Stories from the corner of 37th and Nicollet

Making repairs to a broken system

One of the challenges I face daily, is how I wield power.  As a white, cis-gendered male with a middle-class upraising, I recognize my privilege within a society that was built to support me. I am also often oblivious to how this privilege serves me.  Instead I tend to find lots of ways to complain about how I don’t get a fair deal or how others fare so much better than I do.

 I’ve also been bumping into opportunities to notice where I can  (with my privilege) make repairs for the hurt that a white-male-heterosexual-dominated system creates.  Some of these I choose myself by reading a book like Larry Duncan’s “Dear Church” or attending a performance like “Floyds” recently at the Guthrie.  Some of these choose me, just by putting myself into a café space that strives to be a welcoming place for all people.  

We may be at a cultural turning point where the word “reparations” will frame many conversations and uncover a lot of hidden hurts.  It will force some systemic changes and it will lead to many personal heart-changing moments.  I’ve already been experiencing some of these moments and find that they are both tremendously scary and very powerful opportunities for learning.  


What am I learning?  One of the first is that while our culture has historically devalued service profession positions (especially within the restaurant industry), my effort to offer a living wage and professional setting does have an impact on building wealth and building respect for this hard work.  Butter Bakery offers a stable, secure hourly income rather than one that is built around the whims of customers, the ebbs and flows of traffic patterns, the weather, or a particular menu pricing.  I hear from our customers who’ve worked in the tipped-service industry that the uncertainty of weekly/monthly income meant less opportunity for things like applying for a loan or planning for a vacation.

Opportunity is a form of reparation.  Withholding these opportunities is how our society has been able to create class differences Whether it’s access to education, access to capital, or even access to affordable, safe housing and transit, these are the opportunities needed to provide a more level playing field in a system that pretends that with “all things being equal” anyone should be able to succeed.

I’ve struggled with the recognition that many of my staff do not have access to affordable health care.  This means that opportunities to seek preventative care, to learn ways to care for themselves, and to have access to the resources that are needed when health fails become a form of reparation as well.  I know I can’t afford to purchase health care on my own as a small businessperson, and feel discomfort that my health care comes from my wife’s job and a system linking health care to employment.  This is yet another way our culture has created a divided set of opportunities and furthered class divisions.  My efforts for reparation must be work for systemic change that makes health care a right for all.

As a training space, I recognize the opportunities I’m creating for my employees.  I know that these first experiences for my interns will lead them to another worksite with better chances to earn a living.  I know that those who develop skills and live into the workplace culture of our particular cafe can take them to their next position with a better sense of how to be a good co-worker, improving their opportunities.  My challenge has been learning to let go of tasks that I’ve been doing, so that others can gain the skills and experiences that might push them forward in new directions. 

What does it mean to create a workplace where mistakes are forgiven? How does our community building mission enter into the reparations equation?  Offering a workplace and gathering place where all are welcome and where differences are acknowledged is an opportunity that runs counter to national policy these days.  Trudging through the muck and mud of errors made and accountability held, and then the tough work of seeking resolutions, growth and reconciliation and even reparations is tough work.  It’s long and weary at times.  It’s scary and tends to break down as we try to learn new behaviors and develop new attitudes. And in a public space like mine where customers get to witness all of this in action, it’s an effort to provide hope for a future where love is present and all people can live in the opportunities it fuels.

So am I operating a restaurant or a social change movement? As I walk this green path, I find myself on a journey that has changed me, and through me, those who enter into the Butter Bakery story.  What are you ready to transform? How much are you willing to pay in time, energy and resources to see it come to be?  I look forward to the repairs we can make to this broken world as we walk this path together.