Saturday, July 6, 2013

Making Each Moment Meaningful: Reflections on Being Home

"Do you realize that your summer vacation is longer than your entire stay in Cape Town?" 

On our last class this news was shocking. After having gotten so used to "Cape Town time" and feeling like I could do anything not only was the reality of home slowly sinking in but after a semester of wonderful opportunities and the time of my life I was struggling how I would make the summer just as meaningful. Marita always reminded us that all we have in this world are time, energy, and resources and those three things kept coming back to me in various ways as was thinking how I would spend my summer. The time seemed daunting because I had learned how much change and insight can occur in what felt like forever on some days and a blink of an eye on others. 

A little over two months has passed since we've been home and not a day goes by that I do not think about Cape Town. It's crazy how little things can remind you of a night filled with music and fun or how preparing a meal can bring back memories of Braais and kitchen drama. Coming home has been one of those exercises of taking the good with the bad. I've been seeking the independence that I had in Cape Town while realizing that I have no money to support myself. As many of us have shared, living at home can be both great and frustrating. Aside from that, since I've been home I started working as a substitute teacher in the Westford Public Schools. It has been a privilege to compare the stark differences in resources and opportunities between this district, my home town, and Cape Town. I learned a lot about the challenges suburban schools face and after my initial disappointment and frustration with the endless shelves of books I was able to appreciate this. I was proud of where I grew up and happy that the students could benefit and flourish. Although some days I found myself lost in the classroom looking for markers or folders and I was irritated at what felt like excess stuff, I enjoyed the comparison I have been able to make. It shows me that everything comes with its unique challenges and strengths but also confirmed that adequate resources in schools are necessary. This perspective will carry through my summer job at the BELL Foundation. BELL serves students in the Boston Public Schools who are at risk of not passing and being promoted to the next grade. I'll be working with these students at an intensive summer enrichment program to help curb the learning loss which occurs during the summer. Once again, I find myself back in city schools. I love it there. In a school where students don't have text books and most rely on the government sponsored food each day I'm ready to help these learners thrive. I am excited to take all the skills I have been acquiring and apply them. Without my experience at City Mission my perspective on this situation would not be as clear or determined. 

As I think about Cape Town, the changes and challenges I could talk about are endless. From being a smarter consumer, to recognizing gender inequalities, and understanding communities I've gained knowledge that will guide me forever. That is why when I got home I applied and was accepted to the Masters in Public Administration Fast-Track program at UConn. This program will allow me to recognize community issues and apply realistic solutions to improving schools, businesses, and other organizations in the area. I am sure that I will take the skills I learned in Veron's class to critically evaluate struggling organizations and identify the proper next steps toward change. I hope to study more regarding race and policy through the lens of education policy and the achievement gap which I became more interested in through Marita's class. I am excited to apply what I know about international education to my interest in domestic education policy. This is an exciting time! 

While I could go on and on about this I must say, some of the best parts of this summer so far have no been my Introduction to Public Policy class or applying to graduate programs. I've loved sleeping late on the weekends and especially Dunkin Donuts iced coffee! When I wake up and get voice messages from my students I smile for hours. Those messages are the things that encourage me to get up and keep working to educate and serve. I have enjoyed continuing relationships that I built in South Africa and growing the relationships I have back home. I have been able to share my passion with my friends and family and also have fun taking trips to DC and Boston, rollerskating, listening to country music, watching the fireworks on the 4th of July and enjoying the summer! So I guess, in two months I've made the best use of my time as I can and each day hasomething meaningful.  Although... I still miss the colorful, wonderful, spontaneous, loving, bright, beautiful Cape Town and especially Table Mountain and minibus taxis. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

I know I'll be back. I already miss it.

