“The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself but the ends you serve that are for all, in common, will take you into eternity.”Marcus Garvey
My advocacy began at a young age. Mostly caring for my Magic Nursery doll, Danielle. My younger sister decided to take a lit incense to my doll’s leg and I nursed Danielle back to health by stitching her leg and letting her rest on the ironing board. I felt I had to take care of her and protect her from an injustice. I was aware of discrimination because my family had experienced it in stores or told stories of times that were traumatic for them growing up. The church I attended had Black History Month programs and we always heard about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. I found myself drawn to Malcolm X. Though I wasn’t as vocal as I would’ve liked, I knew when I didn’t like something and how to distance myself.
I was also silenced as a child. I had detention in the first grade from talking too much. And if I was teased at school or home, my attempt to be heard went ignored. So, I learned to internalize a lot unless things got bad. Most times, my mother would have to advocate on my behalf but I never felt empowered to do so for myself. There were strong female influences in my life and I let them handle my problems.
Fast forward to the mid-2000s. I was in a relationship that completely altered my life. It was tumultuous to say the least (I’m sure he thinks otherwise). I remember the first time he asserted the power he had at the time. He grabbed me by the neck and told me to never talk back to him in front of company. There were times when I missed work because I was being abused – hiding my scars from family members. The last time I was physically abused, I was hit and choked in front of my son. The police were called. I never went to court. I regret the decision to stay home instead of go to court. When I think back on my life, no one told me to cut all communication or protect my well-being. I pretended nothing happened. I went into survival mode.
Over the years, I found myself in situations where it seemed like I had to fight or I’d be consumed. In jobs, I would be the only one speaking out when everyone shared their grievances in private. I started to think maybe I was the problem. Why did I have to be the voice for the people? I didn’t want to be the only one to say something, but I found myself being the only voice. It’s scary for me. Yet, I refuse to keep quiet. I’d like to think that “see something, say something” would be a motto the majority of us would live by. As I write, I’m thinking to myself how many people have been silenced by some authority figure or institution telling them to be quiet and fall in line. For me, that’s no longer an option. Especially not when communities are being harmed and people are perishing due to a lack of knowledge. I decided to do something about it. I enrolled in school to get a social work degree. I felt empowered to work alongside colleagues to solve issues and speak up for people who can’t, or don’t know how to speak up. I try to model the behavior in all aspects of my life and let people know that I’m not only speaking for myself, but for those who have been silenced or feel disempowered. I never want people to feel the way I felt when I went through my personal and professional setbacks.
Another aspect where it shows up in my life is my role as a parent. Advocating for my son’s success and even teaching him how to stand for what’s right. I can’t be everywhere all the time and he has his own voice. It’s my job to guide him, advocate for him, and teach him how to advocate for himself and others.
“When we identify where our privilege intersects with somebody else’s oppression, we’ll find our opportunities to make real change.”Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race
Advocacy is not an easy role. There are times when people won’t like what’s said. Well, I’m all for “good trouble” as stated by the late Senator John Lewis. When people aren’t comfortable with the truth, that’s their problem. Change doesn’t come easy, but requires truth, uncomfortable conversations, and good troublemakers to say what needs to be said. I’ve even thought about quitting my role as an advocate for racial and social justice. Humans are exhausting and we’re not being great examples to the youth. Adults make things hard and then we raise children with our ideals. Sometimes they turn out great, sometimes they turn out like us.
Yet, here I am. Still fighting for justice whenever I see an injustice. Since graduation, I’m not sure what role I’ll have as a racial and social justice advocate. I want to use my business, black radical scholars, as a platform to educate the public on issues and topics in the Black community. As a Sseko Fellow, I use the business model to share my love of fashion and support women in their pursuit of financial freedom and education. As a community member, I’m still figuring that out. But wherever I go and whatever I do, I know my work will not be in vain.