This article was originally published in The Business News on Jan. 5, 2022.
One morning I woke up and there was a thin sheet of ice on a cup of water on the kitchen counter. Another day, after school, my mom and I headed to the library for hours where I developed my love of reading. And some days, I noticed that our milk tasted funny. Couldn’t quite place my finger on it but it tasted like water.
It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I asked my mom a question about the funny tasting milk and she told me my dad would go to the food pantry, help them unload the truck and get basic food items such as peanut butter and powdered milk. Then, so we kids wouldn’t notice, she would mix the powdered milk with water in the regular milk jug. She also mentioned that the reason we went frequently to the library is that it was so cold in our house that the library was a place for us to stay warm. I knew it was cold in our house, but now I understood how cold for a cup of water to have a thin sheet of ice on it.
Growing up I knew there were money problems by indicators such as callers asking for bills to be paid, interruptions to phone service and little food in the house. Throughout high school and college it wasn’t uncommon to work three jobs and also be the one to pay the bill for phone service for my parents. Fast forward to college and I found myself sweeping floors in the dorm stair well as my peers ran by me to class. I felt invisible.
As a woman in the business world, I continue to face an uphill battle. Dismissal, laughter, disregard, disrespect and outright anger are not uncommon interactions I have with my male counterparts. For years I dismissed these interactions as a fluke, excused inexcusable behaviors and told myself it must have been something I did. In other words, I deserved it.
The painful beauty of all these lived experiences have helped me to recognize the uphill battle so many others are facing as a member of our community. Their plight has forced me to relive my experiences and then look at their life, through their eyes as a person of color, a homeless person, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, anyone who is diminished in the eyes of others.
I look around and realize that despite my challenges I have opportunities as a white woman with access. I was able to go to college, able to take out a loan, able to start a business, able to earn money to help support my family and today I enjoy a warm home. There was access that I couldn’t see but I experienced along my journey with other people who looked like me, helping to pave the way.
But what if I didn’t look like others? As so many are experiencing today, our most vulnerable members of our community need our help. Barriers, racism and bias have always existed but with the pandemic, the cracks in our foundation are growing wider.
Last summer, community members asked me to come up with an idea of how to better reach our most vulnerable populations which led to the development of the Multicultural Communications Committee. Which, in turn, led to the formation of the Multicultural Coalition, Inc. The focus of this group is to remove the systemic barriers we have put in place and to take action. But first, I had to go on my own personal journey to identify and recognize the barriers that are in place. This meant I had to own up to and recognize the privileges I have had throughout my life. My first reaction was denial and my mind raced with thoughts, “I didn’t have any special privileges, I grew up poor.” And then I started to see. My world is built for me. From language to access to technology, education, healthcare and more. I have it easy. I don’t have to worry about speaking another language when I go to the doctor’s office. I walk into my home and if the heat is out, I know who to call in my own native language. I visit my local coffee shop and I’m greeted by a person who looks like me, which means I feel safe and when I interviewed for jobs, I knew I had a pretty good chance of getting it because I looked like others. And, when I want to get a vaccination, I know I have choices and a way to go about it that I feel good about. I can sign up online ( I have technology and know how to use it), drive to a local pharmacy (I have a car) and call my doctor if I have any side effects (I have health insurance).
Today, the Multicultural Coalition, Inc. is focused on removing barriers that exist today and currently, we are laser-focused on providing accessible vaccinations for those who are experiencing barriers. People of color, the homeless and so many who don’t have the access points to privilege. Barrier by barrier we have helped hundreds of individuals access vaccinations and additional resources in other areas such as transportation, food and shelter. Over and over again I have heard from others in the community, “Why don’t they just go to Walgreens for a vaccination?” When I get this question, I look at it as an opportunity to walk and talk through barriers with them and to hopefully plant a seed of looking at the world through another’s eyes.
This journey of mine has been painful as I recognize what others are experiencing on a daily, minute-by-minute, barrier-by-barrier basis. Our work as the Multicultural Coalition, Inc. continues to look at barriers to employment, mental health, housing and more. Because once my eyes are opened, they won’t shut again. And, as I told my colleagues the other day, “I was blind but now I see.”