How hard it is to sleep
in the middle of life.
-Audre Lorde "Electric Slide Boogie"
Greetings loved ones,
I woke up this morning at 5am in thunderwashed Detroit listening to Sweet Honey singing Ella's Song. Y'all know the one. We who believe in freedom cannot rest... And in the chorus I hear generations of insomniacs ready to be healed. In a city grieving the death of the soul shocking heart shaking poet David Blair, a hard working teaching artist who died of heat stroke less than a week ago, where I just witnessed the Historical Designation committee of the city council unanimously affirm 96 year old Grace Bogg's home as a historical sacred place, I am thinking about the possibility of rest.
In my former life as a workaholic I took this song very literally, if not intellectually, then certainly through my actions. No rest. I said to myself as I pushed through repetitive meetings back to back without eating. No rest. I said to myself as I flew city to city with nothing green to eat in sight. No rest. I said to myself as I woke up at 3 in the morning to post yet another update for my students. I'll rest later, I assured my complaining heart, lungs and spirit. You know...when freedom comes.
I now know that my self-abusive belief in freedom was passive. I thought freedom would just show up, like a gurney I could pass out on when I was spent and overspent for justice. But as my brilliant sister-comrade Yashna says in her beautiful "why we can't wait" essay for self-care and healing justice. Being unjust to our bodies by ignoring our own needs, being unjust to each other by perpetuating unsustainable modes of work in our organizations and initiatives, does not serve our mission of justice. As MLK wrote, from jail, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. So where is the justice everywhere? Where is the freedom that Ella believed in?
Now I listen to Ella's Song like a black feminist poet ancestor worshipper. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes. Meaning freedom IS the opportunity to rest. Rest is a manifestation of our freedom in the present, not in a future that we'll be too tired to notice. Remember that Ella Baker, unlike many leaders within our movements, trusted a bottom up movement led by a mass of people, not one self-sacrificing leader at the top. Remember that Ella Baker actively mentored youth to take up the work so that elders could collaborate and rest. Ella Baker was too socialist for the NAACP because she believed in sharing the sacred work of freedom, an act the requires an intense amount of trust in each other and in our alignment with the working of the universe. The secret of my going on is when the reins are in the hands of the young folks... Though Ella Baker laments in a letter archived at the Schomburg that she could scarcely could find two weeks to take a sabbatical that her community funded her to have...the principles she stood for show us how to BE the healing in Ella's Song. To sit the hell down and be whole in order to move together again.
Engaging in the intergenerational work of the Mobile Homecoming Project has taught me that intergenerational trust is not the default mode of our organizing. Not by far. I am learning from OG QBG's who have pushed their bodies to extreme limits. Who have taped together their broken hearts after being exploited, let down, abused, sold-out, and betrayed within the work. Who have a million more reasons than I ever had to banish trust, to resign themselves to the fact that they will always be the ones picking up the pieces, sacrificing everything, taking one million for the so-called team. In these very real conditions, facing the trauma of long-term organizing in an unsustainable society and movement culture, it is hard for trust to grow. It is hard for elders to share skills, relinquish pieces of control and truly collaborate when they are traumatized and tired.
And I have witnessed first hand that there is nothing more healing than the miracle of finally being able to let go and be present to the reality of our SHARED brilliance, the salve and salvation of knowing that we were never in it alone and never have to be. That the work is bigger than us the work is abundant, the work has infinite physical and spiritual hands on it. That this work can actually be a restful place, a place of rejuvenation, a reflecting pool of understanding and shared committment across generations and other forms of difference.
We who believe in freedom have to be as intergenerational as Ella, believing in the long haul by believing in each other. Which is exactly how freedom comes.
With infinite love and a profound willingness to share the work....
P.S. Speaking of sharing the work....every project of the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind, Queer Renaissance, Queer Station and the Mobile Homecoming Project is looking for interns and collaborators to share the work! Email firstname.lastname@example.org especially if you are a student seeking academic or service credit or an interactive independent study with Sista Docta Lex. More details here: