I visited San Francisco about 7 years ago, and I was taken aback by the culture. People were so unabashedly themselves. They were allowed to be whoever they wanted to be, and it seemed like everyone marched to the beat of their own drum. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean – anything goes! I had honestly never seen such an incredible melting pot of human beings, and within 9 months I packed my bags and moved to SF.
I learned more about humanity in those five years than in my first 25 years of life. Massachusetts generally lacks a lot of diversity that you find in other parts of the country, and despite being in North Carolina, my college was mainly attended by rich white kids. In SF I lived a completely different life than I ever had. I lived in an Asian neighborhood, learned that one of my favorite cuisines is Ethiopian food and quickly grew accustomed to people walking the streets in costume for no reason (and sometimes that person was me). My favorite bar was a gay bar, I learned not to fear the homeless and I became obsessed with yoga, a practice that I previously found to be quite boring. For the first time, my friends were black, Asian, Mexican, gay, lesbian, spiritual, Atheist – and boy did we have a blast together.
While I’ve never harbored any feelings of hatred toward anyone for their race, religion, sexual orientation, or otherwise, I did grow up in a mostly white, incredibly sheltered community. I still live in one today, and while that surely doesn’t make me a racist, it does make me realize that I haven’t always taken the time to step out of my safe little bubble and face the hard stuff. I’ll jump in and help when a natural disaster hits or if there’s a fundraiser for a good cause, but I’ve never actually faced the hate and oppression head on. After living in SF and being surrounded by the LGBTQ community, I’ve proudly advocated for gay rights, but I’ve failed to even acknowledge the fact that there is still stark racism in this country… until now. I’m embarrassed that it has taken me 33 years to step up, but I see it now and want to help.
It’s hard to even know where to start, especially when we’re still not completely out of quarantine, but I’m taking some baby steps. I’ve ordered a few books to educate myself more on the issue of racism (though many are sold out everywhere, which is an encouraging sign that more people are taking action), and I’ve started researching black owned businesses I can support. While I’m kind of out here on an island, I’m not using that as an excuse anymore, and I’m going to participate in a peaceful protest this week to show my support (if you’re in the area and want to join me, send me a message). I’m also donating a portion of the money I made from all my classes this week to an organization that is fighting for equality, most likely the Boston chapter of Black Lives Matter unless they direct it elsewhere. Once we’re teaching live classes again, I’m also going to resume teaching yoga with Hands to Heart Center, an organization that brings yoga to underserved communities (more details below).
All these things are just a drop in the bucket. There is so much more I can do locally, and I will. Back in December, one of Matt’s black friends visited for a few days from California. While walking around the neighborhood, they were stopped by cops multiple times, who were looking for a black man who had robbed a nearby house. While our friend did fit the profile, the interactions were not friendly, and had Matt not been there as the voice of reason, things could have gone very differently. I don’t want our black friends to feel unwelcome when they visit our home town, and I will take steps to make sure they can visit safely without feeling threatened. It shouldn’t have taken 6 months for me to take action, but the current climate has really opened my eyes.
We can change the world, one person at a time, and the world needs more than prayers right now. We need to put our excuses aside and do the hard work. However difficult or uncomfortable our work may feel, it will never equate to the discomfort and fear our black community feels as they simply try to go about their everyday lives. Just take the first step. Make a small change within your own circle to contribute to a major movement. Google ways to help. This list is a good starting point. In the words of my beloved teacher, Jacqui Bonwell, “Love All. Serve All.” Love wins.