This is my first ever blog post so if you’re reading this, please know I am writing with some trepidation as I wonder to myself, “Who will read this? What should I write about? Will anyone read it?” So I am grateful that you are taking the time.
I’ve been talking a lot lately about how we can all be activists in our own circles whether that means within our families, work places, neighborhoods, schools, etcetera. But a friend pointed out that she’s tired of people (like me - ahem) encouraging her to “do better” without any real strategies or pointers on how to actually do that. So… my first blog post is dedicated to my friend, Lena, and intended to provide at least a starting point if you’d like to be an activist.
But before we get to the advice, I have to tell you a little about Pearl Buck. You probably know her as the author of the Good Earth. What you might not know is she was not only a Nobel Prize (the first woman to win this!) and Pulitzer Prize winning writer (who started writing at the age of 40!), she was also a fierce and courageous activist - and in more than her writing.
Her views were very much formed by her unusual childhood. Her parents were missionaries doing work in China so she spent about the first 37 years of her life there. During that time, she fell in love with the country she knew as home but also experienced discrimination and even violence. She wrote, “I have had that terrible experience of facing death because of my color.” Indeed, she was a white woman who knew what it was like to be hated for the color of her skin.
So when she came to America, she was was horrified and devastated by the accepted racism in our country. She challenged that deeply rooted racism in the 1930s by joining forces with and becoming a member of both the Urban League and NAACP. And most importantly to me.. she moved in. She listened and learned from African American friends and used their stories to fight against social injustice. At Howard University (of which she was also a trustee), she gave a commencement speech entitled, “Equality.” She said, “Press steadily for human equality, not only for yourselves, but for all those groups who are not given equality. It is as important for you to care that justice is given to a Jew as it is to fight for it for yourself. It is the principle that must be established for all of us, or none of us will have it.”
Another one of my favorite quotes of hers is this: “To me America is infinitely richer because we are not all of one race.” Pearl Buck was heartbroken when she saw mixed race children who had been cast aside and abandoned by their parents and society in Asia and the United States. She created the first international adoption agency to place inter-racial children. She also adopted many mixed race children of her own.
Pearl Buck also fought for the rights of people with disabilities, women, and immigrants.
I tell you all of this so you have some context about the Pearl S. Buck: Taking Action Tour. I had the pleasure of taking the tour with my dad at the Pearl Buck house in Perkasie, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Philadelphia in Bucks County). If you’re not super close, believe me, it is worth the drive or even the flight! I took the tour myself recently and was really blown away by how thoughtful and inspiring it is. It engages you in conversation and encourages you to reflect on your own values and what you can do to be an activist.
Toward the end of the tour, you’re asked to take a quiz. Your answers reveal what kind of activist you are.. Are you a convener? A counselor? Contributor? Communicator? After you find out which word best suits you, you’re invited to walk into a room with tags on the wall that are color-coded according to these different kinds of activists. Each tag is a big or small thing you can do within your circle and you’re invited to take as many as you’d like. And there are dozens of them.
Things like “Promote change through social media.” I like that. Be careful what you post. Words matter and you can either bring us together or break us. Some other tags are “Volunteer at the YMCA or YWCA, Teach English as a second language, Participate in a cultural celebration different from your own, Host an exchange student, Organize or join a march or protest,” and……
Yes, there are tags on every wall and in every color encouraging visitors to “Watch #ThisIsAmerica!” I am still shocked.. and, of course, extremely honored. And yup, this is now a shameless plug to watch our series.. but hey - It might just make you think and each episode is only 10 minutes or under. Just go to the #ThisIsAmerica section here on my website. My hope is if you watch it and get others to watch it, the series can act as an activism vehicle to help you do some soul searching and also spark conversation among people you know.. or don’t know.. yet.
My friend Lena also shared something she is doing every day. She is smiling at strangers, especially at people who seem different from her. And when she shared that effort, I realized that is another really important way we can all be activists and “move in.” I find that making eye contact, smiling, and even starting conversations with strangers can be impactful - both for me and “the stranger.” It reminds us that we see each other as humans first - and that we are more alike than we are different. We both love that the sun is shining, we hate that the bus is taking so long to arrive, we wish our kids would eat more than pizza and french fries, we can’t wait to eat junk food at the Super Bowl party.. You get it. These connections seem small but they matter and they are lasting.
So don’t think to be an activist you have to do something “big.” Just be you. But yes, Lena.. “Be better.” ;) We’re taking our cue from you!
Okay. First ever blog post. Done. Thanks for reading!