We’ve just crossed the ten-year mark since Hurricane Katrina passed through New Orleans, leveling entire neighborhoods and displacing whole populations, including a disproportionate number of African-American families.
Wendell Pierce, the actor best known for playing “Bunk” in The Wire who’s from New Orleans did an interview with NPR last week, reflecting on the last ten years of rebuilding in New Orleans. He talked about acting in a production of Waiting for Godot in his home city and, when saying this line, feeling a sense of deep catharsis and hope for ability to create change:
“At this place, in this moment of time, all mankind is us. Let us do something while we have the chance.”
At Community Tampa Bay, it’s easy to feel hopeless in our daily work to end discrimination. We find ourselves in the position of endlessly having to make the case that discrimination not only negatively impacts directly affected individuals, but also damages our whole community. We’re constantly trying to convince people and institutions that with equity comes increased vitality and stability for everyone. And we’re continually reminded of what a hard sell this can be. When we run up against these constant barriers and when we see story after story in our news feeds of bigotry being hailed as heroism, it’s easy to feel like our work isn’t going anywhere.
And that’s when we remind ourselves why we can’t give up.
Last summer, I was having dinner at ANYTOWN with a young woman named Tatiana. She’s a senior in high school this year and shared with me that she had been abandoned at birth by her mom and was being raised by her grandmother. Her grandmother wasn’t necessarily prepared to raise another child and didn’t really have a lot of spare time for Tatiana. Over the years, Tatiana had cultivated more of a relationship with her mom, but her mom was frequently in and out of jail, making it hard to sustain contact. Tatiana shared that prior to ANYTOWN, she didn’t’ really know what love was, having never felt it before. She said to me: “Here, I’ve felt loved for the first time.”
So when I feel a little hopeless about our ambitious goal of ending discrimination, I remind myself why we do this work. It’s about love. It’s about engaging in the daily decisions, actions and behaviors that demonstrate that no matter who you are, where you come from or what society says about you, that you deserve to feel loved. And if we truly love one another, there is no room for discrimination.
Relationships are the root of Community Tampa Bay’s work. We believe that we can end discrimination through relationships because we’ve seen progress with this approach firsthand time and time again. Yes, we have a seemingly endless amount of work to do to reach our ambitious goal of ending discrimination. But when we distill what we do down to those life changing one-on-one interactions, like the one I had with Tatiana, we are reminded that the cumulative effect of our daily work can – and will – make an incredible difference.
We are reminded that “in this place, in this moment of time, all mankind is us. Let us do something while we have the chance.”