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Dr. King Might Like Lansing

I Sing a Song of Lansing

My city is not very big compared to Chicago, Detroit or Toronto, nearby big cities that I enjoy visiting. Wikipedia quotes the most recent Census at just under 114,000 in the city proper.

It also says we have a “Metropolitan Statistical Area” with population of 454,000. That is, we have a lot of people outlying the city which can be grouped in some ways with the city itself.

Industry Brought Diversity? So I Believe.

This area has historically had three main industries. We are the capitol city of Michigan, so we have a lot of government offices here. We have had a good number of automobile plants (Oldsmobile until recently) although the number is falling and there are huge empty cement lots where several factories once stood. We also have Michigan State University in East Lansing.

The World at My Childhood Doorstep

My  father got a job as a professor of Communications at MSU in the early 1960’s, and that is  how my family of four Minnesota-born folks ended up here. I am grateful.

The best times in my growing up, at least in my memory, were holiday dinners. Since we never had more than one relative in Michigan, our home became a welcoming place for uprooted folks here to go to school. My father was the doctoral advisor for many Grad students from other countries, and he would often invite them to our home for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas.

They would tell stories. These folks were from so many places! I remember Mexico, Costa Rica, Israel, Australia, Sweden… and there were more. And they would talk about things I could never know in my sheltered home suburb (Okemos, East of East Lansing, before the mall was built, when the Barn that now is a furniture store, held animals for the Grettenberg farm).

Realizing I was Lucky

I remember a story of a Catalan family near Barcelona Spain, during the years of Franco. It was illegal to speak the Catalan language at that time. (Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso were of Catalan background.)

Kids would get involved in the conflict, and our friend/dad’s student was caught doing something against Franco. Somehow the family got out and moved to Mexico. They knew this was a lucky result.

I also remember a story of a student from Sweden (I think… somewhere scandinavian). He was a child at a time when somewhere near his home, there was a prisoner camp where prisoners were not getting enough to eat.

The family would boil potatoes and fill the pockets of the childrens’ coats. The children would go out and “Play” and ski near the wire fence. They would push the potatoes through the wire grate, and then the people inside could eat the potatoes and be better nourished, or at least less hungry.

I also recall that my father’s best friend was a Japanese American who was locked up in one of those camps we put our own citizens in, when we were in a war and afraid of the Japanese. He met his wife in that camp. Another story most kids in my school never heard.

Human is the Race to which We All Belong

We had folks in our home with so many different physical characteristics, but when we told stories over the holiday table, we all were of the HUMAN race. We all belonged to that moment in time.

When you first meet someone, you notice how they look. You notice if they look very different from you. But once you are engaged in dialogue, there is only human connection. I’ve said before, that I believe that life boils down to relationship being the most important. I started learning this, as a child in my parents’ home. (I concede that fluency in English did help. However, I’ve traveled enough to know that one may love someone else who does not speak the same language.)

When my mother has her annual Rhubarb Crisp party at her house, she has friends, also, with all different stories and ancestry. You may find Daddy’s friend’s Japanese-American widow, and folks with Peruvian, Chinese, African (any country), and other backgrounds. Mom continues to live as a member of the HUMAN race. I am proud to be from my family.

The World Changes One Person at a Time

The suburbs have become more diverse since I lived there. Even the small town of 430 in Minnesota, where my parents grew up, has a diverse Census count (Dad often joked that they had 430 Norwegians and two Germans, and that was more close than you can imagine).

I believe it has a lot to do with the industries in my town, but this city seems more naturally integrated than many. In the south, there are more cities than not, where Martin Luther King Boulevard is the dividing line between where people of color live, versus the other side where live what we call “white” people (I say my skin is beige but I do belong to the group called white).

When I bought my house 25 miles East of Lansing (Williamston, 1980), I do not remember any “black” families in our neighborhood. I know there were asian families, I can not remember much else (I left that town in 1991).

My Favorite “Hood”

When I bought myself a house on the East Side of Lansing (one block from Foster Community Center, four blocks west of Frandor), I bought into a well-integrated neighborhood. You can see “my block” above.

