One person can make a difference. Each of us can make a difference. Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t powerful enough, wealthy enough, fancy enough, strong enough… to make a difference. The biggest differences are usually simple acts of kindness or justice.
Two years ago, I read an article about Irmela Mensah-Schramm, who lives in Berlin, Germany. She is a retired teacher, who taught children with severe disabilities. She was born in 1945, at the tail end of World War II. In the early 1980s, when she was in her mid 30s, she visited a concentration camp for the first time. Then in 1986, she saw a sticker at her bus stop that demanded the release of Rudolf Hess, the imprisoned Nazi war criminal. All day she thought about the sticker. Then when she was going home from work that day, she saw that the sticker was still there. She used her keychain to scrape it away and she noticed she felt better. A few days later, she spent an entire night walking her Berlin neighborhood, scraping away far-right messages she found. Twenty years went by. By the time Sally McGrane wrote her article, Irmela had erased 72,354 Neo-Nazi symbols and anti-immigrant sentiments. She continues to do so several days a week, carrying her supplies in a canvas bag with the handwritten message “Against Nazis.”
She has been assaulted three or four times. But she has also been hugged by strangers. As tensions rise over the refugee issue in Germany, others are following in Irmela’s footsteps, scraping, dissolving and painting over far-right slogans. Two years ago, Ibo Omari, owner of a Berlin shop that sells graffiti paint and other related items, founded an organization that has sponsored artists to convert swastikas into street art: Rubik’s Cubes, mosquitoes and owls. He considers Irmela Mensah-Schramm the “grandmother” of the project.
The story of Irmela Mensah-Schramm reminds me to pay attention when the voice inside me says something I see isn’t fair or just. I will follow Irmela’s example and whenever I can, I will try to scrape away injustice and turn it into justice.