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Rochester Black Land and Liberation Initiative

Written by the Rochester Black Land and Liberation Initiative

Liz McGriff of Rochester is taking the Black Land and Liberation Initiative national day of action local!

40 Acres. 40 Cities. One Day.


Support Liz McGriff as she takes part in a nation-wide day of action led by the Black Land and Liberation Initiative on June 19th (Juneteenth) 2017. This local peaceful action starts in the parking lot at East High on June 19th at 5:30 PM.  Liz will then lead a walk to her home (618 Cedarwood Terrace) in order to re-occupy her home.  The Black Land and Liberation national day of action is happening in 40 other cities across the nation.  The difference for Liz is that she already reoccupied her home after being evicted…twice!  She has the courage to fight for her home and has spent the last few years helping other local residents fight for their homes. She is calling on all her brothers and sister (especially her black brothers and sisters!) to walk alongside her as she continues the struggle to fight an eviction from MidFirst Bank, a bank based in Oklahoma City with no ties to the Rochester community.  Make our voices heard and meet her at 5:30 PM on Monday June 19th in the parking lot at East High School. 40 Acres. 40 Cities…including Rochester!

Liz’ Story: Liz McGriff purchased a three-bedroom colonial at 618 Cedarwood Terrace back in 2001. She paid $56,550 via a Federal Housing Authority mortgage loan. Her payments were $636 a month, payments she made diligently up until she hit financial troubles during the nation’s economic downturn in the late 2000s. And still, she made payments when she could while she sought a mortgage modification. In total, she estimates, she made more than 13 years of payments totaling nearly $100,000.

Liz’ requests for modifications were denied, and lender MidFirst Bank foreclosed for the first time in April 2014.  Liz was evicted in April, 2015. When authorities came unannounced to remover her they were met with resistance.  The police and the MidFirst Bank backed down because of public outrage.  According to bank documents supplied by Take Back the Land, the lender has told McGriff it is preparing to convey the property to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (and collect FHA mortgage insurance on the property). But, the lender offered McGriff the opportunity to buy back the house — assessed at $73,000 — for no less than $129,720.45.  The house was eventually conveyed back to HUD in June 2016 where they informed her she could stay in the house until they completed an investigation.  To date, Liz has not seen the results of their investigation.  In January 2017, HUD conveyed her home back to MidFirst.  MidFirst and the City Roots Community Land Trust of Rochester negotiated to purchase the home.  MidFirst denied both offers and has begun the process of evicting her. She is to appear in court on June 20, 2017 to fight for her home.

Questions for the Rochester Black Land and Liberation Initiative? or call (585) 653-8362

More about Black Land & Liberation!

The Black Land and Liberation Initiative is a vision, strategy and training program grounded in black liberation and anchored by black leadership. Our aim is to develop diverse and interdependent strategies that move us away from the current extractive economy which depends on the violent enclosure of land, labor, culture, power, wealth and spirit. We are asserting the fundamental right to the resources required to create our own productive, dignified and sustainable livelihoods through our own free labor and self-governance. Key among those resources is land. We will co-create strategies for transformation which are grounded in a long-term vision, guided in the resilience, culture, and creativity of our ancestry, rooted in our sovereignty, and which we can begin putting into place NOW.

The Black Land and Liberation Initiative is anchored by BlackOut Collective, Movement Generation and a diverse cohort of Black organizers from across the country. We are working with groups of folks across the country to launch a trans-local, Black-led land reclamation and reparations initiative co-created by us and the participants. We are guided by reverence for ancestral knowledge, black love, and collective responsibility.

A Call to Reclaim!

On Juneteenth 2017 (Monday, June 19th) Black people across the country will be taking back land and reclaiming space, from vacant lots to empty school buildings. We are taking back land that should be used for the good of the people; land that has historically been denied access to Black people. Through these actions, we will confront the institutions that have been built off the extracted wealth of Black bodies and Black land and the individuals who have profited from them.

Why Land?

