Michelle’s Jericho Walk
Michelle is a community minister at Judson Memorial Church participated in our weekly Jericho Walk. Her thoughts are given below.
I came to the Jericho Walk a little bit excited, not knowing what to expect or who to expect, but feeling already that what we were about to do was important. I chose the immigration program at Judson because I felt very strongly about the issue, not from personal or family experience, but from exposure, I guess you could say. I worked with illegal immigrants during college on a local farm for the first time, and I saw how they lived and how they were treated. They were such an invisible population in Ohio, and yet they were everywhere. Then more recently, I went with a friend to deliver clothes and blankets to migrant workers, many of whom were illegal. When we took donations, we couldn’t mention their legal status in our very conservative church because people may not donate to illegals. It was everything we could do to get them to donate to legal migrant workers. But the illegal immigrants had incredible stories, and lived every moment of their lives in jeopardy — not only of deportation, but of illness. They went without medical care because they had no insurance and, of course, no documentation, so they felt they couldn’t risk it. Their survival was at risk, because they made so little money, were trying to support family in Mexico and came, often, with nothing.
So I didn’t know the stories of anyone going into 26 Federal Plaza that day — maybe their stories were nothing like the destitute migrant workers I knew about — but I knew the issue has become charged politically, and with that have come unreasonable and hostile laws followed by prejudice and that has resulted in a lot of fear among immigrants, and I am interested in that as much as a white native-born American facing no risk of deportation can be. Which is more interested than you’d think. I am committed to helping our country become more like it thinks it is, or, in other words, better at achieving its ideals as a free, generous and moral nation; a beautiful, diverse melting pot that guards human and civil rights. It isn’t. Every “right” granted has been fought for, tooth and nail, even for those born here. Or, prayed for. But never magnanimously given.
Now the walk was in its own way a beautiful thing, because of both the solemnity of the ritual and the location of it — the center of NYC, which seems like the center of the center — with people everywhere in need of our services, our prayers. Being Catholic by nature, I am a big fan of kneeling so approved of that; the prayer was perfect and seven times around that enormous city block, good heavens, that required some commitment. As I walked, I thought about who I was praying for — the people and the families, of course. But then I saw this white woman on the corner who looked slick, lawyer-like, and I thought, “Well, she’s got some power.” I thought about how small her window for compassion might be, when you consider what vies for its attention: ambition, money, status, family, a personal life. Five things that might come before compassion for the people in desperate need, even if she is, at heart, a decent person. When your own needs are met, others’ needs do not seem that urgent. You often say, “We’ll see what we can do,” when the person in need has no more time. So, I prayed for all those people in power, that their hearts would be moved, softened in unexpected ways as they dealt with those who weren’t.