A Continuation Rather than A Beginning
2017 commenced with much stirring about the state of our country. Gripped by the polarizing tensions tugging on the threads of our beliefs and values, we have been coerced into examining who we really are, individually and collectively, and what it looks like to live out our true identities. It is important to note that the two consuming questions have primarily been, "Who are we, really?" and "What doe is mean/look like to begin to live more authentically into our response to that first question.
They are notable, these two questions, because the first question calls us to examine what was already there. That is to say, who we have begun to see ourselves being, albeit more overtly, is NOT a new being. Rather, we have become more "existentially revelatory," showing up in the world in ways that more fully express what we have been thinking, who we have been "being," albeit previously more covertly and a bit less detectably, all the while.
For many of us, this "perceived newness," this more overt means by which we carry and express our values and beliefs has manufactured a greater sense of fear, trepidation, and scarcity. And while many of these feelings are valid and authentically rooted in the ways in which our families, our friendships, and our freedoms are being deconstructed by these more overt manifestations of who we are, there is also a fundamental truth that should not be dismissed: many people have been grappling with these issues of destruction and the fears that accompany living on the margins, existential invisibility, long before this year started. For those of us who have always known a reality different than what the more dominant culture has experienced in the past, January 2017 did not mark "the beginning" of a new day in our country. Rather, it demarcated an enlightenment or discovery for dominant culture participants of that which has always been for many of us whose lives/lifestyles are less oriented to the ways of dominant culture.
As a Black woman who grew up in Chicagoland neighborhoods and communities comprised of traditionally marginalized people groups, and as one who because of my education and experience in understanding and being skilled in the navigation of dominant culture, I have had the unique experience of bearing witness to the unfolding of America's 2017 from a somewhat unique lens and posture.
For many decades past, I have seen first hand, the ways in which people of color, women, and those who experience material poverty have both formally and informally corroborated, deriding the indifference, or worse yet, the repulsion perpetrated upon them, sometimes railing and sometimes dancing in the tension of flipping over the proverbial tables to which they are not welcome, and sometimes pulling up a chair, with the intent to have some impact on systems that relegate them to the edges of all. They are poised, well-skilled, accomplished even, in the art of being dually present and absent in perfected measures, so as not to lose something: their identities, their possessions, their jobs...their children.
Likewise, I have recently witnessed people who primarily identify and acculturate themselves with dominant culture clenching at the safety and security they once never gave a second thought. Like sudden straw-graspers, this new vulnerability undoing their sense of well-being feels new because they must perceive the world from a new lens, and they are unsure how to respond, how to "be" in their "new, new"...though not new to us all...
A friend asked me, "Reesheda, what are you going to do? How are you thinking about practicing resistance right now?" My reply? "I am here. My mere presence is the initiation of resistance for many. I am creating a place where people can convene, discuss, and organize, I am checking in with leaders I trust and respect to do a head-count and a heart check on what reverberates among us. I am planting a church that looks like the church is supposed to look. I am raising daughters who are "woke" and willing to live their lives challenging the status quo. I am making myself available for work like peacemaking alliances, anywhere that I can. I am doing what I was already doing before the commencement of this year, resisting the urge to feel like something new is happening. This is more overt. But this is not new. We are not at the beginning of anything--we are in the middle of it, with more eyes open to it, rather. This stuff is not new to folks like me. My plan is to stay the course and to heighten it where I feel called and able." For folks who look and sound like me, who have been at this for decades, this is our charge.
For those of us who are waking up to an already existing reality, the charge is a bit different. For you, the work is to better understand the ways in which this existence has always been and how you have been either complicit or explicit benefactors from these previously covert, now overt, conditions. And just before you roll up your sleeves to DO something--remember that it was our way of BEING that has been called up for examination. Study how you are BEING in the world; put your BEING to the test with people who may not look and sound at all like you; and then, ask them how you might be most effective in the transformation of those brutal conditions that always have been. Selah.
Reesheda was born & raised in the Austin Community & has lived throughout the Chicagoland area.
She is the founder of L!VE and Executive Director of Communities First Association, a national nonprofit organization that is committed to the multiplication of holistic asset-based community development as a lifestyle, through coaching, training, consulting, & facilitation practices (www.cfapartners.org
). L!VE Café and Communities First Association share space at 163 S. Oak Park Avenue, in Oak Park.