The Story of Mission Resistance


root - Posted on 07 October 2009

by Lisa Gray-Garcia

"My name is Vinnie and I make a living with this," his hands were small and Columbian--coffee brown, each finger rippled with the struggle of homelessness, racism and poverty as he carefully unfolded a 12-inch cardboard sign upon which was meticulously printed black letters stating "Starvin Like Marvin." (A reference to one of the famous sayings of middleweight boxing champion Marvin Hagler.)

The indigenous circle of multi-lingual, multi-generational and multi-racial, youth, adults and elders in poverty who produce news rooted in community struggle, art and resistance known as Community Newsroom at POOR Magazine busted into laughter of joy and appreciation at the sight of his sign. Vinnie stayed quiet as his sharp, chocolate eyes scanned the room. Then slowly, tentatively, the corners of his mouth seemingly frozen in a serious stillness lifted to reveal a broad and beautiful smile. He shook his head in tandem with the laughter, and just for a miraculous second, almost unseen, barely caught, Vinnie seemed carefree.

In a powerful collaboration between The Race, Poverty Media Justice Institute (RPMJ) at POOR Magazine, Intersection for the Arts and the Mission Community Council, I and other poverty scholars in residence at POOR Magazine were blessed to meet Vinnie H, Carmen C, Jennalyn S, Rhonda C, Jon T, Carlos L, Raymundo S and many more folks that we at POOR consider poverty, race, migrant, gender, elder and/or youth scholars engaged in different forms of unrecognized micro-business (panhandling, recycling, day laborers, sex work, mothering) and survival.

Through this collaboration, entitled Mission Resistance as it focused specifically on mission based organizations and communities, folks like Vinnie were exposed to the revolutionary concept of poverty scholarship itself, launched by POOR's RPMJ, which honors and recognizes the scholarship of youth, adults and elders in poverty for the knowledge they hold, have earned and continually learn from lives of struggle.

Starting with the first magical day in March, POOR's RPMJ led over 35 scholars from several non-profit organizations such as Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, Delores Street Community Services, La Raza Centro Legal, the Iris Center and St. Joseph's Center through an intensive bi-lingual media, arts and organizing workshop in creative writing basics, media literacy, media justice, journalism and poverty scholarship called The Revolution Begins with "I".

"Your 'I' stories of struggle and survival, to stay housed, to stay employed, to feed your children, to fight systems that are in place to support you and often do the opposite, to find shelter, to keep your families safe and your children educated are valid and significant stories, important community media, and what we at POOR/PoorNewsNetwork consider revolutionary truth media," RPMJ co-teacher and co-editor, Tony Robles explained to the Mission Resistance class on the first day.

"I have struggled to be housed with no help from most of the services supposedly in place to help homeless people," Jon T, began his RPMJ "I am" exercise tentatively, wondering out loud if his story of struggle was valid, or was in fact even media...By the graduation ceremony of Mission Resistance 8 weeks later, he presented his story to get housed, fight eviction and eventually become permanently housed as a story of resistance and triumph.

"Your stories of struggle can cause change, can be tools of change, my experience of struggle with the welfare system has helped to change legislation that works against poor parents like me," co-teacher, poverty scholar and welfareQUEEN Vivien Hain inspired the class with her own poverty scholarship and media resistance.

"I was profiled, stopped and questioned just for being a brown man on my way to get a job," David M, a soft-spoken young man spoke at the third class of Mission Resistance, barely looking up from his small cup of hot tea. Working three jobs just to save money for housing, David was silently dealing with homelessness and racism while receiving services from Dolores Street Community Services. In addition to the actual struggle related to poverty, David was dealing with a silent and more brutal conflict, the shame associated with poverty, a shame that inhibits dreams, destroys hope and kills spirit. By the last class, a confident and focused David addressed the Newsroom with the subject of his investigative journalism project: "I want to write about the impact of budget cuts on mental health services for poor people of color in the Bay Area," he concluded without looking down.

Los Viajes/The Journeys - the Mission media of migration

"La revolucion comienza con migo!" (The revolution Begins with "I") called out Guillermo Gonzalez, co-teacher of the Voces de inmigrantes en resistencia program at POOR Magazine and coordinator of the Los Viajes project at POOR Magazine, a literary and audio anthology of peoples migration/immigration across borders all over the world.

Los Viajes was the concurrent project of Mission Resistance led by POOR Magazine migrant scholars. Taught in Spanish to migrant & poverty scholars from El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Laos, the Carribean and beyond, this project incorporated the revolutionary "I" curriculum as well as beautiful stories of peoples' journeys across borders and lands to help support their families and folks. Through literary and visual art, this project also introduces the UN declaration on Indigenous Peoples; a new lens on migration to migrant communities in the Bay Area and will continue with several workshops and performances until a formal release in September in tandem with the anniversary of the signing of the UN declaration on Indigenous Peoples.

"Yo soy madre inmigrante de tres hijos," (I am an immigrant mother of three children) Carmen, one of the members of Colectiva de Mujer of La Raza Centro Legal read an excerpt of her journey to the audience at the Mission Resistance graduation ceremony on April 8th. Carmen, who is struggling to feed her children as a working poor migrant mama, added with pride after reading her work of literary art and media resistance. "And, I, am a Poverty Scholar."

Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia, poet, revolutionary journalist, poverty scholar, welfareQUEEN, co-founder and executive Director of POOR Magazine/PoorNewsNetwork and daughter of Dee, is the author of Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America published by City Lights. She is also the Communications Director for Justice Matters.

POOR Magazine is a non-profit grassroots, arts, organization that provides media access, art and advocacy to youth, adults and elders in poverty in the Bay Area as well as on-site child care and arts education for children through the Family Project For more information about POOR Magazine's ongoing media, arts and organizing project go on-line to www.poormagazine.org and for more information about our education program for educators, professionals and community members at the Race, Poverty Media Justice Institute go on-line to www.racepovertymediajustice.org.

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