“Looking good ya’ll. Be strong. Be soft.” These simple words from a friend grace my inbox after a long weekend of fighting. Fighting for justice, peace, dignity. We’ve recently returned from a social justice march turned celebration with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in St. Pete, Florida. Now that we are home in Nashville, the fight continues. Our voices are hoarse, our spirits determined and sometimes saddened by the pervasiveness of the work. It is a privilege to ally ourselves with the cause of human rights because we too, are human.
*Marching for justice in St. Petersburg, Florida
*This pretty lady and her baby, along with myself, were met with police officers and threat of arrest when requesting to meet with a Publix manager in order to have a conversation about joining the Fair Food Program.
Nashville, TN 2015
Some days, most days, it is a heavy burden to bear. The world is in upheaval and I do not have to turn on the television I no longer own, read the headlines, or scan the radio for evidence of the struggle we’re experiencing as a human race. All I have to do is walk into the middle school where I work to hear news of bomb threats and beaten children, to hear the racial slurs, to see the formed fist of a 5th grader poised and ready to strike. All I need to do is look into the eyes of a homeless mother of three, pregnant with her fourth, to see the tears forming in her eyes and catch a glimpse of the hopelessness she experiences on a daily basis.
A brief scroll through my Facebook newsfeed is all I need to re-orient myself to the reality of corporate greed, police brutality, labor uprisings, and gender inequality. Violence, injustice, and all sorts of disparity surround us. I cannot escape it, nor do I want to close my eyes, ears, or heart to the cries of oppression. You cannot heal what you refuse to see.
Yet, how do you stay open to the pain without becoming it? How do you let it transform you without it scarring you, feeding off of your vulnerability and becoming stronger? How do you cope without anesthetizing yourself to the grief, anger, and hatred?
*”No justice, no peace!”
Nashville, TN 2015
It has been a long weekend made up of spending long hours on buses and sleeping under church pews. Strangers have become allies and friends, bonded together by common goals and dreams. We are united by the hope we have for a better future, connected by our humanity.
Over the weekend I have sat quietly in my seat and watched as Alonzo the organizer made his way up and down the crowded aisle, intentionally meeting and having conversations with each person on the 60 passenger bus. I’ve listened to Brenda as she tirelessly translates every announcement into Spanish so that everyone on the bus can understand what’s going on and no one gets left behind. I’ve been amazed by the spiritedness of a little girl named Mia who at her young age is fiercer than I could ever hope to become in this lifetime. I’ve laughed as Kevin sings the blues on a borrowed guitar, and smiled in awe at the small community that’s blossomed in such a short amount of time. We are strangers, we are allies.
We are all smiles and enthusiasm, on our way to Florida!
Atlanta, GA 2015
How do you hold enough space for all of it? How do you make room for the despair and the determination? The only way, the only way I can come up with and live through is connection. We are all in this together.
*Solidarity on the march for farmworker justice.
St. Petersburg, Florida 2015
The hour is late and we are still on the bus wrestling with exhausted delirium. We are trying to keep up our spirits by singing the Macarena, laughing and clapping, shamelessly acting like ridiculous fools. Suddenly, I’m no longer on a bus headed back to Nashville after a long weekend marching for justice in the tomato fields of Florida. Instead, I’m instantly transported to a dusty pathway in a small village in Ghana. I’m tired and my heart is still heavy. Heavy from the poverty, the sickness, weighed down by my own incapabilities and inadequacies. Walking home after a hard day at the school, I can hear tiny voices yelling my name, “Madame Maria, Madame Maria!” I can see arms and legs flinging themselves around me, and I remember what joy feels like.
Dancing in the classroom in the rain
Teiman, Ghana 2013
I remember taking this photo on one such afternoon and I remember dancing to the Macarena when the rain pounding on the tin roof overwhelmed our ability to teach and so we danced instead. I remember the darkened faces of children gathering under a starry night as we lit firecrackers in an open field, yelling and screaming, and then begging to be taught how to sing the Macarena one more time. I remember a crowded living room and a tile floor with dirty bare feet all jumping and hopping and swaying in rhythm as they rehearsed the only dance I knew how to teach—the Macarena.
Dancing in our living room after school.
Teiman, Ghana 2014
We are all connected. I am here with tired and content passengers on a bus, and I am there surrounded by students and adopted neighbors. We are united by song, by blood, by the life spring welling up inside all of us. We are in constant communion by virtue of our humanity and our frailty.
How do you contain it all without breaking? How do you feel it all without collapsing underneath the weight? Be strong. Be soft. Become strong enough to bear the pain, soft enough to sustain the joy. Look for connection. Ask for it. Reach out. Laugh. Dance. Cry. Talk it out. Shake it off. Speak up. Stand together. Call. Text. Skype. Love. Love more. Love yourself. Look up at the sky. Stand in the dark so you can see the Light. Feel ALL of it. And don’t apologize for your hardness. Don’t apologize for the heart on your sleeve.
Be strong. Be soft.
*Photo credits Kyle LincolnGoogle+