This May I walked (barefoot of course) across a stage on Macalester’s front lawn and accepted a slip of paper representing an asset, a tool, no one could ever steal from me. This is what freedom of opportunity feels like when it is placed in your hands; this is what I hope everyone has a chance at if they so desire. When I shook President Rosenberg’s hand, he looked me in the eye and said, “if you ever need anything, ever, you know where to go.” Yes, I will go to my roots and seek some of that ancient wisdom. But right now, it’s time to fly.
Despite going to a college that touts international and domestic diversity, the most diverse group I’ve ever been part of was the 200 some people at my Americorps training committing their lives to Volunteering in Service to America (VISTA). People were from every class, race, age and culture—a real slice of the US—and there we were sharing incredibly personal stories with one another after only a few days together.
The mission of VISTA is to wage war on poverty in America (I couldn’t help but wonder if they ever sent VISTAs to Wall Street to help alleviate some serious spiritual poverty). The melting pot at this training was composed of recent liberal arts grads (me!), recently unemployed laborers, or people who had struggled out of poverty and now wanted to give back in some way. I looked around the room and said to myself, “People are just people.”
Sometimes I hesitate about moving forward, about stepping up. I’m afraid that my home, my culture, the people I identify with will regard me as a stranger when I return. They will look upon me with misunderstanding or even contempt. But I need to remind myself that this is the richest part of the American story. We are founded by people who took a chance and hopped the Mayflower to a strange land. Thank God there are pioneers still willing to take that chance today and step outside their known world for a chance at opportunity of choice. Our culture of fusion depends on this constant influx of new ideas, new language, and new connections. I personally plan to be an immigrant of life for as long I live.
I have a long history of advocacy and activism but I am looking forward to a year of listening. It’s literally in my job description. I am a collector and teller of stories: stories from volunteers, clients, staff, and donors at the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas (CAFB). These interviews will be turned into videos and written words that can be used to secure donations and volunteers for the organization. I work in an office building attached to a warehouse that distributes food to over 350 local food pantries throughout central Texas. I will admit, I choked back tears on my first visit to one of these pantries. Sometimes, people just want to be heard.
I am excited to be part of this generation of youth. We are endowed with social networking tools and empowered by the need for change that we face daily. So here I go: telling you my honest story and striving to fit it into the American story. Tell me, what is yours?