Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The 30th Anniversary of Hands Across America

It's the week of the 30th anniversary of Hands Across America  a historical event and a collective experience if there ever was one.

A couple of years ago, a relative from an older generation gave my daughter a small bag full of hand-me-down mementos from her jewelry box -- old buttons, little pieces of ribbon from gifts once given, lapel pins, and other trinkets.  When my daughter came home to show me her new treasures, my heart skipped a beat as a little pin reflected a sparkle of light and instantly conjured up memories from my Gen X childhood.   It was a Hands Across America pin.  Something that didn't mean much more than a spare button to the person who originally had it, and something that looked only like a symbol for a string of paper dolls to my daughter, but something that means a lot to me because of the history it is connected to.

Hands Across America, an event organized by Ken Kragen, raised millions of dollars that were distributed to charities across the country. To be a part of the chain, you were asked to submit $10, and the money was used to help Americans living in poverty.  Other than it just being a one-day event, the idea was to raise awareness of the effects of poverty in America in a broader and more long-term sense -- to help people think about how they could be continually involved by doing volunteer work or contributing  in other ways.  The chain went from New York City to Long Beach.  Of course there were breaks in the chain of people, and apparently in some places where the desert sun was too hot,they used stretches of ribbon to connect people to each other.  

Even though the 1980's were full of materialism and vanity, there were these events, these bright points, that became part of the history of that decade, like Live Aid, where people united themselves to help others on a large scale.   I think those big events that happened in the mid 1980's had a lot to do with who I became as a person.   As Gen Xers who were kids and teenagers at the time, these bright points not only were a part of what formed our collective consciousness, but also our collective conscience.  Celebrities of the time were a part of the Hands Across America promotional video and part of the chain itself.   In the video, we see young faces of people that are now much older and faces that we miss of those who have since passed away.  The event came right through my city at the time, Albuquerque, NM, and the celebrity who made a local appearance for the event was Don Johnson.  I didn't get to be a part of that day, but I do remember watching the Hands Across America promo video in the same classroom where I watched The Challenger Disaster earlier that same year. 1986 fell right in the middle of my formative years and holds a large number of my Gen X memories, including Chernobyl, and the beginning of the Iran-Contra affair.   It was a year that showed me that even though the world is full of much confusion, disappointment, and suffering, we are capable of great things when we come together for a cause larger than ourselves.   When 1986 began, we could not have known how much history was unfolding around us, or what an enormous role it would have in forming who many of us became as Generation X adults.  

(C) 2016 writing and photo by Chloe Koffas