‘It’s Elementary’ and it is so much bigger than that….



I am a very fortunate person to live in the bay area of Northern California and more importantly a community which is starting to actively diversify and deal with the multitude of challanges which come from being inclusive after years of  ‘exclusivity’ (mainly for white people).  Rarely do people get to be some place during the change process to observe what is happening – usually it is after the fact that people dissect what happened in historical detail.  Being a community member has its priveleges!

As one might expect, anyplace which resembles a chunk of Des Moines, IA thrown down at the beach has some of the same mid-west proclivities and so I have also watched as the community matures.  In spite of being spitting distance from Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, Alameda has remained to some degree pretentious.  When I first arrived in Alameda, I met up with many women at The First Christian Church of Alameda who made quilts for the police and fire department to give to children in need when emergencies of all varieties occurred. I found the group through a’ to do’ list in a local newspaper and since I quilt, decided this was a great way to find out more of the community.  It turns out that six months later I ended up working with the son of one of the women from the church quilting group and that was when I realized I had integrated into the community (a concept I learned through Peace Corps).    As time moved on, I became a devotee’ of Julie’s Tea House and met the artsy crowd, got to know my way around Jingle Town (technically Oakland) and slowly but surely watched the evolution of a community post military base.  I volunteer at and participate in the slow conversion of Alameda Point to something post military and more meaningful to the community, I have taught in the community and have actively participated in all manner of multicultural events.  In the summer of 2010, I worked for the U. S. Census Bureau and really got to know Alameda in a deeper manner.   Except for the times when I have seen all manner of hate strewn in newspaper articles from people trying to make a point regarding how Alameda should develop or hear people joke about a somewhat recent past reality of DWB (driving while black), it is a pleasant community to live in.

As with any community, it takes time to get to know one another and Zoe at the Alameda Multicultural Community Center has gone above and beyond in this regard. I am constantly amazed at all the wonderful things she is aware of and brings to Alameda so we can be literally and figuratively educated.  Most recently she brought the community together with Alameda Community Alliance Resource for Education and the AUSD school board to view ‘It’s Elementary’  by the great people at Groundspark in San Francisco, regarding the bigger concept of bullying and more specifically the bullying of one particular group, gay/lesbian/transgender.   The movie was particularly important in light of all the horrible events of the last month within our own country but on a larger note, it was a moment to reflect on who we are and what we are about.

While I can not begin to know the issues of gay/lesbian and transgender people as I am straight, I can reflect on hate I have felt for being – Jewish, Female, chubby, short, not always politicallly correct (clearly I will not ever run for elected office as I do tell the truth), being nerdy, un-athletic, and so on.  It is not pleasant to be disliked, teased, tormented or  hated for any reason and while we all know to some degree what it feels like (some of us in more abstract ways), it is always important not to condone disrespectful and hurtful behavior.  Even more so it is important to educate and hold people accountable for doing something extrenuous to community and U.S. norms.   The privilege of living in the U.S.  is ascribing to the value of diversity and uniqueness is what makes us great – not better (look these concepts up in a thesaurus if you need clarification).

When we allow any one person or any group to step out of line, we extend the boundary and make it safe for something worse to occur.  While it is never easy to call some one or group on their behavior, it is up to each of us to define our boundaries of tolerance for others who are definitely not like us. When we do not establish boundaries of tolerance, we allow hate to fester and nothing good has ever resulted from this (most recently a minister in FL who wanted to burn a Quoran to make a point – the point was lost on me).   It is awkward to face our prejudices and notions of the ‘other’ and yet we must because deep down, that person is more like us than we realize.  In fact, I have heard it said that the very things we find unappealing in another is something we dislike about ourselves or fear happening to ourselves so we practice avoidance.  Avoidance is distinctly different from practicing hate.

At the end of the movie there was a discussion and different community members spoke as well as different staff members from AUSD.  What ultimately broke my heart and made me realize we have a lot of work ahead of us was when a parent addressed an AUSD staff member about their child being bullied and when would the ‘curriculum’ (anti-bullying) be rolled out, as if it were only through the curriculum that hate could be allayed.  The staff member proceeded to explain how nothing has been ‘normal’ in Alameda with all the budget cuts and such – a very politically correct way (totally inappropriate) to address the parent.  I had to speak out and ask why we needed to have a curriculum in order to stop bullying……..I can not imagine we need books to learn human kindness and community values.  To me it seemed evident that the school district or the community at large has not really moved close enough to setting boundaries of tolerance.  The sooner we set the boundaries, the sooner we can reel in the unacceptable and hurtful behavior.

I hope the community at large bands together to address bullying at our schools – it is not just a school thing – it is indicative of children who have learned it from their parents and are being allowed to practice something unsuitable for our community because so many are scared of speaking out. 

 We collectively  need to find our voice to give respect to all.