“Exclusion is never the way forward on our shared paths towards freedom and justice.” ~ Desmond Tutu.
In Jamaica you can probably find somewhere called ‘Crossroads’ in every parish. Whether it is an official or unofficial name, it is of course descriptive. Where I grew up in Chapelton, there was a district known as Crossroads, and another just a few hundred yards away called Ivy Store. The cross was more X-shaped, the old and the new roads meeting in a v-shape, then a few hundred yards along, one road branched up the hill into Chapelton town center, while the other went along the bottom of the hill (Bottom or Lower Chapelton). Town names in Jamaica may originate from the landowners (who also held enslaved Africans), so Pennants was named after Lord Pennant, who profited mightily from his estate, and built a castle (Penrhyn Castle in Wales) along with a profitable slate quarrying business. Another plantation nearby, Danks, was supposedly gifted by the buccaneer and one time Deputy Governor of Jamaica, Sir Henry Morgan (knighted for his skill as a thief and murderer), to his wife, who was German. The name thus derived from the German word for Thanks – danke. (I have no idea if this story is true).
Where the history of a land is brutish and ugly, some of the artefacts left behind may have forgotten associations with their origin. In the US some of the places named for historical figures who do not hold up to current day examination are being changed, In Hollywood, Lee Street became Liberty Street. It is easy to dismiss these actions as being ‘politically correct’ or part of the ‘cancel culture’ movement. But it is important to recognize that what one group claims as their ‘cultural heritage’ may represent the annihilation of the culture (or even life) of another group.
My favorite story associated with the Crossroads is of the legendary blues musician Robert Johnson. The story goes that as a teenager he tried to perform with his guitar on stage, and he was so bad (one version called it ‘noising’) that he was booed off the stage. He then disappeared for a year or two, and when he returned he demonstrated such skill and musical ability that subsequent generations of blues musicians studied his technique. The story goes that he met the devil at the crossroads, and exchanged his eternal soul for the ability to play the blues.
There is a term coined in the late 80’s by an African American female professor and civil rights advocate (Kimberly Crenshaw) that I did not hear used until the last few years – intersectionality. She used it to describe the way that concepts such as race, gender and other aspects of a person’s identity can intersect resulting in disadvantages and oppression (or advantages and empowerment). It has been used in a positive way where groups of people who may be subject to discrimination and abuse come together to fight a common cause. This is why, in the outpouring of protest and advocacy after the murder of George Floyd, the people who marched together crossed the spectrum of color and class, gender and religion. Instead of being groups of people all fighting for individual causes, they were united in desiring a world where all people were free to express themselves, and pursue life and liberty.
As we come to the end of another year, many of us are more aware than ever of the need for a change, a new path forward. Whether you are concerned with the future of the planet and the increasing evidence of climate change, or your cause is an elimination of the disparities in treatment of people of color in the criminal justice system; in the healthcare system and health outcomes; in economic and educational opportunities for all; there is an intersectionality in all of these causes. We all desire a better future for our children and our planet, and the two are symbiotically combined.
I have a friend and schoolmate who has become an award-winning mover and shaker in the world of conservation and the outdoors (I apologize, it is impossible to capture all that she is in a few words). When she discovered the world of the national park system with her husband (himself a mover and shaker in the world of civil rights and activism), they noted the absence (or minimal representation) of people of color in that arena, both as park visitors and park rangers, despite their significant contribution to the establishment of such places. Google ‘Buffalo soldiers’ if you are interested, or the true story of how the Teddy Bear was associated with President Roosevelt. Like many other stories featuring people of color, we may only read of them during Black History month, instead of finding them between the covers of required history textbooks. So my friend’s life work has managed to find that sweet spot, the intersection of the love of the outdoors and its conservation with the wellbeing of people of color. (For more inspiration, read whatever you can find written by Audrey and Frank Peterman).
We have to find common ground if we are to make progress in our work towards a better world. We must fight vigorously against any attempts to keep us divided. We have to meet at the Crossroads, and leave our differences for the devil. These past two years we have seen what happens when we value self over community, the good of one over the good of all. If we are smart, we will recognize this inflection point, this opportunity to choose to move forward together. We can only hope, as we are about to smack into 2022, that we choose the right way forward, the path that leads to the well-being of our planet, and of the human race.
I spent yesterday celebrating another circuit around the sun in that most diverse of places, Key West, a place where diversity is the name of the game, where roosters have gone from being pests to being the most iconic of tourist souvenirs. If I have a wish, it is to wish for a New World along with the New Year. Have a wonderful weekend, Family, and may we all have the opportunity to be healthy and happy in 2022.