Thursday, February 21, 2019

Restore the Julia Morgan YWCA to its Original Intent: A Home for Women in Need

On December 17, 2018, Mayor Terry Tornek recommended that the city-owned YWCA, located next to City Hall, be used to house our homeless neighbors, many of whom live on the nearby streets. He noted that Centennial Place, the former YMCA adjacent to the YWCA, houses 144 homeless individuals and is what he calls a "good neighbor." 
Advocates such as the Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group (GPAHG) , the Faith Partnership to End Homelessness, and community leaders listed below, applaud the Mayor's recommendation. We believe that this property should be preserved and restored to its original intent—a home for those in need. 
On Wednesday, February 20, some Centennial Place residents and community activists held a candlelight vigil at the YWCA, praying that this property be used for God's intention, just as people prayed at Heritage Square South, where 60-70 units for homeless seniors were approved in December 2018.

Some history: This YWCA was designed by famed architect Julia Morgan, best known for designing Hearst Castle. She also had a heart for the poor and vulnerable and designed several YWCAs. Built in 1921, Pasadena’s historic YWCA has sat vacant for over 18 years. In 2012 the City of Pasadena, concerned about the lack of care and maintenance, invoked eminent domain, purchased the building and later began negotiations to convert the building as part of a proposed a 180-room  Kimpton hotel. A huge pushback ensued from the community and in 2017 the City Council unanimously rejected the Kimpton Hotel concept.
Why Supportive Housing?

Using this YWCA for supportive housing makes sense. Fortunately, funding is available for this purpose from federal, state and county sources. This would meet a desperate need for homeless housing in the City, especially around the City center. According to the 2018 homeless count:

·        677 people in Pasadena are homeless.
·        462 are living on the street.
·        104 are in families.
·        70% are men, 29+% women, <1 o:p="" other="">

Since the YWCA is across the street from Centennial Place, and since Union Station Homeless Services works with Centennial Place, Union Station could work more efficiently in both locations. Union Station has had over 45 years of experience successfully addressing homelessness in Pasadena and would commit to quality services and ensure permanent stability for residents

What are the Possibilities?

Historic Restoration –The developer should have experience and a successful track record in preserving historic buildings. Historic Resources Group, located here in Pasadena, could be hired to ensure its historic character is preserved. 

Historic  Preservation Stakeholders such as the Pasadena Heritage could to ensure that if any new structures are built on the surface parking lot, they would be respectful of the YWCA’s historic significance and architecture. The Rosalyn Hotel in Los Angeles is an excellent example of an historic site repurposed to help house those in need.

  Economic Development – In order to incorporate an economic development component, we propose the inclusion of a social benefit enterprise like a restaurant that would provide training/job skills to the residents of the YWCA, Centennial Place and other low-income individuals. Catalyst Kitchens and Homegirl CafĂ© are examples of successful enterprises.
Creating affordable housing brings economic benefits to the City. Developers of affordable and homeless housing in Pasadena are required to hire at least 20% of their workers, 20% of contractors locally and to purchase at least 20% of their supplies locally. Commercial developers do not have this same requirement. Heritage Square North generated over $6 million dollars into the Pasadena economy due to this policy. Another alternative is that  the City of Pasadena could relocate some of its five of- site office locations to this  building. Since the City owns this property,  it would not need to lease on another site.

 Open Space – It is essential that we preserve public open space on the eastside of the YWCA. We would only support a proposal that preserves the green space associated with the Robinson statutes and the Sister City trees. A new building, if added only be built on the surface parking lot on the south side of the YWCA lot.
This proposal ensures that YWCA would remain a landmark in the city, while meeting a genuine need– a fitting tribute that honors YWCA’s concern for  vulnerable people as well as the Pasadena’s community spirit and compassion.  We urge the Pasadena City Council to restore this historic YWCA, embracing the intent for which it was originally built and thereby helping to solve our City’s growing homelessness crisis.

