During this dark time of anger and divide in our country I am truly thankful for my family and friends and the love and grace you have sent me in honor of this 56th trip around the sun.
I was born in an Army family, and during the first ten years of my life I lived in ten different cities … five states, and three countries. That meant every year was a new school and a new set of friends. The military schools overseas had young and forward thinking teachers. We learned about the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement as great American victories well in the past. My parents took us to see the Dachau Concentration Camp when I was nine years old, and those images still roll vividly in front of my eyes almost 50 years later. My best friends were from all different nationalities, races and religions. I was also taught that young girls have just as many opportunities as young boys. Our family had served, defending the ideals of life, liberty and freedom since our nation’s inception. My Dad was my hero. The principles of service had been instilled in him as a young boy who had lost his own Father as a prisoner of war in World War II.
Going into my second decade the family returned stateside. I quickly learned that racial divides were not a thing of the past. There was violence. There was fear. There was distrust. There was also friendship, love and camaraderie in the halls, on our teams and in our lives. Most of all there was Hope. Hope that good was winning. Hope that prejudice and hate would truly be behind us soon.
The better part of my third decade was spent working in communities where day to day survival was in jeopardy – from the streets of West Oakland to New York. We helped with basic needs… food, clothing, medical care and legal advocacy while also trying to empower and create better employment opportunities. Every day we faced terrible injustices and did what we could … one person at a time. Some days we returned from deliveries on foot in active shooting areas and we all worked together to stay safe.
Towards the end of that decade, having returned to my family in Southern California, the Rodney King riots erupted. Still the violence … not the progress.
In the past several decades I cannot count the times I was belittled, berated or dismissed as a female professional in a male dominated industry. I guess it shouldn’t have… but it always took me by surprise.
While it has been almost 30 years since those riots of 1992, it could be argued that the divides are deeper than ever… be it racial or political. What we call “social media” has morphed into “social warfare” where people are constantly attacking others for not thinking exactly as they do. Where we need civil discourse and respect we see name calling, intolerance and hatred. It does start with us. It starts with how we treat each other.
The best gift I received on my birthday was meeting a family that consisted of a 60 year old white, single Dad, his 21 year old college junior daughter and his 7 year old “adopted” son Misha… a young boy of color whose parents had died. I put the word “adopted” in quotes as there was no legal agreement. There is only love. They met in a park several years ago, and with the agreement of his legal guardians, Misha had soon become part of their family. He is an extraordinary young boy – happy, smart, and extremely outgoing. His curls fell down to his shoulders, he swam like a fish and he charmed everyone he met. His older “sister” shared her sadness at the lootings in Walnut Creek where she lives. She also told me of the shaming going on in her circles, pressuring everyone to do political posts on social media even if one didn’t believe in social media serving that purpose.
I believe in listening. I believe in learning. I believe in civil and respectful conversation. I do not choose social media as a political or religious platform because I do not believe that it educates or creates respectful dialogue. Day after day I see how easy it is to sit behind a device and exacerbate the divides, the animosity and the intolerance for any other view than ones’ own. To me that creates more harm. I do not see it facilitating the common ground that we all believe in while we may disagree on tactics. I am also angry and heartbroken at recent events. I have and will continue to look for ways to make a difference. I invite in person dialogue with anyone.
Some may call my upbringing sheltered or believe that I am naïve. For my part I am grateful that my parents taught me a world without barriers despite seeing how far we still have to go. I continue to believe that there is more light than dark. I continue to work and hope for a better tomorrow. I pray that our country can build the bridges it needs to heal and respect all citizens. I know that starts with each of us. Today. Doing our best and refusing to tolerate less. One person at a time.
Thank you Misha and family… you inspire me.
June 7, 2020