Social Justice Runs in My Blood
My father was detained for just under two years in Nigeria when he was a young man. It was a case of mistaken identity. The man who picked him up knew that he had apprehended the wrong man and yet he continued. This obviously changed the course of my Dad’s life. While in detention, he became the one who offered hope to others. When we were in Nigeria in 2003 he recounted a story to my brother’s and I about how he would preach messages of hope and love, yet he was firmly a man with a message of #resistence. He would sing and the guards would ask him to stop, he would comply all while telling them, “I will stop singing because you have asked me to. But I will continue to sing in here (pointing at his heart) and you cannot stop me from doing that.”
I remember being teased, let’s be honest, bullied by a white student when we were eight-year-olds. He would ask, “Does your family in Nigeria live in trees? Is everyone there naked?” and other ignorant questions. It’s important to define terms when we do this work. Ignorant means lacking in knowledge, training or information; unlearned; unaware of; lacking experience with; uninformed; unaware. Now that we are on the same page, ignorant does not mean stupid. This is not a matter of intelligence, although, there were and still are some questions with regards to that boy. Another day, another story.
In an effort to get to some solutions, I wrote a letter to the boy and I wrote another letter to his parents inviting them to our home for dinner and a discussion. I am not 100% sure from where this idea came, yet it was me then and it’s me now. I am a type 9 on the Enneagram, I am a peacemaker. I was an indigo child that grew up to be an indigo adult. I am sensitive and aware, intuitive and historically been wise beyond my years. I would watch children at the playground with the mothers and a book.
At age 15, a 16-year-old student was killed at a party. I was out of town during that party, but I know I would have attended with my best friend and his cousin had my family and I not been at the out of state conference. Community members were heartbroken with this girl’s death especially since they believed that the Ann Arbor Police Department wasted precious time getting into riot gear because they were convinced they were being lured into a riot by the crowd.
I decided that the folks who had experienced the loss deserved to have a voice and the subsequent healing that would take place by talking. I organized a town hall (before town halls were en vogue) that was attended by the Ann Arbor Mayor, the Chief of Police for the Ann Arbor Police Department, the Fire Chief and concerned and affected community members (parents and students).
Apparently my high school principal told my Mom that I would be on the cover of Time magazine. I guess that’s a “yet” for me…you’re still eligible. I share these stories because while I know that social justice is part of my DNA, it can also be learned behavior. For me, because of my lived experience of being bullied and mistreated, harmed and harassed, I have a soft spot for those who have also been “othered” or marginalized. I have been empowered by a community of folks who love me in spite of my flaws and I’ve had these folks in my life for years…some even for decades. I am grateful. Because I am empowered, I have an opportunity and an obligation to empower others. I do that by having conversations about causes and concerns, passions and plights.
And I mean it when I say it’s a conversation. There is no obligation, this is just an invitation. An invitation for you to take your rightful spot at the table so that you feel empowered to advocate for someone else. If not now, when?
Photo credit: Mel Bosna