By Fatema Juma, with Marni Fritz
Marni discovered the Thomas Merton Center through the NewPeople newspaper, which she regularly picked up at Biddle’s Escape. “I was shocked that anyone would be covering the struggles in Palestine, let alone on the front page of a newspaper,” said Marni, reflecting on the pro-Israel media bias. Soon after, Marni started working at TMC as an intern in January 2015, aiming to gain experience in nonprofit administration. At the conclusion of her internship she was hired on as an administrative assistant. One year later, she was promoted to the full-time position of Director of Communications, reflecting the work she was already doing with TMC.
After working at TMC for 2.5 years, Marni finds her experience hard to describe. “This was the first time I had to understand, as a white woman, that issues of oppression and social justice are very real everyday experiences of people around me, both as victims and perpetrators of oppression. This experience is extremely unique to each and every individual. Oppression is not monolithic.” Marni started a process of recognizing both her role and the role of nonprofit culture in perpetuating systems of oppression in hopes of combating these issues. In her eye, “all social justice issues are connected,” not singular and they directly stem from white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
To Marni, the most valuable experience at TMC has been working with the NewPeople interns because it is a time when people from different perspectives and experiences come together to talk about politics, current events, pop culture and personal identity.
After this great experience and self-reflection and intentional work, where does Marni go from here? Marni’s future includes her attending graduate school, where she will delve into issues of race, whiteness, social inequality, institutional oppression and structural racism on the academic level. She is concerned by the oppressive structure within social movements themselves and how funding is delegated to particular issue areas. Her goal is to make justice-related research more accessible outside of academic spaces. Marni firmly believes that “no matter where white people exist on the political spectrum, toxic whiteness exists in all facets of organizing, social movements and even anti-racist efforts.” In order to overcome oppression, we need to be able to give and receive loving criticism. We need to begin looking within ourselves before we look for change in others.
“This experience has been an invaluable one for me. It changed my life forever and put me on the path I am now pursuing. I am incredibly thankful for all of those who mentored me, challenged me, collaborated with me and held me accountable. Thanks to you, I have grown. I will miss everyone so much.”
Marni Fritz is the NewPeople Coordinator and is passionate about racial justice.
I was born and grew up in Bahrain and came to the US as an exchange student in 2010. In the spring of 2011, the effects of what’s now known as the Arab Spring took my home country by storm. I was heavily involved in human rights advocacy and my work in Bahrain made it unsafe for me to return. So, I applied for political asylum in 2011, which was granted in October of that year and I decided two days later to move to Washington, DC, where I could be more involved in advocacy for human rights in Bahrain. Although the work was rewarding because I could learn about how politics worked in DC and on the international level, I still was not able to fully delve into human rights advocacy. It hadn’t occurred to me how much my asylum process had affected me and my perspective on the work that I was doing at the time.
Therefore, I decided to take a break and save money to finish my bachelors. After my BA in International Studies, I moved to Pittsburgh in 2015 to pursue a public policy fellowship. Through that experience, I learned more about the work done in the city and had my first real opportunity to delve into social justice work through organizations like the Thomas Merton Center. I learned about TMC through one of the projects that I completed during my fellowship, which required me to learn more about social justice resources and organization in Pittsburgh.
Some of the issues that I always stood for throughout my career had been equity for women and freedom of expression. But, over my time working and studying in the US for the past 7 years, I realized the strong relationship between the different facets of social justice and the repercussions of each action taken in any area on the larger struggles in society. The Thomas Merton Center was one of the organizations in Pittsburgh where I met individuals who stood firmly in their beliefs and pushed me to evaluate my perspective. My public policy fellowship experience made me extremely critical of my role in society and I spent most of my last year following the fellowship trying to find a place where I can contribute to social justice without hindering progress. Unfortunately, I often found myself in situations where I became part of systems that do not value or respect human value over capital and productivity. Therefore, I decided to take some time off and reflect on where I wanted to be and go so that I am not again becoming part of the problem in the social justice work in Pittsburgh.
Having worked in several organizations in Pittsburgh in the last two years, where I saw injustices manifest and practices of oppression overlooked internally, I grew more frustrated with the status quo. People were very much willing to overlook injustice because it often was “above their pay grade.” I heard that phrase used so many times that I started to question whether or not some in the social justice movement were genuinely willing to tackle these issues head-on rather than put them to the side and let them fester or grow. It is not the responsibility of people who are suffering injustices to educate others about their suffering, nor is it just to limit social justice to the confines of a job description, while at the same time respectfully recognizing workload limitations. We need to be intentional in most, if not all, that we do and as often as possible so that we are genuinely approaching that status of equity we seek in society.
All in all, I am excited to join the NewPeople Editorial Collective, and to be able to learn from the experiences of those who preceded me at TMC and add my own to the mix of voices that motivate the great work being done here. I have decided that the best direction for me this year is to attend graduate school and further my education, and get more exposure to resources and skills that enable a successful dismantling of systems resisting equity and inclusion. I am hopeful that my time working on the NewPeople will be spent being pushed to evaluate my perspective more and challenge others to reevaluate theirs, too.
My hope from taking over the NewPeople work as Marni leaves is that I am able to learn from the great contributions Marni has made to the Thomas Merton Center and to build on the great work and awareness that she has brought through the newspaper.
Fatema Juma is the new NewPeople Coordinator and is passionate about equity and inclusion.