A couple months ago a guy named Scott Axtmann brought a great group of interns from his church (Renaissance) to visit our kitchen facility at Amos House. We did the things we usually do—greeted the trainees, chatted with our chef and other staff, then sat out in the dining hall to talk more about mission and share thoughts about resettlement, the job market, and being a part of positive change in our city.
This is an aside—but if you live in driving distance of Providence and are interested in our work, you should stop by for this kind of tour. Plan to come after 5 on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. If possible give us a couple weeks warning. A tour doesn’t take long, but seeing something with your own eyes usually takes the strangeness out of it. I know we are intense and painstaking about the way we make granola, but making granola is still not rocket-science. Neither is job training. What I always find mysterious in our kitchen (though I know we’ve also been painstaking about creating this atmosphere too) is the laughter shared by a group of trainees and staff who don't even share a language. This is always the thing that reassures me that we are doing something right. But please take this as an open invitation. These tours are part of our mission to connect more people with refugees. Our organization may lack a lot of things, but we’re rich in relationships with former refugees and would love to share our wealth with you.
Anyway, during that tour Scott challenged me in the style some faith leaders have perfected—encouragement that leads to self discovery. In this case, he created space for me to say something I hadn’t intended to say. The gist went something like this:
Scott (to the interns): Keith writes a [something flattering here] blog for Beautiful Day about immigration and refugee resettlement.
Me (grimacing): Oh thanks Scott. Actually I’ve hardly been writing anything this year.
Scott: Really? Why not? You should be. [Then, to the interns, some thoughts about how critical it is for people of faith to welcome refugees and what a privilege it is. Scott has a contagious enthusiasm about our city that I love.]
Me: Honestly, I feel like I’ve lost my voice over this last year. I’m really struggling with it.
Scott: You had better get it back.
Then suddenly we all had to go.
That was back in July and I've been chewing on this ever since. I’m pretty sure I intended to answer his question by complaining about how busy I am, how many hats I need to wear. These things are true and I say them all the time. Saying I lost my voice instead provoked me to think about what’s happening to or in me. Beautiful Day works with marginalized people who, for the most part, are hidden and voiceless—most obviously because they don’t speak English and don’t yet understand much about American culture, but also because they’ve had experiences of being chased away, silenced, discarded, warehoused. We live in a country that has welcomed them, yet is also growing more ambivalent and sometimes openly hostile to them. I believe we all have something critical to learn from these voices.
So how can I possibly advocate for voiceless people if I don’t have a voice myself?
And another thought: isn’t saying I’m voiceless another way of saying I’m afraid. What am I afraid of?
But, okay, Scott. Thank you both for the compliment and the invitation to think. Here’s my idea. I’ll try to start writing more often. I know I need to do this right now if only because we are heading into the holiday season when we hope (need!) to sell about 75,000 dollars of granola in 3 months. These sales are vital to our training program, so I need to be connecting and resonating with our customers.
(And, a sideways invitation here: as part of this sales initiative, we are currently launching efforts to increase traffic to our website. Part of what helps attract traffic is interaction, so if you appreciate anything in this blog and what Beautiful Day is doing, please speak up and comment either here or on our Facebook or Instagram feeds. It’s okay if you disagree as a long as you’re not trolling. A voice isn’t very real until it's in dialogue.)
Along the way, maybe I can try to figure this out by writing it out. I know one of my fears is that I just can't write an Inc-style business post where I try to play the confident hipster entrepreneur and wax eloquent on how great our product is, how well we are doing, how hard we work, and which fancy apps we use. Something about who I am and about working with voiceless people makes that impossible. Nor can I promise that it will be consistent or coherent or polished. It will need to just come out of what’s in my head at that moment with what time I’ve got available. But I’ll give it a try. Maybe I’ll rely on some of the internet’s favorite formats like top 10 lists. But I’ll try to let it be a real voice. I suspect I’m not the only one trying to retrieve theirs these days.