When you learn about history in school, it feels like you’re just doing it for school. But when you learn about your own family history, you have more of a motive to learn because it feels more personal. While I was learning about my family history, I recognized values that my relatives have that I also have. A lot of values stood out, but I narrowed them down to six of the most important to my family and me.
My first value is Justice and Social Justice. I believe justice to include Fairness, Honesty and Equality. One example of social justice is when my Grandpa Jack was a soldier in China during World War Two. He was very upset about the poverty and the injustice he saw there, and, even though it was against the U.S. Army rules, he arranged to meet the Chinese Communists because they wanted to make people’s lives better. Every Sunday he and some friends met at a restaurant and discussed Communism. One Sunday he met Mao Zedong there and talked to him about his political beliefs. Though Grandpa made lifelong friends in China and loved its people and culture, he didn’t always agree with the Chinese government’s actions, and when the government killed many Chinese citizens in Tiananmen Square because they were demonstrating for more freedom, Grandpa spoke out against that. My grandparents were also opponents of the Vietnam War and went to peace marches when my mother and uncles were growing up. My grandma Dot tutored underprivileged children and volunteered at Planned Parenthood to help pregnant teenagers. This shows that she cared about helping those in need.
Another example is my grandparents on my dad’s side. They always believed in equality for all people. When my grandpa Harvey moved from New York to Baltimore as a teenager, he was upset by the segregated schools, water fountains, bathrooms and restaurants he saw there. My grandma Beverly worked with black students and was also committed to social justice. When an amusement park became desegregated she took my uncle Ricky and my dad there the first day to make a point. (My dad tells me the episode formed the basis of a famous film and musical called Hairspray.) One more example is my uncle Ricky, who helps people in poor countries live better lives. He works for the US Agency for International Development, and specializes in women’s rights and reducing government corruption in places like Haiti, Liberia and Lebanon. He is also on the board of an organization that works to reduce discrimination against the “untouchable” caste in India. My cousin Sarah worked on Palestinian rights, living in the West Bank and working with special-needs Palestinian children. Everyone in my family believes in the importance of treating others the same way they would like to be treated. Also, many told me that they were brought up to be honest and treat others fairly.
A big part of social justice is standing up for others, and an example of this comes from my dad, who told me a story about when he was in Boy Scout camp. There was a boy there named Gordon, who was emotionally disturbed. In one part of the program, Boy Scouts gave first aid demonstrations, and made themselves up to look injured, with fake blood. One kid had an idea to scare Gordon by making up another camper to look like he was dead. Then the camper would pretend to come back to life and chase Gordon. My dad knew this was the wrong thing to do and declined to help the other boys set Gordon up. But he didn’t say, “Don’t do it.” When the prank occurred, Gordon started screaming and was unable to calm down. It was so bad that they had to drive him home from camp. By coincidence, my dad had to leave the camp early also and was in the car with Gordon, who cried the whole drive back. This taught my dad a valuable lesson that if something is wrong, speak up and stop it.
My second value is Education. Education is the love of learning and sharing it with others. Many of my relatives have been teachers, like my grandpa Harvey, my grandmas Beverly and Stella, and my great uncle Eddie and great aunt Roz, or tutors, like my grandmothers Beverly and Dot. One example of how important education is in my family is that my grandma Dot’s parents moved to Croton because of a progressive school there. Grandma loved that school and said that her values of social justice and equality were ones she learned there.
School was also important to my grandma Beverly. Her dad didn’t want to pay for her to go to college, but she found a way to get the money and went to a teachers’ college anyway. She spent her life teaching others, and she wanted to be remembered as an educator. She didn’t like spending money, but she told her sons, “There will always be money for education.” Education is a big value that I will never ignore.
My next value is Environmentalism. The Earth is where everybody lives and it’s like your home – you always want it to be healthy and clean. My mom, dad, sister, and I participated in the Climate March in New York City in September 2014, protesting against global warming. My mom feels strongly about environmentalism, and demonstrated against a nuclear power plant in northwestern Massachusetts to raise awareness about it. She took a risk and got arrested just to bring attention to the plant and its effect on the Earth. I think that was brave of her.
Another important value is Creativity. This includes Music and Support of the Arts. One of the biggest examples of supporting the arts is my great-grandpa Henry, who collected Impressionist and post-Impressionist art and whose collection recently toured around the world. One example of Creativity is my dad, who is a musician and composer. My uncle Jon is a writer and a painter. I could give many more examples of filmmakers, musicians, singers, graphic artists, actors, writers, and sculptors on both sides of the family. Over the past two summers I learned glass fusing and glass blowing at camp, and know just how satisfying it is to create something beautiful out of nothing.
My fifth value is Family. Family means being loyal to, supportive of, and trusting of your relatives. One example of this is my grandpa Jack, who, when his father died, dropped out of graduate school and took over his father’s business to support his family. It wasn’t his first choice, but he did it anyway because of family. When some of my great grandma Rosie’s family first came to the US, they opened a candy store in Brooklyn. Everyone in the family worked together to bring more relatives over from Russia, and older children earned money to help pay for school for the younger children. This shows me that my relatives were selfless. They put their family’s needs before their own.
My last important value is Charity. A really big example of this is my uncle Danny. He was involved in an organization that tried to bring simple technological solutions to underdeveloped countries. One of the things his organization did was to distribute bicycle-powered LED lanterns to people in Burundi, a country in Africa where many rural villages do not have electricity. These bicycle-powered lights allow students to study at night and make it safer to walk around their village. Here at home my sister, Lily, and I give some of our allowance to charities like the ASPCA and The Food Bank of NYC. Every time we get allowance my parents take two dollars away and save it until the end of the year, when we decide where to give it. My parents set this up because they value charity a lot.
Now that I know about the stories of these six values in my family, I can use them to guide me when making choices in my future. When I was asked which one is the most important, I answered, “I can’t put one in front of the other.” To be the best person I can be, I need all of these values – Justice and Social Justice, Education, Environmentalism, Creativity, Family and Charity.