During the month of May, GLIDE celebrates Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage. In this story, we highlight the Glidettes, a delightful group of Asian-identifying seniors and performers who embody GLIDE’s mission to create a loving and inclusive community. 

“For me, dancing is beautiful,” said Li Sucui, “It opens my heart like a flower, and it makes me happy.” At a spry 73, Li is a founding member of the Tenderloin Glidettes that come together each week to share in the delights of dance and song. Comprised mostly of GLIDE’s elder clients, the ensemble has garnered a reputation in the neighborhood for their spirited performances of both traditional Chinese dances and Western jigs. After an extended hiatus during the pandemic, the group is eagerly returning to in-person community events. 

Known in the community for their endearing dance and song, the Glidettes are eager to resume performances after two years of pandemic isolation.

The Glidettes formed four years ago out of a series of monthly “senior socials” held at Freedom Hall and led by Client Advocate, Tina Huang. “When I started working for GLIDE, I always fantasized about organizing a group that would represent Chinese culture,” said Tina. “I wanted to feature dancing – Not only traditional, like Chinese Lion, but also feature types from Western culture.” Hailing from Guangdong, just outside of Hong Kong, Tina came with her family to the United States in 1993. Six years ago, Tina came to learn about GLIDE and started as a volunteer.  

GLIDE serves a diverse community, with those who identify as Asian and Pacific Islander making up 16% of our clientele. Tina’s knowledge of Taishanese, the principal language of the Yue Chinese, comes in handy in connecting with clients. “When I came to GLIDE, and saw the homeless outside, it was difficult for me. But I really wanted to do something and be of service. I am always thinking about how much more our city can do to help those who are less fortunate and faced with tough times in their life,” said Tina. 

Tina, pictured left, dances with Li, center, at a senior luncheon in 2017.

Li, also from Guangdong, has been a resident of the Tenderloin for the past eight years, having arrived in the United States more than two decades ago. GLIDE first came to Li’s attention in 2016 when she visited 330 Ellis Street for breakfast as part of GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals program. She later ventured inside GLIDE and observed a group of seniors playing Bingo; she felt drawn to the welcoming environment and inspired to cultivate deeper connections with the community. She met up with both Tina Huang and Meals Navigator Diane Truong and the idea of having a senior group for dancing and singing was born.  

Li took part in traditional Chinese dance back in Taishan and, like Tina, she wanted the group to expand its repertoire by learning movements from other cultures. “We worked together to create this group dynamic that was not only respectful of safety but used slow movements so everyone could take part. YouTube was a great teacher,” Li chuckled. One of the oldest Glidettes, Menyi Wong (87) has her son ship over dance outfits so that the group can dress up for performances. 

The Glidettes returned to in-person events in April, putting on a special performance at the Tenderloin Sunday Streets.

The Glidettes have performed at various city functions over the years and while the pandemic may have slowed down their schedule of appearances, the group recently returned to the stage in full GLIDE orange regalia for the Tenderloin Sunday Streets event in April. For the Glidettes, a resounding theme of happiness permeates among the group and it is the reason they keep coming together. “It improves our quality of life. It feels good, both mentally and physically,” said Tina. “And when we dance and sing, we are in our moment of joy.”      

The lobby at GLIDE was buzzing with activity on the morning of March 3rd, crowded with visitors looking for a brief reprieve from the cold San Francisco winter.

As staff and visitors milled, a voice cut through the crowd with a tone of urgency as bone-chilling and silencing as the wind outside – “Give me all the Narcan we’ve got, I need all the Narcan we’ve got!” The room froze as the collective heart skipped a beat. Undistracted, Iris swept up armfuls of the nasal sprays and ran outside hastily. The lobby filtered out behind her as she belted down the street.

At the corner of Ellis and Jones, the body of a man laid strewn on the ground, under the dark awnings of a corner store. Iris hovered over him. There was no pulse – he had overdosed. The crowd drew timidly closer as Iris began to administer Narcan. One dose, two doses, she sprayed one after the other into his nose. Tim lay still.

Three doses. The street had fallen silent.

Four doses.

Tim jolted, his sharp inhale reverberated against the walls of the quiet buildings. As his eyes fluttered open, he turned a confused gaze towards Iris.

