To the stars … one spoonful at a time

In my elementary-school years, Kansas Day represented a specific set of craft projects. The sunflower. The meadowlark. The cottonwood tree. The buffalo. As we advanced, we learned the meaning of our state motto: “Ad astra per aspera” — that is, “To the stars through difficulties.”

Yet we heard little mention of Kansas’ most stellar historical aspects. Its 1861 entrance to the U.S. as a free state tipped the balance for a nation marred by slavery. High ideals didn’t stop there. Women had an eight-year head start at the polls in the Sunflower State, while national politicians dithered about giving women the vote. Kansas led the way for workers’ rights, establishing the workman’s compensation system, the city-council system designed to eliminate mafia control and graft, and, perhaps most famously, the Brown v. Board of Education case that led to desegregation of schools.

Our state, as the young folks would say, is badass.

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At the same time, we have somehow managed to retain the wholesome kindheartedness that I ached for during my five years in Chicago. I missed the circular horizon. I missed the stars. I missed being able to take people at face value, a social navigation method that actually works in my home state.

The welcoming nature of Kansans is well-known in points far from the geographical center of North America — yep, that’s another Kansas claim to fame. One of our international student alumni at SCCC, a student from Japan, based her decision to study abroad on an advisor’s advice to “go to Kansas, or maybe Nebraska. People there are friendly and kind.” Sachie Shibachev liked it so well she stayed, married, had a child, and has made a home in Meade, where she fulfills her original goal of working as a nurse.

In Liberal, famously named for the generosity of early homesteader Seymour Rogers and his wayside water well, we continue to live out this ethic of open arms for the weary soul. In 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau recorded the population of foreign-born individuals in Seward County as 23%, the highest rate for all counties in the nation. With residents from Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela, Somalia, Burma, Vietnam, Sudan, Laos, Thailand, and a smattering of European nations, thanks in part to our robust international student population, it is truly possible to meet the world right here at home.

SCCC will celebrate all of this — the history of forward thinking, the concern for those left on the margins, the opportunity to ascend through hard work and a neighborly welcome — at a potluck birthday party for our state on January 29. From 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., tables in the SCCC Library will be laden with delicious dishes that reflect our state.

Screen Shot 2019-01-23 at 2.19.34 PM.pngWe’ll serve homemade chicken and noodles over mashed potatoes, chili with cinnamon rolls, and bierocks — all familiar favorites of Kansas natives. Authentic Mexican food, from fried tacos to flautas, and even tamales if we’re lucky will provide a taste of the good things we enjoy from across our southern border. International and vegetarian options will round out the options, including Indian samosas, Greek Baklava, Thai and Filipino foods, real Chinese, and more.

The venture reminds me of another core “welcome to Liberal” moment I experienced after moving here in 1993. Halfway across the world, the African nation of Somalia had collapsed, and families fled with next to nothing. Somehow, a large group of Somali young people ended up in Liberal to work at the packing plant. These were men and women barely out of their teens, well-educated, with expectations of becoming engineers or surgeons — but thanks to politics, they had to start over.

Through a friendship forged at the gym, my husband wrangled an invitation for himself and his reporter wife to an Eid feast at a rental home on the northeast side of Liberal. We arrived 30 minutes late because I couldn’t decide whether or not to wear a scarf over my hair to show respect to our hosts, as well as communicating my own respectability. We needn’t have worried. The men had just finished slaughtering the goat as we stepped into the living room, where a table cloth on the floor served as a dining table, and the women proffered cups of hot cardamom tea and bananas.

Hours later, we sat cross-legged on the floor to share a feast as promised. At one point in the evening, our hosts had paused to pray on mats facing Mecca. The feeling in the room was one of dutiful respect for tradition, the same way visiting relatives will attend Sunday morning church with aging parents, even if their own belief system has shifted.

I don’t remember the goat stew itself, though I marveled at the repurposing of Mexican tortillas as bread for this African fare, and the Somali fondness for super-sweet orange soda. What stands out most is the laughter as we ate together. The willingness to share stories that painted a vivid picture of lives not unlike ours — family living arrangements, school days, the difficulties of meeting parental expectations, worry about grandparents’ health.

Decades later, I often wonder what became of our young Somali neighbors. After a year or two of bone-wearying work and communal living, most had moved on to enroll in college and resume their expected life trajectory. Our nation and state have weathered terror attacks, a second Gulf War and ongoing military struggles. The TSA now exists. And on our southern border and in coffee shops across town, tempers frequently flare as Kansans debate the current state of immigration.

