Since I was young, its always been said that I’m optimistic. That’s not totally true, and as my friends know, there are days when my optimism wanes. Freedom isn’t free for any of us, and there are many days when I felt like I was paying a lot. However, I have worked to maintain constant conscious hopefulness, the basis of which is apparent to me in the hope that fills the world around me.
Growing up in the constant stress of poverty in a working class and poor neighborhood, I struggled to
escape the pressures that surrounded me. I didn’t escape; I couldn’t. There was no relief for me in drugs and alcohol, and joining a gang just didn’t seem feasible. I grew up in a black neighborhood, I often felt excluded from the families, friends, and strangers around me. By the time my family moved away when I was 20, there were just a couple other white kids in the neighborhood. While we knew each other, I didn’t feel close to them. I also didn’t feel close to my best friend growing up, a mixed kid who wrestled with his own identity, or my siblings’ friends.
What connected us all though, beyond the appearance of difference and division, was the suffering and neglect. We didn’t know it then or talk about it, but the streets we lived on were falling apart and the teachers that taught us weren’t from our neighborhood. Cops roamed our neighborhood and beat us up without cause, and the parks department took down the rims on our basketball court.
Reign died when he was racing away from a cop and ran his bike into a bus. There was the neighbor’s son didn’t get special treatment when he was busted for cripping even though his mom was a juvenile detention officer. The year I graduated from high school, our class’s leader was kidnapped and disappeared, only to be found pregnant and dead later. Inside those bookends are stories about Absolom and Kenny coming to my house to buy guns, or people close to me dropping out of school, the almost nightly drivebys across the street from our house for almost four summers in a row, and the girl who couldn’t date me because I wasn’t black, or this or that or the other thing… And I haven’t even mentioned my part in those stories.
I could focus on all that, but I don’t. When I can’t shake it off, I don’t let it hang me down. Instead, I recognize these realities as some of the roots of my work. But I know they’re simply part of that launching board, and not all of it. Before then was childhood homelessness and constant family transience. After that was a career filled with being among the working poor, and despite the support, what felt like a constant uphill battle against a lot of society.
Honestly, it takes work for me not to feel that all the time, too.
But today I know—constantly—that the dehumanizing effect of society, history, schools, the economy, government, and much of society cannot push me away. They cannot scare me into running or make me turn away in disgust.
Instead, the past I’ve had and the present I live in drive me to want to storm this life wildly, abandon all remorse or reluctance, and go to fuck things up. I live by a dictum that Toni Morrison gave a while ago when she wrote,
“I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”
This is our real job. In finding our own freedom, we’re obligated to do something to live that freedom. What anyone does to live that freedom is up to them; but whatever it is, it needs to free other people. Our actions reflect our consciousness, and if we’re not freeing others then we’re not free ourselves. Maintaining constant conscious hopefulness means making the world a better place.
This consciousness doesn’t make us naive, a Pollyanna, or overly optimistic. Its not about rose-colored glasses or turning the other cheek, either. Instead, it makes us honest and real. Despite appearances, the world isn’t falling apart and we’re not going to hell in a handbasket. We simply have a great deal of work to do in order to be free and to free others.
What are you doing today?