 “You were dead, hon,” Iris said.

“What?” Tim replied.

“You were dead. I brought you back.”

In the distance, a crescendo of sirens signaled the ambulance that came four Narcans too late.

Iris stands outside of GLIDE, just hours after administering life-saving Narcan

For the People

The numbers speak volumes of a crisis that continues to wreak havoc in San Francisco – 650 lives were lost to overdose in 2021 alone in the city, a 59% increase from just before the pandemic in 2019. What’s more, nearly 80% of all opioid overdose deaths take place outside of medical settings, ushering in a new era where heroes in street clothes are stepping into the role of first responder.

“Everyone on GLIDE’s Community Safety team knows how to administer Narcan, we all get trained,” Iris explained shortly after her encounter with Tim. “I don’t wear a doctor uniform, but I’ve saved so many lives out here, I don’t even count anymore.”

Many members of GLIDE’s Community Safety Team carry doses of Narcan with them as a precaution

“In this neighborhood, anything can happen,” said Lorenzo, another member of GLIDE’s Community Safety team. On the morning of the overdose, Lorenzo was key in alerting Iris to the emergency. For both colleagues, there was a deeper connection to Tim that heightened the urgency of their response. “GLIDE knows who Tim is, personally,” Lorenzo explained. “I see him every day, he eats here every day. This was something that I needed to do.”

The Community Safety team at GLIDE holds some of the closest relationships with clients, interacting with hundreds of people each day and slowly building trust through their honesty, transparency, and genuine acts of service. In this way, clients like Tim know who they can turn to when they are ready to receive support, no matter where they are on their path to stability.

Unconditional Love

Several weeks after his overdose, Tim returned to GLIDE to pick up a meal and speak with Iris. As he recounts, the close call was spurred on by a syringe containing unknown substances.

After hearing of Tim’s experience, Iris took the opportunity to connect him with GLIDE’s Harm Reduction services, where he can access clean needles, free HIV testing, and his own supply of the Narcan that saved his life just weeks ago.

“It was a big mistake,” Tim recalls. “But if you didn’t come up, Iris, I could’ve been way worse. They said I could’ve been dead.”

As the two parted ways, Iris left with a reminder – “I love you, Tim. Give me a hug.”

GLIDE’s Women’s Center, in conjunction with community partners The Healing Well, La Cocina, YWAM San Francisco, and Simply the Basics, hosted a Womxn’s Wellness Fair on Friday, May 7–the start of Mother’s Day Weekend. The free, day-long event was meant to celebrate and serve all unhoused, and housed women-identified residents in the Tenderloin and took place in the Tenderloin Community Resource Hub at Ellis Street and Taylor in front of GLIDE.

Womxn’s Wellness Fair activities included fellowship, fun, food, art, resources, music, carnival games, bingo, and even free yoga, tai chi, and acupuncture. Women could access resources like hygiene products, mental health support services, harm reduction kits, free snack bags, and $5 vouchers for the newly opened La Cocina Marketplace. The fair is part of ongoing outreach efforts by GLIDE’s Women’s Center to support women who are living on the street, in an unstable housing situation, or need social support.

“Our event was a tremendous success!” said Shannon Wise, manager of GLIDE’s Women’s Center. “Thank you to our 24 participating agencies and all the women in the community who came out. We served about 300 people that day. It was great for agencies to network with each other on-site, and in-person providing up-to-date information and community resources.”

“I am so happy that they have a Woman’s Fair, said attendee Hoamy “Linda” Ung. “I have been waiting and praying for it.”

“I really believe in women empowering women and women having a platform just to better themselves, just to be happy to be who they are, said participant and organizer Juthaporn Chaloeicheep. “We should praise women for the good jobs they do.”

When women get together, we’ve been able to do amazing things.” “I just wanted to come out because I’ve been locked up so much,” said Marquita Stroud, who lives in a nearby hotel. “My favorite part has been playing all the carnival games.”

Wise is hopeful that the Wellness Fair will make more women aware of the services available through the Center. “We’re here and we can help,” she said. “We just want people in the community to know that we are a resource for them.”