Land is essential in the fight for self-determination and liberation for Black folks. The Call to Reclaim is an intervention to shift the national narrative to incorporate both reparations from a land-based lens as well as to make the connections between land and liberation for Black folks. We see Black folks collectively engaging in land reclamation with the goal of shifting our relationship to the land, engaging in healing while creating hubs for movement work to be housed, cultivated and birthed. We believe Black folks, in this moment, can call on our Maroonage legacy to support the creation of Black safe spaces.

We call for a return of accumulated wealth to black people in the US and black people across the diaspora. We call for a release of stolen land. We vow to work with integrity and build partnership with those whose lands were stolen and with the land itself. We vow to continue the struggle, to build black community, institutions, and power until we are returned what is rightfully ours.

For more information visit:

Juneteenth, A Short History: Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.

Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another, is that the news was deliberately withheld by the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations. And still another, is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. All of which, or neither of these version could be true. Certainly, for some, President Lincoln’s authority over the rebellious states was in question   For whatever the reasons, conditions in Texas remained status quo well beyond what was statutory.


Rochester-Haiti Networking Event THIS FRIDAY

Greater Rochester Haiti Networking Event

Friday, May 12, 2017


St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality

402 South Avenue, Rochester

Rochester-Haiti Connections:  So many local Rochester groups collaborate with groups in Haiti!  We might be able to share resources, facilitate networking and communication, provide advice or consultation in our group’s specialties, or co-host events such as speakers, discussions or Kreyol lessons.  When I lived in Haiti I was part of a similar group called the Cap Haitien Health Network, which serves as an inspiration for setting up something here in Rochester.

Networking:  Please join us for this Rochester-Haiti networking event (and an early celebration of Fèt Drapo) on May 12 to learn about the projects other groups are working on!  We’ll provide some food–maybe even some Haitian food–and some space and time for representatives of local groups working in Haiti to share about their programs.

Information:  Please RSVP to if your group can send a representative.  Whether you can come or not, please add your groups’ info to this Google Doc so we can collect all the local groups who work in Haiti:

Please share this event with others who work in Haiti,

We hope that you can join us and bring your favorite Haitian proverb!  “Yon sèl dwèt pa ka mange kalalou.” (You can’t eat okra with one finger.)


Sarah Brownell (


A March Against Humanity: An article on the Women’s March on Washington

In response to the event of our President Elect preparing to enter into office, I found myself searching my mind for an idea to make public my support of those whose “humanness” is now being even more blatantly threatened. Through my curious nature I surfed the web and I discovered the Women’s March on Washington. I was intrigued, and then the next thing I knew I was on a 13 hour bus ride to Washington D.C., mentally prepared for anything to happen or so I thought.

I stayed the weekend at the D.C. Catholic Worker House and began to try to understand the difference between what I wanted to see happen at this march and what may actually happen. I packed a small bag and was on my way to the march with a pastor, an older generation Catholic Worker, another Catholic Worker friend from Las Vegas and a few nuns from Michigan who held up their map of land-based nuclear missiles proudly. Trying to prevent myself from having a panic attack at the sight of more people than I had ever seen in my entire life, one other Catholic Worker and I slipped through cracks in the crowd, hopped a fence and breathed it all in.  I took time to look around at the many shades of pink that I seemed to be swimming in. Sign after sign was “Get your rosaries off my ovaries”, “My body my choice,” “Planned Parenthood” or “Congratulations, now I’m an activist.” I felt my normally joyful demeanor melt into a dark cloud that hung over me for a bit of time. My intention at the March was to help stand in solidarity with those who are unheard, misrepresented, mistreated and unwelcomed among our nation and have been for a very long time. I was looking forward to immersing myself in a group of individuals, mainly women, who were standing for similar issues with the intention of vocalizing that we stand together through all the turmoil. However, yet again, there was little attention and focus on the issues of racism, deportations, police violence, women’s health or even the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Some may disagree and say that there WAS emphasis on women’s health at the March because there were signs that read, “My body, my choice,” and many banners in support of Planned Parenthood. This march was clearly  catering to pro-choice beliefs and hardly anything else. I felt my eyes fixate on a little girl who was holding up a sign that had a hanger with dripping blood that read, “Never again.” After seeing that I felt sick to my stomach. There are so many pertinent issues that long for well-deserved attention and yet, what gets attention is the fact that many women want to be able to decide to have an abortion or not. Why are our priorities so focused on having power to choose life or death? We choose death when we decide to not stand up for our brothers and sisters. We choose death when we judge others for being a part of a different religion than our own, if any. We choose death when we use violence to silence situations we aren’t ready for or those we disagree with. As much of a struggle it is to admit it, when we decide what lives and what dies we insist on playing the role of God.

