Tag Archives: Justice

And Away We Go!

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She’s at it again, they’ll say! Will she ever settle down?

Yes, I am at it again. And no, other than the whole got married part, I doubt my incurable wanderlust will dissipate.

This summer, I will be heading to South Africa, as part of Rutgers University South Africa Initiative.

We will be meeting with universities, schools, community organizations, government officials, and change agents. How do schools and education more broadly lead to social change? In post-Apartheid Africa, I will learn more about how schools educate and communities transform through major social changes.

One of the things I am interested in is how social change, reconciliation, and forgiveness have and continue to shape a community marked by violence and racism. How have students help lead that change? What lessons or observations will I learn/make during my visit that will relate to some of the struggles we face in our own country?

We had our first of a handful of orientations last night where I met the other 8 or so participants–who are PhD students (like me), current teachers, masters students, or education and community leaders.

I hope you will join me in this journey by:

  • Reading the book Knowledge in the Blood: Confronting Race and the Apartheid Past by Jonathan D. Jansen and/or Social justice and transformative learning: Culture and identity in the United States & South Africa by Darren Clarke and Saundra Tomlinson-Clarke with me and sharing your insights
  • Following my blog
  • Suggesting other reading or giving me travel recommendations

Fair warning: True to my previous entries about my travels to India, Nepal, and Thailand, these posts (as demonstrated) will not be short entries. Sorry not sorry.

Why South Africa?

Listen to the Day of Affirmation speech Robert F. Kennedy gave at the University of Capetown during his 1966 trip–even just the first minute and 15 seconds is enlightening.

I know why the caged bird sings

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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
an the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou

I have always loved poetry and these last several weeks I keep coming back to the above poem. I keep visualizing the free bird in contrast to the caged bird. I think between the racially charged news stories this week and the wonderful visual of wanderlust, this poem is just on the brain.

Wanderlust you ask? When I am on the move, experiencing the new and unfamiliar, I feel exhilaration. I can relate to thinking of another breeze and naming the sky my own.

But that leads me to wonder…what cages me in? What is there in my life that makes me or others feel that our wings are clipped, that our feet our tied–that keep us from reaching our potential? What cages do other people face that haven’t even occurred to me? What do we allow to hold us back? What cages others in that we allow by our silence?

Each time I travel, especially to somewhere foreign (not in distance so much as familiarity of culture), I learn something new. I learn to see from someone else’s perspective. And I learn more fully the types of cages that entrap others.

The universality of this poem is that we all have both feared and longed for things unknown. The oppression is very tangible in the poem–the bird wishes for freedom, but the narrow cage and bars of rage physically limit the bird’s potential, its ability to fly, to be free.

I was not an English major and I don’t have much experience analyzing poetry, but I love this poem. There is such a strong desire here, a spirit in the caged bird who wants so much to be free, even if it means facing the unknown. Angelou writes with such a clear voice, I can almost hear her reading this and feeling it, too. She without question knows why the caged bird sings–she has felt the bondage of the birdcage and she is intimately familiar with the bird’s cry. Like listening to a blues singer who has felt the pain of heartbreak, the reader is fully aware of Angelou’s fearful longing and can sympathize with her cry.

Poems, like music, have a way of bypassing your head, only to land on your heart. They have the unique ability to pose serious questions and critique society in a way that prose is often to direct for. (If I had a talent for writing in meter, maybe I would switch from prose to verse!)