This past Friday, December 6, I attended the "Moving Equity to the Center - Part 2" forum in Fresno, CA. The morning began with the usual networking and acquiring of refreshments. The conversations were enlightening and engaging. I was able to meet several individuals who work in the Fresno community, and provided valuable insight to how issues are being confronted and addressed in Fresno County. Once we sat down we were addressed by Linda Gleason the founding Director of The Children's Movement. After a brief introduction of the morning's guest speaker, Dr. Reverend Karen Crozier, I sat, listened, and thought.
Dr. Crozier gave an inspiring talk about "Inclusion" and the language we use when discussing race, equity, and equality. In the discussion, she highlighted the language used by three civil rights leaders: Fannie Lou Hamer, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Cesar Chavez. She illustrated how the language used worked to help destabilize the system that was oppressing the people and holding them back. Listening to this, I couldn't help but think of the importance of language in our everyday lives and struggles to navigate a world that has betrayed many of us.
The switching that some of us have to do in our different circles is key to our survival: mental, emotional, and physical. As an example of this, you can think of a young man raised in a low socio-economic environment who was fortunate enough to leave "the hood" and attend the local university. Due to his socioeconomic status he is unable to move out of his parents house and must commute to classes on a near daily basis. While this young man is traveling to classes, he must move through different environments and neighborhoods.
In his local neighborhood he must use the language of his peers, lest he is outed as a 'sellout.' Soon enough on his commute, he will enter an area that is a little more affluent, yet still middle-class. In this neighborhood, he needs to step his language game up. For if he does not, he will be seen as 'one of those people from that side of town.' Still, at the terminus of his commute he must really change his language to speak and communicate with his peers who, some, may have come from elite or more well funded schools than our young man. If he is unable to do this, he runs the risk of being seen as the product of 'affirmative action' or some other toxic lessing of his achievements, and wholly unworthy of being there. This can then present obstacles in forming meaningful relationships with some peers or can put him at risk of being seen as a lesser individual with less talent.
To some, the idea of switching is an abstract concept that they may never have to employ. But to those who depend on switching to navigate daily life this can be a source of stress and adversity, "What if I say the wrong thing?" What if I do the wrong thing?" What if my 'ghetto-ness' comes out?" This may seem like a trivial pursuit to some, but to those who depend on it the adversity is real.
Although, Dr. Crozier's talk was not focused on switching or using language to navigate daily life, so much as it was focused on using language as a tool for inclusion and to tear down antiquated systems. I would argue that switching is a tool that one may use to be included and to infiltrate antiquated systems that are the root of adversity, inequity, inequality, racism, and trauma in an effort to tear them down. Switching, however, does point to the resilience of the individual who has overcome tremendous obstacles to be in a place that is not necessarily where he is supposed to be. Language, as a component of switching, is necessary for inclusion in many spaces where one may not be the most welcome.
I was inspired in my own way by Dr. Crozier. I am extremely grateful to Artie Padilla of Every Neighborhood Partnership in Fresno for inviting me to this wonderful event. Thank you for reading.
Rafael A. Maravilla (opinions are mine) ACEs Connection Network Manager and Community Facilitator (CA Central Valley)