My heart breaks everytime I hear about someone forgetting that non-violence is something that has worked. There is a reason why Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day wanted to “create a new society in the shell of the old.” We have lost sight of what it means to be good and maybe that is because we have never known how to be good. These are not new issues that we are facing, but we can adapt to new paths in this world to be able to live each day with joy and give up on embracing death.

We have reacted to this presidential term as if this is the first time we have seen discrimination, but it never ended! I believe this is another example of white privilege and it is about time that white people, including myself, acknowledge the fact that their voice is loud, louder than the rest. There is still a disconnect that there are issues that have existed for years that have not been straightened out. Of course there are other problems that exist that need to be addressed, but what about the voices that are continuously being ignored? I am looking forward to the day when we can all put our personal agendas aside and become the people of the UNITED States of America, united with each other, united in Christ.

Haiti: Christmas in Prison

By James Murphy
Going through pictures on my phone recently, I came across images of a twelve-year-old girl, Esterhazy, and her five-year-old brother, Junior, that I took in Haiti last year. Their father has been in prison in Haiti since July 5, 2016. Francius Dauphin Estimable (Johnny), was arrested and charged with arson. I believe that his arrest, and the fact that he is still being held months later, are politically motivated. Since his imprisonment he has lost weight and has developed a serious vision problem. I don’t know if his children are aware of these details, and I can’t imagine what they are going through. Christmas is around the corner and Dad will not be with them to celebrate. What other holidays, birthdays and other milestones in their lives he has missed I can only guess.

esterhazy Esterhazy on the left, playing with friends

juniorJunior at home

Johnny has deep ties to the Rochester area. He worked to create a sister city program with Honeoye Falls, has hosted groups from the Rochester Institute of Technology and was instrumental in helping St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality open a sister Catholic Worker, Pen ak Pwason (Fishes and Loaves), in his hometown of Borgne, Haiti. This Catholic Worker feeds one-hundred elderlies four meals a week in a country with no social safety net. Johnny also created Foundation Dauphin, which helps seventy-five poor children attend school, supports teachers, operates a mobile library, and provides free after school programs in computers, band, and sewing. A couple of summers ago, Johnny came and celebrated Mass at St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality and we shared a meal afterwards. I remember it clearly because, by chance, there were five people at the Mass and meal who spoke French fluently, so communication was not a problem. Only the Holy Spirit could have put that many french speakers at the table that night.

In addition to cultivating relationships internationally to better his community, Johnny also worked locally to improve the life of the residents of his hometown. Mr. Estimable served his community as assistant mayor from 2007-2011 at the request of rural community and farmers’ organizations. He helped bring paved roads to town and revitalized the beach area. He also provided extensive support to earthquake survivors and spearheaded a cholera prevention program. His term ended in 2011 and a new mayor was appointed without local elections being held. He peacefully turned the office and paperwork over to the new mayor without resistance and awaited the next round of elections.

Local elections were held in October 2015 and he ran for Mayor under the Verite (Truth) party. Although initial local vote counts pointed to the Verite party’s victory for both mayor and depute, the official results from Port-au-Prince showed they were both defeated. I was there during the elections and remember the elation of the community when his victory seemed imminent. I left a week after the elections sure that his victory, by a landslide, would be upheld. In our own country we have become increasingly distrustful of election results, but it still seems impossible to negate landslide victories. Not so in Haiti, and this result demonstrates the depths of corruption that exist in Haiti. In my opinion, Johnny sits in a prison because of what he did after the elections: He and the dupute candidate challenged the results through the courts. The depute’s election results were overturned, but Johnny lost his case on a technicality.

