Community Snapshots

For my blog post this week, I have several fragments—instances this week where I felt part of something bigger—a larger community, a movement, an experience beyond myself. They were meaningful to me and I hope they can bring some sense of meaning to you as well.


My professor lets us out of class early so we can participate in the walk out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. We gather on the plaza beneath an achingly blue sky and I stand surrounded by students beneath the arc of metal birds proclaiming Free at Last. I look up at the front of the chapel, framed by trees whose leaves are starting to burst into fall flames. Our shouts echo off the cold stone and fill the crisp fall air. We have gathered to bear witness to each other, to pledge unity, to remind people that there is still work to be done. We can’t understand all of the words that are spoken but we nod and cheer anyway. Because we know what lies at the core of their message. We tie small strips of fabric together, creating a swirling, twisting chain that connects each and every one of us. We know this walkout will not solve the problem. We know it will not bring back the ones we have lost. We know it will not end discrimination. But we are all here, tied to each other, beneath a sculpture celebrating freedom and human dignity. We are all here to push for change, to push each other, to foster hope in a world that desperately needs it. My shoulders ache from the weight of my backpack but I feel bolstered by this sense of community forged from a seemingly ordinary day.


I walk into the National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC and stop to listen to two boys drumming. They perform rhythms from the Mali empire, the intent looks of concentration on their faces occasionally giving way to a smile that can’t help but bring out smiles in all of us watching. I stand in the midst of a growing crowd, all of us swaying or tapping our feet. The children watch in fascination, one of them mirrors the drumming actions, hitting imaginary drums as he visualizes himself adding to the pulsing rhythm. The adults smile, close their eyes, cheer, laugh. We are all captured by this music, unable to take our eyes off the skillful and rapid movements of the boys’ hands as they fearlessly fill the room with sound. I can feel the beat in my bones. There are no words but it is a language that we all understand.


I emerge into the top floor of the recently opened National Museum of African American History. A circle of screens fill with images of African Americans dancing, singing, speaking, competing. The images are accompanied by music and create a collage of life, a snapshot of culture, a representation of the African American experience. The exhibits cover music, clothing, television, theater, sports, art, fashion. I walk around in a daze, overwhelmed by the richness and fullness of everything. I barely scratch the surface. I pass by elderly women with their daughters, married couples pointing out art pieces and biographies, lines of children following behind their mother, young men laughing and joking—all finally able to experience a museum that is entirely their own. There are stories of endurance and triumph. There are stories of discrimination and inequality. There are stories of pride and creativity. There are stories of life being lived. As we pass each by other, we are drawn together, whether consciously or not, sharing in a collectivity of witness and memory, of hope and progress. We have all come searching for something and here together we have found it.

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