I’ve stood in lines, but none more memorable than this past weekend’s diversity line at the Sandbox Leadership Institute retreat. Standing in a line is inevitable. I stand in a line at the food market as I comfortably pretend to select a pack of gum that’s conveniently placed above the gossip magazines. We all have fond memories of waiting to be served food in line at school, summer camp, a retreat or fast food restaurant. No doubt it’s tedious having to wait in line, especially when you’re hungry and your stomach sounds like a roaring bear emerging from hibernation. Amusement park lines are worth mentioning too. We can do without the wait, but we enjoy the thrill that rides gives us as they toss and turn us into oblivion. All roller coasters pale in comparison to the line in which I stood during this past weekend’s SLI retreat.
I will never forget the ride I experienced on Monday. It began as soon as I locked hands with my peers, one by each side. Despite the early morning and the long night of Apples to Apples, laughter, storytelling and roasted marshmallows, we were all there. On this sunny Monday morning in my favorite season of the year, the warmth of the sun was just right, my breakfast had been delicious, and the foliage was breathtaking.
The chilly breeze initially reminded me that you take a man out of the Caribbean, but you can’t take the Caribbean out of the man, but I stopped fretting when I felt the warmth of interlocked hands. In hindsight, their clasping of my hands was like the buckling of a seat belt before taking off on a roller coaster or take off in a plane. I must admit, I was not ready for what came next. Todd, our guide through this 9-month journey, launched our Boieng 787 of people clasped by hands.
To be honest in the subtlest of ways each question revealed details about who we are in relation to events that have shaped who we were at that moment. “If you’ve ever felt like you’ve discriminated against, take a step back.” I stepped back. “If you ever been homeless…if English was not your first language…if you’ve ever gone to bed hungry or one of your parents gone to bed hungry so you could eat…If, if, if…”; The if’s kept on coming, and I kept stepping back more I stepped forward. In the end, I was the furthest in the back. There were times when it hurt. Hearing the questions, not knowing what painful experience I would be conjured up, caused an internal struggle that brought back real pain from experiences from which I thought I had healed. Clearly, there was still residue of them clinging to the walls of my heart.
In elementary school I learned that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. I’d like to add that the shortest distance to get to know one self and others is a diversity line. Participating affirmed my identity and my journey as a young Latino immigrant male that has confronted many challenges as I pursue my dreams. The diversity line was a powerful experience that made me understand that we don’t really know where we are headed unless we know where we come from. There is a past version of who we used to be and a future version that is better than who we are now. The Diversity Line taught me to make an honest effort to be less judgmental, remembering that we are all a work in progress. We are transforming into writers of our own stories as we grow to be leaders and change agents in a world that’s constantly changing at break-neck speed. I hope you’ll remember at least one line from this passage, and that’s that we started in a line and we all ended up in the ended up in a circle of people that appreciated us for who are to become despite our diverse backgrounds and past experiences.