A Glamorous Humanitarian

First, epic fail on my part for not taking any photos at the “Diana: A Celebration” exhibit at Frazier History Museum when a fierce fashionista friend and I went on November 5. This sad little screenshot is as good as it gets for a visual. Alas, moving on.

The panel introducing the exhibit—which features the Stewart (her maiden name) family jewels, a marvelous collection of mementos from Princess Diana’s childhood, her couture gowns and suits and her wedding dress—a brilliant copywriter calls Princess Diana a “glamorous humanitarian.” I decided upon reading it to make becoming a glamorous humanitarian my new lifetime goal. I want to have a profound and lasting effect on the lives of others and look amazing while doing it.

I have some serious work to do. “Lady Di” got a head start by descending from generations of fashion designers and philanthropists. I’m wearing nondescript grey sweatpants, an oversized blue thermal shirt, and a beige hooded sweater as I write this, and I’m in a better position to take charity right now than to give it, but it’s the humanitarian part that’s the real challenge.

My friend pointed out that Princess Diana immitated Christ in her humanitarian work. She touched people who were outcasts—physically touched them. She’s the glamorous princess who touched people with AIDS when most of the world thought you caught it the same way you catch a cold. Lepers and children who had limbs blown off from walking into land mines didn’t phase her. She didn’t forgive their sins and heal them, but she let them know she cared, and she made others care just by showing up.

I’m bad at that. Writing is my way of calling attention to racism and sexism. Writing is a talent and skill I was blessed with, and considering how rarely and how little I’m paid to use it, I genuinely feel like my essays, columns, articles and blog posts are a gift to the community even when a check follows publication. But the community often asks for, expects, and perhaps even needs, more.

I didn’t make phone calls or knock on doors for my candidates during the 2012 campaign. I don’t teach grammar or creative writing skills to youth, troubled or otherwise. I don’t serve in a mentoring or college/career prep program. I’ve never been a clinic escort or helped to organize a rally for women’s reproductive rights. I haven’t served food at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen since I was in high school. Prison ministry … Negative. And for the last few months, I’ve had scheduling conflicts keeping me from attending meetings with a nonprofit writing group full of women who aren’t even youth.

My pen, keyboard and sometimes my wallet go hard for the issues I care about, but reaching out to the people affected by those issues is the real challenge for me, especially when it comes to youth. People are always begging for help with the young people, but I don’t have the skill set and maybe not even the temperament to work with groups of kids of most ages. I also usually can’t relate to what they’re going through. I attended a discussion recently in which women relayed their concerns and visions forLouisville’sWest End, an area getting more attention since an unusual outbreak of violence in May 2012. At some point, the subject turned to mentoring young girls, and more than one woman said, in summary, we have to be transparent with girls and young women. We have to be real with them and tell them about all the dirt we did before we got to where we are today. Don’t hide that we had babies at 15, too, etc.

Easy, except for when you’re not hiding anything. There’s a lot of stuff I haven’t done and that I’m not convinced I would have done had my circumstances been different. Social justice junkie that I am, I see the systemic causes of those circumstances, but I don’t think I would have taken the route that would now give me the ability to be “real.”

So youth won’t be my glamorous humanitarian focus.  I acknowledge that working like a character on In Living Color’s “Hey Mon!” sketch makes doing anything besides sleeping, exercising and blogging in my down-time seem unrealistic, but the work I write about won’t get done through words alone. In 2013, it’s time to hit the ground.

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