The Long Road

I didn’t know what I would write about given the fact I’ve felt a range of emotions since the presidential election.  Personally, as a woman of color, I felt anxiety around the direction of our country, especially as it relates to underrepresented groups.  As a staff member in OEI, I felt myself in this awkward juxtaposition of balancing my own personal sentiments regarding the effects of the verbally volatile nature of the election and my duty of ensuring that all members of our community feel accepted and included.  How would I find this balance?  How would I ensure that my compassion for others does not turn into apathy? How would I find it in me to support those who I perceive don’t support me and particular parts of my identity? I grappled with finding resolve to the aforementioned questions.  It wasn’t until the completion of my first marathon a little over a week ago, that was I able to find a solution.

A full marathon race is 26.2 miles.  Leading into the final days of preparation for the race, many articles and experienced marathoners often send cautionary tales of expecting the unexpected to occur and adjusting yourself accordingly in order to cross the finish line.  “Every marathon will have its mishaps, but you have to find a way to finish.”  That was the common theme I heard from those who completed the marathon journey before me, and words that absolutely came to fruition.  Every barrier I faced during my marathon race is representative of my quest and work for diversity and inclusion and ultimately how I was able to find solutions to the questions that troubled me post-election.

The first was the weather conditions on the particular day of the marathon.  It was November 20th.  The temperatures were around freezing and the wind speeds reached upwards of 40 mph.  The weather conditions were strenuous but could have been worse as the weather previously called for rain.  I would relate this barrier to the overall societal climate in the United States.  Yes, the climate is not in the best of conditions.  Yes, many individuals have used and continue to use the presidential election’s rhetoric as justification to openly harass people from underrepresented groups.    In spite of what is going on in our societal climate, I am still in a position where my opinions and voice can be heard.  There are many people in our international communities who may not share the same privilege as myself in that regard.

My second barrier was the absence of friends and family on particular portions of the course. During miles 6 through 21, I unexpectedly ran alone.  My family was supposed to see me around mile 14.  Unfortunately they got mixed up on the course and missed me by a mile.  I was supposed to see friends around mile 19 and they were running late.  They too missed me.  While I was disheartened in the moment that I didn’t see the familiar faces I was looking for, I couldn’t be distracted by their absence.  This barrier was representative of the disappointment I felt by the lack of advocacy from certain family and friends during and after the election itself.  Sometimes people will support you.  Sometimes they won’t.  While support is invigorating and gives you momentum to complete any task you may face, understanding the lack thereof cannot be the determining factor in you deciding to conquer your goals or press forward.

The next barrier I faced occurred around mile 19; my legs began to spasm and cramp.  I had to stop multiple times (even though I had a specific timed finish in mind), to stretch and loosen my legs to prevent further cramping.  I relate this particular barrier to the emotional drain we may experience in attempting to validate the importance of diversity and inclusion to those individuals who may not be as vividly aware of their need.  Just as I had to take a break and stretch, comrades of our work also have to practice self-care.  It’s okay to take a break.  It’s perfectly fine to take a moment to regroup and recharge before continuing on.

My last barrier was the mental exhaustion I experienced at mile 23.  I was done and ready to tap out.  I wanted the race to be over but I knew I wasn’t finished yet.  I relied on my faith in God to carry me the rest of the way.  Of course, this barrier was no different than any hardship we face that may burden us or cause us to be weary.  In spite of whatever conditions confront us, how tired or emotionally fatigued we may feel from fighting on behalf of diversity and inclusion, we have to find something, whether that’s our spirituality or faith in humanity and goodness, to inspire us to continue pressing forward.  My marathon race is comparative to our marathon on behalf of creating inclusive environments for all irrespective of one’s identity.  There will be hurdles and barriers, mishaps and exhaustion, but let none of those things stop us from doing what’s right for all of us. =)

Jenn