My wish, indeed my continuing passion, would be not to point the finger in judgment but to part a curtain, that invisible shadow that falls between people, the veil of indifference to each other’s presence, each other’s wonder, each other’s human plight.
We're winding down our time here and just finished the capstone of our week: our open house. The Mayor handed each volunteer a certificate of recognition and we heard many "thank you's" for what we were able to accomplish and the promise of ongoing contribution.
I must admit to having tears in my eyes as I witnessed the gratitude of small acts of kindness and friendly smiles. It was wonderful to see "friends" that I had met during the week and exchange hugs offered in mutual admiration and respect.
I told Aura that I'd be back in a year to see her success in losing weight. I mean that sincerely-- and it will be my privilege to be able to do so.
"The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it." Chief Joseph
Today was spent putting the finishing touches on our work-- setting up the learning center and computer room in preparation for our open house tomorrow. We also toured the Emmett Till museum and learned more about his brutal murder, and the acquittal of his killers; and we had some down time to get to know each other more; share passions and opinions and enjoy yet another communal dinner prepared by Berri, our co-traveler, photographer, and chef!
I had read about Emmett Till's lynching before I arrived in Glendora but, somehow, being here and having stood on the bridge where his body was thrown into the Black Bayou, made it seem more real.
I left there feeling like I did when I had visited the concentration camp--Dachau, in Germany. Emmett Till was lynched and murdered for whistling at a white woman back in August of 1955! A mere four years before I was born, a 14 year old boy was brutally murdered-- that was bad enough, yet it was made far worse by the acquittal of his murderers and the selling of their confession to Look Magazine for $4,000.
Throughout this week, I've been thinking of the philosophy around recognition-- that the best kind of recognition is positive. Next, if you aren't recognized positively, if you get only negative feedback, at least you're being noticed. Far worse than that is being ignored. While there may only be 150-260 people living in this small, rural community, they are deserving of noticing.
How easy it is for others who have not walked in another's shoes, to judge and make assessments that have no ground in reality. People are so quick to believe the media and consider what they hear as "truth."
In coaching, we talk about assessments and assertions. Assertions-- absolute truths can only be named as such based on objectively verifiable measurement-- as in "it is 32 degrees Fahrenheit." An assessment would be "it is cold." Assessments are our opinion-- what we believe to be true at any point in time. And our opinions may change based on life experience.
If a population or community has learned helplessness from decades of oppression, we shouldn't be judging them: rather we should be looking in the mirror and asking ourselves: "how am I contributing to this situation?" If we are doing nothing, there is no denying that our inaction is a contribution.
I am in awe of PID-- and Gale Hull's vision to help those in Guatemala, Haiti, and now MS, to help themselves. She is helping them to build a sense of self-efficacy where those who choose to do so, can transform their self image of victim to that of creator. Gale had a wise observation today that giving micro-loans to those in Glendora now would not work. They don't have the confidence, nor the skills of knowing how to run a business.
Once we can help them with learning that they can improve their health through lifestyle choices; when we can encourage surrounding communities to "notice" them through wellness programs; when we can arrange for transportation and facilitate some getting their GED; and when they can access quality healthcare in a timely way, then we can start talking about supporting their micro-loans.
Of course, for those who know me-- my idea was to arrange a "walk/run" for Glendora. Stay tuned!
This will not be the end-- I will stay involved and will look forward to hearing about the positive differences being made by Joyce, and Derrick, Mario, Courtney, Ben, Desiree, Aisha, Elijah, and countless others!
Pictures: learning center and computer room
Beginning of the second day and it has already been an eye-opening journey. I have the utmost respect for the Mayor of Glendora; the people, and PID. Gale has done a phenomenal job in assessing readiness to change: there have been community volunteers working alongside us yesterday and they are scheduled all week. They are engaged: they want a better life-- they need services and they need not be looked over and forgotten.
The "bed and breakfast" that is "home" this week defies our normal association of the term. . I am thankful to have brought soap, shampoo, etc. My twin air mattress on the floor provides a soft, yet chilly landing for my weary body and my ear plugs only slightly soften the noise from the train that goes by every 2 hours throughout the day.
Yesterday, Peggy (another RN), Rick- a retired ER doc, and I manned the "clinic" where we took health and social histories; blood pressure and pulse; urine testing and blood glucose and hemoglobin levels.
Themes already are high blood pressure; weight and diet; alcohol consumption; access to health insurance; lack of transportation, teenage pregnancy, lack of recreation, and unemployment.
The desire is there-- and they are aware of the catch 22 of having time on their hands-- using alcohol or sex to fill it up, which prevents them from passing drug/ alcohol tests for jobs, which prevents them from having money to support a healthier lifestyle.
There is rich history here and, certainly the lynching and murder of 14yr. Old Emmit Till is prominent. Unfortunately, right now it manifests more of reinforcing a hopeless and victim perspective, particularly reinforced by the realities of their day-day life. There are no busses here; the nearest hospital is 24-30 miles away.
