Let America Be

Let America Be

Inauguration, 2017

There’s been a lot talk of politics these days. The recent election has highlighted a divided United States and people are questioning our democratic process now more than ever. In the midst of so much angst and anxious anticipation, many (myself included) are wondering what to do, not just with our emotions, but with our talents, our work in order to join the conversation and make our voices heard.  This week gave me hope.

Earlier this year, police shot and killed Philando Castile, one in a long line of many whose violent death at the hands of police was captured on film . I went to a rally in Manhattan. But when I left the gathering, I felt this overwhelming sense that nothing had changed. Yes, I met some like-minded and passionate people. But what system or process was going to be different because of my presence there? It felt a lot like the angry mob yelling at the base of Dr. Frankenstein’s tower: All of the screaming in the world was never going to bring that fortress down, nor change what Frankenstein intended to do in that tower.

Tuesday – Wednesday

This week, the week that Donald J. Trump became the leader of the free world, I travelled to Atlanta to coach for an organization that I had never heard of: Care. Care is a global organization doing amazing work all over the world in the fight to end poverty and achieve social justice. I was able to coach and learn from people doing work in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Tanzania, India, Burundi and more. And each and every one of them was doing something to empower, help, stabilize, encourage, and sustain a better way of life for someone other than themselves. What they do is the definition of social entrepreneurship, and a reminder of what people can do, when they aren’t afraid to put in the work. . . And I had no idea any of their work was happening until just a few days ago.

 

“Civilians caught in this humanitarian catastrophe need your help right now.” (On Care.org homepage slider of Aleppo)

 

Working with Care was a powerful experience, especially because usually in my work, I am sent in to help high earning executives. They too, are contributing to the world in their own way.  But, it was refreshing to return to my nonprofit roots and to mission-driven work. It’s increasingly challenging to support big business, when the work of Noam Chomsky and “Requiem for the American Dream” are a careful reminder that democracy in the U.S. is a constant struggle.  The relationship between big business and political policy is a sordid and long held affair designed specifically so that the 97% never rise above their station. The status quo remains. The people at Care reminded me that real life heroes still exist.

We are all capable of more than we think.

Thursday

Thursday, I spent with my parents in the Atlanta suburbs. I had flipped through the hotel magazine about the historic MLK district. I had visions of visiting Martin’s home and Ebenezer Baptist Church, and walking along the Civil Rights Walk of Fame.  Imagine, literally stepping into the footsteps of Rosa Parks, Maxine Waters and others. But my parents are retired, and prefer to stay close to home, so we drove back to the suburbs and caught a matinee viewing of Hidden Figures. The film is about the African American women who were critical to this country putting a man into space. It highlights the geniuses who programmed the first IBM at NASA and the human computers that worked tirelessly so a man (John Glenn) could orbit the Earth.

Whenever my parents see a movie like that,  my dad gets very upset. He walked out within the first 10 minutes and stayed in the lobby while my mother and I watched the film. It’s not because he doesn’t like movies, but because it reminds him of how slow progress is. “I don’t need to watch stuff like that,” he said, “makes me too angry – makes me remember that nothing has really changed.” My father is 72 years old, so he was already a young man in 1961, when NASA launched the Friendship 7, in a head to head battle with Sputnik. He experienced segregation, and went to Black Panther rallies. He was right there when Martin and Malcolm were calling on the masses to pay attention and take action.

“I don’t need to watch stuff like that. Makes me too angry – makes me remember that nothing has really changed.” (said my Dad of the film, Hidden Figures)

Progress is so slow at times that it hurts.

Thursday evening

That evening, I spent time with my cousin. She’s a young mom like me, but very involved in her community. She spoke about local politics and governance in her county, among other things. The conversation inspired me to put all of my local community board meetings on my calendar. No amount of screaming in the street (or online) is going to change policy. Screaming your angst brings attention to the issues, but to change the status quo, you have to be part of the conversation and the process. I figure my local CB would be a good place to start getting up to speed. Instead of screaming at the tower, why not try to find the door? And the staircase?

Arguing on social media is not the same as getting involved.

Friday

And then that brings us to Friday. I caught a 7am flight back to New York. I dabbled a little on Facebook, reading mostly about the backlash Chrisette Michelle was getting for agreeing to perform at the inauguration festivities (thanks Awesomely Luvvie).

And then, as I made my way home, a friend texted me to meet for brunch. We went to Cheryl’s Global Soul.  The woman who took the table next to us had on a Shirley Chisholm T – Shirt. She told us that today the Brooklyn Museum was doing a marathon reading of Langston Hughes. The Brooklyn Museum is only a 5 minute walk from where we were sitting, so I ate my French toast, drank my whiskey and walked over.

You can’t control anyone’s actions, but your own.

I went to the Museum. I read Langston Hughes poem, “Let America be America Again” before an informal gathering of museum goers. Written in 1935, Langston’s words are still just as relevant and as poignant today as they were then. The Museum recorded the event. I found the experience empowering. Words can still do that. I am sharing this rendition with you here in hopes it brings others some inspiration as well.

Progress is slow. So slow it breaks your heart at times. But, there is something to be said for each one of us continuing to work (in so many ways).  We are all responsible for the dream of what America could be, and what this world could be. We can do more than we think, if we only choose to inform ourselves and take action.

 

What did you think of this stream of consciousness post?  Leave a comment below about your process during inauguration week.  How was this legendary transition for you?

 

 

 

 

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