This evening was the launch of the Black History Calendar and month long festivities. The event was held at city hall.
I am not one to get nervous about these kinds of things. I have no problems with public speaking or official protocol- though I do choose integrity over protocol. I am however, one of those people who is challenged by social anxiety. The causes and manifestations of it are complex, and we will go into those over the month; for now it is suffice to say I am a very shy person who has learned how to perform the extrovert. Doing so is taxing, but necessary as a person of colour- another statement I will get into over this month.
As is typical, when I know I have to be on, I spend a lot of time in my head in the lead up. Today was spent reflecting on my gratitude and sources of pride, and pondering the question, why me?
Here is some of what I have come up with. I am proud to have been selected BECAUSE I am not the type that usually gets the nod. I have lived my life according to my own values, standards and beliefs, which are often at odds with the norm (if such a thing even exists). I didn’t hanker for the stability represented by the home in the suburbs, the nice car, or trappings of wealth. In fact, that is mostly how I saw those things – as traps.
In my youth Saul Alinsky introduced me to the haves, the have nots, and the have a little want mores. He helped me to understand that it was this last group, what we call the middle class that was really the danger. That the rich baited the middle class with the idea that they too could be rich, but only if they helped keep the have nots down. Is it any wonder that as the middle class shrinks, the rich are getting nervous?
It turns out when eschew the traps that others embrace, you become a bit of an outsider. Now, don’t get it twisted, I like money and comfort, I just don’t make my decisions or base my life on these things. I’m the girl who once took a significant pay cut so that I would not have to lay off staff. Moreover, the concepts of status and class makes my stomach churn.
Needless to say, in a community focused on moving on up, I was an anomaly; one that scared some, and disgusted others. My parents, grandparents and community worked very hard to build a certain lifestyle for me, and had aspirations about the path I would take through life. I can look back now and understand why my choices worried them – they were still seeing the world as they expected it would be. I was busy finding my way in the world as I knew it to be.
Which brings me to my second point of pride: I am proud to give my parents something that they can be proud about. When everybody else kids are following the path with clear road marks and indicators, it is hard to be the parents of the kid who marches to a different drummer. I have had many successes in my life and racked up many achievements, but being a laureate is one my parents can appreciate. Moreover, it is one they can show off.
The last point of pride I will share with you has to do with hanging on folks walls. During the month of July, there are some who will be wondering WTF? Her? And I get a HUGE kick out of that. More importantly however, are all the so called “at-risk” youth I have worked with over the years – I guess many of them are full-fledged adults now but they will always be my kids ;o) – young people who felt the sting of rejection when, while trying to find themselves, disappointed and scared others. People who I promised, that if they followed their inner truth, and stayed true to who they were, they could be who they want to be and have a good life. With one little photo, those young people will know I did not lie to them or blow smoke up their ass. I am and will always be them.
Speaking of the WTF people, I pondered the why me question. I tend to focus on my purpose rather than my achievements, and I rarely pull out my credentials to prove myself to anyone.
The theme this year is Voices of Emancipation. How do I fit? Well, let’s see:
I was one of the first girls to register auto-mechanics in high school, eventually forcing them to admit girls to the course across the country – I eventually dropped the class, because I only did it ‘cause they said I couldn’t. Having earned top grades for 2 semesters meant that my choice to drop did not impact other girls. Shout out the Mr. Ashford (who I am sure is on the other side by now), the only teacher among the three teaching the course who was willing to let me into his class. He is one of the reasons why I know men can choose to be great allies and it is patriarchy that is the enemy.
I was a part of the group of 12 students that instigated the massive walkouts in the support of teachers in, I believe, 1979.
I was instrumental is stopping the closure of a CEGEP, long enough to ensure the students registered at the time would have chance to graduate. They closed it because we were an English campus, mostly adult and visible minority, attached to a French CEGEP – can’t have that in Quebec.
I have represented and advocated for community concerns for over 28 years at a local, and national levels. For three world conferences, I brought the voice of youth, minorities, women and Canadians to the world stage.
I initiated the employment centre in Little Burgundy, when I realised every social service that provided fish was present in the community, but no one was teaching folks how to fish for themselves.
I have assisted countless youth and new immigrants to find their way, and when the time came, I stepped aside so that the next generation could have room to move up and take their place.
Sure there is more, but as I mentioned, I am not big on baring my credentials. There is a throwback saying: haters are my motivators. That never felt right for me, because to be honest, I tend to put my haters on ignore. I also found that trying to prove anything to haters can lead you to do some stupid shit.
No, as Mr. Tedford, my grade 10/11 math teacher discovered, doubters are my motivators. Tell me I shouldn’t do something or it’s not a good idea, and I will hear you out. Suggest that I am not capable of doing something – Well then, just watch me.
In the end, I have to admit, this moment in my life is a significant one, and I give thanks, that although I have at times sunk into the deepest valleys in life, in the words of the immortal Dr. Angelou, STILL I RISE!