Dear Friends and Colleagues from Around the World,
2020 has been a challenging year in so many ways. For the first time in 47 years, our family did not celebrate Thanksgiving together, nor did our children and grandchildren celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas at my oldest daughter’s place. We had to settle on a series of Zoom calls emptying Christmas stockings on Christmas Eve and singing carols on another video call on Christmas. Here are some of the highlights of Million Mile Walker for the year.
At over 335,000 deaths, the U.S. has the worst record, with 25% of the COVID-19 cases and deaths in the world as we enter what could be the deadliest period of the epidemic. The Black Lives Matters movement has spread around the world, pushing for changes of systemic racism, reflected by Whites being ten times wealthier than Blacks, who are five times more likely to be incarcerated and who are the most likely impacted by COVID due to an inadequate national healthcare system.
But change comes, although too slowly. Here in Arizona the State flipped Blue and we now have two Democratic Senators and a new President-Elect, making Trump only the fifth U.S. President not to obtain a second term. But we have much to do. According to the Pew Foundation survey, the top 1% earns forty times more than the bottom 90%.
Immigration and refugees were contentious items this year and I recommend a movie, The Life Ahead, which tells the story that complements a book I reviewed, “Homeland Elegies.” Sophia Loren stars in and helps direct (with her son) a film based on a French novel about an unlikely friendship between a Senegalese migrant and an elderly holocaust victim who runs a childcare center. Beautifully done and timely, considering the vilification around immigrants and the growing divisions in the world family.
My Writing & Book Reviews
“My Literary Journey” Zoom webinar for the “Writers Connection” was a highlight for me this year. I discuss the Making of Different Latitudes and the Million Mile Walker—with tips on how to write and publish your work–and my philosophy on living. Several successful authors said they picked up some good ideas on the business and inspiration of writing. I start off with my traumatic departure as the CEO of Hagar, which led to my decision to become a writer and share my experiences and stories with the rest of the world. https://drive.google.com/…/1gnfBUQ6ZgAPPDvMuesYZGV…/view
Caste and White Fragility were two of the timeliest books I reviewed. The lockdown caused by COVID-19 has laid bare the growing inequalities and injustices in our social and economic systems today, and yet offered a good opportunity to understand its foundations, as well as why so many white Americans seem willing to ignore the needs of their fellow citizens in order to maintain a system which benefits them so mightily, while ignoring and explaining away the suffering of others.
The public, excruciating murder of George Floyd sparked an awakening among many white people and our nation’s systemic racism, and offered an opportunity to better appreciate its power and longevity of over 400 years on this continent. This Pulitzer Prize bestselling author of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents examines the often-unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives are still impacted by a hierarchy of human divisions, which damage not only the Blacks at the bottom, but also dominate the white population at the top of society today. And by understanding this insidious system, I fully agree with Albert Einstein, “If the majority knew of the root of this evil, then the road to its cure would not be long.”
The other book helps us understand how the white community should deal with systemic racism in this country. Given the numbers and diversity of people participating in the Black Lives Matter protests around the world, this seemed a good time to reflect on my own upbringing, and what we can do to take advantage of a pivotal point in our history, especially with elections on the horizon.
So, this New York Times bestselling book attracted me because the author is a recognized trainer and educator on racial and social justice issues. She deals head-on with white people who ignore race and are dealing with emotions like anger, fear and guilt, which often leads to argumentation and silence. More importantly, the author not only explains the phenomenon, but also explains how it protects racial inequality and what we, as a society, can do to engage more constructively.
The author provides some clear instructions on how to personally become an anti-racist, “We can follow the leadership on antiracism from people of color, and work to build authentic cross-racial relationships. We can get involved in organizations working for racial justice. And most importantly, we must break the silence about race and racism with other white people.”
“The Yang of Travel: Traveling Solo,” part of my Yin & Yang of Travel series received Honorable Mention at the “Solas Award for Best Travel Writing.” Award-winning publisher Travelers’ Tales is the sponsor of the competition to honor excellence in travel writing. Extraordinary stories about travel and the human spirit have been the cornerstones of the literary group, and I’m proud my essay is included among the winners in this year’s competition! The article was published by Literary Yard and reissued by the Peace Corps Worldwide. You can still access the Peace Corps Worldwide version below—to rate it and make comments at the end—please do! https://peacecorpsworldwide.org/the-yang-of-travel-traveling-solo/?fbclid=IwAR04g9MC5mjldBOtzgdIfbCAdwDuEd3cdqoFS-2MlDcVfb6OW44GcF9k0rM
Voices of the Day
Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.
– Martin Luther King Jr.
We wear masks out of our freedom to care for one another. We stay home because in our freedom we don’t want to get others sick. We don’t reopen our church buildings just yet because our freedom calls us to take care of not just ourselves, but instead turn toward the greater good of all. We continue to slow down and make wise choices out of our love for freedom.
– Jes Kast
What Others Are Saying
On my latest, “The Million Mile Walker Review: What We’re Reading and Why” column, which included a review of White Fragility and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents:
”Before I forget, I want to let you know how much I loved your column this month. It is so timely and so important. You put a lot of heart into it and I hope it stirs people to action for our brothers and sisters of color. Thank you for writing it. Katy”. -Kathleen Cook, Editor of the Arizona Authors Association Newsletter.
A 5-star review for my book: “Especially in these days of COVID, it’s too easy for me to forget about the world: the broad world filled with other cultures, in many of which people struggle just to survive. Different Latitudes brings that world home. Its stories are evocative, sometimes humorous, and always compelling. Because I was in the Peace Corps myself, in El Salvador, and because I married a Salvadoreña, I found the sections on Central America especially moving. But Mark Walker truly has his eye on the wide world, and his concern for the poor of Africa, Asia and South America is what guides this inspiring book. It starts with the Peace Corps and expands from there. Walker, I imagine, has been keeping notes, or a journal, his whole life, for his stories are filled with the graphic details that make a book sing.” John Thorndike, award-winning author of A Hundred Fires in Cuba.
- In January, I’ll highlight my interview on Global Connections TV GCTV, which features leaders at the UN to private sector, academic to NGO organizations, including Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul & Mary) and Dr. Jane Goodall next month. Global Connections Television
- The author’s interview in the SIETAR Newsletter (Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research) was a winner and I’ll highlight it in January. The author we focus on just happens to be the subject of my next book, “The Moritz Thomsen Reader: His Books, His Letters and His Legacy Told by the Writers Who Knew Him Best.”
- Don’t forget the Desert Nights Literary Fair, which starts on February 22nd on the campus of ASU in Tempe, Arizona. The Virginia Piper Center for Creative Writing hosts the event, which I’ve attended in the past. The event will bring together 25 faculty members and, although it’s via Zoom, I anticipate seeing some of the top writers, agents and publishers in the country. https://piper.asu.edu/conference/fair/schedule/2020
Please check out my new Million Mile Walker website, which includes all my articles and book reviews (including the totality of the two presented here) under “Books Articles” and “Library”, as well as the entire “GCTV Interview” video, http://www.millionmilewalker.com. The Guatemala documentary website is: https://www.guatemalastory.net/
“Follow” me on the Million Mile Walker Facebook page for the latest on international affairs and literature.
And, as always, if you’ve read “Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond,” by all means, rate it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and GoodReads, or if you don’t have it, please consider purchasing it.
Mark D. Walker