Renewal, transformation, & social change: some reflections

 “The sisters and brothers that you meet give you the materials which your character uses to build itself. It is said that some people are born great, others achieve it, some have it thrust upon them. In truth, the ways in which your character is built have to do with all three of those. Those around you, those you choose, and those who choose you.” –Maya Angelou

It seemed only appropriate on the 18th anniversary of Cesar Chavez’s passing, and the Easter weekend to take time to reflect on the ideas of renewal, transformation, and social change. Too often, we move through life and forget to take a moment to reflect on the beauty of the moment, and the impact we make on the world around us.  We fail to adequately think about what Maya Angelou calls, “the materials which your character uses to build itself.”  We fly through life without regard to the path we’re following or the journey we’re taking. We can’t see the forest through the trees.

For the past few weeks,  –or really perhaps over the course of my lifetime, I’ve contemplated the importance of integrity in motivating and achieving social change.  As a scholar, teacher, and activist I constantly ask myself if my work stays true to the principles of equality, inclusion, and social change that I believe changes the world in positive and meaningful ways. In essence, how do we practice what we preach?

Not surprisingly in moments of transition you find yourself mulling over these deep philosophical questions.  Although, in this case, this blog post is inspired by transitions that those around me are experiencing.  Working in higher education often translates to being surrounded by transition and change. Sometimes it’s change in thought or practice, changes in location, or as is prevalent around graduation time – life changes.  The most frequently asked question during this time period is, “What Next?”  Unfortunately, I never have an answer?  I sit, listen, and wonder if my students feel as if they’re wasting their time because, clearly, I’m not giving them any answers.  Of course I realize, half the battle is listening –providing a safe space for students, friends, and colleagues to voice the questions running through their mind; to allow them the space to work through the ideas and come to the answers and conclusions they already know.

As a sociologist, you find yourself telling truths about society that many don’t want to hear. You teach about the proliferation if inequality, the impact of gentrification, poverty and homelessness, immigration, health disparities and the ways that race, class, gender, and sexuality matter. For some, they wonder what the repercussions will be if they acknowledge the fact that social inequalities exist.  For others however, they ask “what can I do to change what exists?”  Like many, I find myself heartened by this latter response –and hope that more students and colleagues will respond this way.  However, it’s the former that causes me to lose sleep. In recent year’s I’ve had to remind myself that 1) you can’t please everyone, 2) education is a team/group process –hopefully you started the resistant student on a path of discovery, and, 3) don’t’ try and control, what you cannot control.

As I think out loud about these issues, I am slowly realizing that what I need to embrace about renewal, change and transformation is that we all have our part to play, even if we don’t know the bigger picture.  Today, as we celebrate Easter and the renewal of life, and remember Cesar Chavez’s commitment to social transformation and social justice, I think it’s important to ask ourselves what we can do to change the world.   Dorothy Day once said “The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us? “  Let’s start that revolution today.

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