A Social Ignition “is incredibly dear to my heart, as it’s rooted in 20+ years of friendship, growth and mutual support with one of the most dynamic women I know. I first met Sonja Skvarla in the stairwell of our jr. high school, face splotchy with tears because she felt she had once again failed to live up to the standards of her improbably tall, thin, pretty, white-blonde Swedish siblings (Sonja, it seems, got all the broad-shouldered, working-class South Side Chicago genes in the family).
That sense of being “worth less” dealt heavy blow to her self esteem that followed her throughout her academic career, into her early 20s and resulted in a decade of aimlessness and underachievement. In the spring of 2010, dejected and desperate for a change, she applied to business school and came to wait out her acceptance with me in Brooklyn. We reminisced and prognosticated and talked of many things, including how much a culturally narrow and impossible-to-attain standard can hold a person back from being the best that they can be and letting their true talents shine. I reminded her that as disappointed as she was not to meet the blonde/blue-eyed/All-American ideal, she was a hell of a lot closer to it than more than half this country, including me and most of the friends I’ve made since I left our cozy, predominantly White suburb.
She met some of those friends. She checked her privilege. She got into b-school. And that’s when she realized that a sense of self-doubt and discouragement similar to the one that had held her back was holding entire demographics back, reinforced by constant cultural messaging that renders minorities – and especially Black men – invisible at best. And so she launched A Social Ignition, a non-profit aimed at helping young men who have been caught up in this country’s epidemic of mass incarceration re-enter the workforce and build a belief in themselves and their chances of success.
She has been leading workshops in prisons and in cooperation with other larger non-profit social organizations for over a year now and officially launched on November 6th. She is hoping to raise (funds) to expand her programs outside of the Pacific Northwest into other cities that are overspending on punishment for minor crimes (e.g., the crime of being Black in the wrong place at the wrong time) and under-developing human capital.
I hope those of you who have stood by slack-jawed and outraged for the past few weeks at the lack of value our culture places on Black lives will take the half the time it takes to type out a sympathetic comment and make a donation that will directly fund the cultural infrastructure and opportunities that people of color in this country are so often denied.
Throughout the aforementioned 20+ years of friendship, MizJenkins has had an uncanny, and often irritating, ability to summarize a situation with incredible acuteness. As she did here. This post was originally posted at The Salad Bowl.