I spent last night reading about Ashley Judd and her incredible devotion to Youth Aids. I spent the final moments of my planning period this morning talking with a friend about the importance of doing what we can with what we have. I have spent the last hour brainstorming with my 2nd period about how we as a class can contribute to the Katrina relief effort. I have spent the week pondering the truth of Jen’s comment on my last post. My mind and heart are very full, and not in the bad way.
Everywhere I turn there is talk of relief effort for the victims of Katrina. It is easy to feel helpless when there’s not much left of the state employee salary at the end of the month, but there is more to relief than writing a check. My students–14 years old and full of energy and genuine concern for the people of New Orleans–embody this conviction. They have no money of their own, and yet they are prepared to organize a fundraising event that rivals every street fair and fall festival I’ve ever attended. What they have is enthusiasm and desire; they inspire me to do what I can with what I have. I’ve a feeling we’re embarking upon a great journey together, these children and I, and I will keep you posted on our progress. I know they will inspire you as well.
These kids are the reason I feel so strongly about Kanye West’s unscripted comments at a relief telethon last week. It’s not that I disagree with him; President Bush doesn’t care about a lot of things that are important. And Jen is right: it is not wise to ignore the real and obvious divisions that wreak havoc in our country on a daily basis, and the media’s depiction of blacks, gays, Hispanics, Muslims (and the list goes on) is deplorable on so many levels. But the real need now is the safety and well being of thousands upon thousands of people, black, white, gay, straight, Christian and Muslim and Jew. Right now those with the ability to reach the masses should be reminding us that we all have a responsibility to care for our brothers and sisters in New Orleans. When my highly impressionable adolescent students hear one of their favorite musicians blaming race for what’s happening now in the Gulf states, they themselves become agitated about racial issues. They bicker with their classmates, they get angry and defensive, they lash out in the same way Kanye West did. This to me deepens, not heals, the divide, a divide of which I am painfully aware every time I step into my classroom.
And so we press on. I am ashamed to admit that I continue to avoid large doses of the news for many reasons, but today I read a New York Times article about an abandoned body on Union Street in New Orleans. The article included a photograph of the body, a murder victim that’s been left to the elements for several days. “How can this happen in America,” people are asking, and I am reminded of a day almost four years ago when people were asking that same question. How can this happen in America?
Consider this: In Zimbabwe, population 12 million, 1.8 million people have AIDS. In Iran women are beaten for wearing nail polish, and citizens cannot read Jane Eyre or Their Eyes Were Watching God without great personal risk. In Afghanistan little girls are bartered like food and clothing in the name of conflict resolution, and women are systematically raped by armed soldiers. Car bombs are a daily occurrence in the Middle East, and in many European airports travelers are scrutinized by machine gun-wielding security guards. We forget that in many other parts of the world, crime, untreated disease, hunger, filth, violence, terrorism, and fear are a way of life. Here, in the land of plenty, the home of the free, we often lose sight of the world, fail to take care of it as best we can, and then we are left reeling when that world seeps into the fabric of our lives.
Today as volunteers continue to clean up after Katrina, as the layers are peeled back and continuing evidence of the devastation is revealed–on Sunday as we look back on another time when our country was shaken to its core–let’s take some advice from Ghandi and be the change we wish to see in the world, and some initiative from my 9th graders to do what we can with what we have. Namaste.