GLIDE’s Women’s Center provides a safe haven for women on the road to recovery from trauma, violence, and isolation. Through its essential support services, the Center helps women, and their families stabilize their lives and thrive. To find out more about the Women’s Center, please visit glide.org/program/womens-center.

Lisa Pelletier-Ross, a beloved staff member at GLIDE, serving as a trusted Community Safety Team Shift Lead, shares her reflections and grief during these exceptionally challenging times that demand justice, humanity and an end to the teaching of hatred and fear that fuels the brutality of bigotry and racism. We are so grateful for her courageous truth-telling and unshakeable faith in a more just, loving and inclusive world.

Has the whole world gone crazy? 

Why is it that it is the 21st century and we are still dealing with people being racist? This makes no sense to me. In the first place there should not have been no slavery, period, that’s reprehensible to me. What right did anyone think that it was a good idea? When the constitution was written it stated ALL MEN are created EQUALALL MEN means EVERYONE.

Skin color should not matter, but somehow it does, which is complete ignorance and arrogance, and atrocious! We are supposed to all be brothers and sisters. People should be judged by the type of person they are, not by what color their skin is. Yet, every day people get judged by their skin color, by how they dress, what they look like, and who they hang out around. If I’m not mistaken this is profiling. Just because you look a certain way, your skin color, or you wear certain kinds of clothes doesn’t mean that a person can assume that you are up to no good. The saying “don’t judge a book by the cover” applies to everyday living and the police have no business to assume that you are automatically guilty of something just because of your skin color, how you dress, or who you are with.  It’s like saying every black person is a drug user, but we know that this is not true, or every white person is a racist, but we know that this is not true.  What needs to happen is all the hatred needs to end. 

Hatred starts in the home.

It gets taught to children in their upbringing. I can speak on this because I was brought up in a house of bigotry. When I was in kindergarten, I met a girl named Tisa. We became best friends. We would play at school and after school. Her aunt lived down the street from mine. One day, my father saw Tisa and me outside playing, and I got in trouble. I was told that I wasn’t allowed to play with her anymore or I would get a spanking. The reason was Tisa is African American and my father was racist. Well I didn’t want to stop being able to play with my friend, so every day after school we would play, and every time I was caught playing with my friend Tisa, I would take a spanking.

Everyone’s in charge of their own destiny.  You are the one who can make or break the chain.  Just because I grew up in a house of bigotry doesn’t mean I had to be that way. I broke the chain and let the hatred end there. If I had to judge somebody, I’d judge them by the kind of person they are, not by the color of their skin. Adults could and should learn from children. When a child makes friends, whether at school or the park, they don’t care about what color their skin is, they just care that this is their friend. We need to stop teaching children hatred when being raised.

As far as the police are concerned, instead of them being trigger happy all the time, maybe they should go to CPI (Crisis Prevention Intervention) training. GLIDE Safety Team has taken the class and it helps us de-escalate situations with difficult clients. The Safety Team has to get re-certified every two years.

Police officers are the ones who set the tone when they first encounter a person. If they approach a person with a nasty or sarcastic attitude and are disrespectful, then how do you think the person is going to respond? The person will likely be disrespectful back because they feel disrespected. If an officer approaches a person and speaks to that person with respect, then they have a better chance of getting a cooperative response from the person because the person won’t feel like they were being disrespected. 

The police need to learn that every person is different, and each person needs to be dealt with differently, depending on the individual’s situation. There are all walks of life out there, some people are experiencing homelessness, mental illness, or substance use disorders. Whichever the case may be, each encounter must be dealt with depending on the circumstances. 

We must STOP profiling and lumping everyone into the same category. Just because you live in a certain area or hang around with certain people, doesn’t mean that you are a product of that environment.

WAKE UP people!

All this hatred towards one another must STOP

By Erin Gaede

Saundra Haggerty on GLIDE’s Men In Progress violence-intervention program

Saundra Haggerty is the lead facilitator and case manager for GLIDE’s Men In Progress (MIP) program, a 52-week court-mandated Batterer’s Intervention program that supports men in acquiring the skills they need to work through their anger and change their violent behavior. GLIDE’s MIP is one of the few free programs of its kind in California, and the only free program in the Bay Area. In her reflections, Saundra shares what it is like being a woman in a space aimed at supporting men in unlearning violence, which in many cases has previously been targeted towards women.  

