by Pastor Gail Song Bantum
Like so many children of immigrants, like so many spouses with Black partners, like so many parents with Black/mixed children, I have seen throughout my life the ways white supremacy is upheld to keep me, my family, and my community from thriving. As a child, I was the support system to my parents that the government failed to be.
My parents immigrated from South Korea and met in New York City, later moving to Chicago where I was born. My family was low-income and working class for much of my childhood. From the age of seven I helped my parents translate documents for medical records, food assistance programs, and collection agencies as we faced multiple eviction processes and struggled financially to keep afloat. I didn’t realize until recently that my father was undocumented for most of my childhood. In reflecting back, my mother having her name on all legal paperwork was one of the many barriers that were specifically designed to hold families like mine in nearly impossible situations. It also makes sense as to why landlords were so quick to evict us from our homes, as we faced being unhoused multiple times. This was my reality decades ago and I know it is still a reality for many today. It shows the priorities of our country — property over human life.
What’s evident to me now, working and being in community with diverse families and people, is that those struggles continue today in these same ways. Under this pandemic, crises are emerging more dire than we could have imagined, not least how many families are unable to pay rent. Our government needs to step up where it previously failed. I, like faith leaders across the state, am calling on Gov. Jay Inslee and the state legislature to pass three items to protect our families and communities: establish good cause eviction protections, make rent during the pandemic non-possessory, and enact a relief fund for immigrant families. I am also calling on our local council members to start taking the steps in defunding the police and reimagining how we support our communities.
As a child, I knew that my parents desperately wanted stability for our family, and it drives me to fight for stability for our communities throughout Washington. This means finding creative ways to end homelessness; this means protecting our immigrant communities; and this means protecting our Black and Brown communities from over-policing and state-sanctioned violence. Now, in a moment of acute crisis, we need our state government to step up so all of us not only survive, but thrive.
Our nation once again is grieving not only the loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, but for the countless others in the Black community we have lost due to police brutality and state-sanctioned violence. While our reality isn’t new, we are witnessing an historic uprising in solidarity around this nation and world, not only solidarity for Black lives but for fighting the racism found all throughout our systems and policies: from housing to healthcare, from immigration to policing and from education to prisons. I believe our elected officials here in Washington — our Governor, our state legislators, our council members — need to start healing our communities by passing laws that will finally address the reality of this violence.
As the lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, I am fortunate enough to be leading a multiracial and multiethnic congregation dedicated to serving the community who have been left out and hurt by the system. As followers of Jesus, we serve a God who is unabashedly for the outsider and the foreigner.
Early in March, our church began working with one of our partners to help four women asylees find housing, establish documentation, furnish their homes, and find work. However, as the pandemic began to spread, we witnessed that more are struggling to find work, and our organizational efforts cannot fill in the gaps left by our federal and state government. It became clear COVID-19 was harming Black and Brown communities at a higher rate than white communities. It was alarming to see the ways the government was failing the community when no aid was being directed toward families with different documentation statuses. With no good cause protections, people will be evicted into homelessness — a majority being Black and Brown — during a pandemic that is already disproportionately impacting their communities.
Which is why during this pandemic, Gov. Inslee, state legislators and council members need to pass policies that will effectively catalyze the liberation for our Black community and our undocumented community that all of us so desperatly crave. Liberation never happens by simply saying we want it, but it is necessarily an embodied reality. We must fight for the liberation of others. As the civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer put it, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” I cannot separate that truth from who I am as a follower of Jesus and a person of faith. Our wider community is always stronger when our collective liberation is felt in the flourishing of all.
As a pastor and as a child of immigrants, I understand the struggles of belonging that many people face. We as a community must make space for people to find home and stability. Elected leaders in our state will often say Black Lives Matter, but unless they start passing the policies and plans that would materially protect Black lives, support immigrant communities, and ensure folks stay housed, those words are self-serving.
All of these issues are interconnected. The undocumented community is bigger and deeper than what many believe or seem to think. It is not just the Latinx community, but Asian/Pacific Islanders, workers from African countries, and more. Black Lives Matter is about more than police brutality. The number one cause for homelessness is evictions, and Black tenants face eviction at a rate 4.5 times what would be expected based on their demographic in Seattle. These systemic problems need systemic resolution.
The scale of the challenges we face requires governmental commitment. Without local and state support in the form of policy changes and a relief fund, our whole community suffers, especially our Black community and mixed-status families, leaving rent and medical debt and the trickling effects of systemic inequities. Enacting these policy changes isn’t just practical and essential — it is what our faith calls us to do.
Rev. Gail Song Bantum is the Lead Pastor of Quest Church in Seattle, Washington. As a second-generation Korean American, she seeks to faithfully embody advocacy and justice surrounding intersections of race and gender within the life of the church and is passionate about developing emerging leaders of color. Rev. Bantum has served in pastoral ministry for over 20 years and is a sought-after speaker, consultant, and leadership developer. She is an ordained minister and received her M.Div. from Duke Divinity School. Rev. Bantum, her husband Dr. Brian Bantum, and their three sons reside in Seattle.