Excerpt from Chapter 8, “Think Globally, Act Locally” Tomorrow Will Be Better
What do Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Maya Angelou and Muhammad Ali have in common? All of their names start with an M of course, and you heard about them all during Black History Month, but what else? They have all been to Ghana. What do James Brown, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Ralph Ellison have in common?
All of these greats — their creativity was fed by international travel. What has been proven to improve students’ grades and matriculation rates, while reshaping their worldviews? Studying abroad. Travel has always been important to great writers, activists, musicians, artists, singers, scholars, and teachers – really, anyone in any field who has sought to be great at what they do. With an open mind, you really cannot leave your home country and return unaffected.
Seeing the world does not mean that you abandon home. I still live in Houston and love my ‘hood, but I have a better understanding of it and of myself now that I have seen how people live around the world. In 2011, in Houston, I was living in a 2 bedroom row house, less than 600 square feet. Anyone in America would have called it a tiny house. Within my little house, I had everything that I needed. I mean, I had a state of the art kitchen, fashionable furnishings in every room, and a central air and heat system. Yet, I was dissatisfied with my house because I was comparing it to others’ homes who had more money than me.
Then, I went to Ghana. My host mother in Ghana lived in a house smaller than my living room. Her bed was a thin cot against the wall, a little smaller than her body. We sat outside on folding chairs, because there was no room for sitting inside. As we drank malted sodas and laughed together, she asked me how my house looked. In that moment, I felt ashamed to answer. I knew that I had so much more than her and did not want her to feel that her house was inferior.
Traveling to rural areas in developing nations like Ghana made me realize that what I thought was poverty, was privilege. I always have enough food, I never wash my clothes by hand, I control the temperature of my home to be warmer or colder, I always have clothes and shoes, I can read any book that I want for free by visiting the library or going online, and I have the ability to work and make money without fear of extreme verbal or physical abuse by my supervisor. I have the ability to apply for scholarships or grants to travel and learn, I can hold fundraisers to help those in need internationally, and I never have to worry about simple things like not being able to afford a pencil keeping me from going to school.
There are many problems here in the United States too, but recognizing my power and privilege makes me feel more confident to address them. I have a right to homeschool my child and the education to do so, so I do that. I also educate other children in my community and teach workshops in public schools. I have more than enough food, so my son and I feed the homeless regularly. I perform Spoken Word to raise awareness around local and global issues. I participate in campaigns, petitions, and protests to raise wages and improve safety conditions for workers locally and globally.
It’s all connected, you see. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. You don’t have to choose between helping your community and helping the world. You can do both. Sometimes, it’s even easier to conquer a major problem internationally than it is here. Think of yourself as a warrior, winning little battles and big battles concurrently.