A Dreamer’s World

By Tammy Johnson Apr 05, 2008

I was on my way to an event commemorating the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death when it hit me. As I pulled out a few dollars to leave the maid in the hotel, I was transported back to Durban, South Africa, 2001. Part of the ARC delegation to the UN Conference Against Racism, I stayed at a hotel that overlooked the majestic Indian Ocean. On a daily basis, my heart would break when Black African maids and custodians would advert their eyes as they greeted us “good morning.” It shook me to my core. The last morning of our stay in Durban I made a point to meet the maid assigned to my room. “Morning Diane” I offered, first glancing at her name tag and then in her eyes. Placing the money decidedly in her hand, at that moment I thought of my grandmother. Alberta, or Bird, as they call her, cleaned houses for years in Gibson County Tennessee, less than hundred miles from the Memphis hotel room I sat in today. So today I think about grandma Bird, Diane in Durban, and the sisters pushing vacuums at the Comfort Inn. And I can’t help but think about the Latina scrubbing floors at five star hotels at Hilton Head, Georgia, the Ecuadorian, Haitian and Mexican brothers back in the kitchens of New York City. And on this day when we remember a king among men, I also cannot forget about the Black sanitation workers who walked Memphis picket lines in 1968, with signs declaring I Am A Man around their necks. It’s not easy to take the noose of oppression from around your neck and replace it with a declaration of who you really are. But that is exactly what people of color around the world are doing. Some of them are attending Green for All’s The Dream Reborn conference, in Memphis, Tennessee. This is a place where all kinds of definitions are being challenged. One is what it means to be green and still be accountable to a community with so many needs. Will the new Green Economy mean billions more in profits for the Wal-Marts of the world that simply label their products earth-friendly? Or will it mean more jobs, cleaner air and water and accessible healthy foods for Blacks in the Bronx, New York and Vietnamese in Richmond, California? If these new Black, Asian, Latino and Native green activists have their way, there will be no doubt that their communities will reap the benefits first. Back in Gibson County, the fried green tomatoes, tasty chicken and strawberry desert that Grandma Bird fed us came from our garden and farmers in neighboring towns. But the hours of hard labor and decades struggle that produced that bounty should also not be forgotten. As our struggles continue to evolve in the 21st century we must remember that it is the people behind numbers, the ideas and the innovations that really matter. It is through their self-determination and daily struggle that we find the real meaning of our collective humanity.