My name is Melissa Henry and I’m a canvasser with PA Working Families. My job gives me the chance to go out and meet people from all walks of life, which I really enjoy. Being a canvass worker has helped me overcome a lot of adversity in my life and helps me through each day.
However, there is still the challenge of facing racial adversity. I never know what the day is going to bring. I’m a people person—I love to meet new people and put a smile on their face. But it’s not always like that when it comes knocking on doors, especially when that person behind the door might be racist. I’ve faced statements like “get away from my door” or “go away” followed by the “N” word. Someone has even told me to “deal with my own kind.” It hurts and it is sad to know that people are still racist and don’t give themselves the chance to change.
A few weeks ago, I was out in the field knocking on doors and I came across this woman who had been drinking. I could smell the alcohol on her. It seems like she was upset to see a black woman at her door. She was quick to find out why I was there and just as quick to let me know that she did not want me to be there. When I told her my name and began to tell her that I was working to raise the minimum wage, she slammed the door in my face. She then opened the door to ask me how I got to her neighborhood and that I was not welcome there. I never said a word back to her and just kept on walking. On the side of the house, there was a deck and a man outside on the deck drinking. He had a can of beer in his hand which he set down so he could light fire crackers and shoot them my way while yelling “N—–, stop loitering around.”
I was scared for my life and angry at the same time. I just kept walking until I got out of eyesight and saw my Field Manager. I told her what had just happened and she let me know that everything was going to be okay. For the rest of the night, I continued to work by her side. What helped me get through that was to not think about what had just happened and to think that nobody else is going to be like that household. To this day, I feel nervous when I go out into the field. I think about if white people on turf are going to be open to what I have to say.
Why do I continue to canvass in a the face of such adversity? Because I love my job and what Working Families stands for. I love the challenge of finding someone who shares those values to take action. It means so much to me, it always has. It’s part of my makeup as a person—I love people no matter what the color of skin they have. I just wish the whole world could look at everyone through my eyes and see the beauty of all the different colors of skin and realize that the Creator made it that way for a special reason.
I believe in myself today because at I once did not, and I keep going hoping show people that you can overcome racism. I know in my heart that people who are racist don’t sleep well at night, wondering why they feel the way they do about skin color. I don’t know why they were taught that in the first place. At the end of the day, I go home and pray for racist people and then I sleep well. I say to myself, “Good night, World. Love has no color. Say no to racism.”
I can remember dealing with racism as a child. Being called names at school like, “monkey”, “tar baby”, or “ugly black kid.” I just didn’t understand why a white family would call us names and then have our Black mothers come and cook and clean and take care of their children. I don’t have a lot of memories about being a black child but I remember enough to know equal rights were being fought for. I am so glad I wasn’t brought up to hate. There is nothing bad about my skin. I look at my skin color and say to myself — how pretty it is.
Melissa Henry, Canvasser
PA Working Families