One task I believe is important when exercising the power of our voice is speaking up. Do this not only for yourself, but also for those who cannot. Not many people are in positions where others care enough about their voices to listen to their complaints. This is when powerful representation is necessary to help those who are often ignored.
The phrase “a seat at the table” defines a position in which one is able to make powerful and important decisions. Many times, marginalized groups aren’t allowed to make the decisions that might directly impact them. The fight to gain “a seat at the table” is one riddled with rigor and discouragement and can only be completed through the use of pure grit and passion.
For marginalized groups, this is almost always the case. When you step into a room as a minority, you are now immediately tasked with representing others like you. You must speak out against ignorance by using your voice to defend those who are underrepresented or educate higher-ups on certain social graces. You become a pioneer in uncharted territory and it is up to you to devise a route for those to follow safely behind.
There is an old poem by Will Allen Dromgoole about an old man who crossed a chasm with a strong tide. When he got to the other side, he began to build a bridge. A pilgrim stops to ask him why he is building a bridge if he has already crossed the chasm. The old man replied that on his journey, he passed a young man who was heading in the same direction. While he was able to cross, the young man might not be able to and so, he was building the bridge for the young man.
This is exemplifies the point I am trying to make. A single voice, when used appropriately, can help to pave the way and open doors for those who follow. So I place the challenge before you. Fight until you earn yourself the seat of authority, if you do not already have one. Fight to be a representative of others like you. If you happen to hold a position of authority, use it to help the marginalized groups who need it. It takes a certain level of courage and the ability to sit in the seat of uncomfortability to stand up and use your voice.
I don’t want to confuse having a seat at the table with having a voice. One can have a voice without having a seat at the table and one can have a seat at the table with no voice. However, the two can be used to support each other. It is up to you. You are the only person in control of your life. Others will do their best to put up roadblocks in your way, but you have the power to tear them down. Not only for yourself, but for those who will follow the same path.
One of the difficulties that come with reaching higher positions is losing one’s sense of identity. It is an issue that can be joked about, but is real. When people reach a certain point, they have become ingrained in a society that is unlike their own. They suppress their background in exchange for a life they believe is better.
But that is not the way to further unity in humanity. We must remember our beginnings, build off of them and help those who shared the same strife. It is a constant uphill battle and I challenge you to complete one of two tasks: either pave the road for those who follow after or make those who paved the road proud by walking on it.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
I agree with this to an extent, as I do not believe happiness should be restricted. I believe that we are capable of maintaining happiness while seeking opportunities to not only further ourselves, but others as well.
There is nothing like unity and support to bring people together, tackle ignorance head on and incite progress and change.
Miguel Cole, ’21, is a columnist for The Brown and White. He can be reached at [email protected]