Monday, September 1, 2008

Beyond Kumbaya

When Lara Mendel takes the stage at the Mosaic Project’s 500-person fund-raiser at the Berkeley Marina, the room has the feel of a concert at the Fillmore. Amid thunderous applause, the executive director of this unique Bay Area camp speaks in inner-city cadences and with phrases peppered with “y’alls” to deliver the salient message of her program as articulated by poet Audre Lorde: “It’s not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate these differences.”

Mendel leads the audience in an exercise called “Popcorn, Firecracker, Toast,” inviting the crowd to “pop up” if they’ve ever been subjected to any of a litany of discriminations, whether it’s because of race, ethnicity, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, for wearing glasses or braces, for the way they talk or the shape of their body. “Pop up if someone ever hurt you and you have been too afraid to say anything about it,” says Mendel. “Pop up if you’ve ever stood by and watched while someone else was hurt and did nothing.”

(Photo by Brian Cuellar)

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