The year was 1970. I was staring at a picture larger than life of Angela Davis, (an American political activist and university professor who was associated with the Black Panther Party for Self Defense and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), on my brother’s bedroom wall. I was 6 years old. I didn’t know anything about what Angela Davis stood for – but that picture poster of her with the huge afro – spoke to me.
I always looked up to my eldest brother, not because he was older but he always seemed so certain and so I’m not sure if he actually told me this or if I somehow felt that it would be something that he would say…but every time I found myself feeling stifled or taken advantage of I would hear him say “Stand up for your Rights” and I would visualize that huge poster of Angela Davis. It seems that she too said the same thing, quietly from the wall of his room.
Yet I find that all too often we are trying so hard to fit in rather than expand and be who we were meant to be. How many of us are willing to risk the possibilities and fully embrace this affirmation: Today I resolve to be a little less than the me I know and leave a little room for the me I could be?
There seems to be two groups that exist – one filled with folks leading lives of quiet desperation (a phrase made popular by Thoreau in 1854) and the other filled with restless agitators – those of us who wander in search of something more. Yet even as we wander, we still try to conform so that we are not seen.
I recently met a bold, energetic female entrepreneur (with businesses in New York and Los Angeles) who found that since returning to Trinidad and Tobago to set up business here, that in many ways, the folks in her industry seemed to want her to “tone down”. They’ve criticized her web site – saying that Trinidad and Tobago “not ready for that”, and she’s heard the gossip making its way back to her in the form of “who does she think she is?” I encouraged her to just “do her” – not conform – and if she can – raise the bar!
Many reading this might say that it’s just women being women. They gossip about each other and are unsupportive when others seem to be doing better than they are. I choose to believe that whenever we encounter someone reflecting back to us what is possible – and what we ourselves can be capable of – we shy away and retaliate because it involves standing out and being seen. And truth be told, we are just afraid.
In an essay titled “Our Authentic Lives” Sarah Ban Breathnach observes “I wish I’d known from the beginning that I was born a strong woman. What a difference I would have made! I wish I’d known that I was born a courageous woman; I’ve spent so much of my life cowering. How many conversations would I not only have started but finished if I had known I possessed a warrior’s heart? I wish I’d know that I’d been born to take on the world; I wouldn’t have run from it for so long, but run to it with open arms.”
Angela Davis didn’t seem to mind standing out and standing for something she believed in. She first achieved nationwide notoriety when a weapon registered in her name was linked to the murder of Judge Harold Haley during an effort to free a black convict who was being tried for the attempted retaliatory murder of a white prison guard who killed three unarmed black inmates. Davis fled underground and was the subject of an intense manhunt. Davis was eventually captured, arrested, tried, and then acquitted in one of the most famous trials in recent U.S. history.
Are we afraid to tell our own story, to show who we really are for fear that we would reveal too much? Are we afraid to even tell other women’s story lest people figure out that we are really writing about ourselves?
The truth is that some of those stories would be some of our own story and some about other women. But it shouldn’t matter because one of those stories might just resonate with you so deeply, that it might as well have been yours. As W. B Yeats one said to someone admiring his work, “If what I say resonates with you, it’s merely because we are both branches on the same tree”. Let’s not be afraid to stand out and stand up for ourselves. We are indeed – all branches of the same tree of womanhood.
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