When I was in graduate school, I took a year-long course focused on public policy and how it affects social justice issues. Every time we met, my professor Darnell Bradley would say “We are They.” He meant we can fret and complain what “they” are doing, but in reality, we are the ones who need to make change happen. The events of 2020 have made me reflect repeatedly on this concept. In this year alone, 220 Black people were shot and killed by police, according to the Washington Post. The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a spotlight on disparities in healthcare, compensation, housing and food disparity. Even worse, these disparities, combined with the overall lack of and scorn for education in our country, have caused deep division among our citizens.
Quite a few times this year, I’ve been tempted to feel hopeless about the problems we share
in the United States. But then I remember Dr. Bradley’s words “We are They.” I remember that I can write and call my legislators about issues that are important to me, and you can do this too! If you are shy about calling (like me) or unsure of what to write (also like me), you can find sample scripts and letters and use them as a starting point. I’ve found it helpful to familiarize myself with the background of the issue before I make the call or write the letter.
I also try to model behaviors that I want to see in our own country. On December 17th, David Brooks wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times in which he spoke about his long-time co-correspondent Mark Shields. He said “[Mark] comes from a generation that highly prized egalitarian manners: ‘I’m no better than anyone else and nobody is better than me.’” I too, try to embody that idea. Every semester, I tell my new students about President George H. W. Bush calling for a “kinder, gentler nation” in his 1988 acceptance speech for the Republican Party’s nomination. Every semester, I see their eyes rolling when I follow that up with, “Being kind and gentle is a GOOD THING.” But I hope that they remember these words, even if it is not until sometime in the future.
I’m looking forward to working together with you in the coming year as we remember that “We are They” and we can change things for the better.