As we enter the holiday craze, driven by our increasing need to consume, I am committed to remaining focused on the season’s intended spirit of love. The Grand Jury decision to take no action against Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, on the eve of Thanksgiving, calls for acting in love – which is the only thing that can drive out hate.

The brutality of Wilson’s shooting of the unarmed teenager, Mike Brown, resurrected a national debate on police-community relations and race – an ugly narrative that exposes painful divisions which often break along racial lines. This polarization now hangs over our Thanksgiving holiday; residue washed up yet again from the not so distant shores of chattel slavery. Yes, our national legacy on race is tragic, but this season we can each make a difference by honoring the promise of being one nation, indivisible.

After a night of peaceful protests and predictable vandalism, I awoke affirming my commitment to building equity. This begins with seeing inequity, which is seen most acutely in disparate levels of access to food. This makes Thanksgiving a great place to start!

As we buy more than we can eat, spend more than we can afford, consume more than we comfortably can, we stand in stark contrast to those in our city who will go hungry. This contradiction in our midst is an opportunity to see ourselves more fully, and to see our most vulnerable citizens, perhaps for the first time. Let this be a calling to give more than thanks for what we have; let it move us to share that abundance.

In this spirit of giving thanks through sharing, Youth UpRising opens the season with a holiday meal each year. We prepare and serve a traditional Thanksgiving meal as a way to bring our diverse network together. Everyone – residents, staff, partners, funders, and young people – come and find more than food; they find community. By breaking bread we share the substance of life, filling the space with laughter, provocative conversation, and dreams of healing our hearts, our community, and our nation.

Following the community dinner, YU staff and youth head out into the neighborhood to deliver Thanksgiving food boxes to families who can cook but cannot afford a meal. Each box contains a turkey, dressing mix, chicken stock, cranberry sauce, and mac & cheese. More than a meal, it’s an offering of love; a symbol of our commitment to building and preserving a sense of community in East Oakland.

These two communal Thanksgiving rituals are grounded in our understanding that too many of our neighbors fall outside of the tradition of wasteful Thanksgiving consumption. They remain hungry in this region of extraordinary affluence.

Giving the gift of food and community brings joy to my heart and to the hearts of all who participate. Individuals and families receive the offerings with a depth of gratitude that can only come from those who are truly going without. Many of them are eager men and women, living right in our backyards, who lack access to meaningful work, education, and career opportunities that abound in our region. Sharing and giving have deep meaning, whether you’re on either end.

This offering is my invitation into a mindset of giving this season, filled as it is with hard realities. Each of us can be the change we seek.

Olis Simmons is the president and CEO of YouthUprising, a youth development organization in East Oakland

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