How to Restore Hope & Social Justice in a Broken World

Sue Liang Restoring Social Justice Talk

Cru CityWide recently invited me to talk with college students at their monthly gathering of Boston’s 42 college campuses about social justice. In light of our recent presidential election in the US, it was a timely opportunity to speak with students about restoring hope and specific ways all of us can create our own role in the path to social justice.

People Different from Me

My family and I immigrated from China to New York, but I grew up in Montana around people that didn’t look like me. I always wanted to fit in. I wanted to have blue eyes and blonde hair and be seen as an equal that blended in with the crowd. Whenever I felt like I was finally just another person in the community, I would be reminded that I was different. It was usually a comment about how my eyes or hair were so black or a question to ask where I was from. To this day, I’m still asked where I am from and when I reply I’m from Boston, which I say because I’ve lived here for over 10 years sometimes they ask, “No, where are you really from”?

One day, I happen to stumble across a copy of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” in my middle school library. Reading that book was the first time I learned that I wasn’t alone in wanting to fit in. It gave me solace in knowing that my feelings were valid. For the most part, I wasn’t discriminated against, but a few incidences stick out to me. I lived across the street from Krissy, a girl who was older than me, and who was also very popular in our school. Luckily for me, she liked me. Whenever we would get a chance to interact, I was awestruck at how confident and cool she was. I wanted to be like her.

Words at the Bus Stop

One day, while waiting for the school bus to pick us up for school, one of the neighborhood boys came up to me and started say racist things. I didn’t know what to say or how to act so I stood there just taking his hateful words. It made me feel like I wasn’t valued, that I didn’t belong; yet it was the only home I knew, in a country so far away and so very different from China. I think he thought that if he said what he did to me, that it would show the popular girl that he was cool or something. To my surprise, Krissy walked over and stood up for me. He told the boy to stop saying hurtful things, and that it wasn’t OK to treat a person the way he was doing towards me. He never said another word of hate to me ever again.

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

I’ll never know exactly why that boy said what he did to me that morning at the bus stop, but it does make me wonder about children exposed to hate. Even if it’s one child, it’s already too much; it prevents us from coming together.  We are a country of immigrants. I feel like the white nationalist “alt-right” have forgotten that their ancestors are from Europe, in places like Germany and Ireland.

Post-Election Climate

This post-election climate has been a shakeup that we have all needed. Some of us may be able to agree to disagree, but there is no excuse for those who treat each other without dignity, respect, or love. We’ve forgotten what it really means to listen, to be fully present, to have empathy for those who feel lost, scared, abandoned, and neglected. Words can be easily received the wrong way even when the message is positive, because fear is powerful, but only if we give it power to control us.

Start or Continue Speaking Up

I have found myself feeling and acting differently these past few weeks because I’m questioning my community and safety. I was eating a salad outside of Whole Foods recently with chopsticks when two white men started walking towards me. For the first time in a long time, I felt unsafe. In that moment, I wanted to hide my chopsticks. I felt like if I was using a fork, it would make me less of a target. Nothing happened. The two men kept walking past me, but that moment made me realize I how much this election has impacted my thinking and behavior.

Gender Differences

It also brought up the many times my gender was the reason men said inappropriate and derogatory things to me. Like the time I was in a professional mentor matching event. I was told “Don’t worry honey, men love women with careers. I’m sure you’ll find a husband soon” or, “You’re pretty, it won’t be hard for you to get shelf space for your product. All you have to do is walk into stores for meetings.” Then there’s the more recent incident when I was sexually harassed. The most frightening part was when the guy referenced the president-elect to validate his behavior towards me. My outfit for the day was a puffy vest jacket over a long sleeve flannel shirt with jeans and flat shoes. I stood up for myself and on behalf of women and girls.  As a result, I am disappointed these men hold themselves to such low character standards and lack emotional intelligence. From my own experiences, those of my girlfriends, all the way to the Harvard women’s soccer team and the millions of sisters around the world who don’t have a voice, we have to continue speaking up.

