The Audacity of Apathy

Thousands of birds falling from the sky.

Rates of homelessness rising everyday.

Earthquakes.

Gross acts of domestic terrorism.

Millions of people unemployed, uneducated and unheard.

Where is the outrage? What is happening to this world?

Oh the Audacity of Apathy.

This week marked the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the assassination of  Patrice Lumumba. People across the globe remarked on the significance of these two men and the overall fight for freedom. While they both lived in two different parts of the world under different conditions; the systems of oppression were very similar. The fact that an individual could be killed because of an ability to mobilize, ignite and agitate people into action was dangerous. These two men put their lives on the line for a freedom neither would live to see. They had the audacity to dream, to fight and to sacrifice; where can we find that audacity today?

Malcolm X, a leader I continue to learn more about, once said that Patrice Lumumba was “the greatest black man who ever walked the African continent. He didn’t fear anybody. He had those people [the colonialists] so scared they had to kill him. They couldn’t buy him, they couldn’t frighten him, they couldn’t reach him.” Malcolm X was a self-educated man, he didn’t attend college. He knew more then than I know now, I want to know what Malcolm knew. I now have the privilege and opportunity to know even more. Our access to information my generation holds is unparalleled. We have a responsibility to harness it and USE it to transform our communities. In Washington, DC alone I can be in a room with 100 Black people and every single one of them will likely have one, two or three degrees. Unfortunately, possessing degrees does not equate to possessing intellectual fortitude and the empathy to build power in our communities across the country. We need more self-education and ownership over our formal educations. Education facilitated by those not invested in our communities, not from our communities nor based on the narratives of our communities; breeds apathy.

Inaction is consent.

We simply can not be comfortable with the status quo. Thinking about reality is tough and apathy is numbing. The audaciousness of apathy allows Black communities to boast the highest incarceration rates, the lowest graduation rates and continue a cycle where some “make it” while most never will. It’s not enough for me to be able to succeed if my cousin can’t even read. How dare I?  It’s not enough for me to gain access to resources and knowledge if I never open the door wider for the next young Black person. How dare I? I do not face the danger of being lynched for picking up a book, how dare I not pursue self- education? How dare I not do so with great fervor and an unrelenting spirit?

What is our responsibility? What is our duty?

I’ve internalized the idea of consent through action and inaction.  Whether  you give consent through the ballot or by staying home, you’ve made a choice. Your choice impacts what the results of the election are regardless of whether you entered the booth or not. Whether you give consent to the violence running rampant in your community or not, you’ve made a choice. Your choice impacts the safety and mental health of your community regardless of whether you choose to speak out against violence or not. Whether you give consent because of fear or profit, you’ve made a choice.

Choosing to be apathetic in the face of so much blatant disrespect for life is perhaps one of the most audacious acts I see everyday. Our leaders display apathy each time they speak-out late or simply decide not to speak at all. Our people lack a collective consciousness of our struggle. Our people lack self-love. Our world lacks love.

The Audacity of Apathy in the face of so much is deadly. We cannot afford the luxury of apathy regardless of individual wealth or success. We will rise together or we will fall together. Only we have that choice to make.

Things Fall Apart

Last year when I turned 25 I decided that I wanted to be free. Free as a woman, free as a Black person in America and free as an activist to fight to get closer to the world as it should be. Since then I’ve made decisions and pursued certain goals. In that process some things have literally fallen apart. Things in my life have fallen apart before, but this time was different. For the first time I realized that in life things do fall apart, it is up to me to decide what’s worth putting back together again. Like many American students, I remember reading Chinua Achebe’s novel “Things Fall Apart.” The novel has a whole new meaning to me now.

I survived and lived 18 years on the South side of Chicago. I navigated the halls of public schools, stepped over crack pipes and avoided teenage pregnancy. I have survived an eviction in the dead cold of a Chicago winter, I’ve even survived Chicago winters without a heated home. I moved to Washington, DC with two bags, three boxes and an idea that I could somehow contribute to real change in this world. I started as an intern like so many of us in this movement. I was 23 years  old with a Master’s Degree and the resiliency of an urban girl. I came with the wherewithal to build relationships to sustain me professionally and emotionally. I have simply been blessed. From my car literally going up in flames to legal woes, I have simply been blessed.

