By Risha Bera, LABB Monitoring & Evaluation Associate
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB) respects all community voices, including the ones that don’t agree with our mission. For us, disagreement is an opportunity for discussion and learning. However, as I found out last Wednesday evening, October 17th, not all people will extend the same courtesy to us. These are the situations that test our resolve not just as leaders in our professional work, but also as personal role models.
Last Wednesday, LABB Community Organizer for the Istrouma Health Partnership, Tyrone Chambers II, and I drove to Southern University in Baton Rouge to recruit volunteers for LABB’s new Rapid Response Team. To give a sense of how much open-mindedness is valued within our organization, Tyrone asked me to DJ South Asian music on the drive up to Baton Rouge. For an hour or so, I shared how South Asian music was such an important part of my life growing up with my family and in my college experience.
After we fulfilled the day’s responsibilities, it was Tyrone’s turn to share. We drove to the Abita Brew Pub Restaurant and Brewery in downtown Abita Springs, where Tyrone was scheduled to perform several pieces as part of the restaurant’s “Opera on Tap” program. I was lucky to get a spot at bar, right next to the piano and the performing singers. I’m no opera expert, but Tyrone was phenomenal— he was singing and acting and his passion for both was clear to everyone in the room.
However, not all of the audience members appreciated all the messages that Tyrone had to share. After Tyrone passed by the bar to get to the stage, proudly wearing his Bucket Brigade t-shirt, one audience member yelled, “Bloody environmentalists!” A quick look at Tyrone told me that he’d missed hearing the comment. The man who’d yelled was clearly inebriated. In a long second, I thought, “Do I not respond and allow intolerance to continue, or do I say something and risk upsetting him more? What would I say?”
So I looked straight down the bar, and yelled, “HEY! Don’t hate; we’re good people.” I’m not sure where those words came from, other than my gut feeling that tolerance is something that all people should actively stand up for. The man and his friends who received my comment looked so ashamed of themselves. I am convinced that some of them will think twice about making another, similarly intolerant comment again.
Just as it is sometimes easy to be a bystander, it is also easy to let bad situations affect your beliefs and your interactions with others. I’m thankful that after the show, three audience members walked up to Tyrone to congratulate him and to express enthusiasm for the Bucket Brigade. But I’m most thankful that Tyrone and I didn’t let one person’s intolerant comment ruin our night; DJ Chambers was too busy running on positive energy and spinning Stevie Wonder as we crossed the lake on our way home.