We all have a part to play in building a better world. That is what J.M. firmly believes in. J.M. grew up in a household full of grassroots organizers. From a young age he learned that it is incumbent on each of us to, as he would say, “take what is and work to make it better or more equitable for us all.” Therefore, when he learned about the opportunity to become a part of the Fair Housing Justice Center’s (FHJC) Acting for Justice program, he thought it was, “like manna from heaven.”
J.M. first heard about the opportunity to become a tester from the Actors Work Program when he was looking for additional work. But when he heard about what it meant to be part of the FHJC’s testing program, he was thrilled for a chance to serve. “This collaboration between the Fair Housing Justice Center and the Actors Work Program of The Actors Fund was not only a no-brainer,” he explained. “But it was thrilling to me that I could use my craft and skills as an actor towards advancing social justice.”
For more than five years, J.M. has served as a tester. As an African American tester, he is frequently deployed on paired tests to investigate racial discrimination. Some of his investigations have documented housing provider practices that favored white home-seekers. In reflecting on his experience of testing, J.M. comes back to a lesson he learned early in his acting career. “Among the first tools I recollect having learned in studying acting is the notion that every human interaction is a negotiation,” he explained. J.M. consistently recognizes this behavior on his tests, and he finds this dynamic especially exciting to immerse himself in.
But beyond this, J.M. recognizes how important the work of testing is to creating change. “It’s vital because housing discrimination as a function of racism and white supremacy is systemic,” he said. “You can’t make people see what you see, think what you think, or feel what you feel. But you can legislate fairness and equitable behaviors and policies… We must use fair housing legislation as an instrument by which to mediate people’s behaviors toward each other. And that’s what the Fair Housing Justice Center does. It uses such fair housing policies to ensure equity and fairness. And I love being a part of that.”
This story is part of a series called Acting for Justice Stories, which highlights the experiences of the testers who make up the FHJC’s Acting for Justice testing program. Testers pose as ordinary home seekers in order to determine if housing providers and others are complying with fair housing laws. If you are interested in supporting the Acting for Justice program, consider donating to the FHJC at www.fairhousingjustice.org/give.