This past Wednesday I was proud to take part in a banquet event on the theme of “Embracing Unity,” sponsored by the non-profit Grand Prairie Unity Coalition, of which I am a new Board member. This was the 7th such banquet, which brought together people from many like-minded organizations, local / county / state politicians, and most importantly, around 40 students and family from the local school district. The organization’s mission is to provide education and opportunities for cross-cultural association to the Grand Prairie community, and that mission was admirably pursued with Wednesday’s event.
I had difficulty counting the heads as they came in; I estimate that around 200 attended. There were a few church groups, several local businesses, and members of a number of culturally-oriented civic groups (LULAC, NAACP, Indian and Taiwanese groups). The school district was well represented, and the political “dignitaries” included representation from the City of Grand Prairie, Tarrant and Dallas Counties, and three State Representatives. The City, State, and Tarrant County all issued proclamations in support of the day; although of the merest symbolism, these proclamations are a ray of hope in contrast to state and local laws elsewhere that effectively ban cultural education from anything but the dominant viewpoint.
Tarrant County Commissioner Andy Nguyen gave a powerful speech, quite to my surprise. Knowing nothing of the gentleman beyond the biographic bullet points, I had very modest expectations for any speaker. Well peppered with self-deprecating jokes, he emphasized three principles needed to “embrace unity”:
- Be open to new people and ideas, _and actively seek them out_. To "embrace" requires getting out of your comfort zone.
- Think of others. Imagine their challenges and rewards. Escape from egocentrism.
- Appreciate diversity, but look for commonalities and use them in working together.
But the real story is the children. Each year, the organization, in partnership with the Grand Prairie Arts Council, sponsors an art contest through the school district. We awarded three prizes in the categories of K-2, 3 - 5, and high school (this year featured no middle school entrants, perhaps due to confusion with a new art contest that was due the following week). The artwork on this theme was quite inspiring at all age levels. I was particularly moved to reflect on a submission in the 3rd to 5th grade category, which showed two hands holding up the World Trade Centers. One of the buildings had the word Unity spelled out in the “lights” from top to bottom.
My first reaction was admittedly not positive. But the image was so striking that I had to stop and truly ponder it. The artist had a note on back explaining that America had come together in a show of great unity in reaction to this terrible event, and she wanted to commemorate that powerful positive feeling. This is particularly interesting from one who was not alive at the time. To be honest, I didn’t feel a great sense of unity after 09/11/2001, though I know that much of America did. I witnessed too much xenophobia followed by misguided warmongering. But nations need myths. They need rallying points. I would prefer honest self-evaluation in our society; lacking that, perhaps the educational whitewashing will be leveraged to help build a sense of unity on this fabulous foundation. Setting aside my editorial, it was a well-executed piece that, like all great works of art, challenges the viewer in unexpected ways.
Grand Prairie is a demographically diverse city situated on the southern-half of the western border of Dallas. As with the rest of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, it has experienced phenomenal growth in the past decade - going from 127,427 residents to 175,396. Ethnically, the population breaks down to 42.7% Hispanic/Latino, 29.1% Non-Hispanic White, 20.2% Black, 6.5% Asian, 0.9% American/Alaskan/Hawaiian Native. Fully 39.1% of residents speak a non-English language at home, though only 20% are immigrants. Education is below the state-wide average, but median household income is slightly higher than average and the percentage below the poverty level lower than the state as a whole. (All statistics courtesy of the US Census Bureau).