On one side of the street we had hispanic, “white,” and “black.” On the other side, we had a “mixed” couple, and great variety in ages, from 20 to 85. We had folks with yard signs offering every possible angle on any possible issue. It was a lively, safe, inexpensive neighborhood. I adored that place, everything about it.

I realize that in some places in the world, women are still legally considered property. They pass from Father to Husband, with no rights of their own.

Here, not only am I not property, not only do I have legal rights (including a vote), I was able to purchase real estate property for myself. With my signature alone. It was a very plain house, ugly on the outside and quaint but simple inside. But I was a single woman with my own home.

Notice the Blessings in Your Front Yard

And I realized how special my situation was there. I had a single woman homeowner next door. And we lived on a very mixed-race, mixed-age, mixed-philosophical block of a relatively mixed town.

Yes, there are bigots here. There are hateful people everywhere, unfortunately. They are a minority in the good sense of that word. I choose to not go down to their level.

Life-Changing Opportunity

And my friends, I am proud to say that in this town I had the great fortune to be a minority employee at the Black Child and Family Institute, a non-governmental community center, for 4 years in its early day (1989-1994) . I was the only full-time “white” person on payroll the whole time I was there. Lansing allowed for that possibility.

Some public folk did not think I belonged, but the staff thought I did. I loved so much about that job, but in a nonprofit things change a lot. I left the job (to teach computer classes for a training company) with a lower wage than I came in with. I still have dreams about that building. I only seem to dream of jobs where my life perspective changed. I’m happy to have had that incredible, life-changing experience.

One Personal Example from Today

One of the most important people in my life is Altu. She was born and raised in Ethiopia, in Eastern Africa.

She took me to Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya and Egypt… photo at left is us in Alexandria, Egypt with the Mediterranean Sea behind us) five years ago. She is even more precious to me now, since we returned. I can totally depend on Altu’s word and her good intent. This is better than gold.

There are cities in this country where I would never have been on the same side of town, to meet her. I can not tell you how happy I am this city is structured in a way that our deep friendship is possible.

Happy to have been Born an Optimist

So today, when I read about the life and dreams of Dr. King, I understand that our world is still imperfect. There is much left to be done, and some of that work will depend on new people being born to do that work.

However, in Lansing, today? My world is integrated in a bigger way than most people anywhere in the world (I bow to Toronto, however). Certainly, in a bigger way than most Americans in cities of this size. And more than could have been possible even a few decades ago. I choose to notice this movement toward progress.

I think MSU, Oldsmobile, and the State of Michigan have helped this integration. These places are full of folks from all possible backgrounds. People working together will learn about one another. They will have potlucks and share foods from their family heritage at times. Not everyone will see these things as the gift I see them as.

Whatever is… whatever reality others see, maybe even those living next door will see it differently. However, my happy optimist, my inner person who believes most humans are good? I am very happy to be in this city right now. And I have the faith that more and more cities are moving toward this acceptance of our HUMAN sides, all of the time.

My Take

Dr. King, the world is still getting better. Your dream still has a chance.

(All of the photos today were taken in Lansing or East Lansing, with the exception of the Egyptian shot.)

2 Responses to “Dr. King Might Like Lansing”

  1. Diana Troldahl Says:

    All the things you love about Lansing are what I also love about Ypsilanti (and surrounding communities).
    A small story. When Oscar brought Senagalese Mafe to the potluck at work, he was greeted with cries of joy, they had not had the dish since a Senegalese woman had changed to a different part of the company.
    It was great that Eric Oscar and myself, neither of us culturally from any where near Senegal, could provide that happy memory to lots of other folks, also not from Senegal.
    That Senegalese woman had an effect.
    Every person can have an effect on the world. It is totally up to the individual if that effect is positive, or negative.
    And up to the rest of us to appreciate the good stuff as often as we can!

    hugs and Love,

  2. Lindy Says:

    Lynn, What a beautiful and fitting tribute not only to Dr. King but to Lansing.