Well, I accomplished my goal. Fifty posts in fifteen weeks. This project has been so awesome! I have loved sharing what I learned and I am so happy for all the positive support I got along the way. This encouragement reminded me how important it is to share our stories. The more views and comments I received I felt empowered.  I knew these were messages that had to be received! I have loved writing about my insights and the challenges I've encountered and it was a pleasure to recount the great beauty I witnessed. If Cape Town was not so life changing, so unbelievable, so unique there would be nothing to write. That's not the case. Cape Town is wonderful and will leave you thinking and missing it forever.

The past few days have been bittersweet. I could not wait to come home and see my brother graduate high school but similarly, as I sit  here on the plane, I'm already missing Cape Town. I am thinking about how my learners will be at school on Monday with a different teacher. I am remembering the first lesson I taught and how exhilarating it was. I was blessed with the perfect partner, Nonty, and together we changed those kids lives. Not only did we teach them but we showed them the appropriate ways to act and how to respect other people and yourself. When I saw my kids cry, when they couldn't look at me because they knew this was the real goodbye I knew I touched their lives. I hope they know they touched mine even more. I know it is going to be a challenge balancing home life with everything I've learned and gained and it is not going to be easy. As I watch the first signs of spring and the flowers bloom I'm going to miss Kirstenbosch gardens and the beauty that nature holds. Four days ago, I watched the moon rise over Cape Town with a good friend and were in awe at the beauty of this spectacular city. She told me that she never remembers to appreciate the magnificent views and color until she leaves Cape Town and comes back. For this breathtaking beauty, I know I'll be back; I already miss it.

Saying goodbye is never easy so each time I'd think it would get easier it just got harder and harder. Our Farewell Dinner was amazing but so hard to see my friends and family go back home and knowing that in just a day I'd be home too but we wouldn't be Cape Town home. When you have relationships that feel like family and partnerships that can withstand anything leaving them just seems unfair. Our school was well represented at the dinner and we had so much fun! As we were enjoying the music and each other's company Nonty just looked at me and started to cry. She told me how much she would miss me and I just hugged her and cried too. I love her. I will always love her. It was a beautiful moment but I was so sad. Just to make things harder, Nathan (our supervisor) and Geraldine came to the airport to say goodbye.  It was so touching that they made that extra effort to come. I feel so blessed to have met the most amazing, caring people who needed to say goodbye over and over again because this didn't feel real. They said we touched their lives. Called me a shining star. Each action in our lives translates into our legacy, what we leave behind, I can only hope they know they left a hand print on my heart too. Leaving is never  easy and especially after three months that felt like a dream just came to and end it's crazy to try to convince myself this was all real life because right now I believe that this opportunity was too good to be true.  I've felt what it feels like to be on cloud nine. I've been to the top of the world and back again. Most of all, I've learned more than I even know. I imagine I'll be discovering and learning the impact of this semester for many years.

The opportunity to learn has been a great gift. I think that the two most important things that I learned this semester were that the media is extremely powerful and that language can influence us even when we do not realize it. Even more so that what I learned in the classroom, I learned about myself. I have learned that I love to plan. This is something that I already knew but that I really began to understand more when I was in Cape Town. I recognized that there is value in being an individual and I learned that I need to trust my instincts more and defend my position. Most of all, I learned that, for me, this will not be the last time I am in South Africa. As excited I am to be home I have learned to love Cape Town place and call it home too. I cannot believe how quickly fifteen weeks went by and it is incredible how much I have been able to do. I know that this will not be the last time I travel and definitely I will be coming back to South Africa again! My love for traveling has to do with my passion for understanding how other places work. Before this program I knew I wanted to see the world but now I know that this is because I love to compare and explore new places. In particular I learned that I am more inquisitive than I once might have expected.

