It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.
I’m certainly not going to do this weekend justice in this post. Especially since I was fundamentally challenged and changed.
Friday night, I was one of thousands of people who packed into Riverside Church and the overflow rooms to watch Michelle Alexander interview Angela Davis. It was a conversational interview. I had never seen either Alexander or Davis live and in person. I did not know what to expect from both powerhouses. I was not disappointed.
I just want to say, I have a deep and strong love of and for the Black Panther Party (the idea) and the members worldwide (the people). This is probably why the 1st book we’re publishing at DeColonizing Education Publishing is the ABC’s of the Black Panther Party. I discovered the Panthers as a young girl in the Bronx and throughout college and to this day, I am in awe of them. I’m in awe that a group of barely twenty something year old’s were so brave and so in love with their people that they dared to do the unthinkable, stand up to White supremacy, capitalism and the slave retrieval patrol aka the police, the FBI. A big part of my adoration comes from the hope that I too, would heed the call and become a revolutionary but knowing I am afraid to heed the call.
Imagine risking everything, forget risking, losing everything including your life to save and improve the lives of people who look like you and those who don’t but suffer under the same suffocating weight of oppression like you and yours do.
This is why it is important for me to share my adoration of the Panthers because it may help you to understand how I felt to be in the church with Angela Davis. (I want to call her Dr. Davis or Mama Davis, something to bestow as much honor as possible but all the titles fail me.)
The first question Michelle Alexander asked of Angela Davis was about her spirituality and the role her spiritual practice plays in her life. After all, we were all here because Union Theological Seminary has secured Michelle Alexander as a visiting professor this year and as a part of her professorship, she will be holding a series of talks with revolutionaries. More on that later.
Both Angela and Michelle explained that they were not particularly religious, but that they were spiritual and recognized that they couldn’t engage in this battle against injustice and oppression without grappling with moral, religious and spiritual questions. (My assessment of their words.)
As for Angela Davis, she cited her practice of yoga and meditation as the foundation of her spirituality and explained that spirituality can be (should be) used as a way to connect. That really resonated with me.
I have been wrestling in my mind, about the kind of armor I need in order to engage in the battle for an education that liberates. I know that my degrees aren’t enough, my experiences aren’t enough, my eloquent speeches aren’t enough, and resources are not enough. All of those things are necessary and beneficial, but they’re not enough for when fear strikes at my heart. Those things are not enough when I am wondering if I say this, do this, push this agenda, will I still be able to put food on my table and a roof over my head? Will I still be liked, respected, included?
I know that in order for me to embody even the smallest piece of revolutionary spirit, I need spiritual armor and protection.
We all do.
The next question was about the definition of a revolutionary. Michelle asked Angela if her definition of a revolutionary is the same now, in 2017 as it was in the 1970s? Angela Davis remarked that she “was trying” to be a revolutionary, today in 2017. I took a long deep breath at her response.
Angela Davis was trying to be a revolutionary? If she was only trying then there is no hope for me. But that was ego and fear talking. Because one can never truly be a revolutionary. We can only try. To be a revolutionary is a minute to minute decision. It is a calculation of what will happen if I take this action, what will happen if I do nothing?
Before Davis could answer fully answer the question we watched a clip from the interview below, when she was asked the same question in her jail cell in 1970.
Davis agreed with her definition of a revolutionary from 40 years ago. She went on to explain that revolutionary change required a critique of capitalism and a critique of our political systems. Which made me wonder at the time, “What kind of revolution do we want?” If we want one at all.
Union will be releasing the livestream of the 2 hour conversation early this week and I’ll be sure to share it with you, so you can digest it for yourself.
For me, I left the church contemplating topics that were foreign to me; the effects of global capitalism, racism as the seat of capitalism and the epistemology of praxis (yeah, I know you’re like whaaaaaaaat the hell is that?)
