Justine Gonzales

Justine Gonzales

I cannot help but wonder if we have lost sight of community? Are our schools, companies, religious places of worship and friendship circles really communities? And if they are, how deeply are our stories connected? 

The root of the word “comunidad” in Spanish is the word “común.” This lets us understand that in a true community, there is a definitive decision to say we are together. This is the heart of any culture. We might have differences (diversity) in thoughts, beliefs, or actions — but we choose to focus on that which we have in common while honoring the differences because they are what essentially create the beautiful mosaic that is the human experience.

Since childhood, I was quite aware I did not really “fit in.” My leadership journey is likely how many feel on a daily basis. Questioning if our voice is heard (even when we have jumped through hoops to earn a seat at the table). Wondering and becoming hyper-aware of how we may or may not be perceived based on our words, skin color, name, fashion choices, height, weight, age, marriage or parental status.

I grew up in a bicultural family. My lineage includes my father, who is Puerto Rican with his mother being an orphan from Kentucky who met my grandfather in Chicago (who left Puerto Rico at 16). He was also one of 27 children, but that is a different story for a different day. My grandparents on my mother’s side speak Dutch and were part of the Amish culture and religious sect until they left the church. I come from a long line of disruptors. This is part of my identity. If there is no way — we make one.

The people I will feature in this column will always be asked what they are currently reading. I love to read, and as a child, I read anything I could get my hands on. Books were my escape and ticket to understanding and connecting with humanity. My favorite book was “The Girl on the Outside” by Mildred Pitts Walter, which was based upon the Little Rock Nine. By the age of 10, I had worn my copy out and would move into other texts like “Night”by Elie Weisel, based upon a boy and his father in Nazi Germany concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald and “Zlata’s Diary,” the biography of Zlata Filipović about growing up in war-torn Sarajevo. I had a mother who allowed me to read as much as I desired (thanks, mom!). So, if you are a parent reading this and still wondering if your kids are too young to talk or read about race and social justice — no, they are not too young.

One of my favorite authors is Don Miguel Ruiz, who authored the Toltec wisdom book “The Four Agreements.” He contends:

“To be alive is the biggest fear humans have. Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive — the risk to be alive and express what we really are. Just being ourselves is the biggest fear of humans. We have learned to live our lives trying to satisfy other people’s demands. We have learned to live by other people’s points of view because of the fear of not being accepted and of not being good enough for someone else.” (p. 17)

My intention with the En Comunidad column is to introduce you to diverse stories that are very much the heartbeat and fabric of Indianapolis and the Midwest. Stories of the human experience that allow anyone — the CEO, the school principal, the nonprofit director, the nurse, the pastor, the parent and the child to see the world through the eyes of another perspective and cherish that each and every human interaction has a deep connection to our own personal journey. Most of all, I hope the stories featured can inspire you to value the lived experiences of any human you encounter, understanding that if you so choose — both lives will forever be connected.

As I plan to sign off every column, I will leave you with this question: How are you living today?

Justine González is an Indiana native and first-generation college grad having served in both Chicago Public and Indianapolis Public Schools. Her consulting firm, EducatorAide, partners with organizations to help create culturally connected, equitable, and inclusive environments.

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