Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Imagine...let it be

Brenda is a fourth-grader at my elementary school in South Carolina. Her father and mother moved here from Mexico, and Brenda speaks Spanish at home and English at school. Fluent in both languages, she is a quiet, thoughtful child with contemplative eyes and attentive ears. Like most other fourth-graders, Brenda laughs when a friend tickles her. She cries if she falls and scrapes her knee. And she has stories to tell if you will listen. She is also a scholar and a saint in the wonderful ways a 10-year-old can be scholarly and saintly. She reads anything about everything at every opportunity and volunteers her early mornings to read to struggling first-graders.

I took a few minutes to ask Brenda about her hopes and dreams.

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" I asked.

"I want to be a doctor," she answered.

When I talk with students, I often use the "5 Whys" strategy to get a better understanding of what they are thinking and feeling. For each answer a student gives, I ask why until I have five answers to the initial question.


"Because I think it would be a good job."


"Because I like to study and I want to help people."


"Because I want to help babies grow and experience more in the United States."


"Because I want them to live."

Brenda does not want power, prestige or position. She wants to help It is as simple and as complex as that.

Her answer helped me think about “Imagine a World Without Hate”™ a video the Anti-Defamation League created to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

As John Lennon's song “Imagine” plays in the background, people read, browse and watch news with such imagined headlines as:

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 84, Champions Immigration Reform

Anne Frank Wins Nobel Prize for her 12th Novel

Harvey Milk Expands LGBT Equality Globally

Daniel Pearl, 49, Journalist, wins Pulitzer for "Uncovering Al-Qaeda"

James Byrd, Jr., 63, Jasper, TX Resident Saves Young Girl From Burning Building

This video asks a simple question: "What could these people have continued to do for the world if bigotry, hate and extremism hadn't cut their lives so short?"

It's a great question.

But the question for me, as a teacher and a writer, is not so much: "What could have been?" It is: "What can be?"

What can be for Brenda? I hope she takes up the work these people started and carries it forward with her life. She wants to become a doctor so she can help people live. With that spirit, she will help these martyrs live, too.

It is my job as a teacher and a writer not only to help students imagine a world without hate, but also to help them find the tools and the heart to build it. That is how I can build a world without hate.

Imagine...and let it be.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Women and the Civil Rights Movement

I read and discussed the book "Women and the Civil Rights Movement: 1954-1965" by Davis W. Houck and David E. Dixon in a Civil Rights class while I was working on my Master of Arts in Teaching degree at Converse College. The women in this book show me that if I use my life to serve the lives of others, especially the lives of the poor, then I will become a seed in a fallow ground that is bringing life to those who believe that all people, regardless of color, nationality, socio-economic status, sex, ability, or sexual orientation, are human beings and of inestimable worth. They remind me of the women whose beautiful feet and strong hearts marched in the Women's March on Washington and around the world (or were in solidarity with them) this past weekend and who are the seeds of movements of civil rights, human rights and community building today. Women like Fannie Lou Hamer, who was one of the seeds that grew into the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Septima Poinsette Clark, who was one of the seeds which created the Citizenship Schools upon which the Civil Rights Movement was built, Modjeska Simkins, who was one of the seeds that grew into the Brown v. Board of Education case before the Supreme Court, Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, who was one of the seeds that grew into the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Ella Baker, who was one of the seeds that grew into the SNCC, are people who planted themselves in places of white supremacy, despair, and hate and gave their lives in seemingly small ways to bring faith, hope, and love to the poor people around them. To use biblical language, they were like the tiny mustard seed that grows into the trees so tall they have room many birds. Look what they did! Look what the women women and their allies who marched this weekend are doing!

I think we live in a “celebrity culture” today, a culture that looks for a charismatic leader to help us know what to think and know what to do in all of the areas of our lives. I think this is dangerous, so I especially appreciate the thoughts on “group-centered leadership” in the chapter by Carol Mueller titled “Ella Baker and the Origins of ‘Participatory Democracy.’” Baker has become one of my heroes because she worked toward the idea that the Civil Rights Movement was about people struggling together in a democratic society to make American society a more human place for all people (and democratic work is indeed a struggle) rather than about Mosaic type leaders leading an oppressed people to a promised land. I found these words by Baker to be profound –

The inclination toward group-centered leadership, rather than toward a leader centered group pattern of organization, was refreshing indeed to those of the older group who bear the scars of battle, the frustrations and the disillusionment that come when the prophetic leader turns out to have heavy feet of clay.

Saturday, January 21, 2017


I am one million with my feet on the ground.

I am one million with my fist in the air.

I am one million with my voice on the wind.

I am one million words for freedom.

I am one million.

I am one.

In my country.

My feet are the feet of the people.

My fist is the fists of the people.

My voice is the song of the people.

My words are the words of the people.

The poor people in my country.

I am the tear on the hungry child's cheek.

I am the callous on the old farmer's hand.

I am the wrinkle around the worried mother's eye.

I am the blister on the campesino's foot.

I am the yearning in the peoples hearts.

And yet...

I am the cloth that wipes away the tear.

I am the hand that joins the work.

I am the word that brings courage.

I am the feet that walk beside the poor.

I am the heart of the people.

In my country.

I am the freedom song.

I am the fist.

I am the feet.

I am.

I am their feet.

I am their fist.

I am their voice.

I am their song.

I am their words.

I am them, and they are me.

In my country.

- Trevor Scott Barton, Ordinary Time, 2017