“Give light and people will find the way.”
I just sat down with a fellow actor in the OSF company today, Dawn-Lyen Gardner, and realized that there really are no accidents in life. We had been planning to meet since May and in the hustle and bustle of being in shows and having family visitors we kept postponing this inevitable meeting. Finally we took charge and scheduled each other into our lives and met over edamame and tempura.
Within five or ten minutes this kindred spirit asked me two of the deepest questions I have encountered in a long while. First she asked (and I paraphrase) “What is your grand plan?” I responded with my passions about education and wanting to return to NM in the future to train both artists and teachers in theatre and how I miss the classroom. We started chatting about her current passion project that revolves around the word UNITY and how, starting with middle school students, the right combination of support and programs could, and will, create an entire generation of productive, creative and aware youth.
She then asked me the second question: “Why do you do what you do?” It took me a minute to gather my thoughts, I wanted to be a specific as possible. I had to answer why I believe in social justice, education reform, the power of theatre and community organizing. I answered first with ” I believe my life is a diservice if I am not of service to others.” Then after trying to articulate it more I stopped myself and said “It’s in my blood.” She smiled her magnetic smile and said “It’s amazing to be sitting across from someone who is saying my own thoughts outloud to me.”
It is no accident that Dawn and I met today, on this day, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. She and I are balancing our lives with the responsibility to society we have learned from our parents and the responsibility to society we have trained for as artists. We know deep in our hearts that the “march” is still going. Even 50 years later after one of the most quoted speeches during the Civil Rights movement, we are still fighting for our dreams. We are still dealing with hate crimes on Texas college campuses and in Ashland OR, we cry with anguish because of brown on brown vigalante violence, we are shattered with the inhumane treatment of immigrants, we abhor the increasing numbers of injured war veterans, we challenge the refusal to recognize marriage between anything other than man and woman, we will not back down to fight for a woman’s right to choose, the list of injustices that affect our brother’s and sisters today keep us marching.
I posted a picture of my sprouting avocado seed because I find it to be a perfect metaphor for the continued march towards justice. The avocado I ate gave me nourishment, it fed a hunger and within it was contained the possibility of further growth. I had tried to grow two avocado plants from seed before this and neither worked. But I did not give up, I was determined to make a living thing from what would have otherwise been tossed in the trash. Third time is a charm and my little plant that could is ready to burst out into the light. I see the march on Washington as an avocado, something that nourished and filled a hunger, but my generation and the generations after us are the seeds. You can either toss us in the trash or give us water and light, positive thoughts and love and we will break through the darkness.
There is so much work to do. After our meeting today Dawn looked deeply into my eyes and told me “You have work to do.” We all have work to do. We must be the light to help those in darkness find their way. We must be of service. We must ensure that the fight for civil rights lives on in living breathing people, not just black and white photographs. We as a generation owe so much to the struggles, leaderships, communities, passions and stories of those before us.
On this day I celebrate my siblings, like Dawn, who hear their calling, the beat of their hearts that call them to service and who will live in service to others. We will tell the stories, ask the questions, challenge the norm, listen to those who hold the keys to change and pave a path for those ahead of us. On this day I honor my parents, family and close friends who fought, and still fight, for justice and dreams. I will always honor the work of MLK and at the same time remember the words of Ella Baker: “Strong people do not need a strong leader.” The march continues…