Working Toward Shared Power: Easier Said Than Done

As a Filipino American, I never really experienced racism. Tucked away in my mostly white NJ suburbia with my mostly white friends, I only really used my minority status if I needed it for a scholarship opportunity, award, etc. I pretty much took for granted the privilege I had by being educated with a steady income.

Fast forward to last August 2014. This was when I had a rude, yet humbling, awakening.

I was fortunate enough to travel to South Africa as part of the VCU’s Global Education Office faculty development seminar trip, which was in partnership with the Division of Community Engagement specifically that year. The goal was for us to meet with different universities and community organizations to establish potential future collaborations. The days were long, but productive, and I met some amazing folks (both from within VCU and in SA) all throughout the way.

My time of Johannesburg, however, was the part of the trip that flipped my world upside down.

Now I always knew about Nelson Mandela. But I didn’t realize the extent of the apartheid, or how children were gunned down in Soweto, or how Mandela managed to forgive his captors and essentially bring hope to a torn nation. No, it wasn’t until I was forced to enter the Apartheid Museum with a ticket that marked me as “coloured,” which meant that I couldn’t see certain parts of the opening exhibit that “whites” got to see, it wasn’t until I walked through a church that still had bullet holes from when a place of worship and refuge was taken over by soldiers, it wasn’t until I came back to our B&B after learning about all this and reading on my iPhone that there were similar sort of things happening in Ferguson – it wasn’t until these events transpired that I truly realized that we still had so much work left to do. This is the moment when I realized that sharing power never came easy, and that fighting to give equal rights and opportunities to everyone will continue to be a struggle for the unforeseeable future.

So coming back to what I opened this post with, no, I never experienced racism in my life personally, but because of that life changing trip to SA, I’m now more aware of what folks with darker skin like mine may have to deal with on a daily basis. I now try to become more perceptive to what it means to be privileged, and what I can do to help those who aren’t so lucky.

With this said, I’ve decided that my visualization of shared power needs to be something from that trip. After careful deliberation, I chose to share a photo of this quote posted at Nelson Mandela’s house. Because you see, as I mentioned shared power does not come easy. But perhaps the first step in getting there is to stop judging each other on our external factors, but looking more internally. Looking past our status, money, or possessions and really delving deep in order to make us all believe that deep down we are all the same and that we are obligated to respect and serve one another.

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