This month BLC says farewell to a long standing board member—Jay Stansell. We thank Jay for not only serving on the board for the last 6 years, but also serving as the Interim Executive Director in 2022 during a period of transition. He will be missed for his unwavering commitment to economic justice and dignity, and willingness to step up for BLC when we needed it most. We are so excited for Jay and his wife Dori to embark on their new adventure, but before they do, here are a few words from Jay–
“Dear BLC Community:
After (almost) six years on the board of Benefits Law Center, and following the great privilege of leading BLC as the Interim Executive Director for three months early last year, I am leaving the board. I do this with full confidence in the work of BLC, it’s incredibly talented staff, and the direction the project is headed under the leadership of the board and our new Executive Directory, Huy Nguyen. Though departing the board, I remain committed to both the work of BLC and the broader struggle for economic justice and equity in our community, our nation, and the world.
Beyond that, I will leave you with some parting thoughts, some of which I have already shared with many of you.
First, I think we must continue to educate ourselves, and to educate our friends, families, colleagues and neighbors, about the unconscionable structural oppression of the poor, the homeless, and the disabled in America. I have understood this intellectually for years, I think, but it wasn’t until I was part of the staff that I fully grasped it. Our country’s safety net is designed to obstruct, withhold and deny benefits for the very people that our government has, in the abstract, determined to be worthy of assistance.
The laws and regulations providing the American safety net exist, and for good reason. Our homeless and disabled neighbors deserve help. But those folks who are disabled, who are homeless, who are on the edge financially and struggling to survive day to day, are by those same circumstances destined to fail at navigating the complex laws and regulations, the indifferent bureaucracies, and the logistical obstacles (no phone, no address, illiteracy, for example) necessary to gain the very support that they need and deserve.
Put simply, without an attorney to represent them, deserving individuals are unable to get the benefits that they deserve, because of the way the system is structured and administered. Period. If BLC attorneys step in, the deserving get benefits.
Second, in this note I want to really celebrate the work of BLC staff, which delivers not just excellent and crucial legal services, but significantly contributes to the spiritual well-being of the people we serve. The homeless and disabled folks living in our community are experiencing trauma every day that they live unsheltered, with no financial support, no medical care, and no treatment. They deeply feel their marginalization from the lives of the rest of the community; they feel invisible to those of us living next to them in comfort and security.
In my brief tenure in the office, I was most inspired by the staff’s kindness towards and empathy for every one of our clients. Our baseline as a legal services project is that we deliver outstanding legal advocacy, while at the same time providing the simple, compassionate human contact with each person seeking help. As I watched these interactions each day, I imagined an un-spoken conversation each time a client came through our door:
Here, let me get you a cup of coffee. And let’s remove this Invisibility Cloak that is weighing you down. You don’t need that here. In fact, you don’t need to wear that any more now. Let me hang it up and give you, instead, this Coat of Dignity that we want you to have. You can keep it. You are my neighbor. I see you. I hear you. I will help you. Or if I can’t, I will help you find help. You don’t need to be invisible anymore.
When we reach the people we serve, we touch them, and for many, it is the first time in years that they have heard someone say, I see you, I hear you. Tell me your story. It is so often a new beginning.
Third, for those of you who are still with me (!), I will leave you with this quote from the actor, director, and writer, Wallace Shawn, that is a touchstone of mine:
There’s no reason to doubt that every healthy human infant is born with the potential to play music beautifully, to read with sensitivity, to do scientific research, to put on plays, to draw and paint, and certainly to think. . . . But almost all of those who are born unlucky have been brutally prevented from developing more than a fraction of their own abilities, and this is perhaps the most shocking fact about our human world. (Night Thoughts, 2017, p. 69.)
BLC staff work every day to change that fact in our community. There are hundreds, thousands of other organizations throughout America that in many different ways also work to welcome the invisible back into our communities.
Support that work. Increase the peace. Do justice. And our paths will keep crossing.”