenues already available to support themselves when they arrive here. They cannot have access for some time to governmental support programs. Citizenship I think is available in 7 years. (See more below in the two addendums which are from people who know more than I do)

– Refugees. There are 21.3 million refugees in the world in camps. The UN Commission on Refugees handles them all. Only 1% are considered viable to leave the camps due to the potential emotional and physical reality that refugees will face! 99% spend the rest of their lives in the camps. The largest camp is 250,000 people in Kenya. Most average around 20,000 to 40,000. Average stay in a refugee camp is 15 years. Many are women and children because when the threats arise that cause them to flee their town/country husbands/fathers are often at work or in the army or are taken by the forces that are attacking as prisoners or killed. Also due to the immediacy of the threat mothers will often also have to leave school age children who are at school behind because they do not have the time to go after them if they are to save their younger children who are with them. There is often no documents for these people and there is no central system of documentation. So even if family members survive, they do not know about their other family members who may be in another camp or even in their own camp. The US vetting process to become a refugee is a very thorough 2-3 years process which includes multiple interviews, physical exams, multiple background investigations and trip wires in the process to find any inconsistencies. It is hard to imagine how any more additional vetting will be found to go beyond what is already done. The refugees are shipped to various countries coordinated through the UNCHR. In the US their are 10-14 refugee agencies. Most are religious based. 1/3 in the US are through Catholic Charities. They arrive in the US with only 1 or 2 small backpack size bags per family of possessions. They are given 3 months of assistance to adjust. The law does not allow more than that by the federally funded refugee agencies. If there are special conditions, they can be helped up to 6 months. Many agencies have volunteers to help families adjust through the initial period and then beyond. I just went through the process to do that with the International Institute of Akron. Refugees have fled threats in their homelands of military, starvation, etc. They have access to social services and must apply for citizenship within 5 years. US law allows a minimum of 50,000 refugees a year. Presidents can make that number higher. Previous presidents have fluctuated up and down above that number for some time. Obama in the previous fiscal year (October-Sept) had allowed 86,000. For fiscal year 2017 he had allowed 110,000 because of the huge and growing number of refugees in the world. From October to January of this year 32,000 had arrived. In January Trump cut the number to the minimum of 50,000 which means from now until September only 18,000 more refugees will be allowed into the US.

– Asylum seekers. These are people who due to physical threat apply at the US consulates/embassies to have asylum in the US. I’m not sure about this process.

– Displaced persons are folks who are in their own country but cannot live in their homes due to various circumstances.

-Undocumented immigrants (which some call “illegal”). These are folks who come at least into the US through various means. A percentage cross the border. Most have come into the country legally through a visa, but overstay the visa and try to blend into our population. The Valbuena family that was deported from Akron this week to Columbia had been here legally under a visa to avoid a threat in Columbia. That visa expired and/or the situation in Columbia changed. On the front page of the Akron Beacon Journal today is the story of another family and I heard of another story of another Akron family where dad has been deported, mom may be and the 4 kids born in the US could be taken from her if she is deported. There are a number of undocumented among us in Akron, but due to the circumstances no group is tracking the numbers. The situations that cause these people to come here or stay here are varied. Often it is deep economic deprivation. It may be physical threat. They may not be aware of means to try to seek protection, they may not have time to seek protection, or the systems of our countries (where they come from and our country) simply don’t take into account their conditions and situations.

I cannot claim this is a complete or even fully accurate summary of the situations. It is what I have become aware of in the last three weeks in training to be a Welcomer/mentor for refugees here in Akron and through helping the Valbuena family. Most of the refugees allowed in now are from Congo since the Syrians are not allowed. There is a tragic and atrocious war going on in the Congo that western media has not given the attention because of our more directed national interests in the Middle East e.g. Syria. There are other such wars and conditions in other settings in the world that we in the US just don’t pay attention to though we think we are aware of it all and are sending so much aid to these settings. We aren’t

#Addendum 1 

David – within the category that everyone thinks of as immigrants, are legally two classifications: immigrants (that is the class that has obtained green card status) and non-immigrants (that is the class who are here temporarily through work, school, visiting – they get various visas to allow them to stay per the regulations that pertain to why they are here.). Some non-immigrants may be in the process of becoming immigrants, but until they obtain the green card, they are termed non-immigrants – a designation for temporary stay in the US.

Citizenship is available to green card holders after they have been LPRs for 5 years – if they have not spent a certain amount of time outside of the US.

The avenue to green card status for some legal non-immigrants that are here through employment can take over ten years because of the immigrant visa quotas assigned to their nation of origin. Likewise, US citizens sponsoring relatives in certain countries, are looking at over 15 years in some circumstances to wait for a green card for their family member.

#Addendum 2

So while the immigration process for immigrant/non-immigrant visa class holders here is not untrue, it is only a fraction of the possibilities which can take place. 

You are correct in that in all of these cases, a distinction can be made in that they are all supposed to be able to support themselves (or relative able to support them) or have a job offer lined up for when they arrive. The USCIS website is a great resource for looking at all these classes. There are different requirements for every class and various alternatives/different options. 

If you are staying here on a non-immigrant visa, you are categorized as an alien. The most common ways for an individual on a non-immigrant class visa to get an immigrant class visa is through their spouse/parents or through work. One has to apply for this process and the costs per visa class vary, although they are all in the thousands of dollars. If the person is applying for a work visa, usually the employer will pay this fee. This class transfer process can take a 2 months to years to happen depending on individual circumstances and how backlogged the USCIS processing facility is. If the person’s current non-immigrant class visa expires and they are unable to renew it, they are expected to return to their country until the new visa is valid. 

Only an individual applying for a green card through their spouse can apply for their own green card. Also, green cards are “permanent visas”. All other classes are non-permanent. They are called “permanent resident aliens” or immigrants, although immigrant is not entirely accurate in this case because they have not gone through the entire process of becoming a citizen. Anyway, a person who applies for their green card through their spouse must legally reside in the US and be able to financially support their self and their family. If not, they have to find someone who can sign that they can financially support them. 

In all other cases, a green card must be applied for by someone other than the alien, whether it be family or employer. This entity assumes all financial responsibility for the alien. This process cost is in the thousands of dollars and can take 6 months to indefinitely. Indefinitely because requests are processed by class of green card in order of when they applied and what country they are from. If the alien is from a country with a high volume of applicants per year, they are likely to wait a much longer time. Also, because the US restricts the number of green cards issued per year by a number selected seemingly by whim, this further restricts one’s chances. 

Also, if the alien is on a work visa, the employer does not have to ever apply for a green card. It is totally up to them. If the employer does file and the employee is terminated for whatever reason, the alien has 1 year to find employment on the same class of visa or both their work visa and green card application expire. 

Once a person has attained a green card, life is much simpler. If the green card is conditional, they have to apply for a permanent one after 2 years. Permanent green card holders renew every 10 years and this process is not bad either. After 5 years in most cases, The individual is able to apply for citizenship. 

This is really scratching the tip of the iceberg, but it gives you an idea, which is another reason why we need immigration reform.