I traveled quite a bit before I got married and had children, visiting various countries in North Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America. I loved what I learned from watching peoples’ different way of life, and I always returned home having borrowed something to incorporate into my daily life.
What I learned after I stopped travelling abroad is that what my Native American teacher often said is true – “If you stand on the corner of New Year long enough, you will see the whole world.”
For years, my community has been fulfilling my desire to see the world by bringing it home. Yesterday morning, for instance, Beaumont Hospital held its 8th year Diversity Conference. The event was amazing!
Through slam poetry and hip-hop performances, Mike Ellison spoke words of love and acceptance that touched our hearts so deeply, we laughed and we cried. Then with DJ Invisible, the rhythm and beat of love got attendees on their feet, in their professional attires, grooving to Mike’s powerful lyrical message at the early hour of 8am. Anyone watching would have thought we had a little more than coffee and bagels for breakfast.
“Hip hop is a culture with roots in Africa,” said Ellison, who was born in Ethiopia, raised in Virginia and who fully realized himself as an actor, recording and performance artist in Detroit. “It’s progressive. It’s about respect and family. It’s not what you see today in commercial rap.”
Mike recently wrote, produced and performed in Broken Mirrors: Bullies & Bystanders. He uses his talents to reach out to students, to get their attention despite the millions of distractions around them. He wants people to see how we mirror each other.
“If we see ourselves in each other, then we are using the universal language of inclusion,” he said.
The next speaker was Chris Bashinelli, and no one imagined that a man who has not yet turned 28 would move us to the extent that he did. Chris was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. After a decade long acting career including an appearance on the hit HBO TV Show – The Sopranos, he decided to follow his real passion, using media to bridge intercultural gaps worldwide. He now traverses the globe from Tanzania to Abu Dhabi as Host of Bridge the Gap, a new series featured on National PBS Television, where he discovers what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes for one day.
Christ talked about what it means to be a global citizen.
“It means being a productive member of our world,” he said. “It’s using our talents to serve others.”
We serve others by three simple steps: listening, being non-judgmental, and being willing to step outside of our comfort zone which is the only way to grow. But why should we bother to become a global citizen?
“Because the lives of people in economically poor countries are 100 percent directly related to our lives in the United States,” said Bashinelli. “Global citizenship does not mean changing geographic location. It means changing your heart. Changing your focus from me, me, me, to look at another person.”
Chris showed us videos of the people he met in other countries, people whose huge, courageous and enduring hearts were a magnificent example for us. One man that particularly inspired me was a man from Tanzania. He wanted to be a filmmaker and show the beautiful side of his country. He had very little resources, in comparison to us at least, but the power within him gave him the strength to work as a filmmaker in his own community because what he kept telling Chris is, “No matter what, I’m going to be a filmmaker. No matter what!”
The next speaker was Steve Luxenberg, a Washington Post associate editor who has worked for more than 35 years as a newspaper reporter and editor. Steve is the reason I went to Beaumont’s Diversity Conference to begin with. I had gone the night before to the Troy Community Center to listen to him talk about his award winning book, Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret. Impressed by his talk, I visited his website to order his book. This led me to discover an event he was speaking at the next day – the diversity conference.
Steve’s story is part a detective story, part history, and part memoir and it revolves around his mother’s decision to hide the existence of a sister, Annie, who was institutionalized for 31 years in an asylum near Detroit. Through his book, he helps us see the potential damage of secrecy within families and the shame and stigma associated with certain issues that keep , for example, families from obtaining a patients’ medical records long after the patient has died.
He quoted something that Governor Calley, who has a daughter with autism, said recently. “We should stop trying to fix people with a disability. Autism is not a disability issue. It’s a diversity issue.”
“Today in jail, we place people with mental issues in segregated areas,” said Luxenberg. “It was like this in the 1840s. People in the future will wonder why we allowed this today. The way to make progress is to look into the past and learn from it so that we don’t make the same mistake in the future.”
The event had one more speaker, Cheryl Loveday, Executive Director of Angels’ Place, which provides community-based and residential services to nearly 200 individuals with developmental disabilities. I did not have the privilege of listening to her speak as I had to return home. But when I walked out of the event, I was grateful that my family and I and the majority of my relatives belong to Beaumont Hospital’s Healthy System, which has been serving us for decades, and which evidently from the quality of this conference, cares a great deal about having a healthy and conscientious relationship between its employees and its patients.