Choosing to Participate

A few weeks ago I joined Boston Cares, an organization that links up people that want to do volunteer work with charities that need them. Once a member, you can just log into the website and there is a list of activities you can volunteer to do, all after normal work hours or on the weekends. Projects are organized into different categories like education, helping the homeless, hoping the elderly, environmental, etc, so its easy to find a cause that you are interested in. Boston Cares is a part of the Hands On Network which a fairly large organization, and so there are actually lots of [Your City Name Here]cares.org organizations, so if your not from Boston and interested, there is probably one near you. Its pretty cool.

One of the things that they encourage you to do is to sign up for an event within the first month of your orientation class (which for me was two weeks ago). I forget the numbers they gave, but if you do this then your a substantially more likely to become an active participant. My schedule was starting to fill up so I made an effort to find something and ended up picking one of the ‘Conversation Cafe’ events. These are events that occur monthly that cause the attendees to engage in conversation about difficult situations.

This month’s Conversation Cafe took place at the Boston Public Library and was called Choosing to Participate. From their website: “The Choosing to Participate exhibition inspires visitors, young and old, to consider the consequences of their everyday choices—to discover how “little things are big”—and to make a difference in their own communities.”

As a group we went through 4 different exhibits on various topics. The first was about a family that had a window broken when they hung a picture of a Menorah in it, and how the community rallied by hanging hundreds of Menorah’s in windows across town, risking persecution and vandalism themselves for doing so.

The second was about the Little Rock Nine, in particular about Elizabeth Eckford and the white woman that came to her aid by sitting with and traveling home with her on the public bus when she showed up to the school by herself that first day of school only to find the National Guard and an angry mob in her way. Next Wednesday, March 5th, they will be having a special event where Elizabeth and Dr. Terrence Roberts (another one of the Little Rock Nine) will be speaking at the exhibit called: Choices in Little Rock: Choosing to Participate featuring Dr. Terrence Roberts and Elizabeth Eckford.

The other two exhibits were equally impressive. The third was a story of Jesus Colon entitled Little Things Are Big which touched on issues of sexual and racial prejudices we have and how the fear of being perceived these ways sometimes prevents us from doing the right thing.

The last exhibit, Everybody has a Story, was about a boy named Arn Chon and his struggle growing up in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and then his difficulties coping with the cultural ignorances of his class mates when he found his way to America. Since then Arn has become a public speaker, has given a talk to the United Nations, and travels between the US and Cambodia working to improve the civic lives of people there. I found this exhibit to be especially interesting and inspiring, in part because it reminded me a lot of what one of my friends from school has done and that I will be visiting this region in the near future. There was a lot of information presented that I didn’t know about and am looking forward to reading up on before my trip.

All and all I thought the exhibit was great. The production and quality of the exhibit was nothing short of professional. I found it fairly interesting and extremely timely to bring up so many topics about racism at an exhibit in Boston, a city I feel that thinks of itself as a very liberal place, but has many undertones of racism, which only seem to be bubbling to the surface recently with events such as Racist E-Mail Is Sent to 13 at Boston College [NY Times].

But don’t take my word for it. This exhibit is meant to cause real conversation. So you should find a friend and sign up for tour. Its free and you won’t be disappointed!

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