I belong every place. I belong no place. I belong to myself…

Ken Haller
7 min readDec 26, 2017


MAYA ANGELOU: You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great…
BILL MOYERS: Do you belong anywhere?
MAYA ANGELOU: I haven’t yet.
BILL MOYERS: Do you belong to anyone?
MAYA ANGELOU: More and more… I belong to myself. I’m very proud of that. I am very concerned about how I look at Maya. I like Maya very much.

This Christmas morning I was listening to “1A,” the NPR public affairs show, and the guest was Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who studies courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She referenced the Maya Angelou quote above from an interview with Bill Moyers in 1973. This concept — that we belong no place, that we belong every place, that we must belong first and foremost to ourself — really resonated with me as I spend Christmas day at home on my own.

In 1972 I decided to go to college at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. It was a fateful decision. Creighton is a Jesuit university, and one of the people I met there was Father Joseph Brown, SJ. He is one of only about a dozen African-American men in the Society of Jesus, and for more than four decades he has been my mentor and my friend. He is from East St. Louis, and in my years at Creighton, I heard many stories from him about East St. Louis. I continued at Creighton for medical school, and after I finished residency in New York, it was time for me to go into practice. Of course, I talked to Joseph about where I might work as a pediatrician. After eight years of Jesuit education, I had pretty much embraced the unofficial Jesuit motto, “Men and women for and with others,” and after a lifetime of feeling like an outsider as I came to accept and eventually rejoice in the fact that I was gay, I wanted to work with people and communities who had been shut out and marginalized.

I belong every place. I belong no place. I belong to myself.

“I really want to work in an inner-city practice,” I told Joseph toward the end of my residency. “Well, Kenneth,” he said, “Well, if you want an inner city, there’s no city more inner than East St. Louis.” Which is how and why I ended up here.

Three events define Christmas for me:

The Gateway Men’s Chorus Holiday Concert: There are many performing arts organizations and choral ensembles in St. Louis to choose from. For me, singing with the Gateway Men’s Chorus has always been the first and only choice. I just sang in my 28th Holiday concert, and after enduring decades of insults about gay men being godless and evil, it is essential that I can step onto a stage with my brothers and sing music that affirms both the spirituality and the families that we gay men have worked so hard to create and to celebrate.

I belong every place. I belong no place. I belong to myself.

The Ginormous Super Fun HallerDay Mega-Party: Back in the early 1990s, a nun brought a couple of kids into my office in East St. Louis, for checkups. She told me that the parents who lived at the housing project served by their afterschool program, The Griffin Center, did not have enough money for Christmas presents, and she hoped that they would be able to come up with enough gifts for all the kids. I had recently moved into my rather large house in the Shaw neighborhood, and the idea of a bring-a-present-for-a kid party was born. This year was the 28th edition of that event, and we collected over 120 presents and as well as checks totaling nearly $2000. A lot of kids are very happy today who might not have been without the generosity of those of you who gave this year. And if you want to be here next year, the 29th Annual Ginormous Super Fun HallerDay Mega-Party will be Sunday, December 9, 2018, form 6:00–10:00 PM, at 4146 Flora Place, St. Louis, MO 63110. Save the date!

I belong every place. I belong no place. I belong to myself.

Midnight Mass at Saint Augustine of Hippo Catholic Church in East St. Louis: Joseph, who is now a Professor of Africana Studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, always comes back home to say Midnight Mass. Now, over the years “midnight” has gradually moved earlier so that now this Mass is at 7:00 PM, I think mostly to accommodate the fact that the demographics of the parish now skew somewhat older. Myself included. But hey, it’s midnight somewhere, right?

Joseph, as always, preached powerfully about how there are those in power who would prefer that people who live in communities like East St. Louis just go away, just stop remembering who you are, just be “American.” And that is why communities like East St. Louis must never be quiet. 2017 is the centennial of what has often been called the “East St. Louis Race Riots” but was really a Pogrom where white mobs killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of African Americans from May through July. Despite that, East St. Louis is The City That Survives. And that is why East St. Louis and all communities of people who have been systematically marginalized must survive and are crucial to the very soul of America.

And during this Mass the children of the parish performed a pageant to commemorate the birth of Jesus. These amazing children and teenagers dance dressed as shepherds and angels as a young woman and a young man dressed as Mary and Joseph approach the altar carrying with them a baby from the parish. This Baby Jesus is then placed on the altar for all to see. He is placed in a car seat, and as a pediatrician, I really appreciate that commitment to safety. This has been a tradition in this parish for decades, and it turns out that this year’s “Joseph” was a “Baby Jesus” many years ago. This year’s Baby Jesus was a champ, serene and joyful.

Joseph remarked on this amazingly self-possessed baby in his homily: After all, why should this baby not be sitting there taking it all in, recognizing that he deserves it? All our children deserve our wonder and our praise. They are God among us.

The shepherds and the angels dance, and the community sings.

I belong every place. I belong no place. I belong to myself.

And as I sit and gaze at these beautiful kids, I wonder about their future. What world have we created for them? They deserve a life where they feel secure and warm and loved, just like all our children. Children we will never meet are just as precious in this world as those who sneak down the stairs in our own homes to shake wrapped gifts, trying to figure out what Santa brought them.

Whenever I go to Midnight Mass at St. Augustine, Joseph usually calls me out publicly at some point. When he got through his homily without mentioning me, I was kind of relieved. Turns out this time he saved it for the end. Just before the final blessing, he said, “Oh, there’s one person I want to point out here. Now, he does these shows in St. Louis and New York, and at some point in those shows, MY name usually come up,” which is true, “so it’s only fair I should bring him up here tonight. Dr. Ken Haller is someone who has been doing exactly what I’ve been talking about for many, MANY years. He sees babies every single day, and he looks at each one and every one of them with joy and gratitude and lets them know that they are all, each and every one of them, a Child of God. You don’t have to be a doctor to do that. We ALL need to do that for all the children in our lives every single day.”

I belong every place. I belong no place. I belong to myself.

So I am grateful today as I contemplate this life and the people who make it so rich. And Joseph is right. That person who lifts up children and parents is who I strive to be in this world.

But Joseph’s words are not just a tribute; they are a challenge. And not just to me, but to us all. When it comes to caring for all our children, what we do will never be enough. And that is why we are ALL called to do this.

And that is why at Christmas we gather in the long, dark nights of winter:

To remind ourselves that we must always find ways to do more.
To find the divine in the stranger sitting at our side.
To wonder at this baby, this savior, tranquil and cooing in a car seat on an altar in East St. Louis.



Ken Haller

Pediatrician, Educator, Singer, Writer, Advocate, Actor, Improviser. Views are my own, not those of any institution where I’m employed.