Thanks you for your consideration of our proposal,

·        Pastor Sandy Olewine, First United Methodist Church of Pasadena

·        Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, Friends In Deed
·        Pastor Jon Stewart, New Guiding Light Missionary Baptist Church
·        Pastor Tera Little, Throop Unitarian Church
·        Pastor Connie Milsap, First UMC of Pasadena
·        Cynthia Kirby, First Baptist Church of Pasadena
·        Pastor Dan Davidson, Rose City Church
·        Nora Ames, Throop Unitarian Church
·        Taiji Miyogawa
·        Mercy Young, Fuller Seminary
·        Georgia Daniels, Orange Grove Friends (Quaker) Meeting
·        Gary Bagwell, Orange Grove Friends (Quaker) Meeting
·        Nina Rivina, Orange Grove Friends (Quaker) Meeting
·        Edie Salisbury. Orange Grove Friends (Quaker) Meeting
·        Sarah Eggers, Orange Grove Friends (Quaker) Meeting
·        Dr. Jill Shook, GPAHG

·        Dr. Anthony Manousos, GPAHG

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Ubuntu: Why Black Lives Have Mattered to Me

[A reflection given at ICUJP on Feb 15.]

Since Valentine’s Day was yesterday, I want to begin my reflection today by saying how much I love you all. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without you and without ICUJP. You have challenged, inspired, and supported me in my call to prophetic justice. You have been true friends in every sense. And I am deeply grateful for your love and friendship.
Love has many facets and one of them is an African concept called Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a Nguni Bantu term meaning "humanity." It is often translated as "I am because we are," or "humanity towards others", but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity." This is another word for love, the kind of love that creates community.
Since the transition to democracy in South Africa with the Nelson Mandela presidency in 1994, the term has become more widely known outside of Southern Africa. It was popularized to English-language readers through the ubuntu theology of Desmond Tutu. Tutu was the chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and many have argued that ubuntu was a formative influence on the TRC. As many of you know, Desmond Tutu was a friend of George Regas, one of the founders of ICUJP. I feel that ubuntu has played an important part in the formation and philosophy of ICUJP.
Today I’d like to talk about ubuntu in the context of “Black Lives Matter,” and particularly why some black lives have mattered tremendously to me. I am who I am today in part because of African Americans who have influenced me in profound ways.
Let me start with two movies that came out this year that illustrate the concept of ubuntu.
First, the Green Book, which has won lots of critical accolades, for very good reasons. This movie is based on a true story about Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx. Tony is so full of prejudices towards blacks he throws away cups that blacks have drunk water from. When he gets fired from his job, he is desperate for work and accepts a position driving Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershalla Ali), a world-class Black pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South. Along the way, they must rely on "The Green Book" to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism, danger-as well as unexpected humanity and humor, they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime. Their story embodies the meaning of ubuntu. This odd couple became llive-long friends and their friendship had a profound influence on their family and friends and now, thanks to this movie, on the world.
The movie The Upside is also based on a true story. It’s a comedy about a recently paroled African American ex-convict (Kevin Hart) who strikes up an unusual and unlikely friendship with a paralyzed billionaire (Bryan Cranston). This mismatched pair becomes friends and redeem each other’s broken lives. It’s again an example of ubuntu, how we need each other to overcome our limitations and become whole.
As I said before, my own life has been profoundly influenced by African American culture, and by African American teachers and mentors.
I grew up in Princeton, NJ, which is known as an elite university town, but my background was working class and immigrant. Neither of my parents graduated from high school. At an early age, I aspired to be a writer and a poet. I loved languages, especially Latin and Greek and French. I was fortunate that the town of Princeton decided to integrate its school system in the 1950s and I had many African American teachers and friends. Through these relationships, I came to love and appreciate the amazing musical and cultural legacy: Motown, jazz, and blues. This music was born out of suffering and joy and resilience and deeply touched my soul.
