They call it “The Privilege Walk.”
A wall of sixty humans woven together by nervous, interlocked fingers.
With tired eyes pressed firmly shut, we patiently waited for our next instruction.
If your parents attended college take one step forward.
If you were ever called names because of your race, class, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.
If one or both of your parents were “white collar” professionals: doctors, lawyers, etc., take one step forward.
If you ever had to skip a meal or were hungry because there was not enough money to buy food when you were growing up, take one step back.
If you own a car take one step forward.
If you were raised in a single parent household, take one step back.
When it happened: goosebumps. chills. sadness. My hands screamed for the comfort they had once known. After fighting to hold on for three prompts, I had to let go of the people next to me and my previous understanding of privilege.
And so began my lifelong journey of searching to understand what it means to be a healthy, white, upper-middle class, college-educated, well-supported male living in America. I knew immediately that it would be not only a mission of self-reflection but an incessant battle to answer the question, “what now?”
How would I use this newly minted awareness to help bridge the resource gap for disadvantaged youth? How would I contribute towards efforts to decimate the systems that drive us even further apart? A stampede of questions ran through my head that would need years, if not decades, to work through.
I have a strange relationship with these goliath questions, in that they present constant struggle yet motivate me endlessly. It’s easy to let the beastly questions that drive your everyday ambitions weigh you down. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the madness of feeling unqualified to tackle them. If thought of as a group, they can twist and meld until they become quicksand.
I found there’s another way. If you separate these questions into individual grains of sand, they lose their power over you. What is a grain in the question of how we can bridge the resource gap for disadvantaged youth, for example?
It could be something as small as joining a reading-mentor program, advocating for education reform in a conversation with your neighbor, or even reading a book about the relationship between socioeconomic status and access to vital resources.
With the what can I do today mindset, we issue small, achievable goals that contribute towards the greater effort.
So that’s where I’m at. I’ve decided to look my privilege in the face every single day, own it, and use it as a motive to make intentional, microscopic decisions to build towards solving society’s greatest problems. I got to this point through challenging conversations, self-reflection, and a mindset centered around the idea of dreaming big but acting small.
This strategy is not an excuse to avoid facing the greater hurdles at hand, but rather a means to an end.
Change can be found at the intersection of mission and action.
Inspired by the good people of Charlotte, North Carolina and Knoxville, Tennessee.
Michael Pund is a social entrepreneur, amateur writer & poet, and world traveler. With a cornerstone desire to make a difference through impact investing and social innovation, he is constantly seeking to further his education through reading, networking, and self-reflection. After recently departing from the corporate banking world, he is hoping to dive into his passions on a full-time basis. In his free time, you can find him hiking, playing sports, listening to music, and always looking for his next adventure. You can reach him through email at Mike94172@gmail.com.
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