I know. My parents live in a well-to-do bedroom community in North Carolina. I am a tiny, perky blonde girl. I give hugs willingly and smile a little too wide.
Recognizing this, I am forced to acknowledge an awkwardly poignant question I was recently asked:
Who do you think you are? Why should anyone care about a young-sheltered-white-girl-from-the-suburbs’ opinions about the world?
As I continue moving forward, bringing this project into the public arena, I must address this reality of how I will be perceived. From the outside, from what many people assume about my background, I could very well be perceived as a Pollyanna or a privileged idealist. So, if you don’t mind, let me shed a little light on how the issues that prompted this project (economic, racial, and gender equality and their promotion through the arts) were implanted in my brain.
When I was two years old, my mom moved us into a small apartment in the projects of Greensboro, NC. As a newly-single mom, she struggled to make rent and put food on the table, but an unanticipated benefit to her labor was that, during my formative years, I was surrounded by a diverse cast of characters of all races, personality types, professions, income levels, and sexual orientations.
Between the Quaker meeting we attended, our neighbors, and a massive Catholic extended family, I learned how to make friends with anyone and everyone because, if I wanted playmates, I had to be ready to latch onto anyone with a spare moment. Anyone could share my books and crayons if they wanted to hang out and talk for a while. There were no hesitations or assumptions based on arbitrary class or racial distinctions because, well, we were all playing together.
When my mom married my amazing stepdad, we moved to the suburbs. The population there was not exactly diverse, but once again, through a church and a large network of compassionate people, I was as generously taught and cared for by several mentors as I was by my own parents.
While attending Barnard College in New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the world, to major in art history and arts education, I was bombarded once again by the authentic compassion of strangers. A tender hug on the subway when homesick tears overwhelmed me. A talkative stranger stepping in and shepherding me to the train station when I was about to be mugged.
People in every community in which I have lived – Greensboro, Kernersville, New York, Boulder, Bethel, Durham, Raleigh, Cape Town – have accepted and cared for me with open hearts.
My personal “community” is everywhere and nowhere. My “community” is anyone who will share my books and crayons and hang out and talk for a while.
Although “art” in New York can lean toward esoteric elitism, it was there that I discovered artists who actively used their art to discuss social inequality. Hypnotized by their audacity and vitality, I was hooked. As I come into contact with more and more artists who are using their work to change the world and to promote equality, The 13/13/13 Sketchbook Project emerged as an experiment on how much information I can gather about theses techniques through an open-hearted connection to individuals around the world.
So I suppose that my answer to the initial question is this:
I do not assume to be any sort of expert on improving living conditions or inciting revolution or grassroots organization. Nor to I assume to be free of incorrect assumptions or biases. But my heart is open.
In the end, this project is simply sharing an experience of communion between people, two at a time, over a desire to use their meager talents to work for a greater good. And, hopefully, this project sparks someone to talk to another person over books and crayons about how they want to change the world.
When we’re asked how we meet and connect with local people everywhere we travel, we admit to having no magic answer. The orientation is pretty simple, though: understand that there are people — engaging people — all around you, many of whom are just as curious about you as you are about them. (“Tourism, A People’s Business” by Uncornered Market)
So tell me — who is your community? If your community is not bound to a place, then what elements tie you together? How does your identity with a certain community define who you are?