The following is the third installment in our series honoring the vital work of case managers by examining the complexity and compassion that goes into supporting participants in accessing the resources they need in order to improve their relationship with their partners, children, family, friends, community and themselves.

Being a woman in charge of running the Men In Progress program is hard. I facilitate three group sessions every week for men that have been court ordered to attend because of their violence. Each class is about two hours long and has at least 24 men.

As a facilitator I spend a lot of time working on communication. I help men manage real life conflicts and learn how to communicate with their partners. I have a guy in the program right now who is having problems with the mother of his kids. He comes to group and presents a situation and asks, “What could I have done better, Saundra? You are a female so you must understand where she is coming from.”

As a case manager I spend most of my time making sure that the men successfully complete their mandate. This entails identifying any barriers to their completion. I am in frequent contact with parole and probation officers. The court requires a written assessment once a month to report on each participant’s attendance, how they are doing in class and whether we see them taking accountability for their behavior. I spend a lot of time assessing the men on what they are learning and what they feel they need to learn.

We have quite a few men in the program that are homeless, which makes everything so difficult. Many of the men have to bring all their belongings with them to each group multiple times a week. Those who are staying in shelters have a strict timeframe when they have to be back at the shelter location or else they lose their bed for the night, so I write letters to verify that they were in class so that they can get a late pass. In addition to group sessions, I do one-on-one meetings with men who need additional support, whether that is resources or someone to listen to them.

Before this, I worked in GLIDE’s Women’s Center, which dealt with the other side—providing a safe haven for women who have survived domestic violence. Initially, after the experience of supporting women on their road to recovery from violence, working with men who had perpetrated violence was difficult. Just the language used during group can be violent and offensive. I often have to correct participants by saying, “We don’t call women that,” and explain why. Many of the movies that are part of the curriculum, aimed at showing men how damaging their behaviors can be, can really get me in the gut sometimes. Some of them portray women getting beat up and killed. It can be very graphic.

Nevertheless, I believe it is important for everybody to understand that all behavior is learned behavior. These men did not come into this world being violent. Yes, they have done some bad things, but it doesn’t mean that they are bad people.

Many of the men I work with came from abusive childhoods. They learned violence in their homes and were never taught how to manage the rage or anger that followed. Many of the African American men in the program come from single parent households where their mothers were struggling to provide for their families. Their definition of what a man should be is taught in these environments that are far too often violent.

What our program seeks to do is help these men unlearn this type of behavior by understanding where this behavior comes from, where it was learned. We call this “unpacking.” And as we go through this curriculum, at some point the lightbulb goes off. I have heard countless men say, “You’re right, Saundra. I wasn’t born like this.”

I feel honored that this program gives me insight into how men think and why they think the way they do. What I have learned is that these men are also victims in many ways. It feels good working with these men, knowing that by helping them I am also helping those women I used to serve. This work is about healing—healing the family, healing the community and healing themselves. Somebody has to do this work, and who better than a woman?

By Erin Gaede

Isoke Femi on the spiritual roots of African American music and the power of harmony

Music has always played an essential role in resisting oppression and advancing social justice, including at GLIDE. In honor of Women’s History Month, we sat down with Isoke Femi, Maven of Transformative Learning in GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice, to discuss the foundation of music in her life, spirituality, and justice work. Isoke encourages us to listen to Black music with new ears, as a “medicinal power” that got people through the intense trauma of oppression in all its forms. “It is no accident,” says Isoke, “that such music had  potent power to influence and profoundly shape the world.” 

What many people fail to understand is that all Black music is spiritual music. It comes out of an ethos that says you have to be able to create a mood instantly. It is about bringing down the spirit. The questions is: What is the spirit you are trying to bring down? Even if it is love or blues, it is still recognized as spiritual. Love is a spiritual thing. Sex is a spiritual thing. Romance is a spiritual thing. These are experiences that you treat spiritually — music is that spiritual treatment. It’s a remedy. It is naming the problem, it is addressing the problem and it is identifying the energetic field.

