Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mississippi On My Mind: taking the message of equality home

Three things came together in the past two weeks that had me reflecting on the human spirit in a big way.  The Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities at the American Memorial Park, The Pacific Equity Academy Mtg. in Honolulu and reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett.  They are very separate events that became woven together perfectly to reinforce the beauty and strength that people in adversity have in spite of their circumstances and all the reasons we should continue promoting equality in all aspects of our lives.  I have to do some backtracking to make this understandable because I'm still trying to piece together myself how these three things would be brought into my life with such force of meaning in such short span of time. 
MLK Jr. Day:  We went to the amphitheater to listen to the presentations because Wayne was going to introduce some of the contributions Empty Vessel has made and because we wanted the girls to be a part of honoring Dr. King and his work.  In the past, Hope and Tony have come with me to marches.  Sommer hadn't heard of Dr. King yet, but Peyton shared his " I have a dream" speech with us at the kitchen table.  We talked about segregation and what it was like for people like Rosa Parks and Ruby Bridges
About how scary it must have been to walk to an empty school with armed guards knowing no one wanted you to be there and how courageous Ruby was day after day.  It was important that they heard about the bravery of African American people in the Civil Rights Movement, the sit ins, the peaceful protests, the history of the struggle for fairness.  We owe such an enormous debt of gratitude to Dr. King and the men and women who gave their lives so that everyone could realize it isn't right to treat others unkindly because of the color of their skin, the God they worship, the people they choose to love, etc. 
I was prepared to listen to a tribute to the great MLK Jr.  on that day, but what we saw was a different kind of testimony to Dr. King's dream that "one day all children join hands and walk together as brothers and sisters".  We heard personal stories from Filipinos, Koreans and Carolinians about what it is like to live in a multi-cultural household and the ugliness of racism right here in the CNMI;we saw dances from Palauans and there were more messages against domestic violence.  It was Dr. King's day, but we all were a part of it, because we are not excluded from the wrongs of discrimination.  I walked away thinking how beautiful it was to pay homage to a great man by recognizing the dreams of every man, how fitting it was to represent the many faces of our diverse island in order to advance human rights.  I thought he would have been proud to see it.  On the way home I thought about our children and prayed that they would embrace the richness of their cultures, that they would treasure the tapestry of their heritages, and that they would look upon others with more than just tolerance, but with appreciation for what they bring to the whole of our community. 
The Help: I started reading The Help, right before I left to PEA.  It is the story of Southern Maids in Jackson, Mississippi and the white women they worked for in the 1960's.  I can't give too much away, except to say that there was one powerful recurring theme, at least to me, in it's message. In Chapter one Aibeleen is asked a question that we all ask ourselves at least once in our lives, "do you ever wish you could change things?"  The story is about courage in the face of certain death, the choices we make when faced with opportunities and the suffering black men and women endured that we can never ever fully grasp; that no story, not even this one can accurately convey.  I thought about Thelma who has worked for me for 13 years and asked myself how many times she's shaken her head in dismay as she watched me make foolish choices.  I questioned whether or not I have treated her kindly and with respect, and if I ever really thanked her for being a part of our family.  I laughed thinking of all the times I ever did some downright idiotic and wondered if it was hard for her to watch, if she ever wanted to just smack me upside the head.  I know that my children will have the same depth of love for her when they recall moments in their childhood as they do for me, and surprisingly, I am not jealous.  I hope that I have been as good to her as she has to me. 
More to come...after I stop crying.

1 comment:

kirida said...

I had my reservations about The Help because I had such a negative reaction to The Secret Life of Bees and white women writers presenting people-of-color-as-beacons-of-guidance. I got over the eye-rolling instances early in the book, I actually liked it.