It's Martin Luther King, Jr. day, unofficial Inauguration Day, and a national day of service. This year, I felt Kenny was finally old enough to make volunteering of some benefit to him, and possible for me (as a day off from school means I have kid-duty, thank you stereotyped gender roles). So a couple of weeks ago, I gleefully signed us up for Kent State's Just 4 A Day events, and started talking to him about what we would see and do today. We read about the sites, we talked about serving others, and we talked about the systems that create need in our society. We also talked about what we would be missing by participating in Just 4 A Day, and how President Obama fit into the history of MLK and the civil rights tradition (see Dr. Cornel West's piercing appraisal of this topic).
After a few hours of cooking and wrapping desserts to go out to the homeless, we ate our sack lunches and discussed questions that had been placed in each of them as conversation starters. One question was on invisibility- what does it mean, and what can we do about it- and another question asked what we would sacrifice in order to make the world a better place. The sacrifice question brought standard answers of food, time, treasure, old clothes/goods, skills, and the like (even today, not one person said they would give up guns/weapons to make the world a better place- we humans are so silly). The discussion of invisibility was a little more interesting. One person took the question from her own perspective, saying that invisibility meant serving others in quiet, and without fanfare. Others mentioned the invisibility of the homeless, trans-people, those with different abilities, and mental health illnesses.
Kenny, always one to mix up questions and answers and come up with something I wasn't expecting, proclaimed that he would sacrifice his voice to make the world a better place. And it hit me that he's spot on. Unfortunately, there's a perceived benefit to invisibility. Invisibility is safe. Invisibility isn't being spat upon, beat up, or laughed at. Giving a voice to those who are invisible- by choice or by chance- is to help make their visibility safe. Giving them a voice let's them be heard, gives them a place at the table, and brings them out into the light of day, while protecting them from the burning rays.
Of all the great leaders- MLK, Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Harvey Milk, and more- a common thread is that they gave their voice to those who had none. By doing so, they took the burden of silence and the yolk of oppression onto their own shoulders. Words are powerful, and our voices should speak truth to power.
Don't tell me what you did today; tell me what those you helped did today, so that I can work to ease their suffering.
(But really, I'd like to hear how you celebrated today as well. I'm not that heartless.)