Thursday, March 17, 2011

Being in the demographic

The school multipurpose room was packed. Students were stationed at tables and along the walls, ready to do their three-minute presentations about the intensive job-shadowing projects they had recently completed.

I was there in support of the refugee kids. I knew their parents wouldn't be coming, but it seemed important that a familiar adult show up in a gesture of support and solidarity.

Weaving my way through the crowd, I tried to figure out if there was any order to the arrangement of tables and projects. Someone called my name, and I felt a hand on my sleeve. It was Susan, the one-woman champion of refugee kids in our state. She doesn't work for anyone--technically she's unemployed, but she is, for all intents and purposes, both a social worker and a parent liaison. She works long days shuttling refugee kids to school, to appointments, to activities, and occasionally, to court or community service. She makes sure paperwork is completed, major assignments are understood, and grades are explained to parents who have no grasp of the U.S. education system.

Susan led me over to the table where Mohamed was ready to talk about his exposure to the field of acting. His poster listed traits of "Bad Acting" and "Good Acting." Unfortunately, the video he had worked so hard to film and edit as the culmination of his project would not run on the laptop that had been provided for the day.

After Mohamed finished telling us about good and bad acting, we headed to the corner of the room to hear his sister and her best friend tell us what they had learned about hunger in America and nutrition. The girls were giggly, but tried to pretend that we were just like anyone else who would stop by that afternoon.

While i listened to them recite statistics about why fast food is a nutritional nightmare, we were joined by Judy, the social worker who had helped shepherd these girls through middle school. As the presentation wrapped up, Debbie, a 43-year-old social worker from an agency similar to Boys and Girls Clubs, greeted Judy with a big hug.

We laughed that all four of us had come to the event because we were concerned that the refugee kids wouldn't have any adult support on this important day. The room was packed with students, siblings, parents, and teachers--and the four of us rounded out the mix. We joked about how it really does "take a village," and how happy we were to be in our village together. As villagers, we we were fairly well-coordinated in terms of what we were able to accomplish behind the scenes.

In the midst of this conversation, I had a brief thought about my previous life in the corporate world and how I tried so hard to fit in there, but with mixed results. I hadn't worried about fitting in among colleagues for a very long time. Then, I almost laughed out loud. I was looking down at my feet, and I realized that what I saw were four pairs of feet in black tights or socks, tucked into clunky black clogs. All four us were similarly dressed: long, loose skirt, a short, boxy, mostly-shapeless jacket, and a rumpled shirt, all in shades of black and brown. We were four frumpy middle-aged women who looked like we definitely played for the same team.

I never thought of myself as being in a particular work-style demographic, but now I see that our village has a very definite look. Hey, we're comfortable, we can easily sit on the floor in a house with no furniture, and if we get dirty doing that, it won't show.

Years from now, I doubt the kids will remember what any of of us wore, but I hope they'll remember that our bedraggled bunch made time to show up because it mattered.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is great value in "showing up"....