Opened Eyes: Checking My Privilege to Experience Poverty

Before I begin I want to acknowledge the privilege that I was blessed/lucky enough to have been born into. If we are talking about winning the family lottery I came pretty close to winning the PowerBall. Being born male in an upper middle class stable family where I was raised by both my parents in an ultra-loving home has afforded me many experiences that were not afford to other people. When you add in the extra privilege that comes with being born white, I truly have lived a life that has given me significantly more than I deserve and significantly more than it has given to most people. I feel no need to apologize for this and I feel no shame at this either – I cannot help the family that I was born into. I feel no guilt in this either. I am active in my community and I have made it a point in my life to strive to always fight for social justice in my community when I see and read about things that aren’t socially just. So I am fully aware at how lucky and privileged I am; it is because of that privilege I want to write this – everyone should be able to be as lucky as I have been.

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If you do not understand the concept of privilege, the above quote should help. If you still do not understand privilege, please click here or here for further explanation.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has made it a cornerstone of its church message to be a message of Radical Inclusion and Radical Hospitality. As a lifelong member of Trinity Lutheran Church here in Greenville, I am filled with pride that my church has boldly taken on this message of inclusion and hospitality as something we stand behind and embrace wholeheartedly. As part of that radical inclusion, my church makes it clear that we are a church for all peoples. At the beginning of our church bulletin it states the following:

“We celebrate people of all races, cultures, genders, ages, sexual orientations, gender identities, physical or mental abilities, socioeconomic statuses, appearances, family status, and citizenship as equally loved and valued in the eyes of God and in this place. All are invited to join this community as we worship God, grow in faith, and strive to love and serve one another.”

The amount of pride I feel romans-8-39in my church family for including these words in the welcome we extend to others cannot be stated enough. As a member of a community that is routinely cast out from churches, told they are not welcome, and that they are less than worthy of God’s love it has done so much for my relationship with God, but it has done a lot for other’s relationships as well. I have told many of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters that they should join me at church because the God I love created us all and that my church is great enough to recognize that by welcoming all into the fold. God is a shepherd of all sheep, even the rainbow sheep I joke! Because nothing, especially the way we are born can separate us from the unconditional love that is our God’s love.

As part of the radical hospitality aspect of the ELCA teaching and practices, this evening my church participated in a poverty and homelessness simulation that was facilitated by Beth Templeton with the organization Our Eyes Were Opened. I can tell you as one of the about 100 members of my church who participated that the organization truly lives up to its name. My eyes were opened. I know there is poverty all around me in this great city I call home. I know about the unseen Greenville. I teach at a school were 85% of my students would be considered as living below the poverty line. With that said I have never experienced it firsthand for myself. I have never felt the fear and helplessness that come with poverty. This simulation is as close as I have come to feeling those feelings first hand; and if the feelings I experienced this evening are anything close to the real feelings that my students or neighbors experience on a regular basis I will pray to God this evening and all my future evenings on this Earth I never have to experience that in real life. I will pray to God that my students and neighbors are lifted up and out of poverty. And I will pray to God that he show me a way to be more hospitable, less quick to rush to judgement, and help me find a way to help my students and neighbors in Christ out of poverty as well.

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One out of every 4 children in the United States lives in a food insecure household. Food insecurity is the state of being without a reliable source of affordable food on a regular basis.

In the scenario we were divided up into different “families” or “households” as we worked our way through a month of time in the scenario. Each week during the month last about 15-20 minutes. During the scenario I was with two fellow church members. Our back story was I was a 21-year-old community college student. My other group members were 13-year-old twin sisters. We had a teddy bear who played our 3-year-old younger brother. Our father was incarcerated so I was the technical head of the household. We were given some money (not nearly enough) and a list of expenses for each week before the scenario started. In order to not give away too much of the scenario – because I cannot stress enough how much you should all look into taking it – I will leave a lot of the details of the scenario under wraps. I am going to tell you how it felt.

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18.4% of Greenville residents with income live below the poverty level. 64.8% of those same households have children under the age of 18.

Once we read through our scenario, I felt relieved, but still slightly nervous. Because all three of my siblings were in child care, I knew they would have a safe spot (school) to go during the week. I was also thankful that our rent had already been paid for the month. If we had to pay our rent I know we would have ended up homeless because it would not have been possible. I had a spirit of determination to make it through this simulation. That spirit of determination all but dissipated by the end of week 1. In the first week in order for us to eat I pawned both our television and stereo system. I had some money left over, but it was not enough to pay any of the variety of monthly bills we had to pay. I did not attend community college at all during the first week because I thought it was more important to please my inner fat girl than my inner college professor.

Week 2 I found some religious organizations that were able to help out my family some and I was able to pay a few bills. I was starting to think we might make it to the end of the month. When I arrived home at the end of the week, one of my siblings was arrested and sent to juvenile hall and I had an unexpected bill waiting on us. At this point I cried for the first time during the simulation. I thought I was doing pretty good because I had managed to buy food once again. There was so much happening and I had no clue where to turn for help or what I should do first. I like being in control of my own choices and at this point I was not in control of just about anything. Just like week 1,I did not attend community college in week 2.

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48% of Greenville County School District Students are eligible for free or reduced lunches.

Week 3 of the simulation was interesting because it was a school holiday all week. I had to figure out what to do with my teenaged twin sisters and 3-year-old brother. I chose to take my brother with me and leave my sisters alone at home. This was the first week I figured out the nightmare of going through the process of applying for government assistance. It took forever to go through the line, fill out the paperwork, and wait my turn. Luckily I was approved for an EBT card (food stamps). I stopped sweating for a minute to buy food for the week and pay one more bill. At the end of the week I returned home and sat down to rest for a few brief moments before horror set in. I had left my younger brother at the Social Services office. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen news stories like these on the news and I have been quick to rush and pass judgement on these people. I was filled with a sense of shame. I was capable of forgetting something so important that I would never do in real life – I was no different from those parents on the news. And since I am sure you were wondering: I didn’t go to community college this week either.

As week 4 got under way I was determined to get everything done. I paid one bill and I used our EBT card to by more food. Since this was the last week of the month and I saw we had money left on our EBT card I started to think: I should trade what is left on our card for money so I can use that to pay bills. Something that is technically against the law because it is fraud came to mind as the perfect solution. I did not even think twice about whether or not to do it. I just tried to find someone to buy my card. If it came between me and my family losing our electricity and potentially our home then dammit I am selling that piece of plastic. I couldn’t find anyone to buy the card so the last week of the month I guess we would have lost our electricity. I guess at the end of the day we didn’t really need the electricity because I don’t need to see my community college textbooks since I did not go to class this week either.

As I look back over this activity and reflect on my own thoughts and feelings a few things stick out to me  For the sake of brevity I am simply going to list them below:

  1. If you leave near, at, or below the poverty line you need to be real good at planning. If you are not one of those people who has the skills it takes to sit down and plan out what you are going to pay each week of the month at the beginning of the month you are going to find living super difficult.
  2. Don’t rush to pass judgement on government workers. During the simulation the people in the roles of government workers did not look me in the eye once. Their tone was harsh and cold. Their answers were not helpful in directing me where to go next. However, during the discussion the facilitator raised an excellent point. These workers see the same heartbreaking stories over and over and over again. Day in and day out. At some point you have to close off that piece of caring you have for the survival of your soul. If I worked in a job were I had to look teenaged mothers in the face and tell them there was nothing I can do to help them every day I would have to do the same thing those government workers do.
  3. Acknowledge your privilege. Most of “us” do not see poverty because most of you reading this will be living lives well above the poverty line. I had no idea the poverty line among our students and children was so high until I started working at Southside and did my own research. Most of also don’t see poverty because people surround themselves with people who look, act, think, work, and live like themselves. 90% of the people reading this will be white (my estimation – not scientific), but the people living below the poverty are disproportionately people of minority communities, people who are disabled, and people who are victims of violence, abuse, or sexual assault. People who are different from you. Open yourselves to these people and help them – because you will also help yourself.
  4. We need usury laws in South Carolina. In the State of South Carolina, when you go to get a cash advance or cash a check any of those lending places you go to can charge whatever percent they want. There is no limit. The fact that some of these shady cash advances places take advantage of those among us who need the most help is both disgusting and needs to change. Now.
  5. Stop the “They need to get jobs!” Narrative. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people exclaim that those on government assistance need to get off their asses and find work. Politicians in this very state have likened people receiving welfare to feeding stray animals.
  6. We can make our society better by loving our neighbors – all of them.  During the simulation small little things stuck out to me. Even as my family was struggling to make ends meet I still found myself listening in to other people’s conversations with workers and organizations who were supposed to help lift people out of poverty and offering them my own advice when they got no answers to their questions. Twice during the simulation different people gave me money for bus transportation. And during the last week of the simulation I made eye contact with the pawn shop lady. I am pretty sure she offered my a second amount that was higher than what she originally offered me because she knew I was about to burst into tears.

If we loved our neighbors like we loved ourselves, our city would be a much better place.

Our state would be a much better place.

Our Nation would be a much better place.

Our world would be a much better place.

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It would be a place where there would be no judgement of our neighbors perceived laziness and inability to work.

A place where there would be no hatred of social workers who have one of the toughest jobs around.

It would be a place where children wouldn’t have to skip school or community college to put food on the table for their siblings.

It would be a place full of love and devoid of poverty – and that is the kind of place I want to live. Hopefully, you do as well.

-WB

 

 

 

Unified for America

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This morning I decided to end my Spring Break with a little bit of politics. While most people would rather jump of a cliff than deal with politics and our politicians in our daily lives – especially with how divisive we have become as a society – I will always say how important it is for us to engage – now more than ever – with one another so we can keep going forward. Unified: How Our Unlikely Friendship Gives Us Hope for a Divided Nation, written by South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and outgoing South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy is a book I can truly get behind. I personally have not voted for Senator Scott and I most definitely have not voted for Representative Gowdy; however, I support the meaning behind this book – which is why I went to Fiction Addiction this morning to pick up a copy and to have my copy signed by both men.

Unified allows Senator Scott and Congressman Gowdy, to use honesty and vulnerability to  inspire others to evaluate their own stories, clean the slate, and extend a hand of friendship that can change our churches, our communities, our state, and our nation by showing us something we all to often forget – that we have more in common that unites us than we do that divides us. Throughout the entire book they discuss different views that each holds – everything from a black man who was raised in the south’s views on law enforcement to a white son of a doctor former prosecutor man’s views on law enforcement. While discussing that and a host of other issues the overall theme of trusting and loving our neighbor comes back to the surface over and over again. I have not yet finished reading the book, but I firmly believe this to be why we are so divided right now: we all won’t to make this country better so badly, that we have forgotten that sometimes our view may not be the right view or the only view. We forget much too quickly and are much too dismissive of the “enemy” and “their view” that they want this country to be everything that it can be as well; they just want to go about doing that a different way.

 

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My copy of Unified, signed by both Senator Scott and Congressman Gowdy. I have got to figure out a way to make my signature look as cool and simple as these two signatures.

I am sure many of you rolled your eyes after that last paragraph or possibly muttered “yeah, right!” under your breath and that is ok. You do not have to believe me, even as I myself and so many others know this to be true. How do I know this? It is simple. While waiting in line this morning I lived it and I observed it with my own two eyes. Living through an experience whether it relates to this or something completely different has the power to change a person’s perspective on a litany of issues. Seeing, hearing, touching, and using whatever the last two senses I can’t remember, are the number one way for people to say or remember something as true. We place importance on direct personal experiences, and as I stood in line with my Nana and my aunt Cathy this morning, my personal experience with a bunch of people I probably do not agree with on a whole lot was nothing but pleasant, happy, and up-lifting.

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In the process of getting my book signed. Shoutout to the lavender staffer who looks like he is shooting laser beams from his eyes at my Nana for taking the picture. 

I got in line about 9:45 this morning. The signing did not start until about 10:30. As I pulled up I was not surprised by the people I saw in line. I may be slightly stereotypical in pointing this out, but I feel it will make my overall message more poignant. The crowd was overwhelmingly white. I do not recall seeing any POC other than the Senator. The crowd was also on the older end of the spectrum. I chuckled as I scoped out the younger end of the spectrum. Yes, most of them did have on cowboy boots and camouflage attire. As I suppressed a smile and stepped into the back of the line with my grandmother and my aunt I silently cursed at myself for not remembering to bring my Apple AirPods with me so I would have some music to listen to. If I was going to be stuck listening to people talk about their hatred of my girl HRC or the first man I was able to help change history with by electing him President of the United States than at least I could try to drown it out with some good Beyoncé tunes. Turns out I did not need any of that at all.

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Shoutout to my new friend Susan in the Navy and Gold Hoodie on the left hand side of this picture. She has one son in the Air Force flying F-16s and another son in the Navy as well. Shoutout to Susan’s awesome sons for their service. I hope they enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed waiting in line with their mom who was having 5 copies signed. 

I did not need to pretend to talk on my phone or my headphones to listen to music because I actually enjoyed waiting in line with these people today. What did we talk about? Yes, we talked about politics some – everyone (myself included) stuck to surface level topics and discussions. There was no mention of Roe v. Wade or Russian Collusion, or anything like that. It mainly was what we liked or did not like about politics in general. More than that though we talked about our daily lives and what we ended up having in common that we would not have known other wise. Turns out my friend in line behind me really enjoys the ABC show Designated Survivor. I told her that I also enjoyed watching that with my dad sometimes. My new friend Susan (I point her out in the picture above) has two children serving in the military. She was wearing a Navy Sweatshirt so after thanking her for both her children’s sacrifice as well as her family’s sacrifice I told her about my love of the tradition on the pomp & circumstance of the Army – Navy Game. She smiled as she told me about attending one of the games. I even found some fellow Clemson fans and I told them how exciting it was to attend the National Championship Game both the time we lost AND the time we won (Shout out to my Tigers – All in Always!).

 

As I started to read the book this afternoon something dawned on me. Those people in line this morning were no different from me. They are mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers. They are sons and daughters. They are neighbors who went to USC. They are friends who went to Clemson. They are our church family members who didn’t go to college at all, or they could even be our neighbors who go to a synagogue or a mosque or a temple instead of a church. They are people who like watching Designated Survivor, people who like watching HG TV, or people who don’t have or believe in cable. Some are even like me and mooch all of those things off of their parent’s charter subscription (thanks mom and dad!). At the end of the day, however, they are people who want a few things that are all in common. They all want the best for their family and friends. They all want their children (if they have them) to have more opportunities than they did. They all want America to succeed. And lastly, but certainly one of more important things I discovered, they all want to leave this world better than they found it.

I may never see Susan or the other great people I met standing in line again and that is ok. Hopefully I left them with the same view they left me with. “The Other Side” is not as scary or different as they originally seem. Hopefully she goes home and tells her two sons “I met the nicest guy standing in line today. And he was a democrat!” in the same way that I respectfully write about her for this blog. Even though I may never see some of those fine people again, and even though we probably would not agree on the right course of action for our nation going forward, I believe she wants what is best for us all. Hopefully she believes the same about me. Hopefully, Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy can help us all realize this. Hopefully, we will all remember that we will ALWAYS have more that UNITES us than we have that DIVIDES us.

Happy Saturday, y’all. Go outside barefoot and thank your stars we live where we do. Both sides of the aisle just might remember a little bit more if you do.

WB

Marching, Bobby, and The Sound of Silence

This blog post is going to be quite verbose, but if you only ever read one of my postings the whole way through, I beg it be this one. In the short life of Sweet Tea and Small Talk this is the most important one I have yet to write.

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I had a two-sided sign. This was my humorous side. The other side was more serious – which is why I was holding that one facing the direction we walked.

Many of us have bucket lists full of amazing things that we want to do and or accomplish. Some of the things may be trivial to others and some of them probably appear on multiple people’s lists. I have been able to cross a couple of things off my list in my 29 trips around the sun – including swimming with dolphins and traveling abroad to some of the most beautiful places on Earth with friends, family, and even students. One thing that has been on my list since high school has been to be part of a protest movement. I have always gravitated towards those momentous events in our history as humans because they have fascinated me and being a part of a group that has faced systematic oppession multiple times throughout history, I have always felt a sense of community with people who participate in these movements.

I know how that might sound or look. I can already feel your head tilting and your eyes narrowing a bit. I do not by any means want to trivialize the March for our lives or any other movements that this country has seen. I do not want it to seem like I am protesting or marching just to be able to say I was there. I simply at the end of my life want to be able to mean it when I look my God in the face and say I have tried to love my neighbor as myself.

Many times while reading and learning about these heroes I have wondered had I been alive at that time would I have been a part of it myself. I am not foolish enough to think I could ever have led a movement – I am not brave enough or disciplined enough for that. But I do hope that I would have stood up for my fellow man and said “Enough! No More! This is not right! We Shall Overcome!” This is why it will be an honor and a privledge when I look back on my life to have been able to be a part of Greenville’s March for Our Lives march through Downtown Greenville. Our March was led by some amazing young people who were inspired by some other amazing young people from Parkland, Florida. The world is better because they are in it, and they are taking up the leadership role many were born for.

City Police for the event estimate that 2,000 people attended the Greenville, March for Our Lives. What is truly amazing about the event is it was led completely by students. Several college students and about a dozen amazing high schools (one of which goes to the school where I teach, and one who goes to the school where I used to teach) worked with local organizations and planned everything from the March down to who was speaking – shoutout to the young lady from Mauldin who had quite the message for our governor Henry McMaster. I have offically dubbed her Greenville’s own Emma Gonzalez. What has please me the most about the march was how positive and uplifting it was. Everyone was positive in spirt; the counter-protesters were ignored and although we were marching for a serious reason there was love and positivity in the atmosphere -especially as we sang “We Shall Overcome.” My eyes filled with tears at one point during Greenville City Councilwoman Lillian Brock Fleming’s speech. Here is a woman who literally sang that very song with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. urging my students and so many other student to pick up the torch and continue their movement into the future. It will go down in my life as a very sepcial moment, that was again, a honor and a privilege to be a part of. Our little march was even featured on MSNBC at one point during their coverage – #YeahTHATGreenville that we know and love!¹

The March in Greenville went off without a hitch and that is because of the courage, bravery, and determination of some amazing BAD ASS students. Students like Gonzalez. Students like David Hogg. Students like Cameron Kasky. Like Alex Wind. And Jaclyn Corin. And Matt Post. These bravery of these students is inspiring, but their willingness to openly accept the privilege that their skin color provides them is even more inspiring. Many of them freely admit that the affluent, upper middle class, and white backgrounds has led to increased media coverage of an issue that disproportionately affects communities of color every day. That is why it was so important to them to make sure communities of color were well represented in the speakers of the March. 11 year old Naomi Wadler spoke more eloquently than I could every hope to write in this blog about speaking for all of the girls of color who face down the barrel of a gun more than anyone. And when Jaclyn Corin brought out the granddaughter of Dr. King who said she had a dream that enough is enough my eyes that had been brimming with tears all day bowled over. Those were wonderful moments, but David and Emma hold my top moments for the day.

I love the moment in David Hogg’s speech where he boldly states something those of us on the right side of history already know. The people in power our shaking. And they shood be. If they get in our way we will get in theirs. And we will vote. Vote them right out of office and into the unemployment line.

It comes as no suprise that Emma Gonzalez spoke last. She has been the most visible and vocal spokesperson since this whole movement began. While many think she and Hogg and the others are capitalizing on this for fame (the NRA has disgustingly said they wish more of their friends had died) I truly believe they would give all of the attention back for an instance of normalcy in their last year of high school. A year that should be spent getting ready for prom and buying supplies for college. If you havent seen Emma Gonzalez’s speech you must watch it. She spoke for only 2 minutes. And then she filled the TV screen with 4 minutes and 20 seconds of dead air.

Why did she stand there in silence for almost 5 minutes? The answer is simple, and heartbreaking, and goosebumping-giving: 380 seconds. 6 minutes and 20 seconds. That is how long it took for the Stoneman shooter² to take the lives of 17 innocent people in yet another school. 6 minutes and 20 seconds and those 17 people “would never” again. Gonzalez last words should speak to every high school student in every school in every district in America: “Fight for your lives. Before it is someone else’s job.” As she walked defiantly away from the stage, I started crying once again. This time it was tears of joy. As long as these students keep going, I know they will be successful. I only pray that that don’t lose faith or give up the fight.

I was going to end the blog here, but I got to thinking about the power of the silence that Gonzalez provided us with for almost four-and-a-half minutes. It reminded me of one of the greatest songs of all time – in my opinion of course: Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence. Although the song has mysterious origins (Simon & Grafunkel have never truly said how it came to be) most people believe it was written in response to JFK’s assasination. It became a pivotal song during the 1960s counter culture movement and I love how haunting the lyrics are. It also plays a pivotal role in the 2006 Emilio Estevez-directed film Bobby, a film about the assasination of RFK, JFK’s younger brother.

If you have never seen it, the film is brilliantly done. There is no actor playing Bobby Kennedy. The film is more about the people who are touched by Bobby Kennedy’s assassination than the woulda-been President. The final few minutes as Bobby is shot by Sirhan Sirhan, as panic envelops the Ambassador Hotel, the scene is played out brilliantly by actors like Helen Hunt, Elijah Wood, Martin Sheen, Nick Canon, and Lindsay Lohan.

One of the parting thoughts I want to leave you with are the words of an actual speech that Bobby Kennedy gave on violence. While I cannot find the exact date of the speech is rings true now more than ever. Kennedy says he wants to:

…speak briefly to you about the menace of violence in America, which again stains our lands and everyone of our lives. It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of violence are black and white. Rich and poor. Young and old. Famous and unknown. They are most important of all, human beings, loved and needed by other human beings. Noone, no matter where he lives or what he does, can be certain who next will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours. Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has violence ever created? Whenever any American’s life has been taken by another American unnecessarily, whether it is done in defiance of the law, or in the name of the law. Whether it is done by a gang in cold blood. Or in passion….. Whenever we tear at the fabric of our lives…. Whenever we do this, the whole nation is degraded. Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence, that ignores our common hummanity….”

As I rewatched that scene over the weekend it left my eyes once again tear stained. Few families have as public a history with gun violence in this nation as the Kennedy family, and the prophetic nature of Robert Francis Kennedy’s words should strike us all over the head in today’s society. It speaks to the current issues we are failing to fix all too well: The rise of gangs. The rise of police brutality and police killing of innocent people. The rise of us losing our shared humanity and existence on this planet. We would all do well to reflect on Kennedy’s words in the coming weeks. This writer knows he will, and he hopes you will join him.

I want to leave you with one final thought that a lifelong church family friend (shoutout to Mama Wannamacher) left me with. They are not her words, and they are not my words. They are the words of the real environmentalist and activist and woman who would be so proud of the students who attend the high school named after her. They are the words of Marjory Stoneman Douglas: “Be a nuisance when it counts. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join action. Be depressed, and discouraged, and disapppointed at failure & the disheartening effects of ignorance and bad politics – but do not ever give up!”

Join me friends. I don’t plan on giving up. I hope you wont either. Never Again, because Enough is ENOUGH.

Author’s Notes

¹Video Credits for the video showing us on MSNBC go to Meghan Byrd. She, unlike me, was actually smart enough to remember to record the coverage of the March. Thanks Meghan!

²Any Time this writer makes postings related to mass shootings, he will never mention the perpertrator of those vile atrocities by names. I will play no part in furthering the infamy that they so desparately desire.

Act 1: March Madness – The Broadway Musical

I vividly remember the first time I went to The Peace Center here in Greenville for a show. My great aunt “Marcar” took me and my siblings to see the traveling production of Disney’s Beauty and The Beast. She pulled some strings and was able to get us seats in a box. The first time in my life I felt bouije – and I ain’t even sorry about it. I remember wheeling my chair all the way to the edge of the box and resting my head on the balcony. I did not move until the show was over. I was enamored with everything. The costumes were gorgeous, Broadway people are beautiful (jawlines for DAAAYYYYSSS) and everyone sings and dances throughout the entire thing! This is how life truly should be.

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Over the years I have kept every single playbill from every single production I have been to. They are in a shoebox under my bed. I have laughed, sobbed, cringed, held my breath, exhaled loudly, prayed, and so many more actions at these productions. There have been a couple that are rare enough to have made me do all of these in one evening. Many of these shows can teach us so much about life, who we are, and how we can be better versions of ourselves. The theatre going experience is something I wish we could require for all people. It is a vital art form that deserves protected status in our society. What does it need protection from? The constant barrage of attacks to funding and the continued questioning of whether or not it is necessary.

Money Makes the World Go Round. And apparently to use that money you should have something called a budget (I don’t know what that means either). When making budgets you don’t always have enough money and so everybody gets less or somethings get cut from your budget all together.When it comes to making budgets for funding everything from countries to schools, one of the first things that gets cut is funding for the arts and other subjects (including social studies) that get lumped into the category of humanities. This is both wrong and shortsighted. It will save you pennies today but it will hurt you in the long run. If you disagree, thats fine, but you are still wrong and now you go rock on somebody else’s less cultured front porch. Research backs it up.

Studies have shown effective arts integration raises test scores AND increases social learning (empathy, tolerance, etc.) skills that are vital in everyday life. You don’t like that one go and Google it yourself. There are thousands of studies that have come to similar conclusions. And with all that information our current Predicament President continues to advocate for cutting funding or completely eliminating funding altogether for important programs like The National Endowment of the Arts, The National Endowment for Humanities, and dozens of other agencies. I want even mention the millions he wants to spend on a military parade that the military doesn’t even want; I will just leave you with today’s hashtag instead: #overcompensating .

If none of the above sways you on why the theatre is important and why you should go, allow me to give you my personal reasons as to why you should give it a chance. This list could have equaled the number of minutes in a year, but for the sake of brevity, I will keep it to the most important.

#1 – Theatre is Life.

There is a well known saying that says “Theatre is Life. Cinema is Art. Television is Furniture.” While I don’t 100% agree with it putting theatre completely above cinema and television I do feel it is the most authentically human experience you can observe – because you are actually watching people do it. Oprah once struck me over the head with one of her many pieces of wisdom during a commencement address when she said:

“There is a common denominator in the human experience that we all share. We all want to know that what we do, what we say, who we are matters. We want to be validated. Every single person in every single confrontation in every single encounter than you have is really about do you see me? Do I matter to you?”

That speaks perfectly to the crux of every single Broadway Production I have ever seen. I challenge you to try and come up with a show where that is not a major piece of the plot line or one of the character’s journey throughout the story.

#2 – Theatre is for Everyone.

Every Broadway Queen just said “YAS!”  There is a reason the LGBTQ community gravitates towards the theatre. It was the first place that truly accepted them for who they were. There is a reason theatre kids literally glow when they get on stage. It gives them permission to exude the art that is a fundamental piece of their souls. And while they are on that stage people will clap and cheer for them instead of tease or belittle them. Some of the greatest Broadway songs of all time speak directly to this point. While many of us have been moved to tears the lyrics behind these powerful songs are so relatable because we all want to find our place in the sun where we belong. If you would like examples look here. Or here. Or this one too. But don’t forget about this one. And last, but certainly not least, Shrek! Two years ago the Tonys had the tough job of airing on the same Sunday that 49 beautiful souls lost their lives at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. James Corden scrapped his entire opening monologue that was filled with what I am sure are funny jokes to do a somber cold open that was backed up by the Broadway community’s most important stars say this:

It was powerful to watch. It was an elegant remembrance that didn’t darken the whole night of an awards ceremony. It was a hug the LGBTQ community needed. It was proof that somewhere there is a place for us all.

#3 – Theatre is Political Activism

As a history teacher allow me a chance to give you some historical background. HIV/AIDS was discovered and diagnosed in the early 1980s. There was no funding and research being done by the government – President Reagan didn’t even say the word AIDS until the late 1980s. The LGBTQ community was hit hard and the Broadway community was being decimated. Writers, choreographers, musicians, dancers, and singers in the prime of their lives were dying by the hundreds. When they government offered little help the Broadway community began doing it themselves. They have been protecting their own and many others since then. Broadway Cares and Equity Fights AIDS were created and eventually merged into Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The organization has raised over $285 million for HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, education, and research funding. And how might they have done that? By singing. and By getting naked for Broadway Bares. Attending a Broadway Bares is one of my bucket list items.

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One of the only tame photos I could find from Broadway Bares, Google though. You will see what I am talking about in point #4. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

#4 – Theatre is Sexy, Talented Eye Candy

jeremy jordan

One of my favorite things about a show being in town at The Peace Center is it makes scrolling through certain “social networking” apps a whole lot more fun. Most actors (and yes I am including females in this statements) range from early 20s to late 40s. Then men have jawlines and cheek bones for days. I would literally chop of my arm for hair that swoops like theirs does. Ladies have impeccable smiles and legs that come up to most women’s shoulders. And I am just gonna throw this out there. Broadway booties are better than non Broadway booties. On top of all that going for them, they sing and dance. At. The. Same. Time. It is just not fair. If you are skeptical of my analysis perhaps you will take the advice of the lady who sits behind me. She is somewhere in the area we would call middle aged and she comes to the show with her sister. Last time Book of Mormon was in town when one of the Mormons appeared on stage she whispered (my teacher hearing kicked in) to her sister: “he could ring my doorbell any day, but I would prefer he ring at night.” I laughed through most of the first act. Sebastian Stan and Jeremy Jordan are all you need to know. Or you can check out other actors and actresses yourself.

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Sebastian Stan. He even makes the name itself sound sexy.

#5 – Theatre is an escape from life about life.

This one might just be the most important of all. Theatre is about real life, but that only matters because it let’s you forget about your own life for a few moments. You may be stupid. You may be ugly. But you are HERE! Take a load off our your Kinky Boots and let some awesome people sing to you just how wonderful it is when you go “dancing through life.” You will love it! They will make you laugh, make you laugh and beg for more all in under three hours. After its over I will take you to a whoopee spot – and you don’t even have to rouge your knee. Only an artistic medium like the Broadway Stage could accurately portray the bitch of living.¹

To have a full circle moment from where I started in the beginning I will leave you with this: A Great NC State basketball coach who once led the WolfPack to a National Championship. Years later as he was dying from terminal cancer, Jim Valvano let the world in on an excellent piece of wisdom. He said there were three things you should do each day for it to be a good day. Those three things were: Laugh, Think, and Have your emotions be so powerful they move you to tears. Coach Valvano was right. Its a helluva day when you laugh, think, and cry in one day. So go to the theatre, and have yourself a helluva day.

 

¹  10 Points for Slytherin (are you surprised I was sorted there) if you can tell me how many musical references I have in this post and what musicals they came from.  Good Luck!