Persisting in 2017

It takes a lot of energy to #resist. But remember you aren’t the first.

Being #woke is exhausting. Resistance is the opposite of comfort, complacency, convenience, and certainty. It's no surprise that many of my friends and I awake each morning and brace ourselves for battle wondering, what sinister move will 45 make today? Whose loyalty will be tried? Which dystopian novel will be the best metaphor for today's events?

The amount of cognitive capacity that I have given to politics has increased tenfold since he took office. Often, I float through the day i disbelief that people can still believe him and his propagandist team. I feel regularly insulted by his blatant disregard for my experience as a person of color in this country. Moreover, I am deeply troubled by how this man is methodically dismantling our country's reputation as the leader of the free world and the gold-standard of democracy. 

Perhaps more consistently, everyone's wondering how long this will last. 'This' could mean anything...his presidency, the polarization of the country, personal uncertainty, hate. I can't answer that, but what I do know is that we are not the first people to feel this way.

We cannot forget our privilege.

We are Americans in 2017. Some have more privilege than others, but we all still have more than those like us before us. It’s very easy to assume that no one has ever been as tired as you are. It’s easy to spiral into a hole of all of this being too much, of feeling like you absolutely cannot. Today I’d like to remind you that we can and we already have persisted through times much worse than these.

This is not the hardest nor the most important fight this country has seen. This is not the first time humanity has been questioned and morality has been absent. This is not the first time a deceitful misogynist racist has inhabited the White House: This is the story of America.

For 245 years, people owned black bodies in this country.

Think about your body being listed as property in someone’s inventory books. American slavery was the first system where bondage was perpetual and inherited. Think about the despair and hopelessness people felt to know that your situation would not miraculously change. People murdered their own babies so that they wouldn’t have to live a life in chains. Slaves had no agency over their future, but today we do. I am proof. We survived, then it got better. Former slaves were recognized as citizens. Black men not living in the Jim Crow south got to vote. Abolitionists got to pat themselves on the back, but the war wasn’t over.

100 years later, blacks had still not been liberated.

The Civil Rights Movement was bigger than what we are doing now. We cannot draw parallels. Today’s voter suppression efforts look like boy scouts compared to the state-funded terrorist tactics used to systemically deny blacks the right to vote in the South. This is the first time I’ve wondered how people managed to get up and go to work every day 60s. For godsakes, Fannie Lou Hamer coined the best phrase ever because of these times. “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Despite their collective fatigue, they survived. They passed the Voting Rights Act and Jim Crow was gutted. The bell rung and the fight for equality to move on to the next round. And now, that struggle continues.

It is now on us to advance the struggle.

Since January, I have felt like an activist for the first time and as such, I’ve gained a new level of respect for those who laid the foundation for modern social movements. I am calling legislators, writing op-eds, amplifying marches via social media, and attempting to engage in productive dialogues across difference. What I am doing is important for our time, but I stop short of claiming that this is the same as what Black women have endured before me: I am resisting with a steady job enabled by my degree from a Top 25 university from an apartment owned by a man who couldn’t discriminate against me. I may be tired, but the limits of my exhaustion are fundamentally different from those of the many women who persisted before me. It’s bad, but it is not the worse.

We must challenge our friends who use apocalyptic language.

We live in a superlative world. Everything the president does is the best, biggest, most terrific thing that ever happened. Similarly, this resistance feels like the most important, the most pressing fighting against the worst thing ever. We have managed to equate our fight for injustices with earlier movements, but it shouldn’t be an equation — this is the next iteration. 

To white friends who have possibly never felt this way before, to the white folks who feel like these are the darkest times America has seen, to anyone who hasn’t “felt ashamed of this country before” — welcome. You now have a point of reference for what struggle feels like for the rest of us.

Moments like this enable empathy and empathy fuels change.

This is our time and our responsibility.

Too many of us have been waiting to be sent for. Well, here we are: your number has called. I can’t make you feel better and this is not supposed to be easy. I don’t know how to find the right balance of being over or underinformed. I too am guilty of the newfound obsession of trying to analyze and interpret every move this man makes. I too am guilty of complaining that we can’t live like this, can’t march every weekend, can’t stay glued to twitter. But we have to play our part and stroll down this long walk to freedom. 

Complaining without action is whining. Don't whine - act.

I don’t mean to preach, I mean to empower. We can’t get discouraged when change isn’t immediate. We can’t let them get to us. Those in power want us to feel helpless. They want our efforts to feel futile so that we give up. But we cannot quit. We’ve come too far from where we started from. 

