A religious group wants everyone to try on a pair of white privilege glasses.

White privilege isn't always an easy concept to explain to someone who's lived with it their whole life.

Tim Wise, an author and antiracism educator, explains white privilege as "any advantage, opportunity, benefit, head start, or general protection from negative societal mistreatment, which persons deemed white will typically enjoy, but which others will generally not enjoy."

But what exactly does that mean? How does it work?


What if explaining white privilege were as simple as showing someone what it's like to live without it?

Chicago Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ but educates future ministry leaders in 40 different faiths, wanted to find an easy way to explain white privilege. Their idea? White privilege glasses.

Yes, you read that right. Magical glasses, if you will.

Photo via Chicago Theological Seminary, used with permission.

What if folks who are accustomed to living with privilege could put on a pair of glasses that showed them life without it — in real time?

So when someone says, "Yeah, I'm not really sure about this white privilege thing..."

GIFs via Chicago Theological Seminary/YouTube.

...we could just whip out a pair of glasses!

Glasses that would show people how different the experience of simply walking down the street can be for a person of color.

And how seemingly innocuous signs can mean something entirely different.

Glasses that would make ordinary grocery store trips a little more ominous.

And police encounters disconcerting — and more dangerous.

Unfortunately, it's not quite that easy to show people their privilege. But it's inspiring to see a religious organization leading the charge against systemic racism.

Alice Hunt, president of the Chicago Theological Seminary (and who's white), told Upworthy she'd like to see religious organizations lead instead of follow when it comes to the important issues we face as a society, and she considers racism the preeminent one.

"I would like to see religious organizations say, 'We have a responsibility because of our faith in God. We are called to make the world a better place,'" she said.

And her organization isn't the only faith-based group tackling the problem head on.

Image by Phil Roeder/Flickr.

For example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has been making an effort to recognize and confront racism, including systemic issues such as inequality in the criminal justice system.

This particular religious organization is the second-least diverse one in the country, according to recent Pew research, with 96% of its congregation being made up with white folks. And that makes the conversation particularly important.

Imagine the ripple effect if all religious organizations would engage in these talks with open minds — and subsequently navigate the world differently.

The first step toward change, Hunt says, is being willing to have these difficult conversations.

She also maintains that the responsibility to talk about privilege and racism lies with white people, not people of color, because we have the power to change it. Her organization created the white privilege glasses video, she explained, for white people who are unaware — because they've never had a reason or opportunity to be aware — to have their eyes opened.

And she dropped some cold, hard truth: "The only people who have the opportunity to think that racism doesn’t exist are white people," she stated simply.

The great news is that every single one of us can do something as individuals, and it starts by seeing our privilege for what it is. We may not have special glasses that do it for us, but that doesn't mean we can't learn to open our eyes a little wider.

You can watch the full white privilege glasses video here. It's short, but it delivers a strong, important lesson.

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Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


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Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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