I am truly fortunate to work for an organization that embraces diversity. HR policies are inclusive, language is gender-neutral, a unisex bathroom is available, and the administration is supportive of clubs and committees that represent diverse communities. Right now, a diversity & inclusion panel is planning information, events, and activities to celebrate Pride Month in a couple of weeks. Sometimes it's easy for me to forget that my workplace is the outlier, and that many people find themselves suppressing their identity just to avoid being fired.
This isn't to say, however, that I feel trapped within a utopian bubble or that we aren't touched by outside events. A TV in the lobby broadcasts news all day, and people often stop to catch the scrolling headlines as they walk by. As the riots erupted in Baltimore recently, then rippled to other cities, a crowd always seemed to be parked in the lobby, watching silently. This happened to be at the same time as "Unity Week," in which speakers, musicians, and dancers were brought in to introduce us to aspects of other cultures we may have never been exposed to before.
The first performance scheduled was by a student percussion group from an inner-city Philadelphia school. I recognized diversity represented on stage (all members of the ensemble were black), but what surprised me was that I was one of the only white attendees at the event. A program hosted to help us learn about diverse cultures had only attracted people from minority communities. On the one hand, I get it. I had decided to attend the performance only after encouragement from a supervisor. I never clicked on any of the links that had been provided for Black History Month. Any LGBTQ event that I've attended has been by the invitation of an LGBTQ friend. If we don't immediately identify with something, we typically fail to even attempt a connection with it. But isn't a major point of any rally, riot, or parade to catch the attention of people who weren't looking before? Aren't we missing that point if we keep ourselves excluded from unfamiliar communities, or if we exclude others from our own?
My disappointment at the crowd was soon swept away with a sudden drop of drumbeats. Several intricate rhythms locked into one another--snares, tenors, rims, cymbals, and a steady underlying bass beat. The sound immediately brought me back to performing with my high school percussion ensemble, and I remembered why I loved it so much. Percussion drives the music forward, or it stands alone just as powerfully. You can feel it pound through your whole body when you're beating out the sound. But what I always loved the most is the fact that drums--or percussion, more generally--is the one thing that spans the music of all cultures, places, and eras. People all over the world instinctively created percussion. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the first thing we ever hear is another person's heartbeat. Maybe it's the fact that we still feel--however subconsciously--that precious pulse all day long. People in the crowd who had never heard a percussion ensemble still seemed to instantly connect with it. The echo in the auditorium was terrible, but the volume itself was exciting and teased smiles out of every face. I didn't stop wishing that more people could be there to hear it, but still, we were there. We were listening.
And I think we all listen better now.
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