Marching. Writing. Conversing. Listening. All of it matters. Acknowledge your own privilege. Challenge the system when and how you can. Let your voices be heard and engage in dialogues. Call your representatives. Stop judging other people’s path of resistance. Stay focused. Do what you can and that doesn’t have to be everything — it all adds up. Make choices that you have no problem defending. Be proud to be an active participant in democracy and continue to show gratitude to those who were before you.


PHOTO COURTESY OF KRISTEN BRYANT

About the author:
Kristen Bryant is a Georgia-born, Cambridge-based conversationalist. From 9-5 she works at a mission-driven financial technology company focused on building solutions that make people financially secure. After hours you can find her live-tweeting her shows, exploring Boston's food scene, or reading Maya Angelou.

Kristen studied Sociology at Wake Forest University and spent most of her time in college in the theatre. Kristen is a lover of sports, movies, and wine and an advocate for inclusive innovation, representation in media and the arts, and civic engagement. Connect with her on Twitter @_kbryant_ or her read more of her musings on Medium.

 

A Minority with Anxiety | My Story

Janelle McKenzie
Contributor

Somewhere in time, having a mental illness or even talking about mental illness, was labeled: taboo, especially in a minority household.  The lack of acceptance and understanding of this issue caused those who suffered from it to suffer in silence.

Anxiety can be experienced by everyone: becoming nervous before a test, a first date, or at work, but having clinically diagnosed anxiety disorder is a completely different experience, often times constant and crippling.

This is my story……….

As a child I was not shy at all, I was very outspoken and always the center of attention. I was never scared to do things that seemed bigger than my tiny, little body, I was always a dreamer. The same can be said for me today, but I’m also a lot more conscious of the world around me…sometimes, too conscious.

My mom had me when she was still trying to finish up college, so for a couple of years I was sent to live with my grandmother in Florida. This is the earliest memory I have of feeling anxious. It started out as separation anxiety from my mother. I would talk to her every single night without fail and I would sleep with an article of her clothing in order to feel closer to her. Little did I know, I was already predisposed to developing some type of mental illness since my biological father also suffers from this overlooked disease.

Fast forward a few years, I began learning more about the world. It wasn’t a fairytale place like my beloved Disney movies portrayed it to be. I experienced direct racism (my 3rd grade crush told me he couldn’t “date me” because I was black), dealt with my biological father not being as active in my life as I would have liked, and many other things that may seem insignificant to some, but was hard for me. Instead of speaking about it, I internalized all of my feelings, stashing it away into my “woe is me” box, or the pages of my poetry notebook.

College is where my anxiety became the worst it had ever been. Growing up in private, Catholic schools my whole life, I was sheltered a bit. I had the same friends throughout my childhood in Connecticut. Embarking into something new such as college, with this new found freedom, I wasn’t all too prepared for what was in store, and the different people I would encounter.

I joined a sorority, and my self-image and self-confidence went for a drastic decline. In my mind, I did not compare with the skinny, tall, gorgeous, white sorority girls I was constantly around. I had to do something to be more like them, and to silence my anxiety. This is when I developed my eating disorder which I learned during my treatment, was only a way to cope with my anxieties. As my weight drastically declined, so did my grades and self respect. I let my negative thoughts of what I thought I should be and what I wasn’t, take control.

During all of this, I kept how serious my anxiety was becoming to myself because I felt like no one would understand. I also felt silly that I was letting my insecurities and worry get the best of me. I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone in my life. I didn’t want to be seen as “The sad girl”. No one likes the sad girl (or so I thought).

Treatment and the support of my boyfriend, family, and some friends were what saved my life. After addressing my eating disorder, I was finally left with my anxieties and finding healthy ways to cope.

When I have overwhelming anxiety, my heart palpitates, my breathing shortens, I grind my teeth at night and clinch them during the day (to the point where I crack my enamel), and my thoughts of bad things happening to those I love, wreak havoc on my mind. How does one cope with those feelings in a healthy way?

I have found that eating nutrient dense foods, positive thoughts, staying active and surrounding myself with positive people are great ways to cope with my anxiety. We don’t realize that what we put into our bodies (food, music, television) and who we keep around us has a direct effect on our mental stability. I also lead a strong prayer life. Growing up in the church has always remained a big part of me, so reaching out to the big guy upstairs on a daily basis keeps me sane.

Another big way to deal with anxiety is to talk it out. Whenever I am feeling overwhelmed or notice signs that I’m having an anxiety attack, I call on my boyfriend, mom or a couple of close friends to help me through.

