What Can I Do?


I am fortunate to work at one of the most diverse universities in the country. I have black students, white students, Latino students, Asian students, gay students, straight students, Christian students, Muslim students…the whole spectrum- each of them precious to me, perfect just as they are. Working in music as I do, it has always been that way- music is the language we can all share. I also live in Birmingham, Alabama, a city that is infamous for it’s role in civil rights history. While we hope and pretend that everything is harmonious, even a cursory glance at the news will tell you otherwise. 

I have had discussions with some of my African  American students lately, and it has broken my heart to hear about their experiences with racism and see their tears. I want so badly to make the world a better place for them- for all of us, and so I am asking myself, what can I do as a middle-aged white woman who has never faced the ugliness that they face every day of their lives in subtle and often not-so-subtle ways? I believe strongly that one person can make a difference, their actions rippling out into the world, affecting others. 


Maybe my voice won’t be heard ’round the world, but here is what I can do; I can face hate and anger with love, I can encourage, uplift. I can look every person in the eye and smile at them. I can teach my students that their words matter, that they need to be empathetic of the struggles of others and think before they speak. I can do simple things like holding doors open for people and letting people cut in front of me in traffic. I can say kind things to strangers. I can make sure that my students- our future- know that they have complete love and support from me always, that they are important- every single one of them, no matter their color, their religion, or who they love. I can be their champion, even in my own very small way.  


I don’t want to be color blind or expect everyone to be the same. We are all different with different backgrounds and experiences that have shaped us into the people we are.  It is our differences that make the world so beautiful and rich to me, our differences that make us stronger as a human race. 

I observed a student teacher working with a kindergarten group at an elementary school a few days ago. The class was a precious patchwork of happy children, all colors, all backgrounds, all treating each other the same. It reminded me yet again that hate is a learned behavior born of ignorance and fear. No one comes out of the womb hating another human. Our nature is to love, and I hope and pray that we can work together toward finding that place again. Until then, I will do the little things I can do. My own little social revolution of love. 


2 thoughts on “What Can I Do?

  1. Neese,, I’m with you on this. I have an eclectic group of music friends, kids who aren’t kids any more. When I first met them in the music department, they were in a wonderful place and we were family. Diffetences were accepted and celebrated. Now as adults with families and careers, I hear about their struggles and how mean the world can be. I wish the world were a more accepting place; like it was when they were in school. I will keep listening to them and doing everything I can to encourage kindness.
    You are awesome; I hope you know that. Lucky students to have kind hearted Dorothy’s daughter as a teacher and role model!

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