Celebrating "Leap Day" and the Gifts of Social Justice

Sharon Gary-Smith

We're getting an extra day in February this year! Even though it's still the shortest month of the year, I appreciate that February has been crammed full of opportunities to learn about, acknowledge and celebrate justice-seekers. February is the month when we're encouraged to learn about the richness of the African-American experience, which includes a history of those who chose to take risks, and who were resilient in the face of danger and death. And these justice-seekers often took leaps while in possession of certain qualities -- gifts, if you will -- to guide them.

Leap Day has inspired me to create my list of Top Five Social Justice Gifts.  These gifts, unlike Valentine's Day chocolates, don't have expiration dates and can be used now and again as we work for justice.

1) The gift of patience: I appreciate the significant commitments we make daily, even when we're weary and don't see significant progress toward our goal. After decades in the pursuit of social justice, I'm reminded that Rome wasn't built in a day, and all of our work is valuable, necessary, and must continue if we're going to build and sustain grassroots leadership that challenges and changes the systems we live with.

2) The gift of giving:  You may say, "Well of course she's saying that, since that's her job." But I'm talking about my own giving. I used to think that my donations couldn't possibly make a difference; that I only had my time and talent to offer. I now realize that every donation to social justice is another dollar toward achieving it. It feels good when I realize that I'm a social justice investor, a philanthropist, that I'm contributing to achieving real justice for all.

3) The gift of integrity:  Although I know it may feel risky, each time I refuse to allow others to demonize someone because of age, abilities, skin color, sexual orientation, finances, zip code, country of origin, or religious expression, I've taught a powerful lesson about human dignity. It's not usually easy or comfortable, but it's worth the effort!

4) The gift of humility: The gift of humility reminds me that every person I meet has something to teach me. I realize that though I strive to be progressive and just, I find sometimes that my aspirations cause me to be in a hurry to "get it done" without the contributions of all (see Gift #1, Patience). This type of intolerance can cause even the best of us social justice practitioners to run roughshod over those we deem less progressive, less in sync with "the people." Humility requires more of us.

5) The gift of celebration: We can take time to celebrate those who are willing to stay the course, to do the heavy lifting to move institutions, governments and individuals to re-examine business as usual, to name racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ageism and ableism for the barriers they are to equal opportunity. I celebrate the work to achieve justice and those individuals who are justice seekers. And as I pause to celebrate them, I am inspired to do more myself.

February 29th is a day we usually don't see on the calendar. I encourage you to consider using part of this extra day to consider the gifts you want to keep in your social justice practice. If we keep on appreciating and giving gifts of social justice, we're building a movement that will, over the long term, achieve great things.