Housing discrimination can have a lasting impact. It can affect nearly every part of a person’s life – from where someone goes to school, to the jobs a person takes, to the state of someone’s health. This is something that M.L. has witnessed within her own family. And it is because of this that M.L. serves as a tester in the Fair Housing Justice Center’s (FHJC) Acting for Justice program.
M.L. first started working as a tester about eight years ago when she was looking for additional work. “I went to the Actors Fund to try to find employment,” she explained. “And I spoke to Kathy Schrier, who was the dynamite coordinator of the Actors Work Program at the time, and she recommended this job because of my background.” In addition to her acting career, M.L. has also worked for about 20 years in the field of social work. Her experience in both acting and social work made M.L. a perfect fit for the FHJC’s testing program.
Since then, M.L. has served as a tester on and off depending on her acting schedule. When she first started testing, M.L. initially found the experience to be rather frightening. “It was scary at first because I didn’t want to do anything to bring attention to myself,” she explained. As an African American tester, M.L. has been frequently deployed on tests as a prospective renter in neighborhoods she had never been to before. But the more tests she participated in, the more comfortable she became in the role.
However, the reason that M.L continues to serve as a tester is because of her own experience and history with the issue of housing discrimination and residential racial segregation. M.L’s grandparents migrated from the South to the North of the United States in the height of the Jim Crow era. In fact, both of her grandfathers faced extreme discrimination when they lived in the South, despite their service in the military during World War II. And although her grandparents escaped the discriminatory laws of the South, they still faced discrimination and segregation in housing in the North because of their race. The same was true of M.L.’s parents, who in the 1970s were blatantly told that they were not wanted in certain neighborhoods because of their race.
“That’s why I do this,” M.L. explained. “I think it is really important that everyone be given an opportunity to live where they want to live and not be discriminated against – to thrive and not be discouraged or treated differently because of the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation, their religious backgrounds, or anything else. That should not happen in this country. And for as long as I am able, I want to continue fighting for fair housing.”
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 fairhousingjustice.org/give.