I am off to help with breakfast and then work. I will pray this goes through and you get a glimpse of my journey.
Much gratitude and awe,
It's almost 11pm and if I can fall asleep soon, this will be the earliest to bed since arriving here. I've been waking up every two hours, facilitated by the train that seems like it will pass through our bedroom, as well as the chill that seeps through the very old window frames from our B&B.
Still, this isn't about not having the luxuries of life. This is about helping a town to have hope and for as many lives as we can touch to feel that they have potential.
We continued to hear themes of no health insurance; no grocery stores closer than 30 miles away; no public transportation so if some want to go to the store, they pay a friend $30 to get there! That's $30 out of their grocery money. It makes it tough to get produce because something might spoil if they can't buy fresh fruit on a more frequent basis.
Today, in clinic, I graduated so that I was testing people's blood sugar with a glucometer. One of my patients was a woman who was 6 months pregnant and still smoking cigarettes and weed-- I used every influence skill I know to get her to say out loud that her baby's health was paramount; agree to cutting her weed use in half and even engaged another "aspiring nurse" in the community to serve as her accountability partner. It's so much fun when it all comes together in service to helping someone.
We're planning our open house on Saturday for the town to see the computer learning center; have plans for a few folks to get their GED; and have plans to set in motion action for a recreation center.
The bridge in the photo is next to Emmit Till Park and is where Emmit's body was thrown into the river.
More to come-- thanks for your ongoing prayers and support. May you and your loved ones never experience the isolation and neglect that this town has felt for decades!
Love and gratitude,
We got our final pre-departure instructions from Partners in Development today and I am beginning to realize a little of the adventure in which I'll experience next week. The "B&B" where we'll stay does not have internet (how unimaginable, eh?). How spoiled we are to become comfortable in having free wifi wherever we go....
We'll be sleeping 3-4 to a room and amongst the 15 of us, there will be 4 bathrooms. I'm thinkin' no hairdryer next week..... may go "natural!" We were also cautioned about making promises or giving handouts. We were advised:
"We are going to a place where the population for generations has felt that their lives have been controlled and dominated by others (in particular, white people). There is ingrained hopelessness, depression, and inertia. Outsiders, especially white people, are looked at with either suspicion or as a resource to get things. I don’t think any of us would be any different if we had faced the generations of oppression and isolation that these folks have faced."
I am so thankful for my coaching background as I have had some time to unlearn my attitude of "being an expert" and rushing in as rescuer to someone in need, and convert that to seeing my clients as "creative, resourceful and whole." My job is being a conduit to their success. My role here will be the same. I will practice curiosity, patience, appreciation, and mindfulness.
I am also recognizing that this journey I am taking will likely last more than just one week. I may only spend one week in Glendora. Yet I am pretty certain that the experience will leave an indelible mark on me and I will be challenged to truly make this experience about them and not about me. It's not about my selflessness or generosity. It's about sharing the blessings I've received, and advocating for greater equality for all.
If you'd like to learn more about Glendora, please see this link to "A Tale of Two Schools:" a PBS special highlighting the Bearden school where the Glendora students attend.
More to come.... thanks for sharing this journey with me.
One week from Monday, I leave on my trip to Glendora, MS. Glendora is a small town along the Mississippi Delta Region struggling under extreme poverty.
There will be a group of approximately 15 of us who will serve on one of four teams:
We will be staying at the Sonny Boy Williamson B&B. The official website of Glendora describes the B&B:
"The “Sonny Boy” Williamson Memorial Bed and Breakfast is Glendora ‘s tribute to its own native son and legendary blues harmonica player. This Bed and Breakfast, as well as the Blues & Cyber Café it will soon contain, feature memorabilia associated with the life and music of this internationally acclaimed Blues music master."
Amongst my traveling companions are:
As I think about going on this trip, and the types of conversations we'll have (each day concludes with a facilitated conversation by the Partners In Development Folks), I reflect on the paradox of large and small. I imagine my world views and perspective getting so much larger-- rich with insights gleaned from the work; the community interactions, my traveling companions, and the PID staff.
In the same vein, I think about my world becoming smaller... in that the distance between those who live in very different geographic and economic areas and myself will decrease, and I'm sure I will learn that we have more in common than I may have previously imagined. I look forward to sharing that with you.
You can read more about Glendora and PID at the following link.
"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
Can't wait to join Partners in Development (pidonline.org) in Glendora, MS to help conduct a health assessment for the community and create a library for the parents and children! I'll be leaving 2/24/14 for one week! More to come!
Thanks to Shelley Kaplan, Sharon Keys Seal, Deborah and George Bateman, Dr. Gail Cunningham, Jim Wiederhold & Associates, Jackie Goor, and Bob Saunders for helping to make this possible!
To read about Glendora's history, click here.