We grapple with difficulties, indeed. The stars, though, are still there. Every night, in our small spot on the vast High Plains, we are free to look up and see the same lights shining that showed the way for the original Kanza people, the settlers and migrants that followed, and glimmer across continents.

In the meantime, let’s break bread together. Let’s sit down at the Kansas table for a meal that nourishes our bodies and offers company that can feed our minds as well. To love your neighbor, to share what you have, to smile at a stranger — that’s the Kansas way.

 

rachel colemanRachel Coleman is a recovering newspaper writer who currently serves as Executive Director of Marketing & P.R., and leads the Inclusivity & Civility Mover Team at SCCC. To read more of her columns, visit her blog at rachelcoleman.wordpress.com. This opinion column reflects the personal perspective of its author, and is not intended to reflect the official position of Seward County Community College.  

 

We the Future

Ismael Nazario - Munk One

Ismael Nazario

Ismael Nazario is a formerly incarcerated prison reform, social justice and human rights advocate. He works as a database systems analyst for the Fortune Society, helping those at high risk for recidivism from Rikers reintegrate into society after release. Before his work at the Fortune Society, Ismael worked with court-involved youth. He became passionate about helping young people and was inspired to stand up for these disenfranchised voices. Ismael has worked with numerous projects such as the Raise the Age campaign, Banning Solitary Confinement, and Rikers Reform. In 2015, he was recognized for his contributions and received the Peabody Award for Community Activism. Through his firsthand experience within the criminal justice system, Ismael focuses his work on numerous social justice and human rights injustices, not only to shed light on these issues, but to encourage others to take action and become a part of the solution.

Amanda Gorman - Kate DeCiccio

Amanda Gorman

The ‘next great figure of poetry in the US’, 19-year-old Amanda Gorman is a published author and the first ever Youth Poet Laureate of the United States of America. She has spoken around the country from the UN to the Library of Congress, alongside Lin-Manuel Miranda and Hillary Clinton Her first poetry book, “The One For Whom Food Is Not Enough”, was published in 2015 by Pemanship Books. She is Founder and Executive Director of One Pen One Page, which promotes literacy through free creative writing programming for underserved youth. She is a Harvard junior in the top of her class, and writes for the New York Times  student newsletter The Edit.

Amanda Nguyen - Shepard Fairey

Amanda Nguyen

In 2013, Amanda Nguyen was raped while she was in college in Massachusetts. She chose not to press charges immediately after police officers informed her there was a 15-year statute of limitations for rape in Massachusetts and she could press charges at a later date when she was ready. She had a rape kit performed and discovered that, if she did not report the crime to law enforcement, her rape kit would be destroyed after 6 months if an extension request was not filed — but was not given official instructions on how to file those papers. Nguyen met other survivors with similar stories and founded Rise, a nonprofit organization which is aimed to protect the civil rights of sexual assault and rape survivors. The organization was named Rise to “remind us that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can rise up and change the world.” Rise’s goal is to pass a Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights in all 50 U.S. states as well as on the national level.

Isra Chaker - Kate DeCiccio

Isra Chaker

Isra Chaker is a certified project manager, campaigns and advocacy expert, social justice activist, and public speaker. She serves as the Refugee Campaign Lead at one of the leading international NGOs in the world, Oxfam, where she advocates for vulnerable people such as refugees, asylees, temporary protected status (TPS) holders, and opposes discriminatory policies. Personally impacted by the Muslim Ban, and not able to reunite with her extended family in Syria, Isra is passionate in her work for families and a firm believer in positive social change. She says “Change is On Us”. She created a social media platform @IsraSpeaks to empower people around the world to use their personal narrative to become engaged and active citizens who use their voice. Choosing a life of purpose to break stereotypes of Muslim women because of harassment and discrimination she endured growing up is the reason she is a powerful, eloquent and successful speaker.

Leah the Activist - Rommy Torrico

Leah the Activist

In Washington D.C., in front of an estimated 30,000 people, 12-year-old activist Leah from Miami spoke about what it’s like to “live in constant fear” that ICE will take her mother: “I am here today because the government is separating and detaining refugee parents and children at the border who are looking for safety. Our government also continues to separate U.S. citizen children like me from their parents. This is evil! It needs to stop! I live in the constant fear of losing my mom to deportation. My mom is strong, beautiful, and brave. She is also a person who taught me how to speak up when I see things that aren’t fair. ICE wants to take away my mom from me. I don’t want to live with this fear. It’s scary. I can’t sleep. I can’t study. I am stressed. I am afraid that they will take my mom away while she is at work, out driving or at home. We cannot allow them to keep hurting families, communities, and children. I know that together, we can make things better for families and kids. I want to be an example to other kids who are going through the same problems as me. I want to tell kids at the border and all over the country not to give up and fight for their families. We are all human! And deserve to be loved and cared for! We are children! Our government has to do the right thing and stop separating us from our parents. And stop locking us up. I won’t give up fighting for the right to stay with my mom. I am not asking for a favor! It is my right to stay as a child! To live in peace with my mother and the rest of my family!

