Breaking Barriers through Commonality

Today, I had the privilege of listening to poets and storytellers during the Virtual Reading presentation of Poets & Writers, Inc. in conjunction with the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College. It was entitled: Honoring Our Elders. I tell you all this because these senior men and women were from a variety of backgrounds, and yet, they shared the common bound of creativity and life experiences. (It’s also worth listening to, and can be found on P&W Facebook page.)

These Elders were being honored for their creativity, but they were also honoring us by sharing their world perspective. Their works talked about coming to America as immigrants, watching the hustle of street dancers, missing their families, their pets, connecting with the past, lost loved ones, the current pandemic, and time both now and back when. In this large group of Elders one person was 90, another only 60. Yet, the common thread was their humanity.

How beautiful it was to see and hear people who were not bitter, not ranting, not worried, nor afflicted with the opinions and diatribe of a multimedia entourage. Each person introduced another graciously as a friend. Each person received encouragement, applause, and comments to urge them to continue their craft. Although multiracial, no race was disparaged. Although multi-economical, there was no classism. Although multi-religious, no religious discrimination arose. These were simply creative individuals who discovered a commonality in creative writing and expression, as well as long life in the midst of ever-changing times. They were true Elders exemplifying wisdom by coming together and sharing their heartfelt thoughts and words.

Why can’t this be the way we all relate to one another? Why can’t we focus on our commonalities instead of our differences? We may not all be poets, but we all have family. We may not be able to express ourselves through the written word, but we can speak the common language of love, concern, and hope. The Pandemic magnifies these commonalities more than anything I can think of. People are dying without consideration of race, class, or religion. In the end we all just want health and life for those we love. We all want some form of normalcy to occur again. We all hope for a cure. We all want a plan for safety that works. And yet, we allow politics and social ills to become barriers to our common humanity.

The Elders had stories to tell us about how to overcome these things. They have seen war, plagues, and economic depression. The have lived through lack and plenty. They have found ways to survive in community. We need to hear this. We need to see this. We need to embrace their stories for the sake of posterity. The Elders are thriving in community. How much more should those who are young find a way to thrive with mutual camaraderie as a community?

I was deeply moved by the Elders today. They told their stories, some with pride and others with timidity. Nonetheless, we were captivated by their longevity as well as their tenacity. These authors are leaving a living legacy just by their unity of purpose in their community centers and neighborhood centers. They will also leave a written record of what it means to work together in shared success.

Perhaps we can break the barriers by telling our stories. Perhaps we can find hope and ways to break down barriers by sharing our experiences and getting involved in our communities and neighborhoods If we take the time to listen to others, and especially our Elders, perhaps we can find our common humanity. History and time will show us we are more alike than we are different.

The Elders I listened to today were from the Dr. Edith Rock Elders Writing Workshop, Goddard Riverdale Community Center, Grand Street Settlement, Kew Gardens Community Center, and the Stanley Isaac’s Neighborhood Center.

Thank you Elders, you were a small representation of the hard work of yesterday to create a better tomorrow. I honor you with a new found respect. Thank you for sharing a part of your humanity with me.

Do you have a story in you? Do you know how to write it or how to tell it?