I have always been an idealistic person who sees the world through rose-colored glasses, and to tell you the truth, I do not think it is terrible. However, I know that we live in a world far from the utopian society of my dreams. Still, I will never stop praying and believing for a better world—a world in which our ethnicity and culture are seen as extraordinary, celebratory, and not divisive.
I was exposed to people from diverse cultures and backgrounds early. At three, my mother would take me and my sister and brother to productions at Radio City Music Hall. She enrolled me in tap and ballet classes. My father’s work at United Airlines enabled my family to travel to various parts of the United States. So when my family relocated from New Jersey to San Francisco, I was thrust into a new world of cultural diversity.
Something that had a profound effect on me was my time at St. Paul’s Intermediate School, where I attended seventh and eighth grades. What made St. Paul’s special to me was our assembly class. There was a particular session we had for six weeks, in which we learned dances from various countries. Some of the dances were the Mexican Hat, Irish Dance, and Square Dancing, and in high school, I had the opportunity to show my friend who was from Mexico that I knew how to do the Mexican Hat, and she loved it! Looking back, I wish African Dance was included. As I studied each dance, I found it a fantastic expression of cultural identity. I developed an attitude of gratitude. I marveled at and celebrated each discovery. I would run up to my friends and ask with innocent curiosity, “Where are you from?” My response to their answer was always, “How cool is it that you are!” (Fill in the blank). I recognized that we are all a mixture of many ethnicities and that everyone’s heritage is a gift. Beautiful combinations such as Italian, French, Black, Irish, Asian, Hispanic, and the list goes on!
At St. Paul’s, I was one of three black students in my class of 90, and I was proud of my ability to make friends with students of other races. One defining moment was when my classmate, Mike, told me that he could not be my friend. When I asked why he told me it was because I was a nigger. I can remember that moment as if it were yesterday. When Mike uttered those words, I did not skip a beat; I immediately waved my hand dismissively and said, “Oh, that is silly!” I honestly could not understand his mentality. Of course, I was disappointed that he did not see value in a friendship with me, but I chalked it up to his loss. What I knew was that I WAS NOT IN IT! The word Mike used did not apply to me. That was his perception. I knew I was a kind, loving and talented person with a lot to offer. Believe it or not, I did not harbor resentment towards Mike but felt sorry that his view of people from other races was so narrow at such a young age. I am thankful that I did not let Mike’s horrible words define me. I desire to share this story with anyone who might have had a similar situation. Please know that YOU ARE NOT IN IT! Knowing who we are and not allowing the ignorance and hatred of others to define or affect how we see ourselves is invaluable.
I am thankful that I grew up in a household that encouraged inclusion. I have been blessed with friends of diverse races and backgrounds. I have had the honor to be a bridesmaid in 13, yes, 13 weddings! Half were non-black. My oldest childhood friend, Maria, is from Greece. As a result, I went to many Greek festivals and learned Greek dance. So, I was thrilled when I was hired to perform two solo concerts on a Mediterranean cruise with the Regent Mariner. While on an excursion in Santorini, we went to a Greek restaurant. There was music and dancing, and at one point, they invited us to join them in the dancing. They were amazed when they saw me, this African American, really knowing how to Greek dance! They even invited me to lead one of the dances! They were screaming “Bravo”! I am grateful to have been invited by Maria and her family to share and celebrate their Greek heritage. I wish, as a society, we would be excited to learn about one another’s ethnicities. I know it is idealistic and cliché, but I pray that we will see and celebrate the beauty in how we are all created. We can learn and grow from one another if we are willing to teach love. Prejudice is something that is taught and learned. My prayer now more than ever is that we are compelled to love. If I have no charity, if love does not flow from me, I am nothing. Jesus, reduce me to love.
As I write this blog about love and compassion, I send my heartfelt prayers to the families of the victims of the Buffalo, Uvalde, and Tulsa mass shootings. May we all be reduced to love…
Hope fully ever after...