I was the only white person in the treadmill room at the Y yesterday evening, pretty typical for our wonderfully diverse Downtown YMCA in Birmingham. The television was turned to the news, and as we all listened to the madness of recent events, I listened to my friends around me react and discuss- men whose parents and grandparents very well could have been a part of the Civil Rights Movement here in our city that was Ground Zero for so much of that sad time in our nation’s history. A few minutes later, a Jewish man came and stood in front of the tv, listing earnestly. What must they be thinking? How must all of this make them feel?
I had gone to a rural middle school earlier that morning to help new beginning band students try the clarinet to determine if it would be a good match for them. I love getting out into the schools and staying in touch with students and the good work that our music teachers do- important for someone who teaches future educators. These children were a wonderful melting pot; Latino, African American, and White, some well-to-do and some desperately poor. One of the children told me very matter-of-factly that their parents were in jail, that the parents “got in a lot of trouble all the time” and they now lived with their grandparents, having to choose an instrument based on what a friend could loan to them. We just never know what these young people are facing at home, what they are experiencing and learning when they are not in the classroom.
My favorite angel from an historic Birmingham church.
The beautiful thing? All of those sweet children were brought together by their love of music. I so enjoyed seeing their eyes light up as they made their first sounds on the clarinet, some of them giggling and telling me how fun it was. Music doesn’t care what color your skin is, what your religion is, or who you love, and has incredible power to unite people. I thought of the students’ innocence- they sit side-by-side with others who are different from them without giving it a second thought, and I pray that will last on and on, even as I recognize that it may not. I just know that we are not born hating others- it is a very unfortunate and heartbreaking learned behavior, born of fear and ignorance.
I refuse to be ‘color blind’- we are different people; however, inside we are all the same. Our differences are to be celebrated, as it is our diversity that is our true strength. Different cultural heritages bring new and different perspectives, open our minds to new ideas, making our lives so much more rich. I have always appreciated that our country was born of immigrants like my great-great grandparents, coming to America with their hopes and dreams, searching for a better life.
I don’t know what the solutions are except to put love and compassion out into the world. As a teacher and as a human being, I want my students and my community to know that I believe in equality for all- not just those that look, love, worship, and think like me, and that I will accept and celebrate their differences with open arms, as I hope they will accept mine. I refuse to live with hate and fear, and will do my part in making sure that students like those that I worked with and those friends on the treadmills next to me…that all of us, get to live in a world where we are not considered less-than.
As Pollyanna as it sounds, I truly believe that love is the answer. Hate may rise to the surface throughout time, but its darkness can never outshine the light of love in our world. We have to be strong in our love, no matter what comes our way. Only then will things change. I have to believe that. I just have to.
***The photo of Lady Liberty was taken at American Village by my friend Lori Ardovino.