In a ceremony Dec. 9, 2013, the City of Richmond, CA awarded Saffron Strand’s CEO, Yvonne Nair, the City’s 2012-2013 Human Rights Award in the category of Justice. Yvonne was among seven recipients of the Award, which included categories of Image, Education, and Special Award, in addition to Justice.
“In Saffron Strand,” the Award organizers noted, “the homeless have built a community that reflects a winning practice which creates: Conferences to expose problems and solutions; an all-night memorial vigil on Civic Center Plaza; outreach to business, governmental agencies, non-profits to bring an end to conditions that threaten and inflict pain and violence.”
In accepting the Richmond Human Rights Award for Justice, Yvonne offered the following remarks:
Our work at Saffron Strand starts with the recognition and respect for the “strands of saffron” in every homeless person. Saffron – the world’s most valuable spice – comes from the hardy crocus flower. It is a humble little plant. But, like the homeless, it somehow survives extreme conditions. Cultivating the crocus – and harvesting its strands of saffron – is a labor of love.
Working with the homeless truly is a labor of love. At Saffron Strand, we help the homeless identify their own saffron-like personal qualities – their unique mix of talents, skills, and dreams of a better life. We work with them one-on-one to improve and adapt their saffron qualities to the workplace and job market or help them start their own businesses.
Justice is at the heart of our work.
Saffron Strand’s homeless members suffer the prejudice, stigma, and trauma of homelessness. Most are people of color. So, besides suffering homelessness, they are life-long victims of racial injustice.
If you are a person of color in Richmond – especially an African American – you are much more likely than a white resident to be poor, unemployed, involved in the criminal justice system, or homeless.
Richmond’s disparities of race and justice call us to action. Justice for the homeless in our Beloved Community is both a right and a responsibility. What happens in Richmond echoes trends across the nation.
African Americans make up only 12 percent of the U.S. family population, but they represent 39 percent of those in homeless shelters. In contrast, whites make up about 66 percent of the family population, but occupy only 29 percent of the shelter beds.
People of color make up about 30 percent of the U.S. population, but they account for 60 percent of those in prison. One in three African American men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. African American women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated. Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely than white women to be incarcerated. Black and Hispanic students represent more than 70 percent of those involved in school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement.
If we simply look, we can see the injustices of race and homelessness all around us.
I urge each and every one of us not to be silent and not to turn away from the homeless and the injustices they suffer. The homeless in our Beloved Community of Richmond depend upon us.
As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”