I decided I no longer want to wait to write this post, so I am writing this from my iPhone while I sit in my work truck, waiting for site construction work to start up again. (At least I get to engineer outside this week.)
When it comes to social justice, creating equality, erasing prejudice, fighting global warming, etc…. Sometimes I just get downright depressed. In one moment, I am so strong and so ready to make a difference, then in another I am deflated. I look at the immensity of change needed and I feel defeated. And when I end up talking in circles to people who don’t see my side, two things happen: 1. I start questioning why I am so headstrong in my opinions, and have to reassure myself that I am on the most open-minded side; and 2. I start really disliking people. A generalization, yes, but sometimes humanity straight up depresses me.
I’ve worked for several years now on a clean water engineering project in Cameroon. For the first couple years, I felt like I was responsible for fixing community sanitation and water problems. After a long time of working with the community, learning their culture, and having heartfelt conversations in Cameroonian French about their views of the world – over some palm wine, of course – I began to realize I was the one with the problem.
My American experience had trained me to transpose my own understanding of how the world should be – and of how happiness should be quantified – so that I failed to see my own impact on the community.
I saw villages with not enough water projects. I saw our own village only reaching so many households per water tap. I saw kids in December 2012 trough January 2013 wearing the same clothes every day…and they were wearing the same clothes on my next visit in March 2014. I saw poverty. I saw a lack of impact.
What I wasn’t seeing is “wealth” that isn’t measured in U.S. dollars, “happiness” that isn’t quantified by gallons of clean water delivered.
These people in the village may have only received a small amount of clean water, but they are rich in culture and avocados, in music and laughter. They may wear the same clothes on any ordinary day, but they don’t have a need for more. What we were giving them was more than just an education on how and why to wash their vegetables and hands – it was also a sharing of cultures, a new perspective, and friendships. We gave them RESPECT, and they gave it back by making us honorary nobles and queens of Batoula-Bafounda. The King even stamped my passport with a jolly laugh of pride and power.
I bring this story back up because I think it reflects a couple lessons I have recently learned in my travels across four continents. And I suppose it is fitting since I turned a quarter of a century old today: 1. Culture is the most important context, and 2. It’s not up to me to fix the whole world but 3. I will fix it through others if I mend what I can reach, because sometimes people are more broken than the planet, and there IS hope.
Reverend Daniel Budd of the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland – where I teach 8th graders on social justice – recently posted an opinion piece on Cleveland.com calling for Native American mascots to end. This was a confidence booster for me as I respect all the things I have hear Reverend Budd preach on. On Earth Day, he gave a sermon about Global Warming. In many ways, it was depressing – but he uplifted us by saying, We cannot expect to mend the whole world ourselves, but rather we can mend what is within our reach.
After a year of being away from the village in Cameroon, I returned and was met by a wall of screaming children. The minute I set foot out of the passenger van, they flung themselves at me, shouting Linda! (They nicknamed me that after hearing stories about my family, and liked the name of my late Aunt more than Kayla, apparently.)
I guess I had more of an impact than I ever realized, for these children told other children and some have even decided to do better in school so they can do more for their communities. I saw the same effects while traveling in rural communities across India. It’s amazing – and scary – to think so many children are watching me, maybe even making me a role model in their eyes. We must always set the best examples.
As I see hope in this, I also see hope in the people I reach out to. Some folks are quick to shy away when I make mention of the mascot issue, and I’m often afraid of droning on endlessly about it. Some people won’t listen to me for a second. Then I got to a peaceful demonstration to me ridiculed by a man in red face, being told I’m being honored by a self-proclaimed Apache in a chicken feather headdress, and being the background of several selfies of fans with Cleveland gear on and their middle fingers up. “Go back to where you came from!” and wawawawawa sounds ensue. All in the presence of indigenous children.
It sucks. And I start to think it will always be this way.
Then a coworker, born and raised fan, posts my blog to his page on Opening Day. A friend argues via text with me until I tell him “just read my blog”…and he later apologized and said he sees my side. Another coworker listened to me in silence as I explained for an hour my experience and admitted he never saw it that way, and the mascot is an issue. A 64-year-old construction worker drilled me with questions just two days ago. He read some links I wanted to share and saw my side. “I’m white, white people did horrible things, it wasn’t my fault but I mean just look at the blacks, still… It wasn’t my fault but it’s still happening and I’m old, I was raised prejudice, but I don’t want to be anymore. I try hard, and folks need to try harder. They need to be talking more about th, because the world is still so wrong.”
And then, as if by a miracle, this strong mother and Biloxi resident not only reached out to Deloria but she wrote this and posted it today: https://justabiloxigirl.wordpress.com/
One drop makes a ripple. All of our honest work will pay off. THERE IS HOPE.
Only our HONEST work will get an HONEST outcome. Only RESPECT will be rewarded by RESPECT.
When I posted the other day about what the alumni were saying, it was a way to expose the hypocrisy in their arguments. These statements were on social media. They clearly demonstrated the wrongness in the approach those individuals were using in their defense of “honor” and the mascot.
But I am very disappointed in some of you.
No one – NO ONE – is justified by attacking the people in the screen captures. Engage in a meaningful dialogue, if you can and must, but if you have cyber bullied Lauren or any of the others from the Biloxi issue, then you have hypocritically undermined the work of both of respectful mascot debate and also the #IndigenizeZuckerberg movement.
Think about it.
Maybe it wasn’t many of you, I wouldn’t know. None has retaliated by giving me your names. However, if I were you, I would learn from Lauren’s examples and take ownership of what you have said. Not just to Lauren, but to anyone. You are not helping our cause, or yourself.
And, remember – children are always watching, always making role models.