Be the Change #17 – Be Like Theresa

I’m always amazed at how small decisions can change your life.  When Al and I were planning our trip to Ireland in 2014, we decided to try to learn a little about Irish dancing and music before we went.  So, we showed up at the Harp & Fiddle one Tuesday night, thinking to get one Irish dancing lesson…and we liked it so much that we’ve been showing up nearly every Tuesday ever since.  We have lots of fun with the dancing (which, I might add, one does NOT learn in one lesson!), but the real gift has been the wonderful friends that we’ve made – including one of the most admirable women I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Al and I often say we want to be Theresa when we grow up.  Everyone should be Theresa when they grow up, or at least their own version of Theresa.  Theresa has been a Christian educator, the day-program director of a women’s shelter, a sponsor of refugees, and a founder and leader of ecumenical and social justice organizations.  At 78, she is still a fierce Christian soldier and social justice warrior.

Theresa came by her activism organically.  Her husband, Harry, owned a barber shop in Oakland for many years.  As barber shops often are, it was a social hub for the community.  People came not just for haircuts, but to play cards, check in on their friends and just generally hang out.    When the 2011 micro-burst destroyed the barber shop, Harry finally retired.   He and Theresa could easily have sold the lot, but they chose instead to invite local residents to turn it into a community garden, which still thrives.

Her career in Christian education started when she was asked to substitute-teach an 8th-grade Catechism class.  It was initially not  a good experience for Theresa nor for the students, in her telling, but one thing led to another and she ended up being a Director of Christian Formation in the Diocese of Pittsburgh for 24 years.

Her community and church ties put her in contact with people of different races, religions and social classes, deepened her understanding  of what we share as human beings, and ignited in her an unwavering passion for service.  This year alone, she is being honored as both a Jefferson Award recipient and a LaRoche College Distinguished Alumna award.  A partial list of her volunteer activities includes:

Current Board of Directors of Just Harvest, serve as Chair of Personnel Committee

Founding member of North Hills Anti- Racism Coalition Steering Committee

20 years Facilitator of Annual Interfaith Gathering

Founding Member of Call to Action Committee – 10 year service as a trainer on the National Anti-Racism, Ant-Oppression Program

Pgh North People for Peace- Member

PGH  Aids Task Force – volunteer “Power of One Award”

North Hills Ebony Women  – Member

Oasis Inter-Generational Tutor- Pittsburgh Public Schools   -5 year  “Star Award”

St. Benedict the Moor Parish member and volunteer for all Ministries-25+ years

Pittsburgh Celli Club Member & Volunteer

NORTH (Social Justice Collaboration)-Representative member of the NH Anti-Racism Coalition

AJAPO – Resettlement Program for African and Caribbean immigrants – Outreach volunteer

Thomas Merton Center –Member



Not a bad resume for a little old Irish-American lady who could walk under a 5-foot bar without even mussing her hair. And her granddaughter continues her activist tradition by running an annual “Pet Walk” event to raise money for animal rights, and serving on the Monroeville Foundation Board.

My point is not that you have to do as much as Theresa does (not many of us could!), nor that you have to be active in the same causes that galvanize her.  My point is that heroes (or “sheroes” as she prefers) like Theresa should inspire the rest of us to stretch ourselves in the direction of others, to go just a little beyond what we think are the limits of what we can give, to follow the light of our own compassion where it leads us.  Theresa didn’t start as a shero.  She started a wife whose husband owned a barber shop, and a mother of 3 who offered to help out with a Catechism class.  “I saw the need and tried to respond,” is how she modestly describes her experience.  Wherever you’re starting from, let Theresa inspire you to let your light shine in someone else’s darkness.

Be the Change #16 – Understand gerrymandering

Think back real hard to 9th-grade Civics.  You’ll vaguely remember a term called “gerrymandering.”  You probably haven’t thought about it since then.  But you should.  Because it is one of the reasons for the partisan divide in the United States today.

The chart below explains what gerrymandering is and shows 3 separate examples of how legislative districts can be created.


Grid 3 is what my own state of Pennsylvania looks like:  neither compact nor fair.  But both grid 1 and grid 3 can result in extreme partisanship.  Here’s why:  If you’re a Republican in a safely “red” district, you probably don’t have to worry about your Democratic opponent.  Your biggest threat is a primary challenge from the right.  So, if you want to keep your job, it is in your best interest to take extreme conservative positions, and refuse to compromise with Democrats.  The same applies for a Democratic congressman in a safely “blue” district.  It’s to his advantage to lean strongly left.

Grid 2 is less fair than grid 1, but it has the advantage of mixing conservative, liberal and moderate voters in one district. Your congressman (or woman) in that kind of district has more incentive to take moderate positions and to compromise with representatives across the aisle.

The best way to get districts that are compact, fair and hopefully moderate?  Take it out of the hands of state legislators who have personal biases in favor of their parties, and let a computer do it.  Here’s what that would look like in several strongly gerrymandered states.

Fairer districting would go a long way towards giving us back the kind of government we had between the 1950s and the 1980s.  Those of us old enough to remember the 70s and 80s can remember when Republicans and Democrats actually worked across the aisles and created compromises that benefited the whole country, instead of just their particular party’s interest groups.  If you’d like to see that happen again, you should care about gerrymandering.  Here’s a link to Fair District PA, a group that is working to create better legislative districts in Pennsylvania.

Be the Change #15 – Just Listen (part two)

In a post a couple of weeks ago, I challenged my readers to just listen to someone they know they don’t agree with politically, and let me know how it goes.  I tried this myself, and – somewhat to my surprise – it turned out to be one of the most interesting and enjoyable hours in my week.

I chose an intelligent, thoughtful co-worker who I knew had voted for Trump.  He and I had had a few arguments during the election.  I promised him that I was interested in listening, not arguing, and we sat down for lunch together.

I was surprised to learn how much we agreed on.  We both support America’s traditional alliances, like NATO, but hope to withdraw from military operations in the Middle East.  We are both wary of the United State being the world’s military police.  We would probably disagree about the extent, but we agree that our borders must be secure and immigrants should be vetted.  We both support President Trump’s plan to invest in infrastructure.

Ed thinks that most news sources are biased and unreliable.  But, here was what stunned me:  When he started saying, “The only news source I trust is….” I fully expected the sentence to end “Fox News.”  Imagine my shock when he said instead “NPR.”  NPR is my daily standard, too.  It was eye-opening for me to learn that we both listen to the same news source and yet draw many different conclusions.

I heard some things that disturbed me a little, too.  I detected some unconscious racism in some of the things that Ed said.  I was dismayed that he feels so unsafe that he carries a concealed weapon almost everywhere he goes.  I’m suspicious that school vouchers are a sneak attack on public education.  And I don’t think that Trump will bring our country the safety and prosperity that Ed and I both hope for.  But, I had promised to just listen and that’s what I did.  I’ll be honest:  It was really, really hard to keep my mouth shut.  But, I still don’t trust myself to argue without getting emotional.  So listening is what I can do right now.  And, overall, I was encouraged.

I was encouraged because our civil, rational conversation proved that it IS still possible for two American citizens who disagree to speak to each other that way.  And, folks, that is the only way we are going to get our country back.  As long as we’re just screaming insults at each other, we are serving the purposes of those who would divide us.

Did you try this?  If yes, let me know how it worked out for you.  If no, I urge you to gather your courage and listen to someone who disagrees with you.  I hope you find it as enlightening and heartening as I did.

Copyright 2014 Kathryn Bashaar | Design by | Adapted from PureType