Smiling in the Park

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There’s an adage about a hummingbird that was carrying a droplet of water in its beak, heading towards a forest fire. Asked what it thought it could do to put out the blaze with such a small contribution, it replied (presumably without dropping the droplet): “I’m just doing my bit”.

I’ve always loved that story, and I thought of it this morning as I was jogging through Summerfield Park in Birmingham, smiling at passers-by and saying “Good morning” to anyone who smiled back.

In Salvador, Bahia, the Brazilian city where I lived for nearly 30 years and still have close family, it is customary to say “Bom dia” to people one meets in the morning – indeed, all day long. It may hark back to African traditions, which are still strongly present in that city’s culture. Certainly, it is a Yoruba custom to greet people in the morning by saying “E kaaro”.

In Birmingham’s Summerfield Park, I make a point of smiling and greeting everyone I meet, unless they are (a) staring fixedly at their phones, (b) deeply engaged in conversation or (c) small children who might mistake me for a paedophile.

What I have found is that, no matter whom I greet – black, white, brown, male, female, bearded, covered,  or not – most will smile back. Some even seem pleasantly surprised that a middle-aged white woman is smiling at them.

What started out as a natural exercise in cordiality has become my mission to smile at everyone I meet in attempt to assuage some of the hurt brought on by Brexit-fuelled prejudice (or the prejudice that fuelled Brexit).

Which brings me back to the hummingbird. I may have become, “that smiling white lady who jogs in the park”, but at least I am making my own minuscule contribution to peace and harmony in my community. A small step for a woman, an incremental move forward for humankind?

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Postscript: Yesterday evening, the same day I wrote and published this post, I went to a talk with the “grandfather of Black British photography”, Vanley Burke. Through a photograph he took, I learned that Summerfield Park was the site of a major peace rally in 2011, following riots during which three young men were killed, hit by a car in Dudley Road.

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