Lindsey Amer - Rommy Torrico

Lindsay Amer

Lindsay is a queer activist, artist, and storyteller based (also born and raised) in NYC. They are most well-known for creating & hosting their indie webseries, Queer Kid Stuff, for which they were named a Rising Star by GLAAD and a Queero by them.us. They obtained their BS from Northwestern University in theater and gender studies and their MA from Queen Mary University of London for theatre and performance studies. When they’re not completely overwhelmed by adulthood, they’re probably plotting ways to overthrow the patriarchy while playing their ukulele and cooking for their partner.

Lydia X. Z. Brown - Kate DeCiccio

Lydia X. Z. Brown

Lydia X. Z. Brown is a disability justice advocate, organizer, and writer whose work has largely focused on violence against multiply-marginalized disabled people, especially institutionalization, incarceration, and policing. While an undergraduate student at Georgetown University, Lydia co-founded the Washington Metro Disabled Students Collective for intersectional disability justice organizing, led multiple campaigns to reform university policies on disability access that led to creation of a dedicated pool of funding for sign language interpretation and real-time captioning as well as an access coordinator position responsible for public and non-academic programming, single-handedly founded and coordinated the first Lecture and Performance Series on Disability Justice, served two terms as Undersecretary for Disability Affairs with the Georgetown University Students Association, spurred the university to convene a Disability Justice Working Group, provided training to numerous student groups and university departments and offices, and served on the University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities’ consumer advisory council. Lydia is now a Public Interest Law Scholar at Northeastern University School of Law, where they serve as an active member of the Committee Against Institutional Racism, the Transgender Justice Task Force, and the Faculty Appointments Committee, and are a founding core collective member of the Disability Justice Caucus.

Paul S. John - Munk One

Paul S. John

Paul is a social justice advocate working endlessly to serve his community. As Base Building Lead Organizer at Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, he leads the organization’s efforts to build its membership and communicate its strategies and initiatives. As Membership and Recruitment chair of the NYC chapter of Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, Paul recruits and retains young activists in engaging ways for the chapter to further build next generation leaders to end anti-Black racism and systemic violence. As Manager of Mayoral Outreach at Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a program of the gun violence prevention organization Everytown for Gun Safety, Paul works with current and former mayors across the country to amplify their voices in support of legislation that will reduce gun violence.

Winter BreeAnne - Shepard Fairey

Winter BreeAnne

Winter BreeAnne is an unstoppable 17-year-old advocate who started her own nonprofit, become a youth ambassador for TOMS, and named one of Riverside, California’s Most Remarkable Teens. Labeled a budding activist, Winter says she’s just doing her civic duty. She wants to make a difference in the world and is using her voice to do so.

“I never saw myself as an activist, I just saw myself as playing my part in shaping the world that I want to see for our future,” she tells Teen Vogue. “Young people should have a say in our future and to some that looks like activism. [Activism] is literally just voicing your opinions, or if you can’t voice your opinions, using whatever gifts and talents you have to add to society and add to the world.”

Winter began her advocacy at 15 with the launch of her organization Black Is Lit. What began as an Instagram page meant to fill a void in black representation on the platform quickly expanded into a passion project. She toured elementary schools, promoting education in youth politics and the importance of voting.

Winter spearheaded one of the largest student demonstrations in U.S. history. As a national student leader for the group Women’s March Youth Empower, Winter helped organize the #ENOUGH: National Student Walkout in March. The demonstration took place exactly one month after the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and more than a million students in all 50 states participated.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez - Shepard Fairey

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

Earth Guardians Youth Director Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, (his first name pronounced ‘Shoe-Tez-Caht’) recently turned 18. He’s an indigenous climate activist, hip-hop artist, and powerful voice on the front lines of a global youth-led environmental movement. At the early age of six Xiuhtezcatl began speaking around the world, from the Rio+20 United Nations Summit in Rio de Janeiro, to addressing the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York city. He has worked locally to get pesticides out of parks, coal ash contained, and moratoriums on fracking in his state and is currently a lead plaintiff in a youth-led lawsuit against the federal government for their failure to protect the atmosphere for future generations.  Xiuhtezcatl has traveled across the nation and to many parts of the world educating his generation about the state of the planet they are inheriting and inspiring youth into action to protect the planet. Earth Guardian has grown to hundreds of crews in over 50 countries.