We must diversify ourselves
I grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland, a predominantly Black county right outside of Washington, D.C.
Coming from there, the Peace Corps was never something that people talked about. I knew nothing about what it was, or any of the missions that it strove to accomplish. Given that it was a volunteer organization, it is clear why I never heard about it.
As a Black man, culturally, my main objective in life should be to make money, start a family and provide for said family. When I first I told my hometown friends that I was going into the Peace Corps, their first question was, “What’s that?” After I explained what I was signing up for, their next question/exclamation was, “You’re going to work for free?!”
Most of the people I knew growing up couldn’t understand why I would want to do this. This is because some people perceived serving in the Peace Corps as “white people stuff” along with skiing, sailing and hockey. Growing up, I knew that I was capable of transcending the stereotypes of Black culture, and after I went to college, I knew that I couldn’t hold myself to the constraints of that archetype. I had to experience how other people lived, and I needed to know how to interact with different cultures.
Of all of my male friends from high school, I am the only one that has graduated from college. My friends either weren’t able to adapt to the new culture or felt it wasn’t the best use of their time (they weren’t making money). When I went to college, it opened up an entirely unknown world to me. I had never really ventured out of Black culture because that is what I grew up in and felt comfortable with. The other ethnicities that I did interact with in my hometown were so engulfed in Black culture that they were unrecognizable, culture-wise, from everyone else that I knew.
All of what I knew about other cultures was what I saw on television, which was mostly stereotypical and offensive. Going to college allowed me not only to learn academically, but culturally as well. I was able to experience how other people viewed the world and also realize how little I knew about the world.
Upon realizing this, I knew that I wanted to travel outside of the U.S. and truly experience different cultures, not just get a snapshot of their culture with little to no context. Coupled with this aspiration was a desire to utilize my skills and expertise to help those in need. Given all the help that I have received to accomplish everything I set out to do, it felt only right to help those who weren’t given the same opportunities.
Once I found out about the Peace Corps, making the decision to become a Peace Corps Volunteer was something that came fairly easy. I knew that I wanted to give back in some way, and I knew that I wanted to see more of the world. I believe international service is something that everyone should do, even if it is only for six months, but it is especially important for Black people and other people of color.
Being able to adapt and understand different cultures is a very valuable skill. Knowing how to interact with other cultures will give you the potential to affect more change and allow you to engage in discussions about race and acceptance in a meaningful way.
As a person living in a globalized world, you are more effective and marketable if you know how to talk to people without offending or alienating them with your lack of knowledge or lack of effort to engage them comfortably. Just because no one else around you is doing it, it doesn’t mean that you can’t. In order for true, accepted diversity to become a reality, we must diversify ourselves.