The Little Lights ministry of Washington, D.C. has served the District’s public housing communities since 1985. It provides on-the-job training and job search assistance, runs academic and youth development programs, and advocates for public initiatives in these arenas. Little Lights also sponsors “Racial Literacy 101,” a 12-week study and discussion group reflecting on race and racism. It carefully provides a grace-filled environment that fosters candid and authentic reflection. The class is offered twice a year during the fall and spring.
Potomac Gardens, one of the housing projects where Little Lights operates.
Many people within Incarnation have been involved with Little Lights in a variety of ways, here are some of their stories!
Josie says: When I first moved to DC I helped with reading and math tutoring at Little Lights. Though I’d planned a public policy career, I found that working at a think tank, then on Capitol Hill, and later on K Street couldn’t compare with the mission, vision, and community that Little Lights offered. Before long I joined the Little Lights staff to help with fundraising, and I loved the way that Little Lights provided the Church and a politically, racially diverse spectrum of Christians (and nonbelievers!) a really tangible and local way to address needs—education, work, poverty— that I’d been thinking about on a macro scale.
One of my favorite moments happened after we’d raised enough money to launch a Teen Intern program that provided the dual benefit of work experience for teenagers in the neighborhood, as well as more sets of capable hands to help elementary children after school. In time, two of our outstanding, responsible, lovely Teen Interns were able to get externships on Capitol Hill and K Street through their school. As they celebrated and prepared their professional wardrobes, I happily passed along the high heeled shoes I no longer needed. (As an aside, I have barely worn heels since.) It was a really fun, joyful moment, full of hope, and it felt like a full-circle moment for me.
As I type, I acknowledge that this reflection does in fact center on me! Indulge me by letting it demonstrate that a major, underappreciated gift from communities like Little Lights, and Casa Chirilagua in Arlandria, is the way they serve as hubs of connection for people of all ages, races, and walks of life. I haven’t found that so readily anywhere else; it’s a beautiful foretaste of God’s Kingdom, and I’m grateful.
Buz says: I have had the pleasure of being a part of the fall 2021 Race Literacy 101 course. It was during covid, and entirely on Zoom. I found it a wonderful mix of lecture, video, and group discussion. The use of frequent breakout groups promoted a strong sense of community. I learned to recognize some classmates over the weeks. The breakouts were the safe places where folks reflected on their shock at the “racial” history of this country presented just before the breakout. Little Lights offers a selection of Affinity Groups in which these discussions can continue; I intend to participate in an Affinity Group in the future.
I particularly recall learning about the eugenics movement in the United States in the 1920’s. It is hard to believe that people of color were used for experimental purposes without their consent. I thought I knew about that aspect of U.S. history, but I learned more during the course. In fact, I have run into one person in the racial reconciliation arena who told me she did not like the Racial LIteracy 101 course because she found it too painful to look at some of these aspects of our history. The course shines a bright light on that and other sordid chapters of U.S. history, and that can be difficult.
Amy says: I took the Race Literacy course on Zoom in fall 2021. I didn’t realize until writing this blog post that I must have taken it at the same time as Buz, whom I didn’t yet have the joy of knowing! (A few other Incarnation folks were also in that class.) Each week we spend time looking at scripture, watching a PBS documentary on the history of race, and wrestling together in small groups with what we were learning. I came to really love my small group members over our 10 weeks together. That might have been the first time that I heard Black people share about their experiences of racial injustice in a context of friendship and Christian fellowship. It was all the more powerful because we’d forged bonds of trust and friendship.
There was an older Black woman in my group named Martha (if this story sounds familiar, I preached about her a couple years ago). She didn’t talk a lot. But one week, after learning something particularly disturbing, we broke into small groups and Martha was crying. Our small group facilitator asked her if she wanted to share. I expected her to say that she was crying tears of pain or anger or sadness. But instead, Martha said something like, “Actually, I’m good. These are tears of relief. I feel so relieved. It feels like finally the quiet racism that’s been so painful all my life is out in the open and we can name it and talk about it here. It’s hard, but it’s true. It’s not a secret. We all see it. So now we can really talk and heal.”
It was such a powerful moment. It reminded me that facing the truth—even a terrible truth we wish we could change--is where healing becomes possible. And I think Little Lights does a good job at facing the truth, whether it’s the conditions in DC public housing or the history of racial injustice that helped shape those conditions. And from that truth, inviting people into a new story of healing.
For all the reasons listed above, we’re so grateful that Little Lights is operating in our wider community, and we’re excited to be able to partner with them. Please consider a gift to Incarnation’s Lent offering to support their work.
We’re fortunate to have Steve Park, Little Lights’ Founder and Executive Director, visiting for the service on April 2, which is Palm Sunday. We will have the opportunity to pray for him in person during the service. Afterwards, everyone is invited to a casual lunch at Cafe Sazon with Steve, where you’ll have a chance to ask questions and hear more about Little Lights’ work.
In addition, we will continue to pray for Little Lights’ specific needs each week during Prayers of the People until Easter. Please also consider praying on your own. Below is the list of prayer requests that they provided:
Prayer for the safety (especially from gun violence) and the well-being of our students and their families
Prayer for caring and maturing Christian mentors to join our mentoring program
Prayer for our College and Career Program to grow stronger to help more students with life after high school, including attending college and staying in college with minimum student debt
Prayer for our Race Literacy program to reach more people to better understand and fight against racism in all its forms
Prayer for the various college groups who will be coming this spring to volunteer during their break. Pray for life transformation as they serve
Prayer for the Body of Christ to experience revival that leads the Church to prioritize the vulnerable in our society and to do justice in the world
Amen! We’re so grateful for this group, and the way they give us a glimpse of the kingdom in the midst of a broken world.