Carol A. Hand
The challenge of living on the margins is seeing both what is and what could be. Yet using that perspective to raise awareness and inspire people to work together has proven to be a challenge that has gotten me into trouble many times. Sometimes our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses. It’s something my friend Maxine Jacobson helped me realize.
“I was anything but an ally during my Native American colleague’s first year in the school. I responded defensively when she commented candidly on the social justice mission of the department as more fluff than substance. I wished she would take more time before making judgments to understand the culture of the department and all the work that had gone into creating what White faculty members believed was an innovative program. In retrospect, I find it disturbing that what I expected from her was something I was not willing to give: I was not at all prepared to see “our” world through her eyes. It was okay for her to direct her critique at the child welfare system. But when she directed it at the organization I had invested inordinate amounts of time building, that was too close to home.” (Maxine Jacobson, 2012, pp. 275-276).
I moved to Duluth Minnesota in October of 2011 to be closer to my daughter and grandchildren. I was also seeking a sanctuary to heal from decades of battle wounds, but it didn’t take me long to see the inequities and divisiveness in my new community, as I described in a post some time ago, Communities of Relatedness. Blogging has helped me work through the wounds and find hope, to remember past lessons and share them with a network of gifted people from around the world. I am deeply grateful for the gift of knowledge, creativity, kindness, and love that blogging has given me. Yet I’ve reached a point where I’m finished telling stories from the past, at least for now. Facing my greatest fears – the possibility that I would lose my sight and perhaps not survive corrective surgery – has awakened my excitement about living and learning new things.
Photo: The view of my house from across the street – March 31, 2015
(It’s the white one in the middle, set back from the street behind the large weeping willow tree)
In the past, I really didn’t always taken the time to understand the newest contexts that surrounded me. And because people sensed my openness to difference and my sensitivity and compassion, they started downloading their troubles as soon as I arrived. I listened to their stories about all of the factions and observed the conflict and power struggles. Of course I felt people’s pain and wanted to do something about it – immediately. I am quick to see oppression and unfairness, but I haven’t always taken time to plan how to deal with inequality and oppression effectively. I have many internal battle scars as a result and I’ve been reluctant to have much to do with “organized” people during the past few years.
But I’m alive. I have some skills and experiences that may be important in these times. Recently, I’ve begun searching for answers to crucial questions. What truly inspires me and ignites the fire in my heart? Two things come to mind. First, I have promises to keep to myself and others. I have begun working on two books that need to be completed: one about my mother’s life, and one about my research study of Indian child welfare. (For more information see Lara Hentz’s blog.) But I know from experience that focusing on past suffering and oppression needs to be counter-balanced by also being involved in initiatives that are focused on future possibilities. This is what I have been pondering for the past few weeks.
How can I use my skills and past experiences to build a foundation for transformative changes without offending others and closing down possibilities for partnerships focused on constructive collective efforts? What can I do to keep learning and contributing by applying the principles of appreciative inquiry and community-based participatory research ?
Photo: A View of the Alley – March 31, 2015
The answers are beginning to surface, forcing me to overcome my fear of failing yet again. It’s easier to sit on the sidelines and criticize others. The first step – learning about the community’s past and present online – doesn’t take courage, merely curiosity and discipline. But do I dare look foolish, an old woman roaming the streets with her camera? Calling strangers and asking them if they have time to tell me about themselves and their organizations? Well, I won’t know the answers to those questions until I try. The possible gains far outweigh the costs.
I want to begin by learning about the history of Duluth, and by exploring the street where I live. I want to take the time to get to know my neighbors beginning with the pastor of the church and the manager of the elder apartments across the street. And next, the principals of elementary school at the end of my alley and the high school just four blocks away. I want to learn about all of the initiatives and agencies that are involved in helping residents and the community development agency that is interested in improving conditions in the most challenged neighborhoods (including the one where I live.) I am beginning to frame out this new initiative and have grabbed my camera to start taking photos of my neighborhood.
So, here goes. I’m leaving my sanctuary to look for people’s strengths and visions for the future. I promise to keep you posted about what I discover on the way.
Photo: Our Savior’s Lutheran Church (Directly across the street) – March 31, 2015
Photo: Faith Haven Apartments for Seniors – March 31, 2015
Photo: Laura MacArthur Elementary School – The view from my back porch – March 31, 2015
Photo – Denfeld High School (a few blocks away) – March 31, 2015
Maxine Jacobson (2012): Breaking Silence, Building Solutions: The Role of Social Justice Group Work in the Retention of Faculty of Color, Social Work With Groups, 35(3), 267-286. To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01609513.2011.642265
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