It’s the end of the year and my mailbox is full of solicitations from non-profits seeking end-of-year donations. The solicitations are becoming more and more beautiful and heart wrenching. I want to give to them all and I feel a mixture of guilt and sadness when I throw all of the pretty paper away because I know that at the other end of each and every plea is someone profoundly in need—a person, often even a child. With every solicitation, I am reminded that there but for the grace of God go I. But I have limited resources of money and time and I just cannot give to them all.
In the face of all of this need, many of us have to choose very carefully and meaningfully the causes we take part in. We know that we have to put guilt aside and list the important efforts that we can best lend our talents and most effectively apply our precious time to. It makes sense to participate in the matters that hit close to home. I am often reminded of Mother Teresa (who spent her life serving the poorest of the poor in India), when asked what others could do to promote world peace, she famously said, “Go home and love your family.” I have always taken that to mean, firstly, you can make the biggest impact on the world by impacting your most fundamental sphere of influence and, secondly, first things first.
In a very important way, Mother Teresa’s edict helps us slog through the worthy causes piling up in the mailbox and guides us to navigate toward a good fit versus the temptation of other attractive options that may not really suit us well. Some causes are so sexy! They come with glittering galas and high profile events. They provide on and offline attention. They make us look smart and cool and hip and cutting edge. These types of charity choices, as worthy as they are, may distract us from the less high profile ones that may fit our energies better.
For me, Mom’s Clean Air Force has been a powerful way of following Mother’s Teresa’s advice. I’ve talked a lot about my household of respiratory-challenged children and spouse, and how we are impacted on a daily basis by the air we breathe. Through my work with MCAF, I have learned that my household is in very good company, as asthma and respiratory problems are not only a quiet epidemic in the African-American community, but a significant cause of illness, hospitalization and premature death for everybody. This issue cuts a wide path across the political spectrum, touching on how this country addresses the environment, health care, federal spending and social inequalities.
And so I know that the little part I play in spreading the word about the EPA’s efforts to enforce the Clean Air Act (with, for example, its fight to pass its Mercury Standards and Toxics Rules and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule); the impact of pollution on the health of adults and children; and the unethical and misleading ways the energy industry and legislators avoid cleaning up the air – are important to my family. But, air pollution reverberates out to impact my neighborhood, state and nation. In a sense, our efforts to get others to join our clean air cause should be easy. We have never asked for money or fundraising. And even though our end-of-year plea does not come with a tax deduction, it is a simple ask. All we are requesting is this: