What Brings Us Together

Photo Credit: Rachael Adams.

We are a race divided.

We are divided by gender, class, race, geography, politics, and so much more. If you don’t believe me, go take a look at your Facebook news feed.

At this time, on my news feed, someone is trolling New England Patriots fans. Someone is arguing about how much money they would owe in taxes under Bernie Sanders tax plan. Someone is wishing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would run for U.S. President (yes, that’s a head scratcher). Somebody is complaining about digging out from snow, while another person is happy for a snow day.

We sit in isolation staring at our phones, not interacting with others. Some people spew hate speech against women in the gaming industry, Muslims, non-Caucasians (mostly black) and it goes on. It’s easy because, despite the highest population on earth ever in the history of the globe, we have made ourselves isolated in our own bubbles, uninterested or unwilling to become involved in other humans. It’s easy to say things online without repercussions, so… we do.

If you really take a hard look at the divisive issues in our nation and world, there’s an attitude at the root of misogyny, racism, classism, and homophobia that has existed for as long as humanity has existed… tribalism.

Tribalism isn’t something new, and it isn’t going away, sadly. It has evolved, as it always does.

Tribalism used to be among actual tribes. Now it’s among different groups.The gay community. The black community. The Wall Street group. Christians. Muslims. Jews. Us. And them. It comes from a place of glorification of self over anyone else. If someone else can join me in my quest to prove everything I am and do, and the people I ally myself with are better…. then we get these faux-alliance tribes. I’m guilty of this personally too!

Inevitably, when people step out of their tribe and discover people from other tribes and the qualities they offer, then those tribal barriers break down. We’re not gay, straight, black, white, Christian or Muslim. We just are. And they just are. And together, we just are.

MLK day just passed and, for many, it was a day of service. People volunteered at shelters or other organizations on a mission to help others. Everyone I know who participated in the MLK Day of Service found it very rewarding, but to many, volunteering is not a comfortable thing.

We could talk in length about getting out of a comfort zone, but that’s a topic for a different day. Sometimes, breaking down tribal lines should be handled in smaller, more natural bite size pieces.

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Photo Credit: Katrina Tolentino.

Back in 2010, shortly after I moved to Austin, I posted on Facebook sometime in November about wanting to go to a park and have a pickup game of football. There was a lot of interest in this, but a lot of folks already had plans or were out of town. Over the next week, I gathered dates that interested parties could join and we decided on a mid-December Saturday.

Before long, it dawned on me that it was the holidays and we should do something with this. I brought in my friend who excelled in fundraising and event organizing and we collected toys for a local Austin school charity, local businesses donated coffee and breakfast tacos and.. we played football and had a blast.

This weekend, during the Blizzard of 2016, I posted an impromptu Facebook post, knowing that local residents in my neighborhood weren’t going to be able to go anywhere or do anything and would probably be cooped up. It was loosely based on the famous Washington D.C. Dupont Circle snowball fight that happens during every storm. I wanted to be in DC for it and then it dawned on me, Baltimore has it’s own park that would serve well for a neighborhood snowball fight.

After initial interest, it became clear there was A LOT of interest and so I made a public Facebook event. Within 36 hours, over 600 people RSVPd, with 1700 expressing interest. In reality, about 200 showed up. Check out the fantastic video below by neighborhood videographer and documentarian, Steve Celano.

Video Credit: Steve Celano.

What was astonishing about this scene wasn’t the immense amount of snow being thrown about. It was that everyone was happy! And they were happy to be together. To be clear, I only knew a handful of the several hundred people that came out, and I’d venture to guess that most people only knew a handful of people.

I watched (and participated) as blacks, whites, asians, hispanics, gays, straights, Muslims, Jews, and Christians all came together and had a blast. There was a Republican who dive bombed a Democrat with a snowball bigger than his head, while a gay man threw a well-positioned snowball into the back of a lesbian. And everyone loved it and didn’t care because we were having fun… together.

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Photo Credit: Shaun Collins.

Every weekend, as one of those crazy soccer fan, I join a barful of Liverpool supporters to watch our boys pull hamstrings. One of our number is a staffer for a Democratic Maryland state legislator. Another is a black Marco Rubio supporter. We all come together in commonality and hate no one… except Chelsea, but who doesn’t?

This happened back in Austin too when the local Baltimore Raven’s Nest got together every Ravens game day, take over a bar and have camaraderie. It didn’t matter our politics or religion. It just mattered that we were together.

736493_10151407631749396_314907652_oOne could argue that this just enhances tribalism. Instead of smaller tribes, you have bigger tribes. That argument wouldn’t be false, but I think there’s value in approaching togetherness and unity in a way that is manageable.

In a city like Baltimore, it’s cliché and unhelpful to say… we’re all in it together, because we’re not. But on a neighborhood basis, on a smaller “micro” scale, tribalism, I believe, can be reduced.

What makes us stronger is what brings us together. What makes us different should be a strengthening quality, not a divisive quality.