He was discouraged after losing the court case, but decided to move on by starting a business and continuing his work with children instead of politics. While he was letting go of politics, his opponents must have felt he was still a threat. The new mayor was installed on July 1, 2016. That same night, the mayor’s office was set on fire and shortly afterwards, another building burned on the outskirts of Borgne. Jonny was eventually accused of both and was arrested and imprisoned on July 5, 2016. Since his arrest, Estimable has gone through all the court proceedings on the first arson charge. He brought in witnesses and video showing he was in Port-au-Prince when the building burned. We thought he would be released when suddenly he was accused of burning down a different building outside of Borgne. His lawyers then brought in different witnesses who attested that he was in fact in Cap Haitien on that day. All of the court proceedings finished by the end of August, but the judge has still not judged in the case. The judge was on vacation all of September and Johnny has not been called before the bench since then. Justice, it seems, is permanently on vacation in Haiti. Because of this, his young children will not spend Christmas with their father and a community loses a member that has the ability and connections to improve their lives.

Sarah Brownell, a professor at RIT, and a long time Catholic Worker, has known and worked with Johnny for years. He is her daughter’s godfather. She has worked tirelessly over these past few months to secure his freedom. She has called or written every organization and person she can think of. It’s gotten to the point that when she reaches out to new contacts, they have already heard of his case. Despite all this, Johnny still sits in prison as 2017 approaches.

A Catholic Worker delegation, led by Martha Hennessy, are travelling to Haiti in the coming weeks to make a plea for his freedom. In a few days, Christians the world over will celebrate the birth of Christ. Soon after Jesus was born, the Holy Family was on the run from Herod’s edict to kill all children under the age of two in Bethlehem. The Holy Family found safety in Egypt. Johnny and his family have not been so fortunate and his family suffered through the Advent season. Please pray for Johnny, Esterhazy, Junior and all political prisoners and their families the world over.

Violent Response to a Peaceful Action: Q&A with Sam Huselstein at Standing Rock


Rochester Catholic Worker, Sam Huselstein, witnessed last night’s violent response in Standing Rock. Sam’s version of last night’s events is much different than what other media outlets have been reporting. Thanks Sam for bearing witness and keeping Rochester up on what is happening out there! Stay safe…our thoughts and prayers are with you and all the protectors!

Below is a Question & Answer about the violent response to last night’s action at Standing Rock.

Rochester Catholic Worker: Hi Sam, last night you reported that there had been a violent response to an action. What was the action and what was the goal?

Sam Huselstein: The action was to remove the vehicles blocking the road at the north end of the bridge by camp. This road, 1806, is the fastest route for people traveling south who need to go to the hospital and also leads to the pipeline construction. The goal of moving the vehicles was to hopefully open up the roadway for people seeking medical attention as well as to open up a path for more direct action closer to the pipeline.

Rochester Catholic Worker: According to a CNN report on last night’s action (here), police said the protectors are not peaceful and that water was used to put out fires as well as to control the crowds.
“‘There are multiple fires being set by protesters on the bridge and in the area of the bridge,’ said Donnell Hushka, spokeswoman for the Morton County Sheriff’s Department. ‘We have fire trucks on the scene they are using their fire hoses to put out the fires, wet the land around so fires don’t spread and they are also using water as crowd control.'” From your perspective, is this statement accurate?

Sam Huselstein: When I arrived there were no fires on the scene but the cannons were still being used. I was told this morning that some of the protectors were stomping out flames that were caused by weapons used by he police. Later in the night, controlled fires were lit to help keep people warm that were on scene since it was around 25 degrees last night. There is video of a firetruck trying to put out this fire and spraying people in the process. The fire was not on the bridge. As for crowd control, I spoke with a woman who was at the front of the action this morning and she reported they were spraying protectors sitting on the ground holding space. So no, from my perspective that report is very inaccurate.