As the plane took off on Saturday night. There were tears in my eyes. The lights shining from Cape Town  made me sad that I was leaving .  When we arrived on the ground at JFK those tears returned. It has been overwhelming to leave and just as overwhelming to come home too. It's been scary and exciting. It seems like everything is a contradiction. It's not a bad thing, it just means that this experience is not over just because I've left Cape Town. I've always adhered to the quote, "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened" and that is so true. I'm so appreciative for this experience and in one regard I miss it so much but I also know there is a world of good to be done with the knowledge I have acquired. I know that I will always have a place in my heart for Cape Town and everyone I met. I also know that this semester has given me a chance to grow and achieve and I'm so inspired to get out to my community and my family and friends and share everything I can! I will never be able to see the world without a critical eye and I know that I need to acknowledge everything because there is value in even the toughest days of our lives. I am lucky to have spent time in Cape Town and although at many points I wished it would never end, I know that I have an obligation to be the best I can be and never stop working for a better world!

Dear Cape Town,

You will always be my second home. Your beauty will always leave me breathless and your vibrant community will keep me thriving forever! This has been the most unbelievable time and you have no idea how much I've been challenged and how much I've learned. You make Ubuntu look easy and history real.

 Forever Yours,


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

This is not "goodbye" it's just "see you later".

It wasn't real until I was standing in front of ninety kids who count on me saying goodbye. I didn't want to admit that it was over. I was leaving them.

Grade 9 Learners
The past few months have been insane. Overnight I became a history teacher and after I spent days being totally overwhelmed I decided to make this my chance to make a difference in the lives of these learners. I took the perspective of "why does this matter to me" and made it matter. I taught the learners how our history impacts our lives today and showed them instances in their lives where they could draw connections. As I taught them, I was learning too. I was realizing how interconnected our world is and how real history can be. I spoke with urgency as the messages I was relaying soon became less out history and more about the future. I empowered these young people to work for change and asked them to never stop searching for justice. We had our ups and downs and plenty of lesson were definitely not what I had planned but as I struggled to teach them, they were teaching me! I was learning more about passion and leadership than I might have expected and they drove me to challenge myself to continue learn more and share everything I can. They wanted to learn. They cared. I know that in some regard I did that. We created a community and together we were shocked and impressed by the material that was introduced. I showed them how history repeats itself and asked them to never give into segregation again. They made me proud. I helped them learn. They helped me grow.

Grade 6 Learners
When I spoke to my grade six learners at the end of the day I wanted to give them the world. I wanted to give them every privilege I have ever had and watch them thrive and excel. I wanted to tell them they have amazing lives to live. Instead all I could do was tell them they are important and as tears were rolling down my face I reminded them to read each day and stand up for themselves with their words and not their fists. They are the youngest in the school and have the most room to improve. I know they can be great. I tried to look at each student and tell them I cared but when I looked around I just saw so many tears. We cried together as I hugged each of them goodbye. I told them to stay strong, stay in school, and do the right thing. It was incredible to see the impact I have had on them and it made me realize that this type of work is so important.

It's times like these when I am sure that the power of education is something bigger than even I can understand. I know that education opens doors and I can only hope that if my learners took one thing from this relationship it's that they need to stay in school and never lose the drive for learning. They are all great kids! They all can  have amazing opportunities if they dream big. One of my students reminded me today that if you set your mind to something you'll achieve it. That's so true. I have seen the power of determination and I know that it is a force that cannot be contested.  I know this isn't going to be my last time in a classroom. Education is too important.

In between the stress and confusion, I know that City Mission Educational Services was the right place for me.I am smiling now recalling the times of chaos and also the times of love and compassion. Here, I was challenged and appreciated. I loved each moment in the classroom and each outing with the staff reminded me I have a family here. I always know I'll have a place to stay and someone to give me a hug when I come back to South Africa. Today confirmed two things for me: education is the most important privilege I have ever had AND I will definitely be coming back to South Africa one day!

This journey has been incredible.I know that I will always be thankful for this opportunity. I will never forget the people who changed my life and when I return home I will take these lessons to heart and  always work toward making a difference and advocating for what is important to me. Therefore, Cape Town, I know for sure, this is not "goodbye" it's just "see you later".

