Can We Bring Real Changes?

Written by

December 10, 2014

Last Sunday, my husband and I went to the Maryland Youth Orchestra’s concert at Strathmore, a well known music hall in Bethesda, Maryland.  Our Goddaughter and her two younger brothers were playing in this highly competitive orchestra.  As I looked at the three different groups of performers (each a different age group), I realized more than 80% of them were Asian, and the rest were Caucasian.  The Asians were mostly Chinese or Koreans.  These young performers played many classical pieces with their string instruments in such an impressive way.  

If this orchestra was a replica of our society, I was looking at the top 1%.  These young performers were well dressed, clean cut, formal and serious.  Most of them come from the upper crust of Montgomery or adjacent counties.  Their parents were sitting in the audience, looking pleased at the result of their hard work.  To belong to this youth orchestra, each student performer has to pay about $700 a year, on top of their expensive music lessons, books, and instruments.  There are practice sessions each week at Strathmore, and more at home.  Our Goddaughter’s mother admitted it is expensive for her children to belong to this youth orchestra.  It would be so difficult, or frankly impossible for a poor family to join the orchestra and keep up with the costs.

I couldn’t imagine seeing such a youth orchestra in the inner city.  Who would have the money to pay for a violin or cello, followed by music lessons?  Who would have time to take their kids to lessons if they have more than one job?

Can you imagine Michael Brown sitting in the orchestra like these young performers? Did Michael Brown ever get to be in a music hall as beautiful as Strathmore? Had he ever attended a concert?  Had he ever listened to Chopin on a rainy evening? Had his hands ever touched a piano, cello, or violin?  

When I was at the elegant Red Door Spa in Gaithersburg last Friday afternoon, using a gift card about to expire, I poured over the Travel Leisure magazine.  I had travelled with David and our son Sandy to so many destinations covered in this magazine issue.  By the age of 14, Sandy had been on the Great Wall of China twice, touched the glaciers in Patagonia, Argentina, fed the baby Kangaroos in Australia, pet baby cheetahs in South Africa, cruised Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, walked through the Virgin Mary’s home in Ephesus, Turkey, been in the most famous mosques of Istanbul on the first day of Ramadan, toured Catherine the Great’s summer home in St Petersburg, Russia and more.  Sandy is only one year younger than Michael Brown!

I wonder if Michael Brown ever got out of Missouri in his brief life to see other cities?  Did he get to swim in the ocean of Florida or climb the mountains of Wyoming? Did he see the Dr. Seuss Landing in Disney World or the Spy museum in Washington, DC?  Did Michael Brown have picnics by a river with his parents when he was a little boy? Fly a kite? Camp on a mountain? Be helped by his parents with his homework or have dinner with them every evening, or get tucked in bed at night listening to “Where the Wild Things Are” or “Goodnight Moon” as a toddler?

What did Michael Brown do as a little boy growing up, did anybody wonder?

All we have wondered for the past few weeks were how this teenager had raised his hands before he was shot, whether it was a sign of surrendering, or what he said as the bullets were flying toward him.  I read the different accounts by more than a dozen witnesses of that 3 minute encounter between Brown and Police officer Wilson.  It was one of the moments in life, I told my friends, when I wish the dead could come back to give his own version of how he saw the situation, what he did, and why he did what he did.  Does it matter anymore?

Does it matter if thousands of people protest every day in the streets of the more visible cities all around the US, blocking people from going to work or going home from work, or going to numerous activities they needed to attend?  It’s interesting how Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s deaths, two ordinary people whose lives often were not visible, have touched off such debate in our country for days.  In death, they are much better known than in life, and maybe their deaths show how ordinary lives actually matter.  

Real changes need to take place rather than continuing the incessant blame game.  Unless, like a friend of mine stated, we can simulate the same situation and put ourselves through what officer Wilson and Michael Brown went through, we shouldn’t act like we know it all, from whichever side we are on.  We don’t know if Brown was charging at the officer, or raising his hands to surrender in the “right” way.  We don’t know how much fear the officer had for his life, after being struck while sitting in his car.  Police officers are as fallible as all of us.  They have the dangerous job of protecting the citizens.  Like all of us, they also have families and children they need to come home to.  We don’t know any of the facts since we were not Wilson or Brown, and we were not there.  We should only know that we need real changes.  To bring change, both sides in conflict have to reflect upon themselves.  Was Michael Brown killed by just the bullets of officer Wilson? Did society fail him and many youths like him?

Until we, in the comfort of our environment, being conservative or liberal, recognize that poverty is the root of many tragic circumstances in our society, many more Michael Browns and Eric Garners will be gunned down.  Poverty, not the color of our skin, is what divides us by creating the stereotypes of which group of people is more acceptable.  Are Asian parents better than parents of other races?  More neurotic maybe, in my opinion, but not necessarily better.  After all, the Asian youths have the highest suicide rate of all communities.  The stereotype of Asians being smarter than other races has put tremendous pressure on Asian youths, as they have to perform to the standard expected by their parents and society.  There is probably less help for these students as teachers expect them to be smarter and to have more compulsive parents.  There are many Asian students who fail out of school or who work in blue collar jobs.  I know and have met them.  

Let us stop protesting in the streets and do real work to change the situation.  Good teachers need to volunteer their time to coach students in inner cities, if they are not willing to teach full time there.  The average stay for a teacher in a poor county, I heard, is about a year and a half.  The Chicago Tribune reported that 39% of new teachers in Chicago’s 69 inner city schools left after the first year and never return.  Nutritionists and healthcare providers need to volunteer their time to do local medical missions to educate people how to take care of their children to be more healthy. Psychologists or social workers can give lectures on how to survive a difficult social situation, how to have better relationships within a family, how to change one’s attitude to better one’s life.  Somebody needed to mentor Michael Brown when he was a little boy growing up.  He might still be alive.  He might not have been robbing a store for a few cigars at 18.  Eric Garner, with some mentoring, might not have chosen to stand in the street at 43, with six children and some grandchildren, with his own youngest child being only 7 months old, illegally selling cigarettes to passersby.  It is poverty that drove them to their tragic ending.  It was not enough to give them help through medicaid, food stamps, welfare checks etc… They needed mentoring on how to change their circumstances to escape poverty.  Their children need good teachers to get better grades and test scores and such to go to college.  

Instead of protesting in the streets, maybe each of these protesters can sponsor a child in a poor neighborhood.  Maybe each elite private or public school can sponsor a school in an impoverished area.  Maybe an excellent teacher from an elite school can even mentor a teacher in the poor area to be better teacher. Maybe the licensing process should be easier so physicians can go to these areas even when they don’t practice in the same state, to help educate the poor residents on how to take care of themselves.  Maybe with all these activities, society will change.  Blocking the streets does not necessarily solve the problems.  Taking guns from police officers does not necessarily solve the problems.  Working on the solutions to the problems will solve the problems.

Whichever side you are on, it’s time to ask yourself what you can actively do to help stop the cycle of poverty and violence.  Words are not as helpful as actions.  Pointing fingers only escalates anger and resentment.  To achieve peace and justice, as South African Ambassador Rasoon said to a group of parents last week at my son’s school:

“What you want for yourself, you have to give to others.” 

Until more of us can master this simple yet vital idea, it will not be easy to reach societal harmony.