A Lesson in Privilege (by guest contributor Kinsey Brown)

(On June 10th, 2011, Starfire and Public Allies gathered at the Seasongood Pavilion in Eden Park to read Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community.  We were honored to have Tom Kohler, co-author of the book, join us as our guest.  It was a terrific, inclusive day of thinking together about how Mr. Welcome’s story invites us to think about our own stories.  Kinsey Brown was one of the leaders from Public Allies who worked on the logistics and planning of the morning and told me what it meant to her as we were leaving.  I asked her if she’d be willing to write her thoughts and she said she would.  The result is below, and we’re happy to share this with you today.  Thanks, Kinsey, for your thoughtful reflection.)

My day began as it usually did. I woke up and got ready, ate a little something and was on my way to training like almost every Friday since last September. This Friday, though, I was part of a group that was facilitating our Perspective of the Day on Ableism. I was nervous and worried about how the day would go, hoping everything would work out and fall into place, and felt as if our group would be receiving a grade based upon how well
we could run training even though I knew this was not the case.

I was the first person to arrive and picked up AmariYah and Marcus along the route to the
Seasongood Pavilion. I remember being a little more jittery than I normally am, and I could not stand or sit still. What was going to happen today? What was I going to say? Who is going to lead what section? These were questions I had racing through my mind.

This year as a co-facilitator at my placement organization I came to realize that I need to practice and have down exactly what I will be saying when I am facilitating, but for this day I was not able to do so. It was going to have to be off the cuff and in the moment, and this really worried me.

On Friday’s, Public Allies always begin trainings at 8:30am. Tim from Starfire, who my group had been working with to put the day together, informed us that Starfire students would arrive between 8:30 and 9am.  I wondered about the timing and worried about how this was going to work out with this unplanned half hour.

As 8:30 hit, there was really only Tim, Tom Kohler, and one other member from Starfire there. Tim said we should wait to begin, but that the students would be there soon enough. I tried to remain calm; knowing that I am working in a group and things cannot go only my way.

It was 8:46 and still not many students from Starfire were there. Tim said we should still wait and that we would have time for our activity of the day which was to read the book Tom wrote, “Waddie Welcome and the Beloved Community.”

8:58, 9:03, it was now 9:15 and the students were still not here. At this point it is 45 minutes past when we are supposed to start and I am in full on panic mode. I am apologizing to the Public Allies staff and saying I can’t believe that we cannot start yet. I am wondering if I or somebody should say to Tim that we must start regardless.

It was right about this time that students and staff from Starfire began to show up. I saw them at the top begin the long journey down the hill to the pavilion. They were coming down in groups from the cars they had come in. this is when it hit me. This was my first lesson of the day. As I am watching students come down the hill, I saw some of them laughing, some carrying materials we needed for the day, and some of them struggling. It
really hit me and I realized how privileged I am and what our Ableism training was all about.

I realized that people who are differently abled are not necessarily on schedules, and that many people go at their own pace in life.  That pace isn’t too fast and it isn’t too slow, it’s a pace that is just right for them. This is why Tim was so calm and cool.  He knew when we started the day that there would be a perfect time to start our day: when all our community members arrived.

Once I realized this, I immediately went over to Tim and said wow, how foolish of me to impose my privilege upon other people.  From there on out I was so calm. I had a sense that everything that was going to happen the rest of the day was going to happen exactly how it should and would work itself out.

As we moved into reading the book I took away many lessons, but most of all I took away that building community where everyone is welcome is probably the most important thing we can be doing on this planet.

The last lesson that I took away from the day was during our guest speaker, Tom Kohler’s, speech. Tom was opening my mind up and giving me new perspectives on life. During many of the points Tom was making, I was unable to hear what he was saying because we were outside with city noises, and he had his back to me.

I began to think about somebody who might not be able to hear and what they would do if they were there in our community that day.  They would not have been able to hear the story of Waddie Welcome or Tom talking. I began to think it is a privilege that I am able to hear what was going on and I should not take it for granted, even if the sound quality isn’t perfect. I thought I should not be frustrated with not being able to hear what Tom was
saying because there is somebody somewhere in my community who cannot as well.

This day that I shared with the Public Allies and Starfire community strengthened me, made me better, and made me so very appreciative. It made me appreciative of what I have, who I am, and this community that I belong to. It made me feel empowered and brought about a new sense of love in my life. It made me want to get to know every person in my community that I possibly can and start building community with them. It caused
me to draw correlations between my own experiences as a person who is differently
gendered and the experiences of a person who is differently abled. This reminded me that I want to create a loving, accepting community everywhere I go.

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