Weekly Message from T. J.

Beautiful Building

“It really is a beautiful building.” I said this as I looked up at a ceiling adorned with interlocking, colored tiles inlaid against decorative concrete frames. Examples of the art deco design of the building flowed from the centerpiece ceiling down the cream colored walls and over the ironwork. The clay tile roofs of the building followed the elegant proportions of the era as well. And even the brown tile floors were cool as we took of our slippers and made ourselves comfortable. Roof to floor, it really was a beautiful building—such a shame.

Yesterday I gathered with two partners in justice at the Department of Homeland Security building on Ala Moana Boulevard. The striking and warm understated design of the building clashed with all of the modifications meant to tell all who enter that place that they are not welcome. The gray front gates don’t belong in the design. Surely no one meant for the waiting area to be half filled with a security checkpoint replete with an x-ray conveyor belt and metal detector. And if the sign that says “No Admittance” doesn’t get the message across, the second set of metal barriers will.

My partners and I were there to do a most unnatural act in these times and in a place with so many barriers built into its structure—we were there to get someone out. We were there to post bond for a person who committed a low-level non-violent offense, but who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement without a bond hearing or any way out of detention for almost a year and a half. The bond demanded of this person was far beyond any means they had. But together with the incredible work of The Legal Clinic and The Hawaii Community Bail Fund, they should now be freed.

It took more than five hours of waiting, form filling, and bond posting. It took hackneyed admonitions and warnings from representatives of a system that thrives and profits of restricting movement of persons. It took a lawyer, a seasoned social justice operative, and a minister. But at around 2:30 pm yesterday, the person who had given almost a year and a half of life to simply waiting to be heard at all, walked past the “No Admittance” sign, the first metal gate, under the beeping metal detector, past the second metal gate, and out into the sun and the arms of family.

As I walked with one of my partners in this work, both of us quite moved by bearing witness to this experience, we spoke through our masks about the honor it was to be present. And my friend said, “Someday virtual reality might get to the point where we can get any experience—skydiving from the Grand Canyon or whatever—wired right into our brains. People will choose all kinds of crazy things to experience. But I would choose this experience and this feeling every single time.” And as we walked on I looked ahead and thought to myself, “It really was a beautiful building.”

Many blessings of safety and freedom to you all.

Rev. T. J.
minister@unitariansofhi.org

4 Responses to “Weekly Message from T. J.

  1. Reverend T.J., you are setting a grand example of how we get this justice work done, often one person at a time. It reminds me of the Starfish Story in which the person who is putting the starfish, one by one, back in the water responds to the cynic who tells him that there are too many starfish to make a difference, “Yes, but I am making a difference to that one.”

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