I don’t think it would be fair or effective to attempt to verbalize everything that this program has meant to me, because I am not yet fully aware of it myself. Due to the richness and the length of our days, I haven’t yet had the time to decide what to do with the images flashing behind my eyes or the words swirling around my head. The only thing I can be sure of when I sit into myself is that real connection occurred, connection that is strong enough to support the reimagining of our realities.
I can say confidently that this program has been one of the single most impactful and enriching experiences I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of.
I debated whether or not to accept my invitation to this program because, as an artist, devoting a month to intense classroom learning instead of actively producing work felt like a sacrifice. However, I can say confidently that this program has been one of the single most impactful and enriching experiences I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of. The John Lewis Fellowship demanded that participants bring all of ourselves to the table. The work forced us to remain vulnerable because only by being real with ourselves and each other could we begin to address the societal systems and norms that we seek to dismantle. Tiffany Roberts, Esquire perhaps said it best when she recited the end of the Black Lives Matter mandate, stating, “and to be willing to be transformed in the service of the work”. You cannot do this type of work without being vulnerable.
The knowledge instilled in us throughout this month continues to act as a protective force around our passions.
The fearless women highlighted throughout this program, led by Dr. Roslyn Pope and Professor Tanya Washington, proved to me the unparalleled strength in purpose that comes from such vulnerability. Former mayor Shirley Franklin’s frankness of speech and directness of demands especially inspired me to be unapologetic about my passions. This is not something that comes naturally to me and being around other women who were unapologetic about both themselves and their work was truly transformative. Dr. Pope said it best when she stated, “If you don’t have any questions about the rightness of your cause, then that’s your protection”. The knowledge instilled in us throughout this month continues to act as a protective force around our passions.
Moving forward, Professor Washington asked of all of us that we continue to “give [ourselves] permission to be beautiful and ugly too”, something that I believe the city of Atlanta demonstrates. Atlanta was the perfect city experience this program, not just because of the incredible civil rights histories that have been born from its streets, but because of its realness, and the truthfulness with which it addresses itself and its future. Living and learning from this city and its people inspired me to inspire others, which I believe is the greatest transference of energy that a person can produce.
My journal from this time period reads,
“I want to write about feeling disconnected, about being honest with others and yourself, about criticism and guilt, about getting over it because the work is more important, about getting excited by the worst things because now it makes sense and even though I can’t bring the words back into my mouth- no one has ever said it like that before, about truth and power, about being offensive and getting offended, about Atlanta and its beauty, about how living with very different people makes you more of yourself”
The John Lewis Fellowship helped me to see the ideal world, that I used to look towards the clouds for, in other people’s eyes, and in the careful intention with which they push words from their lips. Even if our group couldn’t agree upon a shared definition of restorative justice or outline a universal method of implementation, I believe that this perspective shift will allow each of us to progress in both our work and daily lives in a way that restores justice to those we encounter. Thank you to all those involved during this month that forced me to look back towards the earth. The view is greater than I could have imagined.