I call the music that Africans brought to America, and later evolved, “soul force.” The sorrow of the Negro Spiritual is the sorrow of being enslaved. Music not only names that but elevates the experience of enslavement to something else, to something that is more ethereal, more transcendent. Music can take you deeper into an experience and it can lift you out of it. Black music is masterful at doing both those things.

This is the music I grew up with. Music was central to everyday life. We were members of Church of Christ, so there were no musical instruments. Everything was vocal. The only music was to be brought through the voice. All those sounds. All those swaying bodies. Music was an invitation to be fully present in the body and let the body do what it wanted to do.


In my professional life, I use music as a cathartic medicine. Music can say things that words can’t because it bypasses the mental structures that get in the way of certain kinds of communication. We are not all solo performers or commercial musicians, but we realize that music is inextricable to a spiritual experience. The best way to do that is congregational singing, where there is not necessarily any instrument, just voices. Anybody can do that. You don’t have to be able to harmonize, and you don’t have to have a perfect pitch. You can bring your whole soulfulness to it but not need to be super polished.

Every now and then it feels like the universe will drop a few lines into my consciousness that become almost like a mantra or a chant. I use this in facilitating workshops. I use it in rallies. Anytime there is a gathering or a moment in a gathering when something is called for and you feel a little unsure. When there is a need for catharsis, I break out into song.

By Erin Gaede

Reflections of a powerful young voice from the global movement for justice

Bee Ling recently came to GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice as part of the International Research & Exchanges Fellowship (IREX) on tolerance and conflict resolution. Having Bee here with us was a rare and very special opportunity. We learned from her, and we shared with her, as we came to see the Tenderloin and San Francisco through her eyes—and in a global context. Astute, compassionate, kind and courageously dedicated to supporting the most vulnerable members of society, Bee is now a friend and ally for whom we are deeply grateful. Before returning home to Kuala  Lumpur, Bee spoke with us about her perspective on global practices of social exclusion, discussing her plans to set up inclusive initiatives to involve people experiencing homelessness in policy processes and local service responses.

I am from Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, where gentrification has been forcing many residents out [onto the streets] and causing displacement. I call it banishment, because my neighbors on the street are being forced to move with nowhere to go.

The government calls this voluntary but the high rent prices and the foreign investment companies that are buying up real estate for wealthy people, many of whom don’t even live in Kuala Lumpur, are pushing people into poverty. These new apartments stay empty most of the year. Officials claim that Kuala Lumpur is empty, but what they mean is there are not a lot of middle-class people living there anymore. The hundreds of migrant workers and homeless people are never mentioned.

The Destitute Persons Act, which was legislated during the British Colonial period in 1872, has been at the core of federal and state strategies for dealing with poverty and homelessness in Malaysia. By this law, government officers have the power to conduct raids on ‘destitute persons’ and detain them in welfare homes.

The government narrative describes this as “rescuing” people but it is [actually] arresting [them]. If you dress well, they will leave you alone. But if you look poor or homeless, they take you to these welfare homes where you have no freedom to leave or access to legal counsel.

There is an economy behind all of this. Private contract companies are paid to clear the streets of poor people and their belongings, just like the sweeps here in San Francisco. The sweeps are costly and ineffective. Most people don’t understand that our tax money is being used to target the poor.

In 2014, officials claimed that the root cause of homelessness is soup kitchens, basically blaming poor people for being homeless. I knew that being poor should not be considered a crime, so it was then that I got involved in working on the issue of homelessness. For the last four years, we have been providing services to the people living on the street as a Coordinator for Kedai Jalanan [“Street Store,” a pop-up shop run by faculty and students from the University of Malaysia]. We provide the urban poor with daily necessities like hygiene supplies and clothing.


Volunteers from the University of Malaya help set up racks, organize clothes, and lend a listening ear at Kedai Jalanan’s pop-up free market for those people experiencing homelessness in Kuala Lumpur.

