Wednesday, July 16, 2008


We were doing panel discussions at the camp I'm working. The panel consisted of people representing difference in the areas of race, sexual orientation, religion, ability, gender identification, gender, age, and class. They were asked to discuss the first time they were made to feel different. All were fantastic. I'd like to share two of the stories that I found especially powerful.

One gentleman, an African American, talked about being part of the group that essentially started NASA in the Air Force. He told about how he left Jacksonville just after high school. He said that in all his time of serving in the Air Force he was never made to feel different. He was accepted. He was brave. He subjected himself to all kinds of insane physical extremes so that the first astronauts would be safe. Again, he said the whole time he never felt different, he felt proud. Until one day he was coming home from Arizona to see his father before his father died. It was in the late 50's, and he, in his military uniform was refused food service all through Texas. In Mississippi, he began to become fearful because the billboards were printed with outright racist warnings against anyone of color stopping in those towns after dark. The man had parachuted out of hot air balloons well above what a normal human could do, he had been subjected to all kinds of difficult tests of the way speed interacts with the human body, and was never scared. But, this grown man was made afraid to even stop for gas because of his skin color. It was powerful. More powerful, is his current attitude. He got involved very early with the NAACP and has worked tirelessly for racial reconciliation. He was like Desmond Tutu with a beautiful smile that in and of itself could bring down some of the walls that divide us. It was great.

A woman representing class difference was speaking. She was intelligent, engaging, and beautiful. She explained her story, and to sum it up quickly, she was a victim of all the structural violence one could possibly think of. It was awful. However, she was commenting on the sort of assumptions people make about her, and she said something amazing. She has six children, and she was talking about how people criticize that and assume she sleeps around (all of the children have the same father) and should have thought better about having all of those kids. She said this, "I just tell them, my children are not the problem. There are lots of things that have put me in my situation, but my children are not one of them. I would not trade my children for anything." It was beautiful. She went on to say that she is back in stable housing and is starting nursing school in the fall.

1 comment:

Rachelle said...

That first story is so sad, but wonderful that he now works to fight "the walls that divide us"!
I recently read "Black Like Me" (which is a MUST READ if you haven't read it) and he discusses the towns that wouldn't even allow African Americans after dark- it was a common practice; they were called "Sundown Towns"! I'm so jealous of what you're doing Quinn.

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