Past, Present and Future: Embracing Gratitude at Thanksgiving

Posted by Sharonica L. Hardin-Bartley, PhD PHR on 11/21/2023 10:00:00 AM

Sharonica Hardin-BartleyThe leaves are blowing. Morning frost dusts our lawns in silver. A golden twilight sinks low into darkness early in our evenings. Yes, the winter season is approaching. Next week, many of us will gather to give thanks and enjoy fellowship with family and friends. Whether you celebrate the traditional Thanksgiving holiday or engage in other meaningful activities during our extended break, gratitude is always appropriate.

This season is also an important time to highlight the positive contributions and traditions of Native Americans while acknowledging that our country has historically perpetuated one-dimensional misrepresentations of Indigenous People. It is important to recognize that the origins of our nation’s holidays sometimes come at the expense and exclusion of others who contributed so much to the beauty and culture of our country. Let’s be grateful for these origins.

Abbie Adams, a faculty member in Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Anthropology, reminds us that, “It is important to set the record straight, acknowledge Native Peoples, debunk myths, and show Native Americans as contemporary people with dynamic, thriving cultures who have profoundly impacted our current food system.” She further states that when thinking about Thanksgiving, “It means going beyond the harmful ‘pilgrims and Indians’ narrative and focusing on common values: generosity, gratitude, community, and good food.” 

Did you know that Indigenous America provided our world three-fifths of the crops now in cultivation, including corn (maize), pumpkins, beans, squash, potatoes, chocolate, vanilla and tomatoes? What a tremendous gift they’ve given to humanity. If you want to learn more, here is a resource from the Smithsonian, entitled Rethinking Thanksgiving: Native Perspectives on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving, in particular, has a universal spirit behind it centered on love, respect, food from our soil and gratitude regarding our past and present - please remember to embrace those qualities when thinking about our land’s early ancestors. 

For me, this season is a reflective time to embrace the many healthy traditions passed on by my grandmothers, affectionately known to me as “Granny” and “MuDear.” They epitomized family. Their love was everywhere. But at Thanksgiving, it was embodied by their warm, delicious and nurturing cooking. When I cook at Thanksgiving, my soul lights up with memories of the smells and tastes of their homemade cakes, their dressing, and yes, even duck! Long passed from this life, I do feel their love deeply in their enduring recipes and flavors. It is such a blessing to bring that love they gave me into my own family home. And, it’s comforting for me to know that I am creating memories through these rich and flavorful Thanksgiving traditions. Yes, gratitude is a gift for what we have been given in love!

This time of year, I’m also very aware that many of our students and families struggle during the winter season. Their worries are many, and they cope day by day. And yet, our students show up daily to our schools, classrooms and community. Educating and serving young people is a compassionate service that extends far beyond the function of the job. Educators know they are more than the topics they teach, but the firm and rich soil that nurtures the souls of our students. Our teachers are modern-day heroes, giving so much of themselves to the art of teaching and the power of relationships. It is inspiring to witness the deep wonder of learning in a child’s eyes and, then, the big ideas that emerge when they engage in meaningful and mentally rigorous activities. We do this in an atmosphere that intentionally balances high academic standards with our scholars' social and emotional needs. I extend my gratitude to our remarkable staff. I know you see their impact each day. Please take the time to share your gratitude and appreciation with them.  

U. City has another fantastic tradition that has endured through time. We take care of one another. We help out and support those in need. Our generous partners are again supporting our families this holiday season. Thanks to the Hazel Erby Family Foundation, Refresh Church, and Holy Communion Church, our families with demonstrated need will dine well this Thanksgiving with turkeys and all of the fixings. It doesn’t end at Thanksgiving. Our school social workers are currently taking donations of gift cards to distribute to many of these families to help them through this upcoming holiday season. 

To our excellent teachers and staff, students, parents and caregivers – and our entire U. City community – take good care, and know how important you are to our school district. Let’s exude thankfulness this season; remember, gratitude is a gift.