American Lost in Brazil

 

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Yesterday was my first full day in Brazil on my Eisenhower Fellowship. And in all honesty, it was one of the hardest days of my life. I had imagined it would play out much differently. I woke up at 6:00 am in Rio de Janeiro and immediately turned on CNN.  Before a word was uttered, I saw the red and blue map and knew we were in uncharted territory.

I thought I was going to wake up reaffirmed by the America I know and love – the one that believes in inclusion, equality and the rights of all Americans. Instead I sat up and was overcome with raw emotion. I could not contain the tears. This wasn’t about politics. It wasn’t about Republicans vs. Democrats. Really.

No, this was a big, deep cry for humanity.  I cried as a woman, and for people of color, for immigrants, for people with disabilities, for the LGBT community, for Muslims, and for all of our children. For all of us who felt betrayed and left out by the America we woke up to yesterday, our country fell backwards.

Politics aside, for me, this is about the Golden Rule. You know, that simple rule that, in one form or another, we all learn and come to understand as children –  Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you. You can find some version of it in every culture and religion.  It’s the principle of altruism, the moral law of reciprocity. It is fundamentally about being human. When you get past the clutter of the systems, structures, ideologies, religions, and political parties, all we have is each other.  Just people.  And as a nation, we didn’t take care of each other.

It was President Eisenhower who cautioned us, “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”  Somehow, we failed to listen.

So here I was in Brazil, devastated, angry, and grieving, trying to figure out how I was going to walk out of the door, smile and represent the United States as an Eisenhower Fellow. I was lost. What does America now stand for?  I wasn’t sure that I was up for the assignment.

But if history is our guide, I know that from our darkest hours, come our greatest triumphs.

So how do we move forward? I don’t exactly know yet. But, I’m quite confident that the road ahead of us will be tumultuous and will require all of us. This isn’t where we check out, this is when we sign up for duty.

I delayed leaving for this trip to Brazil because I wanted to be present at the Anti-Defamation League’s event at which COCA received the David Grebler Award for advancing social justice, education and inclusion. It was a proud moment. In my acceptance remarks, I vowed that we would continue to approach our work with “great urgency and conviction.” At the time, I had no idea how urgent teaching empathy, celebrating diversity and practicing inclusion would feel just a few days later.

We need to get going, we’ve got work to do. It’s urgent and we need to do it louder, bigger and bolder.

So despite how disorienting the last few days have been, I think I’m right where I’m supposed to be. The vision of Eisenhower Fellowships is to combat intolerance by building networks of leaders who work together to advance peace, prosperity and justice across the world. Brazil is taking care of this lost American and showing me the way forward. Obrigado Brazil. Orbridado.

Stay tuned for more from this big, beautiful place.

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