In celebration of International Women’s Day, we gathered in the Community Center after lunch and after a brief statement, the women teachers in our school walked out. They had decided, with full support of their male colleagues and administration, to join their sisters worldwide to make a symbolic gesture. After they left, the remaining men teachers were left with about 200 children and time to kill before recess. So I stepped forward and said this:
“I keep coming back to Martin Luther King’s simple but profound words: That we be judged by one thing and one thing only—the content of our character. That’s what we get to choose, what we develop by the choices we make, what we decide to dream about and aim for. Mostly we don’t get to choose who we are when we’re born. We don’t choose our parents, our race, our gender, our country. We don’t get to immediately decide whether we’re poor or rich or what religion will be thrust upon us or what kind of person we’ll love.
But for some strange reason, people often from long ago and still today decided that they would judge others based on things that aren’t their choice. They have some weird notion that this race is better than that one, this face is better than that one, this country is better, this religion is better and so on and so on. And in just about every place in this world, people also decided that this gender was better than that one, even though every man who believed that owed his very life to his mother. What kind of gratitude is that?
By better I mean that just being born one way—say straight white rich Christian male—automatically makes you better without you doing anything to earn it, confers you with certain privileges and rights and opportunities that will be denied the others. And that is the history of our struggles for human rights— people of color, gays, disabled folks, pagans and Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus, and others victimized by all the isms simply asking for respect, dignity and equal opportunity. And that has indeed been true of women as well.
We are all, each and every one of us, born for glory. We have thousands of stories of people who were shut down, shut out and shut up who kept soldiering through all the obstacles others put in their path and came to flower in spite of it all, driven forward by their valiant effort. But there are thousands of other stories of those who didn’t have the strength, courage or circumstance to withstand the hatred and gave up, walked through life wounded, had their dreams dry up and disappear.
So let’s renew our vows here, with a special accent on young girls and women, to open the full palette of possibility to all, to give each the dignity, respect and support they deserve. The world needs people with dreams and the capacity to realize dreams. Who knows if the girl you insist can’t be a scientist might have discovered the cure for cancer or the young woman told she can’t play saxophone might have been the one to move Charlie Parker’s legacy forward?
We need all of us to help heal this troubled world. Let’s do this!”