I was a student when I started this work and didn’t realize the complexity of the problem and power of institutionalized racism. We need research to persuade our local city council and statistics to repel the Destitute Persons Act, but they are not easy to attain because the government doesn’t produce these statistics. When I talk to city council members they tell me that we have to focus on the bigger picture. But poor people never become the bigger picture. Every day the homelessness problem grows bigger and bigger, but when will it be seen?

I joined the IREX fellowship in hopes of developing a tri-national plan. Before coming to San Francisco, I was in Japan at a conference brainstorming global movements. Rather than working alone, we must join forces together in a movement towards global justice. That is what I hope to accomplish as part of my fellowship at GLIDE’s Center for Social Justice. I want to connect and combine resources to better understand the global forces that are causing people to suffer.

Since starting my year-long fellowship at IREX, I have realized that the way authorities target the poor in the United States is the same as in Southeast Asia. We don’t have as much freedom and as many resources as people in the United States, but I hope to use everything I have learned to run campaigns that address what we can do together to push back against authoritarianism globally. My goal is to activate a community of homeless people in Kuala Lumpur to be part of organizing and standing up for themselves rather than advocates like me speaking for them.

I think it is time we talk about transitional justice, because we can’t move forward until we heal the historical wounds. For example, in Malaysia, we still can’t talk about communism. There is no narrative from the bottom. I want to record the powerful narratives of the poor to inform middle-class conceptions. Poor people have dreams, too.

By Erin Gaede

Reflections on Client Advocacy, or What Is a Case Manager? (Part 2)

Walk-In Center client advocate Nikki Dove says her role at GLIDE is a constant reminder of how hard life can be. “Working here isn’t easy,” Nikki explains. “It’s not for the faint of heart or cold of heart. You’ve got to have humility. And you’ve got to recognize that not everyone knows how to help themselves, which is why spaces like the Walk-In Center are so important. We help anybody and everybody figure out how to navigate systems for themselves.”

The following reflections from Nikki (lightly edited for publication here) comprise the second installment in our series on the vital but little understood work of case managers. (You can read our first installment here.) What does a case manager do? In this series, we examine and honor the complexity and compassion of case management and client advocacy, here on the front lines of  GLIDE’s efforts to support the wellbeing and self-determination of our community.

We have all been there, navigating a system that we aren’t familiar with. It is irritating and frustrating. Now think about how stressful that would be if your needs were immediate–like shelter.

As a Client Advocate in the Walk-In Center, I spend a lot of time trying to support people in communicating their needs. I hand out tokens for transportation, deliver hygiene kits, and support people with their housing applications.

Because access to housing is so scarce now, I am constantly having conversations with folks who are struggling to adjust to how difficult things are. A lot of people I work with are unhoused for the first time in their life. So I help them with their DMV vouchers and support people in navigating the complicated process towards permanent housing, transitional housing, getting into treatment and finding shelter in the city.

The Walk-In Center is the real starting point for many folks.

Sometimes, in other programs, it feels like the goal is just to push people through or move you on to the next department so that you are not in my face anymore, so you are not my problem anymore. There is a different connection that you get when you meet folks at GLIDE.

I try support each person individually in determining what resources they need to move forward. An important part of this process is figuring out what questions clients need to be asking to avoid being pushed off or running around in circles. I am always trying to make sure that their next step is the right step for each person’s unique circumstances.

But mostly I view my role as seeing people. Folks need to be looked at in a way that their presence is acknowledged. We all go through our lives wanting to make sure that we are leaving some type of stamp or legacy, so someone knows that we were here in the future. Everyone here wants that, too. So making eye contact, asking if they need help with anything, and then listening without judgment is the most important part of my job.

This job has taught me that it is not the people at the bottom that are the problem. Sometimes things just happen. It is not always your fault and your reality is not always chosen. We forget that with this community. I haven’t met anybody that grew up thinking that they want to be unhoused on the streets of San Francisco. There is a lot of trauma [involved] that effects all of us. It is really sad to me the way the finger is often pointed at folks who are experiencing homelessness. There are ways to address this multilevel problem without having to blame the people who are experiencing the problem.

Instead of calling this, “The Homelessness Crisis,” we have to question what is happening with our social services and within our government that is allowing things like this to happen to our neighbors. What is happening within our education system, our homes, our communities? We need to ask, “What happened to you?” in order to create compassionate solutions.

