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Don’t Waste a Day of Your Life

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

I saw a comic strip of Charlie Brown and Snoopy a few days ago that got my thinking.

Charlie Brown: “You only live once.”

Snoopy: “False. You live every day. You only die once.”

Ain’t that the truth, Snoopy!

YOLO – You Only Live Once – is typically a call to live life to its fullest extent, even embracing behavior which carries inherent risk. I know some people find that to be encouraging and perhaps exhilarating; but I find Snoopy’s take to be more inspiring because it urges us to make the most of the time we are given.

Snoopy seems to understand that we should not take life for granted; that we should do good in the world while we are here; that we should make a positive difference while we can; that we should show people that we love them every chance that we get.

Snoopy seems to be calling us to embrace our “right now”, to lead by example, to appreciate what we have, to show love to those who are in need of it, to make every moment count so that when that one day comes, we will have lived a fulfilled life.

If you knew that you wouldn’t wake up tomorrow, how would you live your life differently today?

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Compassionate People Make the World a Better Place

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

Amid last week’s polar vortex that froze most of the country, were heartwarming stories of people helping people.

There were police officers who made wellness checks at the homes of senior citizens and gave rides to people walking on the streets.

There was a pharmacist on a snowmobile who delivered needed prescriptions to snowed-in customers.

There were neighbors who helped neighbors, like the 82-year-old grandmother who not only ran the snow-blower in her driveway but cleared the snow for her neighbors.

There was a woman who paid for hotel rooms for 70 people living in tents in a makeshift camp near an expressway.

There were the people who placed gloves, hats, and warm clothes on a fence for people who needed them.

There were the people who provided meals and hotel accommodations for a family of nine whose apartment had neither heat nor hot water.

And I’m sure the inspirational list goes on and on.

I am a firm believer that we are here on this planet to help one another, so it warms my heart to know that there are compassionate people in the world who understand that life is hard and we need each other to overcome obstacles and meet challenges. I understand compassion to be more than kindness.

Like the Dalai Lama, I view compassion as sensitivity to the suffering of others with a commitment to do something about it. Each of us has the potential to be charitable or to be merciless. Much of what we decide to do is motivated by our own sense of “duty to others.”

As I considered this whole idea of compassion, I was drawn to the address given to a crowd of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn., by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. the night before his assassination in 1968.

During that address (known as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech), King recast the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. In evaluating why the two religious men did not stop to help the seriously injured man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, but the Good Samaritan did, King proposed:  “… the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me’? But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him’?”

I’m pretty sure that I know which question those “Good Samaritans” asked themselves, during the polar vortex. Which question do you ask yourself when you see someone in need?

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Inspiring Civic Engagement

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

Did you hear about the 11 artists who are seeking to inspire a dialogue around civil rights and social justice movements in Atlanta?

They’ve painted about 30 murals around the city to tell the story of the struggle for change and justice in Atlanta and beyond. The art exhibit, which will serve as a backdrop for Super Bowl visitors to the city this week, is called “Off The Wall: Atlanta’s Civil Rights & Social Justice Journey.”  It will become part of the city’s permanent public art collection, meaning it will be maintained by the city.

How refreshing! –using the transformative power of art to open up the process of civic engagement. The fact that the art project focuses on the city’s role in the civil rights and human rights movements and invites community members to continue working toward a better world resonates with me.

I am also moved by the fact that before the murals were painted, the artists engaged in conversation with community members to brainstorm about which of the city’s stories (particularly those that had been unheard) should be amplified. Those conversations informed the mural designs and are an example of how to give voice to the voiceless.

Here is a sampling of the messages on the murals:

  • “Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky,” tells the story of homeless people (including children) who sleep under Atlanta’s canopy of trees.
  • “Atlanta Strong,” is a tribute to women who played a role in the fight for human rights.
  • “Monuments: We Carry the Dreams,” focuses on the stories of Atlanta’s undocumented youth.
  • “Beloved Community,” celebrates a vision of social justice and harmony that Martin Luther King Jr. was committed to.
  • “Community Roots,” depicts that character matters.
  • “Intersectional Heroes,” honors Dázon Dixon Diallo, an Atlanta advocate for sexual and reproductive justice and a leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS; and Joan Garner, a Fulton County Commissioner who spent decades advocating for LGBT rights.
  • “Love and Protection,” includes the words “Me = We” and celebrates the power of friendship and togetherness.
  • “Remembering How Sweet Auburn Is” pays tribute to one of the wealthiest black communities in our nation during the time of its development.

The people in Atlanta who made this art project a reality deserve to be commended for recognizing this unique way of honoring the past, acknowledging the present, and seeking aspirations for the future. They deserve to be lifted up in an effort to spread the message that every city in this country is filled with inspirational untold stories and that every city in this country is filled with people who have made (and will make) a positive contribution.

The public art project raises a question for each of us: What are you doing to make your neighborhood, your city, your state, our country, and our world a better place?


