Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Talking Stories

He looked out into the jagged lava field that now covers the sacred LekeLeke burial grounds and the place where his ancestors had fought and died in the battle of Kumo’o. His focused eyes gave off a sense of purpose as he began his prayer to the Hawaiian spirits. The words flowed majestically, demanding my attention. Upon finishing, he paused for a brief moment. In that moment, I stared at his profile and saw his head high, face stoic and chest ever so slightly pushed out. In that image, I saw a man’s entire heritage unfolding upon me like a snow fall blanketing a mountain. On that day, he allowed me to peak into the windows of the most cherished and revered ancient Hawaiian traditions as he revealed stories about where he had come from and who he was destined to become.

My journey to the Big Island with my friend John was not about sight seeing or trying to understand everything around me. It wasn’t about me at all. It was about John reconnecting his family to the island where he had grown up as he conducted family ceremonies that would one day be passed down to his children. To John and many Hawaiians who believe in the old ways, Ohana (family) is more than a common name, it is a way of a life. He and many of the traditional Hawaiians trace their genealogy back to several generations. It is in that lineage that they find the strength and wisdom in their daily lives. These ancestors are more than mere historical figures though, they are in fact the lifeline and driving force behind what one chooses to do or not to do.

I couldn’t help but attempt to draw comparisons between John’s family roots and my own. Each place we visited was a reminder that his family history was larger and more sacred than mine. It took several hours for me to accept that but eventually, I conceded that he had a stronger bond with his ancestors than I did with mine.

My friend John traces his genealogy back to King Kamehameha I. It’s a deep concept even for me to comprehend. And as much as I’d like to find records of my own, I know that they are in a distant land, attached to people that I do not know nor will ever relate to. And although cultural heritage is important to many families and in particular John’s, in my case it does not define who I am. I am not of the people whose genes or physical features I share. There are few lessons that they can teach me. The person that I am is the son of my parents; two people who make up the nucleus of my ancestry.

I have never been too close to any of my family members. I grew up as the youngest of four children which meant that my siblings were all grown up and out of the house shortly after I came along. Essentially, I grew up and perhaps was treated like an only child. To add to the family isolation, I have never been particularly close with any relative, save my oldest sister and grandfather. All things considered, I was raised solely by my parents. They were the guardian keepers who were responsible for my day to day interactions and they were the individuals who gave me opportunity. Between the two of them is where my loyalties rest and whom my life I owe.

My Mom and Dad never shared secret family recipes that had been passed down from generation to generation. Nor did they recite family prayers, mantras or epic stories. Instead, they showed me with their actions what being a responsible and compassionate person was all about. In that sense, they gave me a social heritage.

My social heritage started with my parents and has now been passed on to me. I have made no secret of my ambitions of returning back to my hometown in order to carry on their legacy of giving. It is a legacy that I am both comfortable with and proud of. I may not have ancient rituals, but I have the images of my parents sacrificing what they had for causes bigger than themselves. To me, my family name means more than what some individual who I had never met had done thousands of years before me. My family name is evident in the man that I see every time that I look into the mirror.

I do not have to consult a history book to draw lessons from my family's past, for I learned it all first hand from the people that matter most in my life. Whatever I do, I know it will have an impact on my life and whoever follows my footsteps. I must be the caretaker of this legacy so that everything that my parents worked for will not be forgotten. I am ready and prepared to step out and embrace what has been given to me. Since I have chosen to not re-connect with my past, I have instead decided on connecting with my family through the future. In those actions, I hope to make current and future generations proud of the path that I have chosen. Then when all is said and done, I intent to relax and of course “talk stories.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Minority Report

Below is an excerpt of a letter that I am going to be sending to the President of Merrimack College. If you would like to contribute to this plan of action than please email me at jojocarrollwr10@yahoo.com with your pledge. Thank you for stopping by, together we can make these dreams reality.

When I attended Merrimack (2001-2005), there was a nickname that my friends and I gave to one particular student who we would often pass either in the cafeteria or throughout campus. While this nickname may have appeared to be narrow and possibly offensive, it also summed up the campus stereotype quite well. The name that we called this individual from afar was “black kid who didn’t play sports.” While there were several other black students at the time that fit into this category, he was the most visible. For four years my black friends and I joked about this phenomenon as we tacitly accepted the fact that black students on the Merrimack campus were few and far between and that those who did exist, were recruited solely to play sports. Looking back, it seemed like a sad commentary coming from a school that advertised itself as an equal opportunity institution that embraced diversity. Through pamphlets and advertisements the student body would read how “diverse” Merrimack was, that we had “X” amount of students from an “X” amount of countries or states. When I looked around my football locker room this was certainly evident. However, when I walked outside of it, I stepped out into a campus that was 99% White.

The irony of the recruiting efforts to attract students around the globe was that down the road from our school were two cities where minorities were the most prevalent (over 50% in Lawrence and Lowell); I saw very little evidence that Merrimack had an interest in these students.

Please don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed being a student at Merrimack. It was an opportunity for me learn and make some of my lifetime friends. Based on my experience there, I feel as though this is an opportunity that should be given to other minority students as well. As we quickly enter an era where Whites will no longer be the majority race in this country (most studies contend this will happen by 2050) shouldn’t the campus look something like the “real world?” Moreover, in order for Merrimack to be that microcosm of the changing American society, wouldn’t it behoove the institution to start actively recruiting minorities for reasons other than having them play sports?

My father tells a story about his Alma Mater (HC) back in the 60’s, where a young black man by the name of Orion Douglas (now a judge) was recruited to play basketball. He was 6’8 and looked the part. He was recommended by some Jesuits from the High School he attended in Georgia, however, Holy Cross had never seen him play. For the four years that he was there he struggled athletically and never made the team. He did however, make solid grades and became a friendly face around the campus. Upon receiving his degree he asked to meet with the President of the school, Rev. Swords. Douglas told the President that he realized that if not for the color of his skin and his perceived ability to shoot a basketball that he probably would not have had the opportunity to go to a school of higher learning like Holy Cross. He wanted to see to it that there were others who had the same opportunity as he did. Rev. Swords agreed with Douglas and promised him from that day on that if he could recruit and find qualified black students with competitive grades, that he would pay for their tuition. The following year, the first student of this initiative was Clarence Thomas.

It took the vision and courage of a man like Rev. Swords to bring minority students to Holy Cross. It wasn’t idle chatter that drove the process, but an active commitment to make the goal a reality. I think this same model can be emulated at Merrimack an equally selective institution which like Holy Cross has a reputation for high academic standards.

I am not suggesting a term known to many as “affirmative action.” I know that the political arguments against such a phrase can divide communities. What I do think is possible, is to set a “goal” (not a quota) for encouraging more minorities to attend Merrimack and by showing them that Merrimack is a safe and open minded environment to learn. On the heels of our nation electing our first African-American President, I think that this initiative is more than possible. It sends a message to alumni and future students that the College accepts embraces and cultivates the beauty of diversity in the academic culture and that such diversity propels us forward along with the world.

I am equally concerned that by this economic recession, fewer minorities will be given the opportunity to study at a prestigious school like Merrimack, not because of aptitude but because of finances. Now is the time that minority students without the financial support can easily be forgotten and all progress that has been made could be lost. I challenge the College to make the commitment and to follow the Christian and Augustinian tradition that is fundamentally rooted in the curriculum and social life at Merrimack. Diversity at Merrimack means extending beyond the basketball court and football fields. It means a classroom filled with people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities and religions.

As a minority, I put this challenge on the table and am willing to start a scholarship to support this vision if the College will decide to match whatever funds that I can garner. As a proud alumnus who has contributed in the past I am willing to put my money where my mouth is. Together we CAN do better.

Joshua J. Carroll
Class of 2005