Lastly, if it becomes too much, seek help from a professional! I am a big advocate of therapy. Speaking to someone who isn’t close to you is a great way to gain a different/ unbiased perspective on life. It’s relaxing to meet weekly with someone and just talk for an hour.

I hope a little glimpse into my life with anxiety/ a mental illness is helpful in understanding it a bit more, or even dealing with your own anxieties.

If you have further questions about this topic, please leave a comment below, or email me: Janelle@thesweetsceneblog.com. I’d love to hear from you!

For more information and resources regarding mental illnesses, please visit:

https://www.nami.org/ or http://www.mentalhealth.gov/


About the author:
Janelle McKenzie is a Boston-based food + lifestyle blogger for the website www.thesweetsceneblog.com. She also is a Social Media Consultant for different restaurants in the Boston area. She is very passionate about trying to live a balanced life as best as one can; that means eating clean during the week and indulging a little during the weekend. After suffering from an eating disorder for many years, Janelle hopes to be an inspiration to those who suffer from it today, especially young women of color. She hopes that her blog and other social media handles serve as a positive and happy place for her readers to visit, especially during times in this world where there seems to be so much hate and devastation. 

The Mourning After

Helena Berbano
Contributor

There are moments that the words don't reach
There is suffering too terrible to name

-It's Quiet Uptown, Hamilton

 

Photographs courtesy of Aries Dela Cruz @TropiAries NYC Subway Walls and Helena Berbano

It's November 9th. I look out the window, and it's cloudy outside, much like the mood of our nation. I touch my cheek, and I can still feel the outlines of the tears that would not stop last night.

My best friend looks at me from across our tiny apartment, and suddenly we are both mirrors reflecting the same thing -  mourning.

We grimace in silence, and I am out the door, hand in hand with my partner who I called at 12am because I could not be alone.

Everyone noticeably silent on my train ride, glued to their phones with expressions of shock and grief.

Today is a reckoning - a reckoning to the fact that there is so much to be done. Pundits said again and again that the deciding factor for US Citizens was change. Well, we have change coming - change that encourages the erasure of brown bodies. Trans faces. Non-binary people. Marginalized people.

We hear the drinking song they're singing.
The world turned upside down.

-The World Turned Upside Down, Hamilton

I can't and won't accept that this is the America we live in. To be clear, I harrowingly accept Clinton's defeat, but I will not let hate win. Those who have organized and continue to organize know this. There is much more that unites us than divides.

I am bruised, I am black and blue...but I am not broken.

You let me make a difference
A place where even orphan immigrants
Can leave their fingerprints and rise up

-The World Was Wide Enough, Hamilton

I know this because of the Asian American man who enthusiastically shook my hand and thanked me for organizing for Hillary Clinton with tears in his eyes. I know this because of the Not Your Model Minority event that Asian American Millennials Unite hosted, where I heard from artists and activists ready to ensure a more inclusive America. I know this because of the teenage girls that I helped register to vote, who told me that for the first time in their lives they had hope that we would have the first female president. I know this because of all of the amazing organizers that I have met through my work who knocked on doors and canvassed for the sole purpose of getting people out to vote, regardless of party. I know this because of the cohort of amazing women who have become my sisters at the New American Leaders Project, who are out there creating change across the nation.

I know this because the United States is stronger together. I don't know what is to come, but I do have hope. It is dim, a crack of sunlight, but we have worked too hard for everything to come undone by a singular, racist demagogue.

As my friend texted me this morning: "It's OUR America and we'll make it ours even though it was not created for us. We belong here."

I'm not ready to give up on our nation. In the words of immigrant, artist, and activist Lin Manuel-Miranda, "Raise a glass to Freedom, Something they can never take away."

When you're living on your knees, you rise up.
Tell your brother that he's gotta rise up
Tell your sister that she's gotta rise up

-My Shot, Hamilton

 
 

About the author:
Helena Berbano is a nonprofit professional with various experiences in both the public and nonprofit sectors. As the Special Projects and Field Manager for Nonprofit VOTE, she works collaboratively with nonprofit partners across the U.S. on their voter registration and education activities. Apart from her work at Nonprofit VOTE, she is very passionate about representative parity in public office. Most recently she presented her research on women of color public office initiatives at the Northeast Conference on Public Administration. She also serves as the Director of Asian American Millennials Unite, a start up social justice initiative focused on engaging AAPI millennials, and is a board member for YNPN Boston, and the AAPI women focused organization, ASPIRE. She holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of Massachusetts Boston.