This story was in Sunday’s New York Times and it inspired me so much; I can’t stop thinking about it. Overcoming Addiction, Professor Tackles Perils American Indians Face. The article, by Alan Schwarz, describes the journey of Dr. David A. Patterson, a social work professor at Washington University in St. Louis, from the throes of addiction and hopelessness, to a full life of teaching, researching the difficulties facing Native Americans, seeking solutions and changing lives.
Patterson was a young man on a collision course with disaster, a step away from taking his own life, when he was rescued by an uncle who taught him something precious: his own Native American heritage (he is part Cherokee), about which he knew nothing. This gift, an understanding of who he was and where he came from, made him value himself for the first time in his life.
The notion of being part of a group with deep, meaningful traditions, that had endured despite years of marginalization, gave Patterson the strength to overcome the challenges holding him back. I believe this is true of any group that has suffered oppression–anywhere–and managed to survive nevertheless. Somehow it made me think of the Bob Marley song, Buffalo Soldier:
If you know your history,
Then you would know where you coming from,
Then you wouldn’t have to ask me,
Who the heck do I think I am.
Of course, my description doesn’t scratch the surface, read the article for yourself. (See link above.)