That’s why GLIDE is such an important community, a place where anyone can find connection.

GLIDE offers people the opportunity to be connected through various avenues like Harm Reduction, Recovery services, the Women’s Center, volunteer opportunities, the Meals program, senior social events, Sunday Celebration for spiritual support, holistic support at the Wellness Center. And it doesn’t end there!

People always come back when they are doing well to say thank you and show their appreciation. It can be hard for me to take responsibility and accept their praises because it is work they did. I always remind people that we are here to support but you did the work, you took the necessary steps to move in this direction.

I consider GLIDE to be a supportive space where it is okay for whatever you decide. No matter what, we will be here for you if you need us. So come back and let us know how you are doing. Come back and bring someone else in need of help. Come back if you need support figuring out your next steps. That is why we are here. That is why I am here.


By Erin Gaede

Marvin K White, Vashti and Liberation

In honor of Women’s History Month, GLIDE’s own Interim Minister of Celebration Marvin K. White shares his gifts as a poet and theologian in a piece entitled “Vashti”. The poem and accompanying interview were originally published in the GLIDE Church eNews, Congregation Connect.


I was with the other women
In the woman’s place
In the palace
And it’s only
The letter “A”
That separates place
From palace.

I was with the other women
When he called.
I had been up cooking all night
And had just wiped
The last of the semolina
Off my forehead
And we were finally ready to eat

When he called
We were in our one hundred
And eighty-seventh day of celebrating
One hundred and eighty-seven times
I was called up,
Pageanted for him
And the visiting priests, provinces, and princes.
He had been feasting for the last six days
Without calling.
I waited six.
I was queen.
He told me that.
I was clear.
Or tried to convince myself to be.
I was picked
Like the prized pie at the carnival
Because I was the fairest.

When he called
He never thought
I would refuse him anything.
I was lucky you know
And yes
I heard him calling
Cuz I hear everything.
I am a woman.
Ears trained to ground and sky.
I hear the women
Like myself
Like the bread we ate that day.
Who were picked over
For some beauty standard
That had nothing to do with us.

I wasn’t leaving this party.
It felt right.
And yes
I heard him calling
But I also heard God’s warning breath
Whisper my ear
With my mother’s fear,
“Say no girl,
say no.”

So, when he called
It was the seventh day.
He had been drinking.
His heart was merry with wine.
He was drunk.
And ordered,
because that’s what you can do
when you make someone a queen,
He ordered me
To him
In the crown royal,
He was ready to show me off.
Because I a woman
And I am moved
Like the women I am with
And the women I come from
Are moved.
And there is a place
And it’s only the letter “A”
That separates place from palace
In my belly now.
Fuller than the feast
Whose grease
Lingers on my fingers.
There is a place left
From gathering with my like,
Telling me what to say,
And I am finally ready to hear
This word
This bird
Flying out of my mouth
Turned song.
And I am sure
Other queens have heard it.
Put their tongues
To the roof of their mouths
And tasted it.
My sisters
We who have all said “No!”
And have not known
And known at the same time
For our daughters,
The next in our broken royal lines.
For their voices strong and spirit led.
We can say “Mother God” and “Father God.”
Can think
That in the company of women
Quiet wars can be raged.
Battles birthing women and
Women birthing battles,
Who don’t forget their kindred
Or their people.
When he called
There was new breath in mine
Pushing this defiance
Out of my chest.

Like life
Collapsing in on itself.
Like rock caught in the craw of my throat
Coughed up.
Like tear and snot braced for pain.
Like we are getting ready
To sing
Or preach
Or pray
For the first time.

Like I said,
When he called
I had been up cooking
All night
And had just wiped
The last of the semolina
Off my forehead,
And we

How did this poem begin for you?

I really believe in locating stories in the Bible through a “Hermeneutics of Suspicion.” In theology, it’s a style of interpretation that bypasses the patriarchal and class readings of biblical stories, so that less-visible and “differently beautiful and powerful” stories can emerge. That’s how I found Vashti. Obfuscated by men, Vashti’s and other marginalized figures’ stories risk being untold. I couldn’t let that happen. I could hear her faint voice, still calling out, these many years later. I have learned to listen and be led by the voice of women all of my life.