The epistemology of praxis might just be the most revolutionary gift given to me Friday night. Angela Davis explained it to mean that there is a certain amount of knowledge that can only be produced in praxis, in practice, in activism. That this knowledge can’t be achieved through reading, or watching or writing.
And so, in order to be a revolutionary, one must do. One must act as a revolutionary to know what it means to be a revolutionary. It also means, one must risk everything including life for love.
The next day I attended an event called the FRED talks (Facing Race, Elevating Democracy), hosted by Race Forward. I’m telling you, I love this organization! The topic at the FRED talk was Mass Freedom as opposed to mass incarceration.
The day was spent listening to the stories of activists fighting for mass freedom and coalition building amongst marginalized groups. At this event, I was able to hear the story of Sekou Odinga, a Black Panther who spent 33 years in jail for liberating Assata Shakur.
Baba Sekou weaved together a story about his life as a Panther and political prisoner, the successful liberation of Assata and the lives of other political prisoners in America; Black Revolutionaries imprisoned for freedom.
The entire event (which was recorded and when I get the link I will share it with you) was centered in story. Each activist…wait a minute. Have you ever thought about the meaning or etymology of the word activist.
The siffux: ist denotes someone who practices, is concerned with, loves the word it modifies. And so, in this case, to be an activist and practice activism is to love, be concerned by and practice the art of acting.
Hmmph, activism is the adjacent cousin of a community organizer and wheras Barack Obama is the most famous community organizer we know, Baba Sekou and Mama Angela are the activist and revolutionaries who changed our lives.
On Saturday, I listened to the stories of Baba Sekou who pleaded with us to support our political prisoners, Jorge Gonazales who warned us not to allow our Black and Brown family members to join the military’s poverty draft, Rosana Cruz who spoke about the prison system in New Orleans and the way undocumented immigrants are treated and Roxana Mun who spoke about the plight to humanize muslim Americans and who gave me one of the most memorable quotables of the day, “Be grateful for your seat at the table even when you’re the one on the menu.” This is in regard to the ways White people expect Black and Brown people to feel about the American flag and pledging allegiance to it.
But it can be used to explain so many aspects about White supremacy and Anti-Blackness. It can be used to dig deeper to all of the people (people of color, allies, marginalized group members) who want a seat at the table of White supremacy. It begs the question, will you eat yourself, those who you say you came to the table to defend or protect or will you just be eaten?
Our closing storyteller was none other than Michelle Alexander, who I must say was so kind and gracious and giving, allowing us to take selfies with her, hug her, converse deeply with her and she even signed books.
Michelle Alexander’s closing story was about hearing the sound of revolution, resistance, freedom. That though the sound is faint and sometimes seemingly non-existent, she still hears it, as we heard it in the stories told before she graced the stage. She asked for us to both tune our ears to hear the sound and to tune our mouths to make the sound.
She encouraged us to act.
And not in safe measured ways, not for incremental changes, not in ways that allowed the powers that be to feel safe but instead revolutionary ways that we have yet to imagine.
Wait, let me take you back a bit. Prior to the event starting, I was talking to a colleague and hopefully life long friend about change, incremental vs. radical. We were both struggling with what the right approach was. After both of us listened to Angela and Michelle the night before, I knew I was set on revolutionary approach, but I work outside of the system, while he works inside of it.
As I sat next to him, listening to Michelle Alexander close out the day, I wondered if he heard what I heard, incremental change and solving the issues that cropped up were insufficient. That what we need to do is dismantle the whole entire system (of mass incarceration, but for me education) and create new ones based on love and humanity. That this was the only way to progress and revolutionize and anything short of this, well, my words: is a fatal mistake, one that our fore-parents, spirit guides and progeny would all be disappointed by.
So this was my weekend.
I probably did a subpar job of describing it to you. My brain and my heart are honestly just so full. I need more time to digest it all.
And I honestly digest better through talking than I do writing.
But what I do know is that I am actively trying to become a revolutionary just like Mama Angela.
There is no chance we will fall apart.
There is no chance.
There are no parts.