Published on January 25, 2022.

Thinking about Generosity

One day last spring I looked out my window and saw a woman walking toward my house with two dogs. I assumed she thought our long driveway was a road and went outside to talk to her.

I found out that her name is Aileen and that she is a Baptist minister. When she asked what I did, I told her I worked for social justice and had founded Spirit in Action to train people to organize and lead a social justice movement. She smiled like she had just heard good news, and pointed to one of her beagles. “That’s Georgia Peach,” she told me, and explained that the new puppy was named in honor of the recent elections in Georgia that brought two democratic senators from the state into Congress. I laughed. I had opened myself up to a stranger and found we had an instant connection.

Aileen lives a couple of streets away from me and now we visit regularly. We love that we were brought together in such a serendipitous way and became immediate best friends!

How Generosity Begins

Her church rents their worship space and has raised enough money to build themselves a new church. But Aileen and her congregation has decided instead to use the money to create low-income housing. They also currently support several immigrant and people of color families in every way – financially, tutoring the children and driving them where they need to go. They collected more than 100 long-sleeved shirts last June so that Bethsaida and I could distribute them among immigrant workers communities in eastern North Carolina. (These were groups that are part of our TAKE 10 training and you may remember that we interviewed them over the summer.)

When we were talking the other day, I wondered if her church might be able to help out new friends of mine – a low-income family that lives down the road from us. I said something about all the charity work her church does and Aileen said firmly, “It’s not charity, it’s reparations.”

How They Make Reparations

Aileen said that if God gives us resources, so that we have everything we need and even more, giving away what we don’t need is what we are supposed to do. Yes, I thought to myself: It’s not poor people who ought to be giving – even though they are the greatest givers, per household income – but it’s people who have what they need who should be giving more. That’s reparations.

Reparations means not just an accounting for the horrors of slavery, but the systemic poverty and disenfranchisement that people have suffered as a result. Wealth given to charities isn’t always directed to the right people!

It makes me think of an elderly friend of mine who was really fretting and struggling to define what real reparations would mean, and what it would take to make reparations, before she died. This is a woman who was very wealthy and though she had profited from slavery and the poverty and low-incomes of workers, she lived frugally and shared freely. She gave away half of her property and most of her money. Her children have continued her legacy of giving to progressive causes.

After talking with Aileen, and thinking about how she defines reparations, I would say to my elderly friend today, “You were making reparations your whole life through your endless generosity.” I think it would be an eye-opening moment for her, as it was for me.

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