These days I find myself with strong sense of solidarity when I’m around people who also believe in equality and social justice. It’s like an unspoken kinship that has brought me closer to people I didn’t know also believed the same things.

A Place for Sadness

To borrow a plot point from the movie Inside Out, there is a place for sadness. Sadness and heartbreak are part of life. Emotions elicit actions. Not everyday and everything is roses and puppies. It’s when we learn to overcome, to thrive in hard times, that we find ourselves growing the most in our character, strength, and confidence.

Living in a Broken World

We live in a broken world, with broken people enveloped in brokenness: in relationships, communication, trust, values, and integrity. Sexism and racism are still very much alive, but there is hope in restoring and mending the brokenness around us.

Sue Liang Blog Kintsugi

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places

Ernest Hemingway

Beauty and Strength in Brokenness

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with paint dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. We are like pottery crafted by God. When we break, He is there to help us pick up the pieces to repair us and make us whole again and more beautiful than before. There is beauty in brokenness.

Relational trust is built on movements of the human heart such as empathy, commitment, compassion, patience, and the capacity to forgive.”

Parker J. Palmer | Center for Courage & Renewal

5 ways to build meaningful relationships to live out the change we want to see:

  1. Overcoming limiting thoughts. It begins from within. You can’t have solid relationships with others if you don’t have one with yourself and with your creator. Words create worlds. Pay close attention to when you say hurtful things about yourself, and replace them with 2 to 3 positive comments.
  2. Connection. Find something in common with everyone you meet, especially people who aren’t not like us. Purpose comes from our connection with people,not from our job titles, how much money we make, or material things we’ve accumulated.
  3. Vulnerability. Learn to be vulnerable in the healthy way shown by the author Brené Brown. When we show up as our authentic selves we allow others to see us as who we truly are from the inside.
  4. Intention. Ask yourself how you can set your ego aside. It’s not about you, but about how you can serve the person you are seeking to build a better relationship with.
  5. Reflection. Take time to reflect on the ways you are working to have deeper relationships. If you are willing to put in the time and effort, your relationships will have more meaning.

Sue Liang Restoring Social Justice Talk Reflection

Reflection questions to consider:

      • When was the last time you talked with someone different from you? What did you learn?  Who else can you reach out to this week?
      • Have you witnessed discrimination, or have you been discriminated against? What happened? What did you do about it? How would you approach it differently next time?
      • Is there a social issue or cause calling your name? What is it?
      • What do you want to be remembered for?
      • Who are you at your best when the world around you is in distress?

Actions you take today:

    • 4 day fantastic future challenge: For 4 consecutive days, write down your highest dreams and aspirations. Imagine you have arrived. All your dreams came true. What did you do with your life? Who are you with, How do you feel? Find a friend and do this together. This creates new neural pathways in your brain to seek out opportunities and attract the right people into your life. You can also add to this by regularly creating a vision board.
    • Quit one thing, make space for things that matter: After not finishing my knitting project for a long time, I gave myself permission to quit knitting. To really be good at something, we have to let go of some things to allow room and space for things to flourish.
    • Read about views different than your own: Read the book that’s not for you. NPR has great list of books to help you get started.
    • Start a gratitude journal:  List 5 things each day you are grateful for. Include what your highlight of the day was, along with what you are most looking forward to the next day.

      Be you, there’s only one of you. The world needs the gifts He’s given you. Don’t blend in. Be who God created you to be.

Live out the change you want to see and remember we are more alike than we are different.

If unlikely animals can become friends, surely different humans can become friends too.

Unlikely animal friends

Goodness in the World

Despite the discrimination I’ve experienced, I’m reminded the world is still good. Yes, there might still be flareups, but I choose to believe in the good in people, and I put in the work to understand and love more.

We need to surround ourselves with people who are different than us and ask the right questions. Stand up and speak up when you see injustice around you.  Make it known by your actions that you are different. You are enough, equipped, and whole just the way God made you and the person he is continuing to craft you into if you let Him. Let your actions produce fruit of the Spirit in love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.


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