I also came to know and love a phenomenal African American teacher named Bill Cook. Son of a pastor, he was the valedictorian of his graduating class at Trenton State College, where he majored in English like me. Prof. Cook went on to teach English and Drama in the public school systems of Trenton and Princeton, NJ. After several decades of teaching at Princeton, he became chair of the Departments of English and African American Studies of Dartmouth. In addition to earning a reputation for being one of the most effective educators of his generation, Prof. Cook was also an accomplished poet, author, and production director. His work touched on African American and ancient Greek and Roman poetry and also explored the intersections of music and poetry.
I took several of Bill Cook’s English classes in high school and was dazzled by his teaching, his quirky humor and his brilliance. He was also very generous with his time, and I would often hang out with him after school and talk for hours. Sometimes we’d talk till 5:00 pm, discussing everything from Latin and Greek poetry to Ezra Pound and Charlie Parker. Cook helped me to see literature and the world from the point of view of those who are marginalized, those who have to be bi-cultural to survive.  Cook was one of the reasons I wanted to become an English teacher.
Bill Cook passed away recently, at the age of 83, and I am glad that I had a chance to write and thank him for the huge impact he had on my life.
Over the years, I have been influenced by a multitude of black teachers, poets, and artists. I could spend all day just listing them. Paul Robeson, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Spike Lee, Martin Luther King. And on and on and on.
During the past seven years, I have become deeply involved in the African American community in Pasadena, thanks to my wife Jill. Jill grew up in lily-white Orange county, in Yorba Linda, a community that virtually excluded blacks. But Jill was drawn to people of color, spent several years in Mexico and Latin America, and then moved to Pasadena, where she was mentored by an African American leader named John Perkins.
Perkins was so important to Jill that on our first date she spent nearly an hour talking about him.  No, I wasn’t jealous. I was intrigued. I’d never met a white person who was mentored by an African American!
Perkins is an American Christian ministercivil rights activist, Bible teacher, best-selling
author, philosopher and community developer. He is Co-Founder of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA). Despite being a 3rd grade drop out, Perkins has been recognized for his work with 16 honorary doctorate degrees. He has advised and/or served on Presidential Tasks Forces of five U.S. Presidents. He is the author of 17 books, including the best-selling, One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race.
Nearly twenty years ago Jill moved to the Harambee Center in Northwest Pasadena, which was started by John Perkins, and learned from him how to be a friend and an ally of the African American community. Soon after I married Jill, an African American pastor told me, “You realize, don’t know, when you married Jill, you married the city of Pasadena.” I feel that when I married Jill, I also married into the African American community of Pasadena. We live in Northwest Pasadena, the historically black area of the city. And that’s been an incredible blessing. I’ve gotten to know and work with African American neighbors,  pastors and community leaders who have inspired and challenged me in countless ways. We’ve worked together on issues ranging from housing justice to police accountability. I’ve learned much from the African American community about the importance of resilience, persistence, spirituality and community. We need each other in the beautiful struggle for peace and justice.
I’d like to end on a personal note.  When Jill and I got married seven years ago, Jill was 58 years old and had never been married before. Learning how to be married was a steep learning curve for both of us. We needed help and sought out counseling. The most effective help we received was from Sylvester and Carolyn Wiliiams,  an African American couple who became our marriage mentors. The Williams serve as ministers in the Pasadena Church which meets near our home. We met with them for twelve two-hour sessions over a six-month period  and went through a curriculum developed by Lake Ave Church. They helped to strengthen our marriage. Carolyn and Sylvester are amazing people: wise, funny, honest, and deeply spiritual. We’ve become very good friends and I thank God for this couple who have had  such a huge influence on Jill and me.
In conclusion, we need each other. That’s the meaning of ubuntu. Black, brown, peach-colored, grey. We need each other. Can I get an amen? We need each other.
I’d like to end this reflection with a question: How have black lives mattered to you? How have you been influenced by people different from you? What role has ubuntu played in your life?

This is a song shared by Bishop Kenneth Ulmer of Faith Central Bible Church (Inglewood) during an MLK celebration at Fuller Seminary. Bishop Ulmer said this song by Hezekiah Walker & LFC epitomizes the spirit of Ubuntu:

I need you, you need me,
Stand with me, agree with me,
We are all a part of God’s body.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.
It is His will every need will be supplied ….
You are important to me. I need you to survive.
I pray for you, you pray for me, I love you….
I won’t harm you with words from my mouth…. I need you to survive….

