I have been extremely lucky in my life. I have always seemed to have a mentor show up just at the exact time that I have needed them. Some have been ephemeral, here just long enough to teach me their lesson – and then they are gone.
Others, like the woman to the right named Rosanna Hudgins, are qualitatively far more than that. She came into my life at a time when I felt very buffeted by the waves of fate (trust me, it was far beyond the “winds” — it was almost physical pressure from all sides).
She is a combination of a role model for me and a mother figure. She is one of the strongest women I know. She’s not very shy about telling you when you are screwing things up. But she’s also lavish with praise if you do things right.
Her strength and beauty have given me goals to pursue for myself and my life. It’s not that she is telling me what to do, but that she has – by example and by encouragement – helped me to become better, and to try to follow my own dreams.
It was through her connections that I met this other woman. Amoké Kubat. After living a full, well-traveled and interesting life including educating special needs children, she chose to “retire” by working hard to give back to her community. She is a generous hearted woman. Her book Missing Mama: My Story of Loss, Sorrow and Healing is an inspiration, and she wrote and acts in a play called: ANGRY BLACK WOMAN and Well-Intentioned White Girl. She also works out of Yo Mama: The Mothering Mothers Institute.
Just like Rosanna, Amoké has a truly generous spirit. She loves strongly – and not just her own family. Like Rosanna, she is both a role model and a mother figure. She is so much more than a life-coach. She’s a heart, mind and soul coach. She’s lived such a full life because she takes life by the horns and takes the risks necessary to make her dreams reality. In many ways, I want to be her when I grow up.
And, no, as a white girl, I am NOT saying “Hey, look at me! My role models are African-American.” No, they aren’t my token anything. No, I’m not saying I’m supposedly “color blind” either.
They are, to me, simply people with a different ethnic heritage than my own. They are people who feel pride in their heritage, just as I take pride in mine. As someone who has a combination of European aristocracy and peasant, some of which have always been considered the “scum of the earth,” I am proud of my heritage. Why shouldn’t anyone else of any other ethnicity be proud of theirs?
Personally, I have found far more people who are aware of their ethnic heritage’s history in the so-called “minority” ethnicities than those who are considered to be “white.” How can you learn from the mistakes of your ancestors if you don’t look at them and their motivations for their choices? How can you become a better person by denying anyone else their heritage.
There’s a sequel to “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” that speaks to this kind of thing. I loved the first one, because it DID show a family that was taking pride in their heritage in a country that has seemingly made it illegal (or at least inappropriate) to have any pride in our ancestors.
Someone else being proud of their ethnic heritage does absolutely nothing to deny my own. And me being proud does absolutely nothing to deny someone else’ pride in theirs. But then again, I look at both the heroic actions AND the vile sins of my ancestors. I know deep in my soul, mostly because my father shared his love of history with me, that my ancestors weren’t all saints. They were human. And, EVERYONE — regardless of their heritage — has both saints and sinners in their bloodlines. So, that Native-American showing his pride, that Latina showing hers, that African-American who thanks their ancestors for helping them get where they are, and that Scot hanging out in his kilt and tossing cabers or blowing a bagpipe are ALL doing the exact same thing.
AND, if you take the time to get to know someone of a different ethnicity, you might actually have your mind expand and learn more about the world around you. Not everyone else is exactly like you nor makes the same decisions you do, and we as a country have to come to terms with that.
Strangely, living in Milwaukee was my first introduction with the idea that different ethnicities had a right to their pride in their heritage. They have ethnic festivals all during the summer: Polish Fest, Greek Fest, Bastille Days (French), Festa Italiana, German Fest, India Fest, African World Festival, Irish Fest, Mexican Fiesta, Taste of Egypt festival, and Indian Summer (for Native Americans). Yes, Milwaukee is the most segregated city in the nation, but that is not only because of history, but because certain ethnicities want to band together. In it’s history, the first segregation was actually between two white founders of cities. It was so bad that the founder of the area west of the Milwaukee river absolutely refused to have any of his streets meet up with the city on the other side of the river. So, even though Milwaukee is badly segregated, it also is trying to embrace and celebrate the diversity of people living there.
What does this have to do with “paying it forward?” It’s simple. My mentors, ephemeral or permanent, have given me their time, their energy, their support and yes, sometimes their application of a foot to my behind to shake loose my head from it. It means that I have a responsibility to share the wisdom, love and care that have been lavished upon me. I can’t just hoard it, never allowing others to see what I have learned. So, yes, I mentor – it is both a duty and a privilege, because I learn just as much from the people I mentor as I have from those who have mentored me.