Explain the meaning of the following quote from Alice Walker: "This is how change happens...It is a relay race, and we're very conscious of that, that our job really is to our part of the race, and...

Explain the meaning of the following quote from Alice Walker: "This is how change happens...It is a relay race, and we're very conscious of that, that our job really is to our part of the race, and then we pass it on. And that is how it is and we can do this."

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Alice Walker's quote explains how change is something that the individual must embrace, but also recognize their part in a larger configuration.  The "relay race" notion in the quote speaks to this idea.  Change happens when individuals "hand off" the mantle of change to others.  For example, a social worker creates change when they impart the tools of empowerment to their client. However, in order for this change to be lasting, the client must "take the baton" that is handed off in the "relay race" of change that is their relationship.  The social worker and client must be "very conscious" of the idea that change is only as good as the individual taking action in coordination with the other. Lasting change can only happen when it people seek to "pass it on" to the other.  While it seems difficult, it is something that is possible.  Human beings "can do this" if they wish to and if they have the will and capacity to do so.

Walker's quote speaks to a condition of change whereby individuals no longer see themselves as isolated.  They are inextricably linked to another, a larger element outside of themselves.  When the individual sees change as a "relay race," Walker stresses that long term and substantive change is possible.  This vision of change is not as likely in a "marathon" setting, where the individual takes the weight of change on their own, devoid of the interaction of others. Rather, with change being a relay race, Walker stresses the idea that in order for change to happen, each person has to see themselves as inextricably linked to the other.  

From the example given above, the social worker is linked to their client.  The client is linked to the tools of empowerment that the social worker shares with them. In order for greater understanding to emerge and for change to be lasting, it must be seen in this context of cooperation.  The "job" for human beings is to see themselves as "part of the race."  When this shift in consciousness happens, change is possible.  The ability to transform what is into what can be only occurs when individuals are able to envision themselves as part of something larger. With the commitment that she has displayed towards the "survival whole" of all women, in particular women of color, and believed that she is part of the "relay race" from her "foremothers" like Hurston, Walker  herself embraces this "relay race" notion of change in her life and her work.

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