A participant in my Jazz, Joy and Justice class felt inspired by the examples of famous movie stars who used their privilege to be allies to some jazz musicians. But it left her wondering what kinds of impact “regular” people could have. Even as I know that her answer is more important than mine and that the very act of asking the question is the beginning of her search for the answer, still I offered my two cents. As follows:
First do good work. Like teaching! Much better choice than arms dealing. But then figuring out how to do good work as a teacher, to give the children worthy things to do (like making great music), watching for their gifts and blessing them, praising them, let them know you noticed that glockenspiel solo that gave you goosebumps, watching for their challenges and figuring out with them how you can help them.
Secondly, look at the blessings you deserved that no one gave, look at the small hurts or large traumas that came to you from bad ideas about human relationship and while doing the inner work to heal yourself, vow which of these bad ideas you have refused or will refuse to pass on. Draw the line that helps stop the systemic harm.
Thirdly, educate yourself about social injustice— take a class (Wait! You are!), read, read, read, the stories, watch the movies that reveal just how embedded racism, misogyny and all the isms hurt both the people at the other end of them and the people hurling them. And then pass the stories and insights on to the kids in the appropriate forms and at the appropriate times.
And since school generally will not want you to talk about these things, here is where your courage is called upon to rise. If enough "regular" people speak up courageously in all sorts of situations— including calling out someone at a party telling an inappropriate joke or defending a fellow teacher at a staff meeting who is being treated unjustly— then things begin to move. Even if you don't see the immediate effect. The next time that person starts to tell that joke, they may remember your voice and decide not to— and you'll never know.
Finally, we're all regular people and the risks we take speaking out are the same ones that Hazel Scott took in the McCarthy hearings (tonight's class!). It's only the size of the risk and its impact that's different, but at heart, it's the same. Alice Walker invoked a Hopi prophecy when she said "We are the ones we have been waiting for." Meaning that the usual pattern is waiting for someone else to save us— be it Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King or in its negative form, Donald Trump. The new revolution is less big-screen heroes and more everyday people doing small acts of kindness and courageous speaking out that collectively begin to add up.
But hey, what do I know? It's a great question and of course, we each have to answer in our own way. I imagine some part of you already knows the answer, has been living the answer, but yes, we could all use encouragement and consider doing yet a bit more.
Let’s keep asking the question and sharing our answers —together.