Monday I talked to you guys about diverse books and what they mean to me, to my sisters, and what they could mean to kids all over if done right. But beyond books, the discussion around diversity got me thinking about what I represent to young girls. I exemplify some good things. I am two weeks away from having a master’s degree, I independently support myself, and, especially because I work with kids, I try to make a point of speaking inclusively and encouraging boys and girls of all backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses to think about college and careers.
But I’m pretty sure there’s more.
Many of my books naturally include diverse characters because that’s always been my reality. I’m from a blended family, and my friendships have often developed naturally out of that experience to include many others from blended families as well as international students and recent immigrants through outreach programs I’ve participated in. Because I’m from a metropolitan area and have worked in school and settlement house environments, I’ve had numerous opportunities to work with people from wildly different life journeys than mine. This is the world I’m in, and it frequently flows into my books – non-native English speakers, adopted kids, kids with learning disabilities, mixed kids, poor kids, kids with single parents, they all insert themselves into my books and in my head that’s just the way the story unfolds.
But it’s not very remarkable to do what comes naturally to you. Or rather, it’s a great starting point, but it’s not something I can sit back on and say, because I do this one thing that’s easy for me, I don’t have to think about it anymore.
You know what doesn’t come easy for me? Standing up for and advocating for myself. Math and science. Things that require lots of physical strength. Writing this post that someone might disagree with. But what if there’s a kid out there who needs me to show them that advocacy can be done with grace, that it’s important to tackle hard subjects and acquire more learning, and that you should develop every ability you have?
People don’t have to be alike. The fact that I’m better with words and stories doesn’t make me better or worse, it just makes me me. But I’m starting to wonder if I owe it to myself, my sisters, and all the other kids who might be watching me to try the things I’ve always avoided.
Is me taking a math class, or training for a race, or negotiating a difficult conversation going to change the whole world? Most likely not.
But it is going to show the kids watching that there’s nothing wrong with tackling your weaknesses, with stretching and challenging yourself, with displaying your vulnerabilities without being ashamed of them.
I have a disability, and while I’ve tried to be open about it here, I’m still navigating what it means to speak frankly and honestly about it in a way that uplifts other people and encourages them not to be ashamed of who they are without being defined by it. Will my stories about living with my disability change someone’s life? Probably not. But if I can make a point of the fact that everyone has challenges and barriers, and that shame and fear shouldn’t have to be associated with them, maybe there’s one kid out there who will do something she’d never have thought possible before.
Maybe I’m making too much of it. Maybe it’s enough to be making my mark in the ways that come naturally to me. Certainly doing so is something to be proud of and to not give up doing. But I really believe we shouldn’t stop there, and we shouldn’t feel we are doing “enough”. I’m not sure there is such a thing as “enough” until any child of any race, gender, ability, or socioeconomic status can get out of bed in the morning convinced they are able to pursue and be anything they want.
You have to be the change you wish to see. I’ve never specifically chosen to do or not to do something because of my age, gender, or disability, but I have, perhaps unconsciously, made many choices because I had several different appealing options and one was the easiest of them. If you have a choice between two things you like equally, it seems natural to choose the easier of the two. And while it’s all well and good for me to sit and say that women should pursue traditionally male opportunities and kids shouldn’t let any of their circumstances hold them back from pursuing possibilities, it might mean more if I was taking an active role in that. I need to prove to both myself and the kids I talk to that diversity and opportunity are more than just words. I need to be breaking ground on the renovations I dream of seeing. I’m not entirely sure what this will look like yet – maybe pursuing additional learning, maybe starting a new project, maybe taking on a new challenge. I’m only sure that it’s necessary, and terrifying, and good.
How do you build a diverse life? Have you ever deliberately tried something that terrified you or otherwise done something specific to create the kind of change you’re looking for?