The Crisis Center Connection by Susan Mann

Promoting Peace Today

The first time I heard Martin Luther King’s booming voice proclaim “I have a dream” I was a young girl living in a tiny, all white community.

Over the years that speech has become one of the most moving events of my life. I still can’t listen to it without tears coming to my eyes. Dr. King probably knew he would eventually pay the ultimate price for his beliefs.

More recently I watched Denzel Washington brilliantly portray the life of Malcolm X. This made me want to seek out copies of the fallen leader’s speeches so I could learn more about his life. He too, was a stunningly brilliant man.
I heard racist comments on a daily basis while I was growing up. These remarks were not limited to people of color; anyone who was not of European descent could be poked fun of or taunted.

Since we did not have anyone in our school who was not white, certain teachers and quite a few students told jokes about Native Americans and other ethnic groups.

I also heard sexist comments fairly often, except I didn’t know they were sexist. I just assumed men were “better” than women. That’s just the way it was. No one came right out and said so, but I heard what was said and done, not just in my church, school and community, but also what I read in popular books and saw on television.

People with disabilities were also discriminated against. They did not have the same legal rights as those without disabilities. There was no special education in the public schools, nor was the federal government obligated to interview qualified people with disabilities for jobs.

When kids in my fourth grade class made fun of a girl whom we all knew to be of limited intellect, I finally decided to join right in. Being the brunt of so much teasing myself, I was probably relieved to see someone else being picked on.

In those days most disabilities were basically lumped together into categories such as: “not right” or “retarded;” crippled, meaning someone with a visible, severe physical disability; or “crazy.” The latter usually meant a person had experienced some sort of psychotic break down, wherein they had either permanently or temporarily lost touch with reality.

When I was in the ninth grade, (in the early 60s) a new English teacher was assigned to our school. Since Mrs. Perkins was African-American none of us knew what to expect.

I remember her as extremely sophisticated, articulate, and well dressed. She was an excellent instructor and seemed to thoroughly enjoy teaching.

One day when I walked in to the class room I saw the “n” word scrawled in big letters on a blackboard. As each student filed in he or she grew silent.

Since there was no chatter as we waited for the bell to ring Mrs. Perkins must have known something was up before she walked in the room.  When she came in she knew exactly what to do.

Without saying a word, Mrs. Perkins calmly picked up the eraser and slowly removed the racial slur. She then began teaching the English lesson as she always did. Yes, I learned a lot more from Mrs. Perkins than my English lesson that day! I had witnessed that in a very simple way, it was possible to confront an act of blatant discrimination; although I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time.

The Community Crisis Center provides domestic violence related services, to anyone who is in need of such help. Each year we contemplate and celebrate the life of MLK.

Certainly, if Dr. King were with us today, he would not condone family violence in the Caribbean American community, or any other place in the world.

However, we may still be unknowingly discriminating against those whom we know to be living in a violent setting. Instead of reaching out to help in some small way, we may say to ourselves, “that’s just how that family has always been,” and turn away.

What if another family needed some other kind of help from us? Would we offer it to them? 

Here’s another example: when we come in contact with a child whom we think may have been beaten at home, do we immediately ask authorities to look in to things? Do we provide that child with the same degree of help we would offer another child whom we knew to be injured during school activity? Why, or why not?

Each of us can chose to make a change in our attitude and actions toward those of us who are at-risk of, or live with, domestic violence. May each of us do what we can to promote peace in the lives of our neighbors, thus enhancing the same in our own lives.