NPR is soliciting personal essays from people about
their beliefs and how those beliefs were formed or
tested or changed.
I like this kind of thing so I wrote to them about
how I get up every morning and try to make the world a
bit better than it is. Now I know that to many people
such thinking might sound lofty and touchy feely and unrealistic but I'm just doing what my mother and grandfather raised me to do.
I can't help but chase rainbows, if you will, because
they were two of the most "Do unto others as you would
have them do unto you" people I have ever known. And
their approach to life just rubbed off on me. They
taught me through example what getting involved is all
about. Like, for instance, I could come home from
school with,say, a story about somebody being teased
on the playground at recess, and they most likely
would respond with: "So what did you do to get the
kids to stop?"
Oh, without their love to lean on I don't know how I
would have survived emotionally in those days because
Jim Crow was all over the place. And second class
citizenship made me entertain some dark hateful
thoughts every now and then. If God had answered my
fervent cry back then there would be absolutely no
evidence of caucasians ever having existed in the
universe. But those ancestors of mine would throwout
the names of some decent loving white people I knew
and I'd come to my senses and realize you can't judge
a people by the actions of a few.
I learned from them that an individual can, indeed,
make a difference in the world. And having worked
with kids most of my life I've seen evidence of such a
notion over and over again.
I don't know how many times I've run into old
students of mine who give me a big sunny smile and a
big tight bear hug and then say to the person on their
arm something that affirms that I've touched their
lives. l can hear in my mind a compilation of their
voices: "Hey, honey, this is the teacher I was telling
you about, the one who hung in there with me, the one
who did Prince's "1999" with my homeboys and me at the
talent show, the one who helped us write the poems we
sent to our dads in Vietnam, the one who could dunk a basketball..." Then they proudly tell me about how they're giving back to their communities, how they're changing the world. These encounters absolutely thrill my soul.
And nothing has made my heart sing and made me feel
like I've made a difference more than an experience I
had not too long ago. I was in a large crowd of people
at a peace rally when one of the speakers pointed at
me and said into the microphone: "I wouldn't be
standing here today if it hadn't been for that man, my elementary school principal. He taught me to look at what the world needs and then 'do something to make it better.'" Moments later hundreds of voices are
chanting: "No more war! No more war!"
I left for home that day feeling so good inside, so
loved, so validated as a human being. And on the next
day I was off to my old tricks: trying to make the
world a bit better than it is.
Ernie McCray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org