Small Stones Interview: A Civil Rights Lawyer

“I’m definitely one of the people who didn’t realize how fragile everything really was…”

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Image via The Seattle Times

Our third Small Stones interviewee has requested anonymity. She is a civil rights lawyer actively working on what we non-legal minds like to call The Legal Resistance (hey, it sounds cool). We hope this interview will be just her first foray into educating laypeople about what’s going on in government and the implications it may have for our lives.

As you might expect, she’s experienced some pushback, and therefore we’ll be keeping her identity under wraps. Though we can’t tell you who she is, we’re happy to be able to publish our conversation in full below. Read on to find out what keeps her heading into work each morning, despite some very real misgivings about where the system is headed.

Small Stones (SS): How would you define what you do? I’ve been poking around your firm’s site, and it seems like you deal with a lot of good things!

A Lawyer (AL): I say I’m a civil rights lawyer, but I also do workers’ rights and consumer protection. I do a lot of “this looks important and interesting and like I could be useful. I’ll do that for a while.”

SS: That’s actually an excellent segue to my most pressing question. How are things different for you all, day to day, under this administration?

AL: A few ways, I think.
 First, when everyone thought Hillary would be elected, we had all of these plans about how we would push forward and make the world better, and we still have those, and some of them are still viable. But a lot more of what we do now is trying to protect the status quo.

With Scalia’s death and the new appointment, we were gearing up to try to get a bunch of things before the Supreme Court
, and now we’re on the defensive. And that’s true with everything.

SS: As a layperson, it’s been a bit disheartening to see how many governmental norms are really dependent on everyone agreeing that they are norms.

AL: Yeah, I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’m definitely one of the people who didn’t realize how fragile everything really was—and just how quickly it could change when everyone decides to just stop agreeing.

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Small Stones Interviews: The Rev. Kat Banakis

Kat Banakis is the Theologian-in-Residence at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois.

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The Rev. Kat Banakis is the Theologian-in-Residence at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois. Her writing, preaching, and teaching explore how to be people of faith in this time and place. She is host and producer of The Holy Holy Podcast, an interfaith program on life’s large questions bringing together secular leaders with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian voices. She is the author of Bubble Girl: An Irreverent Journey of Faith (Chalice, 2013), which puts Christian systematic theology into an accessible, narrative form for personal and group reflection on how our stories are wrapped up in God’s story. Outside of St. Luke’s, Kat works in fundraising consulting for large non-profit organizations. She and her husband live in Chicago. Full disclosure: Kat and the Small Stones editors were college classmates.

Small Stones: We are picking people to talk to who are engaged in education at all sorts of different levels and worlds, and part of why you came up is because of the podcast work you were doing in the second half of last year, and because so much of what that podcast is, at least from my perspective, is very educational. And not in a way that’s didactic or anything like that, but it seems like it was educational for the participants, and it was educational for the people listening. It was a really great interfaith, intergeneration dialogue… and that feels very last-administration.

I’m curious, given that you recently had that role, how do you look at what we have happening now, in the civic world, that’s really invoking a lot of notes of conservative religious positions, too?

Kat Banakis: So Karl Barth is a mid-20th century theologian, and he talked about how when you preach, you always do so with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. And when I was putting together the first season of the podcast, I was really looking at, and to use a religious term, exegeting, my congregation, seeing that so many of the young families coming in had grown up in multi religious or non-religious households, and really for me to be a good pastor to my congregation, I needed to expand my aperture and purview of interfaith work. This was to be able to gain fluency, to be able to pastor to them, and also because I think that it is important in the public square to have interreligious dialogue.

But you also make a really good point that it was, to a certain extent, a situation of the time, in that there was this burgeoning—there’s always been interfaith work in the US, but particularly since 9/11, thinking about intra-Abrahamic initiatives has been very live. And so it was intentionally the sort of topics that bring people back to religion, broad topics, and then doing interfaith education around life issues, which as you point out, felt appropriate to the time, and creating a space for interfaith education around life topics.

Fast forward to the present, and—

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Small Stones Interviews: LaQuisha Beckum

“Whether I’m working with the teens, or with the college students, I’m always trying to ensure they are kind to themselves in the process.”

We are thrilled to present the first in a series of Small Stones Interviews, a conversation with educator LaQuisha Beckum.

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LaQuisha Beckum

LaQuisha (they/them) is a community college Psychology/Child Development instructor, currently at American River College, and a Program Coordinator with the Sacramento Youth Commission. They are also the president of the Board of Directors for the nonprofit Generation Reformation. Full disclosure: LaQuisha and one of our editors, Emily, were colleagues for several years at De Anza College. We caught up with LaQuisha in April to find out what they’ve been up to since the election and how the new administration, and its policies, are impacting their students.

Small Stones: So, you are the first person we’re actually talking to–thanks so much! How did you get into education, if we can start from the very beginning?

LaQuisha Beckum: I began my career as a camp leader back in 1996. I worked my way up to assistant site director, then site director receiving certification to work with 5-9-year-olds and 10-14-year-olds. That work was with the YMCA and lasted 5 years. During this time, I was also working as a TA for a professor at SJSU. I spent one year working at a teen center after leaving the YMCA, then went into research. I didn’t start teaching college until winter 2006 at De Anza College.

SS: So what are things are like right now for you, as an educator? You’re at American River now? Teaching psychology?

LB: Yes, I’m at American River College now. Students are hanging in there. I think they feel similar to the rest of us, without them having the historical notes we have. They are feeling anxious, afraid at times, hopeful (one teen told me that he hopes this will be a phoenix phase…things crumble only to be reborn into something better). I work with youth ages fourteen to nineteen AND teach at the college. Nothing that either group has said is vastly different.

SS: What historical notes do you think are most important? Fourteen-year-olds in particular have only really known one administration…

LB: I think above everything, is understanding systems…that these things aren’t created by individuals, that it’s a group effort! We can talk about the idiocy of Drumpf all day, but it took a messed up system to even make it possible for him to reach this rank of government.

SS:  I remember being afraid about what would come next if he weren’t elected, wondering what the system would spit at us the next time.

LB: Exactly…they are familiar with Obama, but they probably didn’t realize he dropped three bombs an hour on the Mid-East in 2016.

I have been quite numb since he [Trump] won.

SS: The optics were way better, but bombs are bombs.

LB: Precisely!

SS: How does it affect how you teach? I’ve been your student before in professional settings, so I know you connect with students well. Is that easier? Harder? More urgent? None of the above?

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