Each term, one participant from each HECUA program takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Elle Nelson is HECUA’s student blogger for the Inequality in America program this fall. Elle is a student at Bethel University, majoring in Biology and Reconciliation Studies. Read on her for next post!
The mornings that Julia Dinsmore joins our class are truly something special. Julia Dinsmore is one of HECUA’s community faculty. She brings with her a spirit of energized connection that makes those around her recognize each other. She greets us at the door of Dreamland Arts with open arms. On November 21st, I rang the doorbell after my routine commute to class. On that morning, I was lucky enough to be greeted by a big smile and a warm Grandma Julia hug. The chilly November air billowed through the open door behind me and surrounded us, a group hug of sorts. Me, Julia and fresh air.
I knew from the assigned reading that this Thursday was going to be a special day in class. Our assignment was to read Julia’s book, My Name is Child of God: Not Those People. Her book is about her experience growing up in the working class in Minneapolis and her experience of surviving in poverty throughout her life. She brilliantly laces her stories, poems, and songs with raw emotion and the authenticity of her own voice. What an honor it was to read a book so personal, yet so unfortunately common. Not to mention the privilege of finishing a book followed by a conversation with the author herself.
Once everyone got settled amongst each other, that same Thursday morning, we started with Julia. She told an incredible story from her past, which I will refrain from detailing here. She closed the story with a song she had written some time ago. She told us the story behind the song and invited us to join in. She coached us through the lyrics and the tune. At this point, once we were united through Julia’s song (see here her spirit of connection showing up) we began to discuss the reading we had been doing. It was clear that everyone had come away with some major takeaways. Our class is usually a pretty quiet class with a good handful of internal processors. But on this day, everyone had something to say. Well, maybe it was because we went around the circle taking turns sharing our insights…everyone had to share. But that’s besides the point. After everyone shared what they had learned, genuine reactions and even self-realizations surfaced. It became clear to me that her book is equipped with the capacity to facilitate connections between her story, broader narratives, assumptions and even personal connections.
To make this conversation even more rich we had spent the last week or so grueling through systemic pathologies that perpetuate and protect the poverty and homelessness industries in America. We’ve read a lot. We visited St. Stephen’s shelter and participated in “A Day in the Life” tours and, as previously mentioned, read Julia Dinsmore’s book. We learned about some mechanisms that create such environments, who benefits from people suffering in homelessness and poverty, and how it stays covered up despite the enormous amount of people affected.
The housing crisis is one of the major feeders of homelessness along with low-wage jobs and screening technologies that throw out applicants with eviction records. The homelessness crisis right now is just that, a crisis. A Minnesota homelessness study done by Wilder Research counted over 10,000 people experiencing homelessness on September 26th 2018 in their Single Night Count of People Experiencing Homelessness. Almost half of the homeless population (46%) are youth aged 24 and younger. Additionally, there are three groups of people that are over-represented among the homeless population: African Americans, American Indians, and youth who identify as LGBTQ. The gravity of this crisis is huge, especially with the brutal Minnesota winter busting in.
Julia Dinsmore reveals how well covered and unacknowledged the structure of classism really is in America. She reveals the insidiousness of how classism mutates interpersonal relationships across class divides. From my perspective, this book prompts us to engage with the underbelly of America. It prompts us to listen to the people who are living their lives there. It prompts us to recognize the humanity of people experiencing poverty. It prompts us to uplift human dignity with basic human respect to all people, but especially to those who go unacknowledged by the masses. This book teaches us to see people experiencing poverty as beloved people, just the same as you and me.