The way toward a beloved community
Father’s Day will be different this year. The worries we all experienced during the pandemic made clear that nothing will be the same, that tomorrow is not promised and what we do with our time is precious. This year both of my parents, multiple family members and several friends suffered from COVID. My parents and many others recovered but too many did not. We are still grappling with loss. The impact of this pandemic will linger, and policymakers are making decisions about how we recover and move forward right now. Will we take steps toward progress or slide backward?
During the summer of 2015, just before I moved back to Ohio, I walked the Camino de Santiago, also known as the way of Saint James, with my father. This pilgrimage was something my father had wanted to do for a while, and it gave us 28 days and 474 miles to talk, reflect and connect. During that trek I planned my future and thought a lot about my past. Each morning we’d wake up before the sun, put on our boots, grab a bite and hit the trail in time to beat the summer heat. I had many great conversations with my dad, recalling stories from my childhood, asking questions about family members and hometown history that I never fully understood. We had a good relationship beforehand but spending time with each other — two humans with flaws, and strengths in spite of them — helped me. I became more open, more humble, more comfortable with not knowing everything, and better prepared for the journey of parenthood. Since the Camino my path has been full of peaks and valleys. Some days felt like the heat would overwhelm me, my legs might fail me or like just one more thing going wrong would be too much. But, like my time on that trail, I found strength in community and continue to do so today. My father and I walked the Camino for different reasons, but we were able to come together, strengthen our bond, make some new friends and act in solidarity to support other people on their way.
I was raised in a tight-knit community. I came to know the broader world through my church, community activism and school. Teachers, clergy, artists, civil servants, organizers and others extended the love and care of my parents and made time to be my village. Their care, shared wisdom and interest in my success built me a base of support. So, when I first heard someone say, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” it seemed curious.
The “bootstrap myth” diminishes the role of community by proselytizing for individualism and feeling exceptional. That phrase has significance for me: My family migrated from Puerto Rico when “Operation Bootstrap” reshaped the island economy, driving a mass migration to the mainland United States. The complicated legacy of this bootstrap policy shows government’s power to transform an economy, advance a set of interests and displace a people. It’s what brought my grandparents to Ohio. The stories my family shares from that time are about how our community pulled each other up, helped each other find jobs, places to live, child care, and attain a formal education. No one does it alone.
Eventually my hometown of Lorain elected leaders from the Puerto Rican community, expanding civic participation and the decision-making process to my grandparents and parents. Lorain’s local government was pushed to meet changing needs and invest in broader prosperity for all of its residents. Policy has an impact across generations and the more communities that participate, the better the outcome.
The investments we make in each other have a ripple effect. As a parent I share photos, songs and stories from my journey with my daughter. They remind us of past celebrations and what we can accomplish when we act together. Beyond my stories, our recent bedtime reading has been the March trilogy from the late civil rights icon John Lewis. The series is an accessible way to learn the history of the Black Freedom Movement and an invitation to join a beloved community that seeks justice for all people. Most nights, right before she falls asleep, I see a twinkle in her eye signaling she’s inspired by stories of “good trouble.” This past year she’s witnessed many examples of good trouble — and history — being made. A resurgent fight for racial justice and equality, a grassroots movement of neighbors helping each other through the pandemic as our government stumbled. We collaborated on civic engagement projects to let people know every person counts on the Census and every vote counts in our elections.
We’ve taken steps toward progress, but I fear some of our elected leaders are stopping short. Right now there are bold policies on the table, like the American Rescue Plan Act and other proposals to revitalize infrastructure and worker rights. Many have noticed the barriers our neighbors have faced since long before the pandemic. We have a chance to build a better, more just world that respects the basic human dignity in all of us — but some politicians want to distract us with culture wars and underfund our needs so they can dole out tax cuts for the wealthy. But my daughter will not be fooled.
As a son, husband and especially as a father, I commit to doing better. We can heal our divided society if we are brave enough to confront our flaws and step up to new challenges. Consider your impact, because our children are watching. Across the country communities are recovering and most of us want to rebuild something better than what we had before the pandemic. As we embark on that, think of the people, institutions and policies that have shaped your world and ask what more can we do for our children. Being a parent takes lots of heart and humility. Raising the next generation to be active, hopeful troublemakers with an understanding of our history is vital. So, this Father’s Day enjoy your cookout, go for a walk and share your stories. And more than anything else, commit to taking steps toward a beloved community and to making the world better for those you love.