What follows is important stuff so stay with me on this.
Yesterday, I led a Red Boot Coalition Meeting at the Women’s Jail. Ann Crehore and Sarah Funkhouser were there too.
Sixteen women attended. The youngest was 18; the oldest, 51. We sat in chairs in a circle. Dressed in burgundy, blue or white suits, some of these women had been there 8 months. Others for years. Several were headed to Federal Prison. The rest would finish out their stay here.
I read the script we now use to kick off all of our meetings.
“Welcome to The Red Boot Coalition. ”
We are here because we recognize that right now the world needs us.
Some of us have known it all along. For others of us, we have just discovered this, but eventually we all heard and felt the call to that voice inside that says, “I matter.”
We are concerned. At times, even frightened by the current levels of polarization, apathy, fear and violence in our neighborhoods, communities and nations. Anger, fear, violence, us versus them…it’s everywhere.
We want to do something to make a difference, but we feel so small and powerless…like “What good can I do? How can I possibly change anything…make a difference?”
Well the part of us that says “I matter” and the part of the world that is crying out for help, have combined forces to bring us here, together.
We’ve talked, researched and explored just HOW we can help and we’ve discovered that what we need to do is really quite simple.
We just do the following 11 steps.”
After a few more words on how the meeting would be conducted, I read Step One.
“We came to see that, despite sometimes feeling helpless, angry and even apathetic about the current course of human events, we each play an essential role in our communities, our families, and our lives. We Matter.”
I continued, “And so, we’ve got about fifty minutes to share and ponder the following questions: Why do you matter? Who matters to you? Why do you think some folks feel like they don’t matter? How can you help others feel and know they matter? ”
Immediately the responses begin.
Our 51 year old was first, “I matter because I can love. I AM love. I can support and love the other women here. I can be a source of strength for the younger ones.”
Someone else: “I matter because my four year old needs me. As a matter of fact, I’ll get to speak to her today. I matter because she knows I love her. I matter because I do love her.” A long pause. “I miss her.”
Another: “I matter because I am a Child of God.”
At times during the next fifty minutes, I was so giddy with love I could hardly contain myself. At other times, I felt a profound respect and appreciation for being given the opportunity to learn from these women. To grow with them.
There were several women who did not speak, at least not at first. One woman, in her 20’s, strong in stature, stoic at first, cried…she wept actually . The older woman across from her, acknowledged her tears. “Sometimes we cry in here and that’s okay. We can’t run from it. We don’t got nowhere to go so we just got to be here in it…in it together.”
With about ten minutes to go, I asked the women to share ways they could help other women know they matter. One woman said, “I can tell when someone is having a hard time. I can walk up to her, say her name and look her in the eye. I can see her.”
One of the other respected elders said, “I like to serve coffee to the younger ones. I say to them, ‘You look like you need some coffee. Can I get that for you?’ and then we just go sit and talk.”
The youngest one, only 18 years old, had remained silent the entire time. “Sometimes all it takes is a smile. Just a smile can change somebody’s day.”
I was awed and truly humbled by their vulnerability and willingness to share like that.
As I walked away I knew I would have to write. I would have to share another time…a time several weeks ago, when I conducted this very same meeting and this very same step with a group of our city’s wealthiest people…top earners with prestigious titles…fine clothes and private school educated children.
We sat in a circle.
“Why do YOU matter?” I asked.
The discomfort was immediate…that squirmy feeling that comes when you want to get up and run, but you can’t. Unlike the response in the jail, the silence was deafening, long and uncomfortable. For several minutes, a good three or more, not a single one of these well-respected, high income earners could find the answer to that question.
I sat there in the silence with them…that awkward and painful silence remembering in my early 30’s when I had acquired all the things this world had told me (a young Southern woman) would make me matter: a sexy body, a handsome boyfriend, prestige as an elite athlete, popular on the social scene…and yet I still felt unheard, “unmattered”, lost and without meaning.
When finally the silence was broken by one very brave woman. “Because I am capable of great.
I’m beginning to question everything I’ve ever been told, freedom means