Rochester Catholic Worker: You transported people to safety who were injured. How many and what were the nature of their injuries?

Sam Huselstein: I mainly transported medics and supplies and was on stand by for additional medical transport. The main injuries being reported were coughing and vomiting from the tear gas. Many were at risk of hypothermia and many were shot by rubber bullets. This morning I learned one man is in critical condition from being hit in the chest. Ambulances were coming and going most of the night. A representative from the medic tent said they treated over 200 last night.

Rochester Catholic Worker: After last nights conflict and with winter weather approaching, are protectors planning on leaving?

Sam Huselstein: These events triggered a lot of trauma for those who were present for the raid of the north camp. One women who I’ve come to recognize as one of the action leaders at camp left the debriefing this morning in tears. I ate dinner with a group I had been to previous actions with and who were on the front lines last night. They were very shaken by the violence and trauma they witnessed.

Rochester Catholic Worker: What is the morale like today?

Sam Huselstein: The camp is definitely grieving but everyone is supportive. A prayer ceremony was held on the bridge this morning. Those who were able to are continuing actions today to keep a presence in the eyes of the public, law enforcement, and the government.

Catholic Workers at Standing Rock

Rochester Catholic Workers Sam Huselstein and Ralph Hemmerich have joined hundreds of water protectors resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline near Standing Rock, North Dakota. The pipeline would skirt the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, threatening the tribe’s water supply and sacred lands. Sam has sent several updates on the state of affairs as they camp, march, and work in solidarity with the tribe:

Hello from Standing Rock! Ralph and I arrived here Wednesday night. It’s cold and windy but the camp is in good spirits.

Already we’ve been able to help a lot at camp and on the front lines. At camp Ralph has helped set up tipis and winterized communal sleeping areas. We spent the night in the kitchen washing dishes….typical Catholic workers. The indigenous-centered culture of the camp encourages collaboration to make sure everyone is warm and taken care of, especially elders and children.

Today I had the opportunity to get in a non-violent direct action led by women. It was a prayerful action where we marched up to a barricade at the river crossing. We occupied the bridge for 20 minutes in silent prayer. Non-indigenous women led the march as a protective barrier for the women behind us. We were asked to leave initially, however, the police allowed us to finish our ceremony. At the end we thanked the police for not acting violently and left in peace.

This march was organized to honor Red Fawn, who was wrongfully arrested while helping water protectors.

I will be making updates periodically throughout my stay here so stay tuned for more info!

If you would like to help from afar there are multiple camps you can donate money and supplies too. Hopefully I can add a link soon!



Ralph hopped on a bus 11/20 to begin a 2-day ride back to Rochester. He plans to arrive in time to cook the Thanksgiving meal for our guests! Sam remains at Standing Rock.

Another peaceful action today in Bismarck. We tried to say a message in front of the governors home from the sidewalk and the capital building but were told we needed to leave the property, even though we should have been allowed to be there. We walked from the house to the front of the Capitol building and said a quick prayer and left. The police followed us as we walked. They were wearing riot gear and carrying tear gas/pepper spray canisters. The walk was peaceful and prayerful. When we drove off we were followed by police until we were out of town and on our way back to camp.
We are not protesters, we are water protectors. Today’s action was not a protest but an attempt to deliver a peaceful message to the governor.

We Are a Sanctuary

St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality is a sanctuary house for undocumented workers in need of shelter, safety, advocacy, and accompaniment.

