My Bus Ride Revelation

How Thanksgiving, a long line in Harlem, and the Ferguson protests intertwine

2014 has been a whirlwind of a year for me in the most enlightening way possible. As the ‘official’ holiday to give thanks approaches and in wake of the Ferguson protests, I feel inclined to reflect on all of this. Here it goes.

Earlier today, I was en route back to my beloved home of New York for a highly anticipated Thanksgiving break. For me, especially, this day has always been one of my favorites — not because of the heaps of food but because for many years it brought my family together in a way that no other holiday did. Over the past five years, however, our family gatherings grew smaller and smaller. Suddenly, our party of 25 relatives dwindled down to a group of maybe 7 or 8.

This angered me for the first few years. “Why aren’t people coming?! We have all this food prepared but no one to eat it!” I valued quantity over quality and naively assumed that if more people came, the greater success our Thanksgiving would be.

On my bus ride home this evening, I noticed a very long line of middle-aged black adults in Harlem; this line probably wrapped around the entire block. As the bus moved forward, I was eager to see what the final destination could be only to find a small red awning with the words “HARLEM YMCA” printed in white letters. I was intrigued to know what the line was for that I searched it on my phone, but I sank into my seat when I found the answer. I was heartbroken. For 1–3 hours, parents had been waiting in line to take home a free turkey to their disadvantaged families.

I went through three types of emotions after seeing this line. At first, I felt ashamed. Here I was, measuring success by the number of relatives who would show up to a party while, not too far away from me, some viewed just one turkey as a successful holiday.

I did not have to stand in line tonight. My family did not fall into the category of ‘disadvantaged.’

I then felt angry. Were these people standing in line because they could not get jobs? Why was there such a lack of employment opportunities for these individuals? Every person on that line was a black adult — why are there not enough effective programs in place that focus on addressing the correlation between poverty and race? A million questions ran through my mind as I tried to draw all sorts of links between community development, economic infrastructure, and color.

My thoughts immediately raced back to the recent incidents in Ferguson, Missouri. I quickly realized that being angry, sad, and even confused wasn’t helping anyone. Violent protesting that result in fires, looting, and gunshots doesn’t help anyone. And most certainly, punishing innocent, peaceful protestors with tear gas, wooden bullets, and arrests doesn’t help anyone.

My final emotion was empowerment. Regardless of my opinion on the grand jury decision, it stands clear to me that changes need to be made in tackling racial issues. Yes, tweeting your frustration with a hashtag might raise awareness, but to be effective, we need to be proactive through more grassroots, community-driven approaches.

Don’t just research what organizations in your area are doing about such issues. Join them. None exist? Start a movement. Read the news. Becoming globally conscious can go a long way in transforming your outlook on life. Your actions and words matter. Use them wisely and in a way that creates positive social change.

As I mentioned, my family and I do not have to stand in that line tonight. This does not, under any circumstances, mean that we are better, stronger, or even happier. To me, it serves as a timely reminder that progress is still necessary. As a young Asian American female, I unfortunately have to deal with racial jokes and street harassment far too often. Sadly, I usually don’t speak up for myself. Whether you are a minority or not in the U.S., you directly impact how equal, free, and just this country will become.

And no one says it better than Michael Brown’s family following the grand jury decision: “Let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference.”

[Photo Credit: Jay Mantri]

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