Light the Fire
Posted on April 1, 2014
On November 15, 1969 my mother, after having recently moved to the United States, participated in the Anti-Vietnam War Demonstration held in New York. The protest, best known as the Moratorium Against the Vietnam War, is one of the largest antiwar demonstrations in U.S. history. More than half a million individuals (mostly young people) took to the streets of New York and other cities around the nation, standing together in solidarity while urging the government to stop the war.
When I asked my mother, who was just 16 and barely a U.S. Citizen at the time, what led her to protest she said that she was outraged at the insurmountable number of young troops and Vietnamese civilians who were losing their lives in a senseless war. She could not sit back and allow it to happen knowing she did nothing to try and stop it.
Over the last few weeks I spent time traveling parts of the east coast touring the depressed and blight streets of West Baltimore, Boston and Lowell to work on a youth advocacy campaign. As I looked at the dilapidated homes and streets filled with black men at 3 p.m. (a time when most adults are at work) I felt what may have been the same spark out outrage that lit a fire under my mother almost 45 years ago. Listening to the stories of young people who had experienced abuse, abandonment and neglect crystallized just how much we are failing our youth. I couldn’t help but wonder what are we doing to create a better society? What steps are we taking each day to leave the world better than we entered it?
For a generation with more technological innovation and connectivity than our world has ever seen, we have become eerily passive in our approach to social justice. Spending a few minutes on any social media platform tells the very sad tale that our generation is focused on all the wrong things. While we’re posting Instagram pictures of our seemingly perfect lives, child sex trafficking continues to become a growing problem in cities like LA, New York and Washington, DC. We have conversations on Twitter about all the people we #standwith, but remain silent when it’s time to demand answers from our local and federal governments about the state of homelessness and closure of programs that are aimed at benefiting our most vulnerable populations. To borrow a line from my mother–a true radical in her own right–we are subliminally hypnotized by the allure of a fallacious lifestyle played out online. As a result we’ve learned to play it safe because we’re too afraid of rocking a boat that was never intended to keep us afloat.
What’s worse is we’ve become so desensitized to the social disparities and issues impacting our communities, we’re okay with turning a blind eye to the problems. Sure, we’ll occasionally tweet about our outrage, but that’s not enough. We have to move from a place of apathy to empathy and from indifference to being involved. All it takes is starting small. When a match is lit the initial spark is contained. As the match touches items that are flammable the spark grows into a consuming fire.
We are that match.
Consider this: If every person reading this blog post dedicated one hour a day, one day a week to mentoring a young person, volunteering at a community center or place of faith we could, collectively, alter the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. But, if we continue settling for the condition of our communities; if we settle for abject passivity we will never make a difference. It’s time to light a fire because this world will never change unless we do.
Now it’s your turn: what are small steps you can take to get involved in your community? What steps are you already taking?
Tell me in the comments section below.