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Ending Homelessness in Pasadena through Homeless Housing

On December 17th (a night we will never forget), an incredible moral victory took place at City Hall: to address the need to house our City’s 677 homeless population, the Pasadena City Council voted unanimously to build 65-70 units of homeless housing (plus commercial development) at Heritage Square South! This city-owned property is located not far from our Meetinghouse, on the corner of Orange Grove and Fair Oaks, and was purchased by the City for affordable housing 15 years ago with HUD and redevelopment funds. If all goes as anticipated, a center for homeless seniors will be built on this site within 35 months!
This victory was the culmination of a campaign by the Greater Pasadena Area Housing Group (GPAHG) that started in March and has involved two prayer vigils, many one-on-one meetings with city officials, letter-writing campaigns (over 800 letters!), community organizing, careful research, and constant prayer.
On Dec 17 thirty people showed up to advocate for homeless housing. Before we had a chance to speak, the Council members made it clear that they agree with us that homeless housing needs to be one of the City’s main priorities. We were overjoyed and thanked them profusely!

This was a night when we felt God’s presence at work doing more than we imagined. Mayor Tornek surprised everyone by announcing his support for using the vacant YWCA near City Hall (designed by famed architect Julia Morgan) for homeless housing. This property had been considered for a boutique hotel, but the community rejected it. The Mayor’s surprise announcement was the answer to prayer. A dozen years ago, when Jill was a member of First Baptist Church in Pasadena, located adjacent to this YWCA, she led prayer walks around the site, asking God for it to be used for affordable and homeless housing. Some people (including the pastor) thought she was kooky, but God was clearly listening!

During this Spirit-filled meeting Council members expressed strong support for converting motels to homeless housing in every district and urged every City Council member to work with their constituents to make this happen. It was clear that our City Council is seriously committed to addressing the homelessness crisis in our city. They also made it clear that they are looking to us activists to support their efforts and to help Pasadena’s residents appreciate the benefits of homeless housing.
I told the City Council that our goal is to insure that at least 50% of our homeless residents be housed in the next five years. Mike Kinman, the minister of All Saints Church, whispered to Jill: “Why not 100%?” Indeed, why not? With God, nothing is impossible.

We have formed a powerful coalition consisting of community leaders that include Union Station, Faith Partnership to End Homelessness and other groups like the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (representing African American pastors) to work together to promote homeless housing through advocacy, education, and community engagement. For the first time, Union Station is hiring a full-time staff person to be an advocate for homeless housing!
Our faith-rooted approach in this campaign is very similar to that of our Quaker lobby Friends Committee on Legislation (FCNL). Like FCNL, GPAHG seeks the guidance of the Spirit in all that we do and appeals to the conscience of our elected officials. We are concerned about building long-term relationships with our leaders based on mutual respect, recognizing “that of God” in everyone, including our opponents. Like FCNL, we are not shy about affirming our religious/Christian roots, but we work in coalition with people of different faith traditions, and also with people of conscience who are not religious. Our goal is to help create what Dr. King called “the beloved community.”
We are very grateful for financial, spiritual and practical support of Orange Grove Meeting. When housing issues come up at the City Council, members of Orange Grove Meeting are invariably present, speaking out for justice and our homeless and low-income neighbors. OGMM have approved minutes in support of rent control, homeless housing, and other housing justice causes espoused by GPAGH.
GPAGH was birthed 20 years ago at the AFSC office in Pasadena and has always had a strong Quaker connection, thanks to Michelle White, a tireless advocate. GPAHG has recently been incorporated under the auspices of a new nonprofit called Making Housing and Community Happen (MHCH), started last fall by Jill Shook and myself. Our new nonprofit has takes a three-pronged approach: education, advocacy and community organizing. We are committed to housing justice and affordable housing. To learn more, go to If you want to become involved, please talk to us or email me at