I believe in social justice. We hear the words social justice and have a vague concept of what that means. Universities perfect on the many theories, authors advise how to practice it and yet it is different for all of us. In my first year of social work graduate school, the orientation assignment was to make a graphic depiction of our concept of social justice. Though I still believe in this picture one year later, this term has grown to encompass so much more than I thought it would and I have the feeling it will continue to evolve.
The term social justice brings to mind the advocate or activist, the lawyer or social worker challenging poverty, policy, health care or governments. But I propose that the social justice agent is also your brother, mother, neighbor, and friend performing kind deeds like writing a letter or visiting you in the hospital.
Motivation for social justice can come from many forms like the power of hungry eyes, a jaded soul, a smile or a nice gesture. For me, I pursue social justice because I believe I am haunted by my ancestors calling out to me to pull them out of captivity, haunted by callers on the crisis line I once worked, haunted by desperate eyes I have tried to help, or pass by, haunted by love I didn’t let bloom or love I gave too much of, haunted by images of my neighbors drowning in our wonderful city streets and smells of the toxins of those Andean pueblos.
I believe in social responsibility. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to each other to make the right choices to be able to affect positive change. I believe in change because I am unconvinced that people need to fight for their right to: eat, have access to affordable health care, be pulled out of a city that is 20 feet under, refuse a war or send their kids to school.
I believe in the courage to be genuine. Jim Hightower said, “The opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.”
A very wise father figure once told me this quote as we worked the crisis lines together. It struck my core as much as “touch a leaf and disturb a star” and “I hope you dance”. What do these have in common? For me it is the act of courage that pushes you to live genuinely, keep in touch with people and realize your actions do matter. We all have a social responsibility to one another. Once we are responsible to each other then we are working toward social justice.
A few days ago I attended a memorial for a friend. As I sat in my chair grieving for not spending more time with her another friend got up to speak. She spoke of wonderful times they had together and added, if I had only known – I would have laughed with you more, stayed longer, danced with you….
Like the Lee Ann Womack song says, “If you get a chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance”, social justice to me is the dance of integrity and kindness to people. My friend’s passing was the most painful reminder of how little time we have to be kind to each other. I believe we can all be dancers of social justice through kindness and genuine actions. I believe we all should be dancers of social justice.
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