Above my desk hangs a photo of my grandfather from when he was two years old. He’s standing in front of the shotgun house where he was born in Excel, Ala., his grandmother to his right and his three older brothers to his left. My grandfather’s mother died young, leaving the four boys to be raised by their grandmother. He would grow up, meet my grandmother, open a grocery store, raise three children and do a thousand other things that make up a life before passing away on July 9,1974. I didn’t know him well — I was four when he died — but even so, his story is my story. The photo reminds me that we are still connected, by DNA and shared history, by places and memories and faith and family.
But who I am extends beyond my family ties. Countless others have affected my life, and my life has affected countless others. My co-workers, close friends, neighbors and others I see around Oak Cliff now play a daily role in shaping my story, and my story shapes theirs.
Speaking to a student group in 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “. . . all life is interrelated, and in a real sense we are all courting an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”
Mutuality suggests deeply linked relationships and respect, but also responsibility for one another. It’s the recognition that we need one another.
I believe that in Oak Cliff we see this principle of mutuality more fully at work than in other parts of the city. We value diversity, welcome different cultural expressions and generally want to help and care for one another. But we have a long way to go. We struggle to cross racial, ethnic, economic and lifestyle lines. We struggle to even cross the street. Neighbors often don’t know the people nearest to them. We fail to recognize just how much we need one another, and consequently, we don’t make the effort to cultivate relationships that go deeper than the surface.
What can we do? We can pursue new relationships and deepen existing relationships. We can slow down long enough to notice those who seem isolated or hurt and assume a courageous responsibility for helping them. We can give a few hours a month for the betterment of our neighborhoods.
Only together can we wrestle with, discover and celebrate the answers to life’s biggest questions. Why are we here? What does it mean to be human, with respect to other creatures and the environment? What does a just and peaceful city look like? What is the meaning of this story in which we all play a part?
My story is your story, and yours is mine.