Monday, April 22, 2013

Sunsets, Smiles and Sad Goodbyes

"You're gonna miss this
You're gonna want this back
You're gonna wish these days hadn't gone by so fast
These Are Some Good Times
So take a good look around
You may not know it now 
But you're gonna miss this" 
~Trace Adkins

Sunset at Camps Bay
I don't mean to get sentimental too soon but the truth is we're leaving in five days. It's crazy how fast time flies. Weeks ago I was making a "to-see" list and telling myself that there was so much time left and now I've seen and  done almost everything I've wanted to do and the time is winding down.  This weekend was the first of many "lasts" that I'll be experiencing in the near future and I'm caught between sadness and excitement. On the one hand, I've done so many awesome, life changing things and definitely feel accomplished. It’s exciting to know that I can go back to school and share these incredible experiences and continue to advocate for the things I am passionate about. On the other hand I can't bare to leave behind the incredible sunset or the smiling faces of my learners. Cape Town is beautiful. It's magical in a way. When you're feeling down it only takes a glimpse at the mountain or a peek at the sun to remember how lucky you are. Those colors are electrifying and when all else fails the spirit of community is rejuvenating.

On Sunday, I had the most perfect day! We took advantage of one of the last really nice days and went to the beach. We soaked up the sun and relaxed. There was not a care in my mind. I was so happy just to be. I remembered that each moment is priceless and I just practiced being present. It's something I've really valued lately. I keep reminding myself that love is the solution and being present is the destination. It's nice to have a directive that is not constantly moving forward. I was at ease, surrounded by the people I've grown to love and appreciate like family. Malleson road girls will always have a place in my heart.  The sound of the waves was relaxing and this incredible moment I smiled because e I felt completely satisfied and so happy.

Later that day, I saw the most beautiful sunset on Camps Bay. This was another "drop everything moment" because I wanted to watch the colors forever. I was in awe at the bright sun and the shadows and the orange, yellow, purple, pink, blue painting that covered the sky and glistened on the water down below. Tracing the footprints on the shoreline I began to wonder how many other people's lives were changed by this sunset. I recalled the stories that we've been hearing and retelling this semester and I wondered about the stories the belong to those footprints. What will their legacy be? What will mine be? I was reflective, calm, and also sad. I know I will miss this sun, those sunsets, the way it shimmers on the water and shines down on the mountains. It peeks from behind the trees and shouts to announce its presence. It is everywhere but somehow in South Africa it's different.

I'm not ready to say goodbye yet but I know that if I don't start soon I'll miss someone. It's only Monday but I know that by Wednesday I'm going to be heartbroken to leave City Mission Educational Services (CMES). No matter how angry the learners make me when they don't listen they have taught me about resilience and compassion. It'd be lying to say that they didn't inspire me. Each day they teach me something new. I've learned to have patience, to appreciate listening, and most of all to smile more. Their smiles light up a room and I can't believe that I'm going to have to leave that behind when I come home. CMES has been crazy, frustrating and chaotic but it's also been incredible, through provoking, fun, loving, and just right. I have seen the power of a smile and when I smile now I'll be thinking of them!

"Days go by
I can feel 'em flying
Like a hand out the window in the wind as the cars go by
It's all we've been given
So you better start livin' right now
'Cause days go by

We think about tomorrow then it slips away
We talk about forever but we've only got today"
~Keith Urban

Sunday, April 21, 2013

What does it feel like to be on top of Table Mountain?