What prompted you to write from the perspective of a woman in the Bible? 

I always try to remember when I am writing in the voice of women, that the aim is to be spoken through by women and not to speak for women. I was fortunate enough to have been “mama’s/grandmama’s boy” when I was growing up. My therapist would say that I was a “spousified child”. You know, “Mama’s little man.” But it gave me an insight and entry into “women’s ways.” I hold those intimacies close still. As an adult, I was also the primary caregiver for my mother and grandmother, who both, at different times in my life, lived and died with Alzheimer’s. I was a writer watching their stories disappear. I began having conversations with them by whatever relative’s name they called me. I learned their ways. And learned to be a person who dispensed wisdom. If I have any insight and compassion into women’s experiences and female bonds, it is because they speak through me.

From a feminist, womanist and liberation theological standpoint, Vashti displayed agency and self-valuation.

Can you please talk a bit about the context of Vashti in the Book of Esther? 

Vashti was the queen to King Xerxes, who had a habit of getting drunk and sending for his queen to show her off to his visitors. In one of these instances, Vashti said, “No.” and refused to come. Xerxes’ dudes got in his ear and convinced him that Vashti had dissed him in front of his homies and he was going to have to do something to show who was in charge. I’m being the worst exegete in the world right now! Xerxes declares that all wives shall obey their husbands.

From a feminist, womanist and liberation theological standpoint, Vashti displayed agency and self-valuation. She chose women over men. She made choices that were uncommon in a bible that casts men as the heroes. Her story is now sited as one of resistance, risk and threat to the patriarchy. And it’s not because she was “against” men, but simply and more powerfully, “for” women. There are still other women, and other marginalized voices, hidden behind men in the bible or in bondage by the bible’s storytellers. It is my job as a theologian to free them.

Lisa Pelletier-Ross is a beloved staff member at GLIDE, serving as a trusted Community Safety Team Shift Lead. She, along with several other members of Community Safety and the Meals Program, have been collaborating with our Adult Education Specialist Stephanie McNally to record and share their experiences on the front lines of GLIDE’s work in the community. We are grateful to Lisa for providing the first post of Women’s History Month, and demonstrating the strength, patience and compassion required from the staff at GLIDE who work directly with our program participants.

Lisa (far right) with her colleagues Tanya, Ray and Iris.

Working at Glide has given me the opportunity to meet and befriend lots of people. Being homeless once myself, this is what I know and have learned: Homeless people are people too, but most of the time they are treated as not. They get treated badly all day long. Most of them just want to be treated like a normal human being, for someone to just lend an ear and listen to them. They just want to be heard, but most people don’t have the time or patience to do so.

I witness this desire to be heard with the clients we serve every day at GLIDE. When a client comes to me, whether they want to complain about something or  just say hello and have a friendly conversation, I lend them my ear.

Lisa with her Community Safety Team colleague, Dereik.

One Sunday, a senior citizen came in and told me he didn’t want to live anymore. He was tired. I knew what he meant about being tired, living in the vicious circle.  So I took him into Freedom Hall and asked if he wanted to talk about it. I just let him speak. He told me he wanted to end his life by throwing himself in front of a bus. I sat there with him for a while, and even had someone go and get a pastor for me so I had some support in this situation. I let the man know that we love him and that we would be sad if we didn’t see him around here anymore. The man cried and was still feeling down. I sat there with him for a while and listened to him share how he felt. When they came to take him to the hospital, the man gave me a hug and told me, “Thank you. I love you for listening to me.” That made me feel very grateful and thankful that I was able to change that man’s decision of wanting to take his life.

GLIDE staff celebrating a successful 2018 Grocery Bag Giveaway in December.

Most people just want someone to listen, and if I can do that for them and it makes them happy, then that makes me feel good inside, to give an act of kindness. If I can make another person happy or make their day, then I feel good about myself for doing so. If you lend an ear, that means more to the person you are listening to than, let’s say, buying them a hamburger. They will remember it because listening is a heartfelt act of caring. So if you can find it in your heart, give an act of kindness, show some love, and give an ear.