If any of you have been following my Facebook posts lately, you may have noticed my morning greeting of this word Nakuona pronounced Nah-ku-o-na. It is Swahili (East African language) for "I see you ", "I am seeing you", "You are seen". As one who works daily with young people I have used this phrase many times. It is my common mode of communication which lets students know that I take notice. When they enter the space I manage I make sure to acknowledge their presence and anything that may be different about them. It could be their outfits, new hairstyles, new shoes, new book bags and sometimes it can be a huge fabulous smile, or a melancholy expression. I am looking and they know.
A simple exchange may go something like this;
Me: I see you Mikayla with your hot pink Vans.
Mikayla: (Laughter).. Thank you Ms Toure.
Me: You're welcome, looking good girl.
Or a detailed exchange;
Me: Josh, you looking fly with your whiter then white Forces.
Josh: Yeah, but it's hard to keep him white, just gotta watch people cause you know there are some haters out here.
Me: Yeah,I hear ya. Now tell me how do you keep them so clean?
The conversation continues to flow from there.
During my times of introspection, I have thought more, not only about the students who stand out but also those who do not rock the new shoes, or the fly t-shirt. Instead they come as they are, and they too deserve to be noticed. If we are honest there are probably more young people who feel they are not seen or recognized than those who feel they are.
That's the fascinating part about being a librarian, you have the opportunity to provide a place where the popular AND the not so popular kids can get a break and hang out.
There are no essays, no experiments, no mathematical equations, no rubrics or points to be earned. Instead it is a space where multiple literacies are showcased in their midst. Students have access to them whenever they want and the seekers know this. After 25 years in education, I have concluded all young people should be recognized for just being who they are.
But here is the thing I have been asking myself recently, "Do you not know that this yearning to be seen and recognized extends beyond the young people in the library?" People in general regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, socio-economic status should be acknowledged, not for what they have or how they look but for who they are. I want to share two experiences that have driven this point home even further.
While on my mini retreat in Charleston, South Carolina, I walked daily from my hotel to the famous market place. This happens a lot when I travel. Because I want to experience the culture and the city I will travel by foot or by public transportation. One day while walking to the local market, I crossed paths with a homeless man and as I slowed my walk and reached over to give him money, I asked if he would like prayer too. To my surprise, he immediately bowed his head and lifted his hands. There I was face to face with a homeless man whose eyes teared up as he welcomed words of affirmation from a stranger. (And I thought this was all about me and my refreshing vacation) Not so. Afterwards, he took three steps over to a stoop, sat down and I joined him. We chatted for a good 20 minutes but in the middle of the conversation I looked behind us and noticed we were actually sitting on the steps of a church. Now that was no coincidence. God was saying "Nakuona" to both he and I. Soon the conversation ended, we said our good byes and he thanked me over and over. For me, it was a privilege. I did wonder though if anyone had ever offered him prayer. It was a great Nakuona moment.
Just last week, as I exited my car, I noticed an older woman a street over with a cane misstep the curb and stumble to the ground. Although her husband was there, he could not muster up the strength to assist her. As I approached her and spoke comforting words. I told her she didn't have to get up until she was ready. She was struggling but I assured her, it was fine to rest, that I would stay there to help unless she wanted me to call an ambluance. She responded that she would get up, she could do it but needed to position herself. After 15 minutes she was back on her feet with her cane and we were all smiles. She looked at me and said "Thank you, thank you so much for seeing me". It made me wonder do people see but not acknowledge or help. It was yet another Nakuona moment.
Nakuona is not just a catchy alternative phrase for me. Though clearly it can be a wonderful greeting, I am making a deliberate effort to "see" folks like never before. Of course I am not saying I will see them all. That's impossible, I am only one person, but everyday I have an expectation that God will direct me to someone who needs to be seen.