When I stepped out I experienced immediate bliss. I wanted to take pictures of everything. There was no time to waste. The wind was blowing and that was all I could hear. I felt like a child. On top of the mountain I was so small. I had no direction just rushing around looking here, there, everywhere! It was unbelievable! The view was spectacular but the serenity was even better! The clouds surrounded me on all sides. In between total white wash was landscape  like I've never seen before. Just an exceptional amount of beauty and quiet. I walked along paths (and off paths) trying to see everything. When a cloud came over it was so disorienting. Direction was not a concept. It was just me. I didn't have to think about anything. I was on top of one of the seven natural wonders of the world and the only way I could think to take it all in was take pictures and breathe. I didn't even realize how cold it was until I got back inside. Nothing seemed to matter. I lost all sense of time. I was entirely happy. Completely present. This is what it feels like to be on cloud nine.

My silence was broken by the sound of a siren. This meant that it was too windy and we needed to get down. We had thirty minutes to get back before  the the doors  to the  cable cars closed. I had been walking around for an hour. I had no idea how far I'd gone. I started to run. I stopped every once in a while and took another picture. I ignored everything around me and took in each second of my last moments. I wanted to remember this. I would remember this. It was incredible. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Critical Eye: taking a closer look at City Mission Educational Services

It has been really incredible to work at City Mission Educational Services (CMES) these past three months. From shadowing to teaching history it has been quite a crazy time. I definitely learned a lot about how schools run (especially in South Africa) and I have decided that I would like to work in school administration somewhere down the road. I have loved seeing the learners respond positively to lessons and grow to appreciate the lasting impact of history which I am still discovering myself. While working at the school I have had a chance to assess the critical challenges facing the organization and speak with staff members to learn about ways to tackle these pressing issues. I think it is important to address these issues because these struggles are those which many schools face. Understanding the setbacks that schools are dealing with helps to create the full picture of my experience in South Africa. Although there are many issues that an organization could face, some challenges are more manageable than others. CMES faces two main challenges as an organization: Staff and finances.
City Mission Educational Services- Grade 8 
CMES caters to learners who are educationally at risk. The learners often come from poverty or have faced troubling circumstances such as drugs or gangs. It takes a certain type of teacher to impact these students in a positive way. CMES struggles to hire staff that is not just academically qualified but also the “right type of teacher”. These teachers need to understand the type of learner they are working with and have the right mindset to teach them effectively. It is challenging to hire this type of staff when finances are low. Teachers who work for CMES are hired as independent contractors and therefore their salary is lower than that of others in their same field. The challenge is to find someone who is passionate about teaching, adheres to the values of the school and is also willing to work for less money. Another big challenge is that the teachers struggle with implementing the policy of the school. They often react with their emotion and make quick decisions and do not refer to the guidelines or behavior policies that the school has in place. This is understandable because we are only human. However, this creates a disconnect with the expectations and the reality which trickles down to the classroom level very quickly. This inconsistency makes having a cohesive, united, qualified staff rather difficult.
One way to address this challenge is to instill a strict selection process for faculty. Teachers at CMES must align with the belief system of the school, Christianity, and also show a keen interest in missionary work. Teachers must also have involvement with their local church and experience with working with learners of this specific demographic. This selection process would be integral to achieving the team which is necessary for the best academic experience for the learners which also coincides with the values of the school. I think that it would also be beneficial for the school’s mission statement to be revised and publicized. This way everyone who is a part of the school can understand the mission and work to implement it. One thing I have noticed is that the staff is often misguided due to the chaos of the school environment but also the lack of focus and constantly changing direction. If each person was working toward the same mission the staff would perform better as a whole.  Additionally, if the mission and procedures were widely available then the teachers would have less leeway to make decisions regarding behavior without consulting the policies in place. The best solution to this challenge would be to emphasize the expectations during the selection process and hold the staff accountable after they are hired.
City Mission Educational Services- Grade 6
Another significant challenge the CMES faces is finances.  Recently, CMES has encountered a number of incidences where finances are not in line. The school has needed money from donors for urgent causes which hints toward a level of financial instability. Also, many of the learners are not able to pay their school fees in full or on time. This leaves the school struggling because if there is no money coming in at the beginning of the term then the staff cannot be paid and the building cannot be maintained without the additional help of donors. These donors provide help in the form of loans which are expected to be repaid. Unfortunately, if there is no money coming into the school then the loans cannot be repaid without asking for money from other people. This is a big challenge because an organization cannot function without a strong financial system which is the foundation of their work.

