Getting Reacquainted With My Inner Activist
When I was in college I believed that individuals could change the world. Somewhere in the back of my mind was the thought that small bits of positivity could outshine the wealth of ignorance, violence, and poverty that exists in the City of Baltimore. I envisioned my future as being full of peaceful protests and community service.
I’d stay in the city. I’d change the city. Coincidentally, this was around the time of the Baltimore Believe campaign, a well-publicized city-wide effort to clean up the streets both literally and figuratively. Yes, we were all on the right track. All around the city, billboards and signage screamed that change was coming. Believe!
In the dark of night, along with a friend, I’d carry with me a tub of sidewalk chalk and a mission. I’d walk around campus and write things like “Black is Beautiful” and “Love Your Race, Love Yourself.” My hope was that in the morning, our messages would help other students start their day with purpose and pride. Juvenile, yet inspirational. Some good vibes to begin the day.
Over my time in college, I spent more time thinking about how to be a positive revolutionary than I did going to class. I started my own community service organization, I posted rhyming, inspiring slogans on bulletin boards, I made flyers to rally volunteers. I wrote articles on GMOs in Boca Burgers and the wrongful acceptance of the N-word, I made my own newspaper. I was independent media.
I served the homeless at a shelter and tutored underprivileged third-graders. A resident at the shelter more than twice my age tried incessantly to date me. Tutoring and mentoring for an hour a week made little change in the lives of those kids.
I chanted with hundreds of others for more money to go to our school’s crumbling library and less to building a new football stadium. Those of us who demanded proper resources for effective learning at our university were long gone when the new library was built seven years after the stadium.
I painted “Love, Peace, and Vote for Change” on my clothes. Who knows if anyone cared?
It’s possible I cried the night Bush was elected. It’s definite that from my perch on bench outside of the dorms I heard someone scream, “Aww shit! We’re headed back into slavery!”
It was a bit dramatic and certainly an overstatement. But on the campus of a historically Black university in a city in desperate need of rescuing, the air of hope was fading.
Yet still, I believed! I was passionate and fiery, but young and without direction. My right fist was held high, but there was no revolution. Along with my group of friends and associates, I was a combination of impressively naive and unproductively focused.
But despite her many misguided failings, I was at one with my Inner Activist.
I lost her somewhere between leaving the warm cocoon of campus life and entering the rigid and cold adult world of a full-time employee. With stealth, my priorities shifted from empowering the masses and encouraging city-wide peace to remembering to set my alarm for work and making my car payment. I never knew what hit me as she made a slow descent away from being the definition of me.
Over the years, I have found myself searching for her, my Inner Activist, only to realize she is nothing more than a long, lost friend. Leaving a trail of guilt stretching straight from my past toward an awkward gaping hole in my present.
I wondered if she’d think I was lost and insignificant. If she would have ridiculed me for being black nanny to many white families. I’m sure she’d shudder at the sight of my feet planted firmly in the stereotype. Maybe she’d call me mammy.
If I could friend her on Facebook, I would. She was last seen many years ago. My Inner Activist might be stuck stagnant in the bowels of MySpace. I’d post on her Timeline “Hello! :-) It’s been a while! Hoping we can go out for coffee soon!”
Maybe she’d forgive me. Maybe she’d take me back. I’d wrestle with butt-hurt thoughts of her ignoring me in the 326 minutes it takes her to reply to my post.
Yes, I’d time it. I’ve really missed her.
Over cappuccino and vegan muffins, I would apologetically tell my Inner Activist that I’d simply and regretfully forgotten about our plans for the future. I would say I’d been distracted by paying the bills. Thrown off course by relationships masquerading as love and then actual real deal love. I’d plead with her to believe I’d never let a man, or anything else, get between us again. I was just trying to find myself, ya’ know?
My Inner Activist, she’d look at me with kind but disappointed eyes and I would catch the slightest hint of burgeoning revolution in her glare. Across the table, I might be close to crying but just before the impending tears escape she would say to me:
“I forgive you.”
I’d try to play it cool and not smile wide at this statement.
“I know in your heart you believed that you lost me but I have been with you all along.
Every time that you stood up to your employers who thought they could take advantage of you because you were young and black and they controlled your paycheck. And when you have used what little spare money you had to donate to teachers at underserved schools.
When you refuse to use the term “good hair.” When you teach your kids that black is beautiful, encouraging them to be a part of eliminating self-hate in their generation. When you set your sights on a successful life on your own terms, not to be bound by the path society has chosen.
Each time you make a conscious effort to raise your children to acknowledge their own inner activists. In a million little moments over the years when you chose what was right over what paid more, what was good over what was trendy, to believe the truth over widespread lies.
I was there. I work beside you. We stand together.”
When her monologue was through, I’d let those tears pour with the rapid pace of a cry held in for far too long.
Dammit, if my Inner Activist isn’t right, she’s still as clever and convincing as I remember.
That woman is still here. She’s not a girl anymore — -losing her way and grasping for stable holds on a mountain for miscellaneous causes.
She hides in the depths of this quiet life of a mother obsessed with organic food and the social equality of toddlers. But, she is still here. She has learned that revolution doesn’t always come in the form of protests. It’s not always attention grabbing, colorful sidewalk chalk on a gloomy day. It may not be televised.
As time has moved on, I’d felt certain that I’d lost my Inner Activist.
Graciously, she accepted my friend request.
This piece originally appeared For Harriet, under my former name (Lauren Dillard).