Our Fullest Human Potential

by Lillian Mark, Operations Manager, Community Building Division

A woman who came to GLIDE homeless two years ago now finds herself at GLIDE’s 149 Mason Street Apartments and holds a part-time job as a community advocate.  She recently shared her story and closed with “Jan and Cecil, thank you for believing in your dreams, so that my dreams can come true.”

Forty-nine years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stirred the nation with “I Have a Dream,” a deeply held belief and vision that embodied hope and equality for everyone.  As a woman of color, I am a beneficiary of the Civil Rights Movement; Dr. King believed in his dream, so that my dreams can come true.

When I arrived at GLIDE in 2004 as an Emerging Leader Epworth Intern, I wanted to inspire others to dream!  One afternoon at the Janice Mirikitani Family, Youth, and Childcare Center, a 4th grade student drew a portrait of an African American male in a suit and tie.  I asked him, “Who is that?”  He responded, “It’s my cousin.  He is going to be President of the United States someday.”  At 20, I knew that our country had never elected a President who was a person of color, and a part of me wanted to tell him that.  Although I uttered not a word, I believe my silence said much more.

I often recount this incident with regret and shame.  Rita Shimmin, GLIDE’s Co-Executive Director, says “we all bring our histories to this moment.” Our personal stories and experiences teach us what is possible, what is just, and what is important; it defines the parameters within which we must operate in order to remain safe and for the world around us to make sense.  In retrospect, I also shared this child’s dream growing up, but it was never encouraged.  As a result, it set limits on how much I dared to dream.  Through The Zone work at GLIDE, I have learned to support others in “breaking the cycles of poverty” by being aware of my own cycles of poverties; my poverty (my internalization of what I believe to be possible) took away from a child’s opportunity to dream BIG.  The Zone is a leadership training initiative that supports GLIDE staff to develop personal consciousness around our personal histories, values, and beliefs, and to become aware of how they influence our work–the decisions we make, our attitude, and our behaviors.  What The Zone demands of GLIDE staff is no different than what our community is searching for when they come to GLIDE–a place for healing and recovery.  We may call it different things, but in the end, we are simply looking for what Rev. Cecil Williams calls our “fullest human potential.”  And when each of us discovers it, we, together, can dream BIG dreams.