CMES is working to improve their financial situation by creating a three month advance financial system. This will help ensure sure that commitments are made at a specific date both by the donors and the school and also that there is specific money allotted for incidences or unexpected fees. In order to make this plan effective, there must be frequent and effective communication between the donors and the school. Also, learners who enroll in the school must have stable financial support either by their parents or a sponsor. Since private education is not free, the school cannot afford to subsidize the tuition of each learner. Although the goal is to serve at risk learners, that cannot come at the expense of failing the school or drowning it in debt. After these systems are in place, an investment account will be set up and funds will be deposited each month as part of a security plan. I think that the lines have been blurred between spending and serving the community. In order to maintain financial stability CMES needs to rethink their plan for money management and include a system of checks and balances to promote responsible accounting.
City Mission Educational Services- Grade 8 
As a school, CMES is striving to be an institution which is effective and operates at the highest level it can. Considering the challenges that the school is facing with staff and finances there is definitely room for improvement. Clarifying the mission and having a united front will be a good first step toward improvement. With time, CMES can perform at the same level that other independent schools do in terms of academics and extra-curricular activities such as sports and arts programs. It is important to hire motivated staff to implement new projects and activities to expand the opportunities that the school offers. That is also contingent on finances; so the two are intricately connected. What is important to remember is that school is not over at 2:30 PM each day but the experience and knowledge gained from school should be present even after the learner has gone home. That is directly tied to influential staff and available funds.
CMES has been so fun and also exhausting! Working with the students is never the same and their personalities shine through their challenges each day. Their resilience is really impressive and I hope that in the future they can share that same passion and energy and apply it to their learning. I hope that by working at CMES I have left a positive impact. I know that I brought my energy, motivation and commitment to the classroom and worked hard to make the classroom a positive place that was constructive for learning. I will definitely remember this feeling when I am home because it has reiterated for me the power of knowledge and the immense opportunities that are made available through education.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

It only takes one person to ignite a movement. It takes many more to create change.

Only hours after these blasts occurred at the Boston Marathon on Monday afternoon people were calling this a terrorist attack. Carefully chosen words were issued from President Obama promising that justice would be served;  “We will find out who did this and we will hold them accountable,” says President Obama. The explosion hit international news and social media was overwhelmed with tweets and photos, links and opinions. No officials declared this incident an attack, right away, but everyone was thinking it. In a way, we are programmed to think that way. We have been brought up to correlate bombs with "terrorism" and violence with "attack" so it's no surprise that the first person to be interviewed was a Saudi man who was fleeing the scene. It was the same motive on September 11th. In fact, history does repeat itself. New York Times Says, " It was unclear Monday evening who might be responsible for the blast. Although investigators said that they were speaking to a Saudi citizen who was injured in the blast… A law enforcement official said later Monday that the man, was in the United States on a student visa and came under scrutiny because of his injuries, his proximity to the blasts and his nationality — but added that he was not known to federal authorities and that his role in the attack, if any, was unclear" and furthermore ABC News confirms, "12:47 a.m. ET: Sources tell ABC News authorities are looking for any friends and associates of the 20-year-old Saudi national". So why, in a progressive society would we immediately suspect a foreigner as the perpetrator? When will we open our eyes to the facts and react with certainty not speculation?

