Nabil Viñas (AEA) is an actor, screenwriter, and producer born and raised in Washington Heights, New York City with parents from Moca in the Dominican Republic. He facilitates training in SEL and Restorative Justice through the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. Nabil is a 2019 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow in Screenwriting from The New York Foundation for the Arts. www.nabilvinas.com
In reading about the incredible life and work of Sargent Shriver, I came across this motto which tags the Peace Institute website and I imagine echoes through this community which carries his mission and legacy. The saying, you’re most certainly aware, is “Break Your Mirrors.”
It seemed odd to me at first. I had to read further to arrive at its meaning, and as someone who graduated from an all-boys Jesuit high school with the motto “Men for Others,” it certainly felt familiar. A call to shift one’s focus from selfishness towards service, or towards others, is a noble turn for sure.
Reflecting on this direction, however, it struck me how the sentiment seemed almost the opposite of what I had only recently suggested some “white” friends and allies do. When they turned to me for guidance—the “what can I do?” question—I answered clearly and tangibly. I shared immediate responses which included protest and direct action, and places to donate money to those on the ground including bail funds and legal support. But most importantly, and for the long term, I shared resources for doing the hard work of unpacking the racism that’s made its way into their own lives. I shared articles, books, short videos, feature documentaries, and podcasts that connect the dots of how racism operates beyond interpersonal and individual actions. And I invited them to inspect where and how their own choices and habits have been affected by this centuries-long conditioning.
It seems to me that self-reflection, inspection, and growth are more important and necessary than they have ever been. So much of what we have long taken for granted or accepted as normal is rightfully being challenged, questioned, and confronted. This is where “Break Your Mirrors” and “Men for Others” sounds somewhat discordant to my ears at this moment.
Never before has there been more solidarity, curiosity, and motivation for shifting our culture and systems away from their racist blueprints. While some may be arriving at anti-racist work for the first time, and others may have been at this for years, there is always a learning edge, a frontier, where growth is possible and necessary. I can’t ever imagine telling the women in my life that I’ve learned all I need to know about sexism and that my work is done. The journey continues.
And so when thinking about what I wanted to offer this community which has already come to value service, I’ve arrived at this invitation to “Break Out Your Mirrors.” Where is the frontier in your own life where you need to do some unlearning? None of us are free from the racist messaging that has permeated our culture and been intentionally embedded in our institutions. The unraveling and undoing is heavy lifting, and it is as internal as it is external.
I want to note that my high school experience, and the service I did, made me a better person and laid some groundwork for what I do today as an artist and educator. But nothing I learned there prepared me for the experience of being a Dominican from New York City at a mostly “white” University. This experience is likely to be the subject of a future work, but the short of it is that after being an exemplary student who skipped eighth grade with great scores, and graduated high school with honors, the culture shock of a major “white” college campus so severely destabilized me that I ultimately dropped out of school.
My point in sharing this is that when I read the newsletters from my high school, and when I’ve visited or been in touch with the people I appreciate there, nothing has given me the sense that anything has changed or shifted at that institution to give the next kid like me a better shot at navigating “whiteness” on their own. And no such shift is possible there without a mirror to see how and why that is.
Thank you for your time, your attention, and for your service. May we continue forward on this journey together. Pa’lante.