Two Hundred Eighty Nine: Aquarium

“In order to counteract income inequality, it’s essential to tackle poverty in an integrated way that has long-term impact. We need to give people the capacity to be resilient, to take on challenges and to learn the skills they need to work toward more prosperous futures.”  – Helen D. Gayle

Friday, October 17th

It just occurred to me that at the juncture of my last two jobs I was seeing both the most wealthy members of my community and also some of the least. Part of what had frustrated me about the job (that I was leaving at that time) was that it was serving the most affluent and was defining a dividing line where many hard-working families could not pass.

Tonight I took the kids to a free night at the aquarium. We don’t often go because the memberships and single ticket prices are cost prohibitive, but I received free passes from the community center my son and I go to. The first thing I noticed when I walked through the door was that we were one of the only Caucasian families there. The next thing I saw were volunteers holding signs offering tours in a variety of languages – Farsi, Vietnamese, Arabic, English. This was a special open house, and I suspect that the tickets were solely distributed through community centers that serve lower-income communities within the city limits.

It is important to me that my children are comfortable being around people of all backgrounds. It has to be normal for them to see Muslim women wearing khimārs and to hear other languages being spoken between family members. I grew up in such a homogenous small town community that when I moved to an urban American city for a year, I had culture shock and I understood thoroughly at that age how strange it was that I was going through this. I felt vulnerable and that I didn’t have the skills to communicate with so many of the people around me. I am fully aware that my daughter’s school is pretty homogenous too, so I appreciate the opportunities for us to enjoy activities as a family in a diverse setting. And really when all is said and done, I got free passes to see a bunch of really cool marine animals!

I have had a small epiphany while writing this post. It’s one thing for a family with a lower-income background to be able to attend a special event night at the aquarium, and quite another for them to attend any time they want. I can choose to attend events where I know my children will be exposed to the true diversity of our zip code. I can reason my way through building cultural awareness and that is great, but where are the opportunities for people of color to step into the economic fray of those ahead of them financially. Could a low-income Muslim man really job shadow a lawyer for a day? Would a yoga pants Starbucking Mom (personally guilty of both offenses sometimes) ever be willing to drive a family that lives minutes away but worlds apart to a kids’ concert?

What are your thoughts on income inequities and racial divisions?

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