Below is the reflection of our Junior Board president, Olivia Hodges, following the violence in Charlottesville.
After Ferguson, I was talking to a friend. This friend has devoted her life to public service, both through her work and volunteerism. She was telling me how she was talking to another friend who was going on and on about injustice and just how terrible this all is and how can people stand for this! (And to be clear, it is terrible and how can people stand for this). After listening for a bit, my friend essentially said, “I don’t want to hear it anymore. I know all this. You know all this. You let me know when you actually do something about it.”
Harsh words, but oh so true. She was simply relating a story, but her words stuck with me that day. I realized I was paying a lot of lip service to what I was seeing going on in the country. I was sharing articles on Facebook (largely a vacuum) talking to friends (all who agreed with me), but WHAT WAS I DOING ABOUT IT? Not much.
One of my goals for last year was to try to rectify this, to find someway for me to ACTIVELY participate in. I was lucky to stumble upon I Grow Chicago. Some people are probably sick of hearing me talk about it, but talk about it I shall, as it has become a huge part of my life. I will admit, I was scared to go there the first time. I had never been to Englewood and was afraid for my safety after all I had read in the news. I was also a little afraid to be directly confronted with own privilege (something I still am faced with every time I go). I decided it was the least I could do, so I steeled myself and went. I started by volunteering my time there in their after school program, tutoring and hanging out with some of the loveliest kids you will ever meet. Soon I became involved on their Junior Board, and we are now working on throwing their first gala this fall (if you want to help, we need it!). I’ve also been able to go to community gardening events, police-community dinners, and other events. I have become keenly aware of my privilege and the injustice in Chicago. I thought I knew, but I really didn’t.
Participating at IGC has made me feel that I can DO SOMETHING, even if in the smallest of ways. At the very least, I feel showing up — visibly and in person, to let another person know you see them, you see the injustice, and you are trying the best you can to help — is meaningful.
I bring this up not to be holier than thou. I am doing something very small on a very local level. But I say this because it was overhearing my friend saying that that inspired me into action. And sometimes that is what we need to hear — not the hope and prayers and sharing of stories, but someone lighting a fire under our ass, saying
WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT IT?
At our last junior board meeting for I Grow Chicago, we were thinking of graphic ideas for our invitation for our fall gala. One of our devoted members brought up the story of the hummingbird, something that IGC references often, but a story I had not yet heard. Apparently it is a Quechuan parable often used by activists. It goes something like this:
“One day a terrible fire broke out in a forest – a huge woodlands was suddenly engulfed by a raging wild fire. Frightened, all the animals fled their homes and ran out of the forest. As they came to the edge of a stream they stopped to watch the fire and they were feeling very discouraged and powerless. They were all bemoaning the destruction of their homes. Every one of them thought there was nothing they could do about the fire, except for one little hummingbird. This particular hummingbird decided it would do something. It swooped into the stream and picked up a few drops of water and went into the forest and put them on the fire. Then it went back to the stream and did it again, and it kept going back, again and again and again. All the other animals watched in disbelief; some tried to discourage the hummingbird with comments like, “Don’t bother, it is too much, you are too little, your wings will burn, your beak is too tiny, it’s only a drop, you
can’t put out this fire.”
And as the animals stood around disparaging the little bird’s efforts, the bird noticed how hopeless and forlorn they looked. Then one of the animals shouted out and challenged the hummingbird in a mocking voice, “What do you think you are doing?” And the hummingbird, without wasting time or losing a beat, looked back and said, “I am doing what I can.”
Dismantling white supremacy, stopping racism, ending segregation — these goals can seem so insurmountable that it’s easy to just say, “Well, nothing I can do about that. I hope it gets better though.”
If you say that, you are diminishing your own power and agency.
I believe if you do something, and I do something, and your friend’s friend does something, suddenly we have a lot of somethings that may just equal Something Meaningful.
You never know what impact your small effort could inspire. Maybe you donate your time to running a Facebook account for an nonprofit, and someone sees a post that stirs something in them. Maybe you volunteer to tutor in an after-school program, and your actions help to keep a kid engaged in school, that small step setting off a chain of events that then leads to his graduation. Maybe you donate money to a charity working in underserved areas, where your money sponsors counseling services, which help a resident process the unjust trauma they have experienced in their neighborhood. These are all small things that actively help to undo the long legacy of white supremacy.
If you think you can’t do anything about it, you are lying to yourself.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT IT?
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. – James 2:14-17
Wondering how you can make a difference? Here are some ideas I just came up with. Obviously there are many more:
• Instead of looking at your phone on your commute, read a book about race so you are better prepared to have meaningful conversations http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…/16-books-about-race-that-ev…
• Spend part of your lunch break calling your Senators & Reps. This is boring but make sure they know you expect them to stand on the right side of this issue. https://callyourrep.co
• Donate money: Southern Poverty Law Center (https://www.splcenter.org), Black Lives Matter (http://blacklivesmatter.com), I Grow Chicago (http://www.igrowchicago.org).
• At I Grow Chicago, you can attend one of our monthly police-community dinners that focus on greater understanding and healing between police and community members. Get out of your comfort zone; you will be educated and enlightened, I promise.
MORE EFFORT (BETTER!)
• If you live in a conservative town, write an op-ed to your local newspaper
• Be a mentor or tutor. You can do this anywhere, but here are some Chicago links: http://www.igrowchicago.org https://imentor.orghttps://www.chicagoscholars.org
• Donate your skills to a nonprofit group in your area. Photographer? Take photos. They need them, I promise! Facebook/Insta/Twitter guru? Get an organization’s presence up to speed. Great cook? At IGC we always need freezable meals for our police-community dinners. Love to garden? You can help water our community garden and do work there at I Grow Chicago. Some type of contractor? Get together some of your other friends and give a room at a center a facelift. Well-connected corporate type? Join a junior board and use your network to increase funding to support other efforts.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT IT?
“I want to believe we’re moving forward as a society and this surge of bigotry and violence is the final kick and scream, a last-ditch effort to hang onto the white patriarchal systems that favor the privileged.
If we’re going to make it, we have to look at that fear.
We have to get into it. Throw it against the wall, stand back and take a good close look. It’s ugly: heavy, dark, and centuries in the making. You might want to move on, to turn it off, watch something else, but wait — look again. Look closer. How was it made? When was it made? What was happening when it was made? What are you going to do about it? And when are you going to start?
Now, I think.
– Megan Stielstra, The Wrong Way to Save Your Life