Diversity

I work as a consultant for Montara Farm, a teambuilding retreat center located on hundreds of acres of horse pasture and forest stretching around the base of Wauka Mountain. In 2015 we hosted the diversity program from Georgia State University. Part of their program included an adventure workshop designed around leadership taking them across the property. They solved puzzles in the forest, navigated mazes in the fields, and climbed low ropes across the creek.

After my program finished, the faculty advisor Darius invited me to participate in their next activity, a race. He instructed everyone to line up at the base of the hill hand in hand. We stood in the low-land field still wet with morning dew. I stayed on the end next to Ari a six foot six black man studying to be a nurse.

Darius explained the rules. “You are competing to be first across the finish line. But, before we race, I’ll pose questions to you. Take a step based on your answer. And Never let go of one another’s hands. Wherever you end up, is where you will begin the race.”

“If you were born in the United States take one step forward.” I’m from Baltimore, so I took a step. Cristian left El Salvador as a child to escape conflict. He stayed put.

“If you grew up in an Urban setting take a step back.” I grew up on a farm outside of Reisterstown. I played in corn fields and rocky creek beds. We never locked our doors.  Ari was from downtown Atlanta. He played on concrete. His apartment growing up had a good strong deadbolt. He stepped back.

“If you have visible or invisible disabilities take a step back.” I remained, but Michelle moved back. She re-enrolled in school once she got her bipolar depression under control.

“If you have ever been discriminated against based on the color of your skin take a step back. If not, take a step forward.” While I stepped forward, Ari moved back. We stretched slightly to compensate the gap, but our hands remained firmly clasped. Never let go.

“If you came from a stable and supportive family environment take a step forward” I marched forward, thinking of my parents who worked diligently providing for my sister and I. Homework-help, birthday presents, and piano lessons danced in my mind. Ari stayed behind. His father left them when he was young, leaving his mother with three kids. She loved them intensely, that’s why she worked two jobs to provide for them and was never home.

“If you’ve ever been mocked based on your religion take a step back.” Sara, a beautiful girl in a deep indigo hijab with delicate silver trim stepped back.

“If you have been the victim of physical violence based on your gender, or sexual orientation take a step back.” I felt my arm pull as Ari retreated. School for me was friends, projects, and blowing off homework. Ari came out when he was young. School for him was a gauntlet. Our arms reached to bridge the expanse between us, but our hands still held tight. Never let go.

“If you’ve ever been followed in a store while you’re shopping step back.”

“If you feel intimidated by the police because of your race step back.”

“If you were ever offered a good job by a family member or a friend step forward.”

“If you feel you’ve been denied a job based on your ethnicity or sexuality step back.”

“If your parents were professionals step forward.”

“If you’ve ever had to wonder where your next meal comes from step back.”

“If your ancestors were forced to come to America step back.”

It went on until both Ari and I lay sprawled on the ground, toes pointed to touch our positions. Our cheeks pressed against the damp grass taking in the smell of earth. Only our fingertips still touched, curled and resolute. Never let go.

“Now everyone should release their hands and take a moment to look around.” We hesitated, but seeing the group comply, we released our grip. I rose and brushed the mud from my clothes. I noticed I was steps away from the finish. Whereas Ari and the others spread behind me, closer to where we began.

“On your mark. Get set. Go!”

No one moved. Everyone remained planted in their spot waiting. Eventually, Ari boomed a warm laugh that broke the silence. He walked towards me, and put his arm around my shoulder. We all headed back to the lodge underneath the gentle sun, the finish line ignored.