Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

What do you do when words aren’t enough… How did I not know?

Written by: on November 23, 2022

I’m not going to recap Mandela, or Tutu today. We all read the books, and had the once in a lifetime experience gaining first hand accounts of their life and history. What I am going to do is tell you how they deeply impacted a generational change in my families life and for that I am incredibly grateful to both of them as well as the program and each of you. Their work is not finished, and I believe educating youth is a great starting point to keep their work alive and flourishing.

My time in South Africa was nothing short of life changing and amazing. The experience that I had was a generational change that I have been praying for but didn’t know where it would come from. I am still very much processing our time there, but I’m also having to unpack a childhood of suppression that I didn’t know was there. In order to talk about that further I am going to jump to something that I read in Bishop Tutu’s book.

Chapter 10 – We did not know: “How was it possible for normal, decent, and God fearing people as White South Africans consider themself to be, have turned a blind eye to a system which impoverished oppressed, and violated so many of those others with whom they shared the beautiful land that was their common motherland?” (1)

I am praying that you will not skim the next part and hear me and my heart. I’m about to throw myself completely under the bus that I have been living under a rock. Before this program I had never heard of either of these two men. Before this program I had never heard the word Apartheid. But, how? Let me dive in…

When I was in Jr. High on September 11, 2011 and staying with my grandmother the world changed in an instant. My mother and her husband were in Austin, Texas and officially no longer able to come home due to the weeks pivotal moments. I watched the news then in horror as they repeated the videos over and over. I watched daily on the news as they search for remains for the next month with my grandmother. I sat with her completely confused and in horror as Americans tried to piece together what had happened and why? I consumed myself living through other peoples worst nightmare and living in fear. After that first month I never turned on the news again until… the year of 2020. There was another pivotal moment in March where the world changed in an instant. Coincidentally this time my beloved grandmother was with me. My husband alerted me that I needed to sit down and listen so that we could decide as a family what we needed to do. Again, I watched again in horror for weeks the outcomes of this deadly virus. I consumed my life living through other peoples worst nightmares and living in fear. At some point in that month I decided then that the news had no part in my home. I would not let what had happened to me as a child happen to my kids as well. I had a choice to protect them and my momma bear came out in full force. Living out in the country and a natural hoarder of things because I loath having to drive to town we bunkered down easily, and spent the best family time I had ever had. I got to know my kids on a whole new level. I got time with my grandmother that I would have never got. My kids got to have deep connections with one of my favorite people on the planet.  I am not lost that all of this was happening in bliss on the farm as the world was completely falling apart.

When I grew up my grandmother taught me to be kind to everyone, and look for opportunities to help with everything you do. I was taught that we all were human and we all had hearts. Last, I was taught that we were all the same because we are all children of God. I was not taught to look for differences and I was thrilled to have instilled that into my own children. Their favorite doll is one I got in Nepal of a Nepalese man that they thought looked exactly like their dad. I will give you a clue… they looked nothing alike. Prior to South Africa I have been proud they didn’t see it. That meant I did my job. I had other people in my life that showed me how not to act towards others of difference race. They said words that even as a child I remember being repulsive and I wanted to steer clear of them and their beliefs. I remember even as a kid thinking… but Mimi says we are all children of God? We are all the same.. so do you think those negative things about yourself too if we are the same? Again, like the news I just steered clear of those individuals because I thought that if I did that… it would fix the problem. I even made special efforts to not let my children around them because if I did that – I could protect them of raciest people. I truly thought that if I did that… that thought would die with them.

Not one time in school from kindergarten through my masters did I hear the words Desmond Tutu. Not one time did I hear the words Nelson Mandela. The schools history departments focused solely on what the books that they selected which barely skimmed Dr. Kings work, and Rosa Parks. Not one time did I ever hear the word Apartheid. So if I didn’t watch the news, I didn’t learn anything about these wonderful men in school, and avoided the race conversation like the plague due to childhood traumas…I hope you can see the giant boulder I made my family hide under with the best intentions.

Greyson and Asher: I think I might just print two of every picture and tell them when they get older that one of the babies is you…but I dont know which one. True Story.

Prior to South Africa I thought that I was making a generational change in my family by removing toxic people and toxic news stations from even possibly touching my kids life with their prejudices so they could continue to live like my Mimi taught me. That everyone is the same because we are all children of God. After leaving South Africa I learned that I have the duty to teach my kids about the history and repercussions of it so that they can continue to stand up for what is right like other leaders have done before them. So that they can fight for others and continue the work that so many such as Tutu, Mandela, and King worked so hard for. It’s my duty to educate them to educate others. The cycle I was running from generationally can still STOP. However, what I was running from can be the catalyst to show my kids another way. Instead of stuffing everyone in the same box…we can acknowledge others differences. If God had wanted us all to be the SAME, he would have made us where we all looked the same. I have identical twins- and it’s confusing guys. 

I leave you with a broken heart, that I have slowly been trying to put back together since September with all of you at my side. How did I now know any of this? I was taught to love, and love well. There’s just another piece she didn’t know to include and that’s ok. Since September I have had many conversations with my grandmother about my experiences which have been so helpful as we continue to learn together. Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” (2) As long as people are learning from others to hate each others differences, we have to educate our youth how to elevate others because of their differences. It’s an honor to learn from these leaders that paved the way through great sacrifice.

(1) Tutu, D. (2000). Chapter 10, Page 271. In No future without forgiveness. essay, The Doubleday Religious Publishing.

(2)Mandela, N. (2021). In Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. The Folio Society Ltd.

About the Author

Alana Hayes

Alana is a mother to four beautiful children and wife to a farmer in Texas. She is an avid world traveler with a heart for both the world and education. She is the president of the nonprofit Against the Grain Texas where they focus on providing education to children overseas and at risk adults in the states. To date the nonprofit has given almost $100,000 to individuals around the world. In her free time she loves spending meaningful time with people and reading to further her personal education.

One response to “What do you do when words aren’t enough… How did I not know?”

  1. Kristy Newport says:

    Dear Alana,
    Thank you for writing from your heart!
    It seems like this blog was not easy for you to write. I know that what we were learning in SoAfrica was not easy and it takes time to process. You grappled with much of what we were learning. I saw this. I appreciated how much you wanted to be honest and look at things.
    I too, struggle with turning on the news and looking at what is going on in our world. I want to protect my family. It is good to know that while there are awful messages circulating, messages of hope, love and forgiveness are there too. I am glad that we were able to look closely at Mandela and Tutu who were beacons of hope, love, and forgiveness. I hope we can not only honor those who embody these qualities but be these people as well. Our children will know about Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu and how they stood up for equity and truth. Educating ourselves and our children is not easy but good. I know that you are committed to this, Alana. You are a great mother.

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