Posted in Associate Blog, News

Stand Firm Amid Hatred and Incivility

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

I had just finished reading an article about the death of John Salter Jr. (aka John Hunter Gray), when I was confronted with the video of white Catholic high school boys taunting an elder Native American Vietnam Veteran at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial in our nation’s capital.

I was outraged by the despicable display of white privilege looking down its nose at a man who put his life on the line in Vietnam and seeing him as less than human. The Omaha elder was in Washington D.C. for the Indigenous Peoples March when he encountered the group of Kentucky high school boys, wearing “Make America Great Again” caps, who had just participated in the March for Life.

The incident illustrates how white privilege empowers people to behave in the most inhumane, disgraceful, reprehensible, and hateful ways. It enabled white kids to mock the Little Rock Nine at Little Rock Central High School in 1957 in Arkansas. It empowered young white people to douse Salter, Anne Moody, and Joan Trumpauer with sugar, mustard, and ketchup at a segregated lunch counter at a Woolworth’s store in 1963 in Jackson, Mississippi and to burn Salter with cigarettes, throw pepper in his eyes and attack him with brass knuckles and broken glass.

(Sidebar: I am compelled to ask if those were the days when America was great?  Is that what the “Make America Great Again” message means?)

Maybe it wasn’t commonly called white privilege in 1963 and 1957, but the phenomenon was alive and well – the privilege to move through the world without your race defining your interactions, the power to remain silent in the face of racial inequity, the privilege to choose when and where you want to take a stand, the power of knowing that you and your humanity are safe.

Even in the face of the ugliness that was shown in the video (including the image of a high school boy with an arrogant smirk on his face, staring down the Omaha elder), there are some trying to discount or justify the actions of these boys and explain away the inhumane treatment of the Vietnam Veteran – at least two parents reportedly blamed a group of “Black Muslims” and the Omaha elder himself; others blamed his chaperones and parents. (Note: the “Black Muslims” referred to by the parent were actually identified as Black Hebrew Israelites).

But today – the day that we commemorate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. – I would like to highlight those voices that condemned the actions of the boys who mocked the elder: The Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington, Covington Catholic High School and Covington Mayor Joe Meyer (who technically isn’t the mayor of the municipality, Park Hills, where the boys’ high school is located). The people behind these voices chose to stand for what is right, when they could have chosen to be silent.

“… because of the actions of people who live in Northern Kentucky, our region is being challenged again to examine our core identities, values, and beliefs. Regardless of what exact town we live in, we need to ask ourselves whether behavior like this DOES represent who we are and strive to be. Is this what our schools teach? Are these the beliefs that we as parents model and condone?” Meyer wrote in an op-ed.

For me, the voices of those who had the courage to speak out against injustice, remind me of the wise words of Rev. King: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

The question today is: Where do you stand in this climate of hatred and incivility?

“However young you are, you have a responsibility to seek to make your nation a better nation in which to live. You have a responsibility to seek to make life better for everybody. And so you must be involved in the struggle of freedom and justice.” – Martin Luther King Jr. (“What is Your Life’s Blueprint?”, October 26, 1967, Philadelphia)

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Becoming a Better Person

Blog by Director of Associate Colette Parker

History will be made on Friday in our nation’s capital when the first-ever Indigenous Peoples March takes place.

The march, organized by the Indigenous Peoples Movement, intends to bring awareness to the injustices affecting Indigenous men, women and children from North, Central and South America; Oceania; Asia; Africa; and the Caribbean.

Organizers plan to raise alarm about human rights violations and the global climate crisis. They plan to lift up a number of issues, including voter suppression, divided families by walls and borders, an environmental holocaust, sex and human trafficking, and police/military brutality”

“Our people are under constant threat, from pipelines, from police, from a system that wants to forget the valuable perspectives we bring to the table,” said Chase Iron Eyes, lead counsel for the Lakota People’s Law Project.

He continued: “We must remind the world, again, that Indigenous people matter. We are all made better when we respect one another and lift each other up.”

Those words from Chase Iron Eyes got me thinking about what our world would be like if we truly believed that all human beings deserve equal respect because of their innate dignity.

If we really valued human dignity, we would not be plagued by injustice and unfair treatment — there would be no need for grassroots movements (like the Indigenous Peoples Movement) to raise our collective conscience to see those injustices and take action to right the wrongs.

Perhaps what disturbs me the most is that we have to, once again, be reminded that Indigenous people matter.

How many times do we have to be reminded that people of color are just as human as those who benefit from the policies and practices entrenched in established institutions that perpetuate inequity?

When will we truly be awakened to the reality that structural racism is a feature of our social, economic and political systems?

When will we find the courage to be honest and transparent as we dialogue about ways to dismantle the structure that allows injustices and inequities to exist?

Transparency is the first step in building bridges that will lead to a just world where all human beings are valued, appreciated, and embraced.

Like Chase Iron Eyes said: “We are all made better when we respect one another and lift each other up.”

Posted in Associate Blog, News