We take this stand on the foundation of Catholic social teaching based upon Jesus’ gentle personalism, as expressed in Pope Paul VI’s 1965 encyclical Gaudium et spes:

“In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception, and of actively helping him when he comes across our path, whether he be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee…or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by
recalling the voice of the Lord, ‘As long as you did it for one of these the least of my brethren, you did it for me’”
(Matt. 25:40). (#27)

“… [W]hen workers come from another country or district and contribute by their labor to the economic advancement of a nation or region, all discrimination with respect to wages and working conditions must be carefully avoided. The local people, moreover, above all the public authorities, should all treat them not as mere tools of production but as persons, and must help them to arrange for their families to live with them and to provide themselves with decent living quarters. The native should also see that these workers are introduced into the social life of the country or region which receives them.” (#66)

Winter 2016 Newsletter

Our Winter 2016 Newsletter is available over on the Newsletter page. It includes reflections on our history and 75th Anniversary celebration; excerpts from Dorothy Day’s eulogy for early Rochester Catholic Worker Theresa Weider; words on Dorothy Day House’s coffin carpentry ministry and death among our homeless neighbors; a holiday message from the community; an update on Pen ak Pwason and fundraising efforts; a history of CW marriages at St. Joe’s; an invitation to become a shelter volunteer or Dorothy Day House advocate; a foot & hair clinic update; and a calendar of upcoming events.

Dignity, Not Deportation

Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided four Mexican restaurants in our neighboring city of Buffalo, identifying 25 employees as undocumented workers and detaining them. Their families have been left without financial support or a means of paying legal fees for their loved ones.
In response, members of the St. Joe’s community engaged in civil disobedience outside of the Buffalo ICE office. The Buffalo Police Department arrested eight protestors for trespassing, including Catholic Workers James Murphy and Annie Horras. Annie penned this statement to bring their cause to light:

“If you are reading this, I am under arrest for engaging in a nonviolent civil disobedience at an ICE office in Buffalo, NY. This morning, 8 of us refused to leave the entrance to the Buffalo ICE Office.

I did this because I believe that the immigrant community is facing a crisis– our people are being detained, our families are separated, and our communities are terrorized by ICE. I did this because I stand with the #Buffalo25 and want to fight for their justice, and for the permanent protection, dignity, and respect for the immigrant community.

I need your support. Please go to to donate to the #Buffalo25.

Please also sign our petition at:

Thank you for standing with me, and for standing with the #Buffalo25”

James and Annie block the doors to the Buffalo ICE office
James and Annie block the doors to the Buffalo ICE office

Catholic Workers at the protest
Catholic Workers at the protest

Saint Joe’s 75 Year Anniversary!

Please join us as we celebrate St. Joseph’s House 75th anniversary. We moved into 402 South Ave in 1941, and thanks to your support we are still practicing the works of mercy and working towards creating a “new society in the shell of the old”. We are the oldest continually operating Catholic Worker House in the world, so we are planning two days of events. We hope to see you there!

Friday, September 23rd 9:00 AM – 11:00 AM Homeless March: Meet in St. Joe’s Parking lot, 402 South Ave and join us as we walk to Washington Square Park. We will be passing a few places where people experiencing homelessness lay their heads and will finish with a protest rally at the park. We will head back to St. Joe’s House for a post-protest meal!

Friday, September 23rd 7:00 PM at the South Wedge Mission (125 Caroline St.):
Tom Cornell and Martha Hennessy Roundtable Discussion: The Catholic Worker Movement’s Past, Present, and Future. Tom Cornell is an associate editor of the Catholic Worker and a deacon in the Catholic Church. He is retired and living at the Peter Maurin Farm in Marlboro, New York. Mr. Cornell was a close friend of Dorothy Day. Martha Hennessy is Dorothy Day’s Granddaughter and splits her time between her family in Vermont and the New York City Catholic Worker. We look forward to hearing about their perspectives on the Catholic Worker Movement and its future. Please join us for this important discussion.

Saturday, September 24th Mass at St. Joe’s (402 South Ave) 10 AM: Please join us as we celebrate Mass in our parking lot under the tent! Father Larry Tracy and Father Bob Wirth will be our celebrants along with the House of Mercy Gospel Choir!

Saturday, September 24th St. Joe’s House 11 AM – 2 PM: Please help us celebrate 75 years by joining us for a meal, memories, fellowship and dancing. We will also be discussing current poverty issues facing our community and how our Catholic Worker house is responding to this local crisis. We also hope that after seven decades of continual operation you will be sure to run into old friends and make new ones!

“What we would like to do is change the world–make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do.” -Dorothy Day