A few weeks ago, we watched a film in Marita's class called Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath which revealed the impact of racial and religious profiling just minutes to years after the attacks on 9/11. It was clear that the story of September 11th that was publicized was only one side of the account. Many men and women were attacked simply for looking "suspicious" which our media was quick to correlate with "turban" or "Muslim". These stereotypes are what get us into trouble. When so many people just want the facts, the media has immense power to skew the truth and spin situations to appease a specific audience. The narrator of the film said, "The whole country came together as one. This was the great American story. But I was hearing a second story, drowned out by the anthem of national unity. This story traveled by word of mouth, through emails and phone calls. Americans were being beat up on city streets, Americans who looked like me, or my dad, or my grandfather. Threatened, chased, stabbed. And then a Sikh man was shot and killed. It felt so close, as if an uncle had been killed. How could both be the face of America, this unity, and this hatred?".

It's true, our nation is facing a terrible fate. We are coming up with more reasons to hate each other and less reasons to identify as "One nation, Under God". Yet, why should we? If this is the story we are putting out, I don't blame those who are scared or skeptical. The only thing they are at fault for is not looking further for different answers. Complacency is our biggest enemy.  In light of recent events I cannot help but thinking this is happening all over again. Immediately the media points to the person who stands out as the one to blame. When he leads to a dead end, they look for his friends. It's incredible to think that in the face of increasing racism and stereotyping our country can still promote itself as "a land of freedom". It makes me question how free we really are if the media is our only access to what is happening in our world. We fall victim to exaggeration, opinions and biases. When we should be uniting together, supporting our friends and families we are walking around scared. The images that the media puts out remind us that different is bad and furthermore if you are a specific type of different you are probably, possibly a terrorist.  It is easy enough to convince people to think a certain way. Whether it's through word-of-mouth or news broadcasts our society has accepted stereotyping and profiling and instead of honoring the victims we are quickly making more victims. It's unbelievable. Where is the pride in that?

One of the readings for class this week was "45 Years After MLK Assassination: What Have We Learned?" written by Adele Stan on April 4th. Stan writes, "if there was ever a time to reconvene the coalition that Martin Luther King was organizing on the eve of his  death, it's now. Or maybe yesterday, or 10 years ago. But definitely now".  This is so true. Just twenty years after the end of Apartheid in South Africa and almost fifty years after the passage of the Civil RightsAct in the United States racism is still occurring even if nobody is saying it. The repercussions from the apartheid era are still perfectly evident across all of South Africa. Harbored resentment ignites immense tension. Moving forward is a thought but realistically this seems to be a society that thrives off of recognizing differences. It's clear just by looking at where people live, which schools they attend, where they shop. Then again, which society is not concerned with everything that is "wrong" (aka different)? All over the world, white girls are taught to fear "large black men" when if fact, a "small white man" can be just as dangerous. Every stranger should be approached with caution. Every situation can be potentially dangerous. Except that's not what we are taught. We must defend ourselves from "dangerous areas". Have you ever noticed all the "dangerous areas" are predominately black or Hispanic communities? When we expect fear we will encounter the fear. It gives us reason to believe we are right and perpetuate the messages that our youth is hearing and that the media is spewing before the entire story unfolds. The institutionalized racism that plagues our consistently segregated schools sends the eternal message of superiority and inequality. Such inequality is reaching our teens in LGBTQ communities and victims of mental illness. Being not white, not heterosexual, not "normal" is wrong and therefore we are encouraged to place judgment or blame. Where did we learn this? The media. Our society is headed in a terrible downward spiral. With racist attitudes on the rise and hatred seeping from each trauma that we encounter the impending idea that we are never safe is daunting. Everyone is to be feared for something if you read the right sources; if you look hard enough you'll find the words you want to hear which implicate the people you "know" are bad. In my opinion, whether or not we say it, our judgments are weakening us. Martin Luther King's words say to us that for every time you choose to discriminate you are diminishing the dream. It only takes one person to ignite a movement. It takes many more to create change.  Each of us is responsible for rekindling the pride which brought us out of the civil rights movement. Not merely as citizens but as human beings we are obligated to restore our dignity and empower our people.

When recalling the events which occurred at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013:

Be present.  Honor the victims. Know your facts. Advocate. Understand. Trust. Believe.

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