“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Since the weather has begun to improve, we have been taking family trips to Heritage Park, which is just down the street from my home. Heritage is a fantastic park because it has everything you could possibly want—playground, swimming pools, baseball fields, soccer fields, tennis courts, and volleyball courts. However, of all the features that my boys love the most, the one that keeps us coming back is the sledding hill.
Like almost everything in our area with any elevation, it is man-made. And yet, what makes the hill so incredible is that it is surrounded by trees. It’s like a mini-forest enshrouding the hill. My boys love traversing the paths on the side of the hill with their friends. They play games, make-believe, and enjoy swinging on a rope that someone hung from a tree. Courtney and I will often bring a ball and just toss it around on the hill while the boys play.
We are not the only ones who enjoy playing on the hill. Walkers will use the steps like a stair-climber. Runners will sprint up and down. Kids will walk their bikes to the top to get a thrill of going really fast on the way down. I’ve even seen a guy tie up his hammock between two trees so that he could enjoy some outdoor rest and relaxation. Oh yes, I almost forgot—teenagers also like to use the hill.
The only difference between the teenagers who utilize the hill and everyone else is that they seem to have little regard for sanctity of the environment. Two weeks ago, I took the boys to the hill and there was trash strewn everywhere. Pizza boxes, water bottles, energy drinks, and fast food wrappers littered the landscape. Courtney and I were both very upset.
My first inclination was to pick-up the trash, but I didn’t want to touch anything for fear that I might get infected with COVID-19. I hoped that the people who left the trash or some other Good Samaritan might clean it up for me. The next day we came back and, as you might expect, the trash was still there. This time I decided I didn’t care about the possibility of infection, I was going to clean it up. Courtney and I took several trips to the trashcans (which were very far away) to rid the hill of litter.
For a few days, the hill was clean and free of unwanted debris. Then, as if the perpetrators wanted to up the ante, we returned to find 100 plastic forks on the top of the hill. Some were stabbed into the ground. Others had their prongs broken off. I looked at Courtney and said, “Why would anybody spend their time stabbing plastic forks into the ground?” We proceeded to pick them up and dispose of them.
Again, there were a few days of respite, but then yesterday I took my boys up to the hill and there were more discarded boxes and plastics bottles. I didn’t even think twice. I just began gathering the trash so that it could be properly disposed of, as though I were the designated caretaker of the hill. As I was carrying the litter down to the trashcans, I started contemplating the progression I had experienced over the last few weeks.
When I first started coming up to the hill and I saw the trash, my hope was that someone else might fix the problem for me. I wanted the hill to be clean, but I didn’t want to get my hands dirty. When I realized no one else was going to do it for me, I took the initiative, thinking I would clean the hill just this one time. However, when it happened again with the forks, I had to make a decision—am I committed to keeping this hill clean or am I going to let it be someone else’s problem? Once I made a commitment, the hill became my cause and I decided I would do what was necessary to protect it.
I tell you the story of the hill because it is a parable for how many people react to the racial injustice faced by our black brothers and sisters in this country. I see many people who commiserate with the problem. They say that prejudice and racism is wrong, but like me when I saw all the trash on hill, they are hoping that someone else will step in a clean up the mess.
As my story conveys, we as humans have a tough time taking the initiative to get our hands dirty. We rationalize our decision by saying to ourselves, “I’m not the one directly responsible for making this problem, so it’s not really my concern.” Unfortunately, when everyone who comes across the problem reacts in this way, the problem festers. In my story, the hill still remains littered with trash, and, in the instance of our country, people of color will still experience the deleterious effects of racism and prejudice.
This is a time where we all need to take that big first step and make the effort to change our environment. If you truly believe that prejudice and racism are wrong and you want to make a real difference in the lives of minorities, then you cannot sit back and wait for someone else to do the work for you. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Yes, the solution is not as simple as picking up litter and putting it in a trash can, but the necessity is just as pressing. This is a time for us to gather together as a church and take that first step to being part of the solution to a problem that will continue if we do nothing.
I acknowledge that taking this first step is very hard, but I think if you are willing to be brave and step outside of your comfort zone, you will quickly find that, like me with the hill, you will become committed to the cause and do what is necessary to protect and promote the prosperity of Black lives in this country.
Our first step will be on June 19 with our Service of Remembrance. Come to our church parking lot or watch online. Pledge your participation to this cause because it’s the beginning of how we will be the change we want to see in the world.