The Struggle for our Shared Humanity

Redirecting my focus and building on the momentum

During the November retreat I somewhat spontaneously changed my topic. My mission now is to create something that illustrates the tensions that exist as a result of cultural differences. How do the school systems look to assimilate rather than collaborate? What can we learn from our collective experiences? Biodiversity is key for maintaining a strong, successful ecosystem. How can we create an environment where cultural diversity, like biodiversity can benefit our society and result in a healthy thriving communities?

Response and reflection to Dena Simmons’ article in Middlebury Magazine

As I set off on this journey my first task was to acquire knowledge and develop a list of resources that would shape the road my team and I venture down with our topic. In addition to reading blog posts from fellow teammates I searched for other resources to help me gain perspective.

I read an article from the Middlebury Magazine Titled We Cannot  Afford to Walk Away ; a meditation on race, equality and humanity by Dena Simmons. It describes her childhood living in the Bronx and going to a prestigious boarding school to get away from her dangerous living conditions in New York. The author, describing herself as “A light skinned black woman” is an changemaker focusing her energy on the issues of a racialized society.

Simmons tells how her experiences translated into her passionate teaching career and activism later in life. She lived in an area eroded from the grinding of daily violence. In an attempt to protect her children from their chaotic environment Simmons’ mother sent her to a boarding school outside the city. Simmons says that although “we ran away to escape tragedy, I encountered new horrors: racism, classism, and the quiet violence of gender policing…”   Simmons felt a push to conform to a standard unachievable to her. Throughout her journey through boarding school and higher education she was cast away from the group and forced to be merely an onlooker. She observed the environment around her, the various social systems based on superficiality, the systems that kept certain people down, that limited the voices of power. Being an observer allowed her to reflect on the environment with a different perspective. This perspective caused her to form new ideas to initiate positive change. As a school teacher, Simmons brought these ideas back to the Bronx, so that they could start their change in her hometown, where change was needed most. She reflects on her job at the school saying; “I taught my students how to create meaningful actions to challenge and change the problematic systems that they inhabit.”

Dena Simmons continues her activism and determination, spreading ideas that will help bring the whole of humanity closer together. I felt inspired and encouraged by her article, realizing that: “even in this highly racialized environment, however there’s room for healing and growth. [we can] strive to do work that empowers others to realize their value and potential and to fight for justice. However the work should not rest only on the shoulders of people of color. This work for racial justice is all of our work. It’s a collective struggle for our shared humanity”

Kati Tolgyesi

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