Offering Support and Love on Juneteenth
Juneteenth is a day for celebration, marking the end of slavery in the U.S. This year, it was also a day for grappling with the strides still needed for true racial justice in our country. For two officers in The Salvation Army’s Metropolitan Division, it was a day to come alongside a new generation of African American leaders and show love and solidarity with people of color in their neighborhoods.
Captain Amanda Keene spent Juneteenth passing out water and face masks at a march for racial justice from the Merrillville High School to the police station. “It was so hot, but so good,” she said of the sweltering day.
Captain Amanda heads the Gary-Merrillville Salvation Army Corps Community Center, a community that’s about 80 percent African American. She also sits on a committee at the Merrillville school district with other faith-based leaders, all invited when the state of the schools made local leaders realize something needed to change. “It’s a great collaboration,” Captain Amanda said.
A committee leader emailed all the members to let them know that a recent high school grad was organizing a march, in case anyone wanted to get involved. Captain Amanda was one of the few who responded.
She called the young woman organizing the march and simply asked, “How can I support you?” The woman hadn’t organized a march before, so Captain Amanda asked what they were doing for water for the participants and garbage collection during the event. When she was met with silence, she said, “Let me take care of it.”
So Captain Amanda and a couple staff and volunteers manned a table that day passing out water, Gatorade, garbage bags, masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. And she walked with the estimated 200 people who made their way from the Merrillville High School parking lot to the police department, where organizers calmly stated their case for transparency, reallocation of funds, and other specific items to help further racial justice in their community. “It was such a beautiful thing,” Captain Amanda said. “I feel better about the future now. They’re going to get it done.”
“It” being needed strides toward racial equality. “My neighbors have been dealing with injustice long before COVID and George Floyd,” said Captain Amanda. “This is what our neighbors eat, sleep, and breathe.” While she works diligently to serve her neighborhood with after-school programs, a food pantry, and community meals, Captain Amanda also said, “It’s not enough to hand out food and pay someone’s rent. We have to do something about systematic injustices that cause our community members to need help.”
“The Salvation Army is a community where you can come and feel safe, known, and supported. We’re here to fight with and for you.”
The march organizer certainly felt that support. As they were texting after the event, the young woman wrote, “Thanks for your allyship. It’s good to know you’re here to support us.”
Captain Amanda, pleased by this response, said, “This is what the Army looks like.”
Love in Action
Major Wendy Faundez spent Juneteenth with a teen girl delivering food boxes to shut-ins in their predominantly African American and Hispanic neighborhood. “We went out to show love,” she said.
Major Wendy, who heads the Joliet Salvation Army Corps Community Center with her husband Dan, also showed that love on the heels of George Floyd’s death when they hosted a prayer meeting on the lawn of their community center. They wanted neighbors and passersby to see their concern over the ongoing racial injustice. Since then, they’ve been doing prayer walks in their neighborhood. “We’ve had good conversations and transforming prayers,” Major Wendy said.
Love has also fueled the Majors Faundez throughout the pandemic, during which they’ve been spending nearly all their energy serving the growing number of neighbors showing up at their weekly food pantry. Prior to COVID-19, they would see about 60 families each week. Now they serve between 250 and 300 weekly, nearly all of them their Brown and Black neighbors.
So when Juneteenth rolled around, they decided to keep doing what they’ve been doing: loving their neighbors in tangible ways. Major Wendy asked a young African American woman she just started mentoring to join her as she made food box deliveries to two men who live in the local tent city, a Hispanic gentleman, and three elderly African American women, one of whom is facing a possible cancer diagnosis. The teen, who is from their after-school program, has promising leadership skills, Major Wendy said. She looks forward to helping her explore her potential.
Major Wendy looks forward to investing in other young people this summer as well, at a series of outside events with local youth and police. They plan to play games, share experiences, and ask questions. “We want to make it a gathering marked by openness,” she said.
As those plans take shape, they continue to meet the needs at hand, hoping more volunteers will join them in loving on their neighbors in need.
“Joliet is a hard area,” she said. “People get scared and turn away. But this is the safest place to be, working alongside our neighbors. My prayer is for God to raise a people to be his hands and feet serving those who really need it right now.”