My heart is heavy this week from the riots in Baltimore revolving around the death of Freddie Gray (“what happened to Freddie Gray?”) and heavy from the opening arguments for and against marriage equality in the United States to be heard by the Supreme Court. For my audience that has been living under a rock (or possibly in a foreign country), let’s just say I’m surprised that Facebook and other social media outlets haven’t broken from pure unadulterated feelings. Feelings legitimate some of which I agree and some of which I don’t.
Here is my quick unsolicited opinion before I move on to the bigger pictures. What is happening in Baltimore shouldn’t be happening, but was inevitable. I’d like to offer a possible solution before the end of this blog post? As for DOMA, a bad argument is, “well, we haven’t had marriage equality yet, so why start now?” I’m not trying to be funny, but I think there are records showing that someone made similar assessments of illegal abortion and segregation. Then again, not an expert.
But let me go back to these pure unadulterated feelings that have outpoured onto Facebook walls out of heavy hearts and troubled minds. You are entitled (as am I) to every single thought you think and every feeling you feel. They are valid feelings and you shouldn’t feel shamed or bad for having them.
Systems of oppression are hard to understand. A lot of people sitting at the top don’t understand that systems of oppression thrive on people not taking care of each other. So what happens when we let down our own community? What happens when we stop taking care of our neighbors? Are we contributing to a system? That to me is the scariest part not just about race relations, but all of the systems in the entire United States and the entire world. We don’t care for each other and I don’t think that’s what the divine wants. And while we are out here not caring for each other, those at the top of the system continue to thrive in a comfortable environment whether we want them to or not. I don’t know how to hold these people accountable. Lots of people offer the advice of looking in a mirror? But what I’ve learned this year from my job as a Community Organizer is that systems change from the bottom up. Organizing is hard because in our minds, we think we can recruit or find 5,000 people who think like us and that will walk with us and be able to change a system. When in reality it’s more like 2. Yes, 2. 5,000:2, that’s what you’re working with here! But remember that 2 becomes 4, then 8, then 16 and then a system is over turned! Yay! But not quite because sometimes there are hundreds of years during that recruitment/retention phase.
So I’d like to propose that we take better care of each other in order to begin a long journey of overturning a system. Today, I think we were granted with a small picture into what it looks like when we take care of each other with the rescue of hundreds of girls in Nigeria from the power of Boko Haram. There will be months of reconciliation, minds damaged may never recover, and the world may never truly understand exactly what happened. But what we should acknowledge is a determination and a desire to take care of each other and that rescuers took time to take care of people they don’t know. I love the images from Baltimore that media tags as, “the images they don’t want you to see!” because I always click them with great enthusiasm to see clergy members standing in solidarity with one another, the community reinvesting in itself by leading clean up crews, and images of people passing out water bottles to their brothers and sisters on the police force.
In my own YAV life, I just finished teaching resident leadership classes in a neighborhood here in Miami. We did the class in a neighborhood that was so broken and in such desperate need of repair but it took ten years before the residents saw true change in the system. I reflect on this neighborhood because the community before its complete renovation shared eerily similar qualities to the housing project in which Freddie Gray was a resident. These housing projects and the fact that they still exist are a prime example of a failed system, broken, and the fact that it’s hard for people to take care of each other.
A lot of my facilitators left class frustrated with residents tardiness, disruption, and to be honest a few facilitators wrestled with the fact that the group had a diverse range of educational backgrounds. I saw a facilitator a few weeks later and she REALLY wrestled with the above listed qualities of the class. When I saw her I said, “your presentation was the best. It was truly the first time the leadership cohort heard from someone with respect and someone with authority that they were an asset and not a hindrance to their own community.” And watching my facilitators’ reaction to giving her that information and residents’ reactions to someone saying that was a moment the divine reached down.
This is for everyone. This is for everyone reading this blog post this is for everyone not reading this blog post. You can live in a housing project, you can live in Coral Gables. You could be on a college campus right now, you may be in a transition house, or you may be in jail. You could be a YAV living with three people you didn’t choose to live with. You could be considering a YAV year next year. You may be in your comfortable family home, neighborhood, or high rise chic city apartment. I don’t really care where you are or what community you identify with. YOU are an asset to your community. You always have been and you always will be. Taking care of each other is as easy as offering a hand, a thought, a hug. Now go forth with the knowledge that you are an agent of change, take care of people, and do good.