As I whipped up a quick batch of brownies this morning, I recalled the few places I was once “known” for my brownies. It had been a while since I baked brownies. You see, I have a daughter who does not like chocolate!
There was a time that I made brownies on a regular basis: staff meetings, dinner parties and for my grandmother. While I could honestly say, “I just follow the directions on the box.” Having a place where I was known for something other than my job title or sensibility, filled me with pride, gave me an identity and fulfilled a valuable role. Everyone on our team had positive contributions beyond job roles - flowers, a new song, an insightful article and a story that made the heart swell. Our team members had multiple identities, and thus many places to stand and be missed.
Everyone - no matter what you do in life - needs to have things they are known for that gives them a since of place and belonging. I reflect on this as I have been reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. He shares with us his real life as an attorney for those forgotten in our prison systems. I have been moved and dismayed. Like Mr. Stevenson, I work to help bring the voice of the voiceless (people with mental illness and substance use disorders) to decision makers. His work makes me feel that there must be more that I can do. There is more that we can all do. We can share these stories. We can help change the story to the expectation that laws and justice are for all!
If there is one thing I have come to appreciate, it is vigilance! We must be vigilant. We must teach our children, our neighbors and our friends the multiple histories of those who have come before us! I have a child in grade school where they focus on science, technology, engineering and math. I don’t want her to miss out on humanities, civics and history. Few people know much about why our laws, policies, systems of government and institutions were developed. We as humans are imperfect beings - we are too easily swayed.
Think about the last time you ate more than one brownie when they were in your presence. That human tendency to be swayed is one reason why we have a constitution, laws and government. We have not always made good decisions. We have needed others with knowledge about human rights to lead us and help us choose humanity and seek justice for the common good of all, especially for the least among us.
I am a black woman – If people in 1960 had been able to go with a majority rule, I would still be unable to date or marry someone from another ethnic background. I wouldn’t have a doctorate degree. I wouldn’t be writing this blog. If we went back further in time by just a few decades, I would be a slave.
Identity is critical. We have to have identities that help us be missed. If you are known as a problem - it is likely that your absence will be welcomed instead of missed. I hope that we intentionally think and actively find ways to lift up people for the gifts they bring - even if that gift is simply baking brownies from a box. That will allow that person- that human - to be missed and seen as a valued member of the community. Perhaps, then, we will be vigilant and fight harder, so that all people are heard and availed due process despite their economics, race, gender or spiritual practice.