Saturday, April 19, 2014

MLK Memorial Reflection: The Uncarved Block

Our most powerful works of art far transcend pictures taken of them. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is one of these for me. On this sunny day in DC with nothing in particular to do, I thought I'd go check it out so I would know where it was when I come back with my kids in June. I didn't have anything in particular on my mind except for a pleasant walk on the mall in the sunshine. So, maybe I wasn't really prepared for the power of this monolithic, but somehow dynamic force I'd find staring sternly down at me. Nor was I prepared for how some of the quotes rang so personally true for me. Had I heard his quotes as a student or other places and internalized them without knowing who said them? Or had I come to some similar conclusions by different paths?

I tried to reconcile the stern visage of the statue with the MLK presented in the children's book "My Uncle Martin's Big Heart" by Angela Farris Watkins, which I've read to my daughters many times. That book paints a tender and loving picture of the legendary man through the eyes of his young niece. Ultimately, I know he must have been multi-faceted like all humans and I know that both visions of the man are likely to be true. While the book celebrates his great love, this statue clearly conveys a lasting impression of his strength and immovable will.

I think my favorite thing about the memorial is the intentional unfinished nature. A stone is unmoving, but it seems like we have caught the artist unawares and in the motions of carving a continuing work. But we know this work is finished and this man has been laid to rest long ago. More is the sadness, but great is the glory of the what he had become for us in the time he had. Might that uncarved stone also be partly a metaphor for the unfinished work on injustice left to do? Maybe that's stretching it. Yet because of the inscription - "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope" - we know that we're at least meant to know that this positive, strong image was able to emerge from, in spite of, and even because of the darkness of inequalities.

Being a Christian who believes in a creator of our souls, I also fancy the imagery of G-d as the artist shaping this man from the history before his life as well as the years he lived. I walked away quiet, pensive, and wondering...

What will I look like when my maker is done carving me?

My own life-journey is taking me quite a far distance from the life I envisioned for myself when I was a high school student touring Washington D.C. for the first time and I hardly knew what to hope for in myself, long before could imagine committing myself to the "noble struggle for equal rights." I seem to be half-way there, but will I truly be able to make a career of humanity? (If I use a metaphorical interpretation of the word "career" and take it to mean I don't have to actually draw a living wage doing it, then the answer - I think - is yes)

And as I sit waiting to board my plane to head back to the welcoming kisses of my children, I wonder what broad strokes or fine chisel work the creator is using my hands for in the shaping and molding of my daughters?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mommy-Activist Inspiration: The RESULTS International Conference

There are some turning points in your life when you clearly feel the course of your life changing. And there are people who - whether they know it or not at the time - act as joyful cruise directors, ushering you down the path where you want to go. But sometimes you have to seek out those turning points and intentionally put yourself where they're likely to be. This post is about meeting an exceptional advocate named Teresa Rugg at the RESULTS International Conference and Lobby Day. She helped put me on my path, which will soon include taking both of my grade school-aged children back to the same conference to lobby with me 7 years later!
I met Teresa when I was at an emotional crossroads. A stay-at-home mom just discovering my own citizen-power, I was preparing to lobby Congress for the first time in Washington D.C. I’d met a lot of activists who – while inspiring – didn’t have a lot in common with me. They talked about evening meeting schedules and daytime lobby meetings, but my chaotic mommy-life centered around diapers and naptimes. I wanted to become an advocate for mothers and children in poverty, but I couldn't quite see myself in the role.
How, I thought, could I possibly do what these incredible activists were doing when I was sometimes still in my pajamas at noon and covered in baby food? 
Teresa Rugg speaking her mind
Then, I met Teresa - an experienced advocate who knew how to juggle life and parenting, lovingly and simultaneously. Her kids were a bit older than mine, so she had already lived through those moments of having a congressional aide on the phone while a small child kept up the chorus of "Mommymommymommy" in her other ear. She didn’t quite do everything the way everyone else said that she "should," but rather in a way that involved her children and worked for her family. I thought, “THAT is an example I can shoot for.”
In the early 1990’s, Teresa was a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching health in Cameroon. When she returned home, she made good on her promise to tell her stories and spread the word about how we in the U.S. can help. Later, while still being an active mother with her kids, she founded a RESULTS chapter in Snohomish County, Washington, bringing the issues of global poverty before members of Congress. With a degree in Public Health, she has helped shape the direction of her passion-project, TB Photovoice - an organization that amplifies the voices of those directly affected by Tuberculosis - of which she is now the Project Director.  She showed me how we can have tremendous impact on an international level with our passion yet still be great spouses, mothers, and all the other things we already are.
My advocacy is always kid-friendly!
After the conference, I went home and joined my local RESULTS Chicago-area group (whom I also met at the conference...but that's an amusing story for another post). They became my mentors about how to lobby and write media, but Teresa remained a role model for advocating while living a kid-filled, messy, paint-splashed, happy mom-life.

My eldest daughter on her first DC lobbying trip
Teresa changed me forever by being a supportive friend and role model. Simply by being herself, she gave me an example of how to be the kind of mom I wanted to be. Now, we are friends, RESULTS partners, and cheerleaders for each other. As mothers, we give voice to the voiceless and make the world a better place for all our children. If YOU want to attend that same conference that gave us the tools to fulfill our passionate activism, register for the 2014 RESULTS International Conference. I guarantee there are moms there who will be an inspiration to you!