My optimism for our world is based on the optimism I hold for myself. I am not ashamed of where I came from, it’s made me who I am today. I am not ashamed of the history of the United States of America, its narrative makes us the country we are today and sets the urgency for us to do better. My optimism for the world is grounded in reality. My optimism for myself is grounded in my experiences and the reality set before me.

Every time things fall apart in my life, I pray. I pray out of a need to recognize the wealth of blessings bestowed upon me and to recognize my own shortcomings. Recently, out of prayer the most valuable piece of clarity I’ve received was very simple, I woke up and thought “Charlene, you have a choice. In fact, you’ve always had a choice.” For me that idea is about freedom. The freedom to have control of the decisions I make, the freedom to have power in the work I do and the freedom to walk away from toxic situations. Equally evident to me now is that the process of things falling apart is as natural as life and death. What I also realize is that everyone simply doesn’t want me to be free. Conforming or fitting in nicely makes folks comfortable, the opposite can sometimes be a threat.

The world is yet again in the process of falling apart; physically and politically. Many people living in the world today want the status quo maintained. Unfortunately, the status quo just isn’t satisfactory. The choices we make as individuals and as leaders will undoubtedly shape the landscape of our futures. What is worth putting back together again? What are the best examples of humanity? What institutions should cease to exist? What institutions need to be re-worked? This choice will be made either by inaction or direct action. I choose to be an active participant. Putting things worth having back together again are not always easy, thats life.

I choose to be an active participant in my own life. I choose to actively decide who is a friend and who is foe.  I choose  to be bold enough to step away from the crowd and offer a dissenting opinion. I choose to take ownership over my body and what goes in it. I choose to love unapologetically.

For our world, we must make collective choices. We must vote at the polling place and with our dollar. We must decide the value of human life and what is fair. We must decide what world we want and figure out how to get there. Just as things fall apart, things come together. For every death a child is born somewhere. The ultimate question for me is what kind of world will that child inherit? Will they be a slave or slave-master? Will that child’s future be determined by someone else? Will they simply have the freedom to choose? I choose to help make sure the latter occurs. What do you choose?

Don’t Retreat, RELOAD

“Don’t Retreat, Instead RELOAD”

Tell that to Christina Taylor-Green, she was shot and killed along with 5 others last Saturday in Tuscon, AZ. The nine year old student council member aspired to serve her country one day.

The now  infamous words tweeted by Sarah Palin, “Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!” now hold more significance for anyone trying to make sense of the shooting. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, one  the of victims, was  also listed on the now infamous “Take Back the 20” target list on Sarah Palin’s official Political Action Committee website. The final third in this trinity of hate is a map charting the targets using gunsights, with the words “We’ve diagnosed the problem…Help us prescribe the solution,” reeks of Third Reich propaganda. This trinity may not incriminate any one individual, they do successfully incriminate the propaganda machine operating by the political right and conservatives throughout the country. The violent political rhetoric in America has reared itself in a traumatic and deadly form.

While Palin did not shoot the 9mm handgun; her rhetoric and the rhetoric of those spewing the same hateful messages (ex. Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh) play a major role in todays violent political climate. The use of fear, hate and violence to move forward a political agenda is not alien to the United States. Whether we explore the history of the Ku Klux Klan or the bombing of a Oklahoma Federal building, terrorism is no stranger in the United States. What does this mean for our democracy? What does the reality of the shooting in Arizona mean to our country?

Jared Loughner’s alleged (innocent until proven guilty, right?) shooting rampage at a public event hosted by a U.S. Congresswoman represents a distinct reality in America. These events expose a tangible truth about our country.  Loughner fired off at least 31 shots on Saturday using a high capacity ammunition magazine. He is now charged with an attempted assassination. This charge confirms much of the speculation behind what motivated Loughner to open fire at a public event, shoot a Congresswoman in the head at close range, wound 13 people and kill 6 individuals. The whole picture of the 22 year olds politics is not clear, I along with many others are waiting with anticipation to learn more.

Violence, hate and fear are as American as apple pie. We just tend to keep it locked away like a damaging family secret. This secret, like many of the incidents and occurrences shrouded in revisionism and plain untruths, puts the potential of our democracy in danger. The very fabric of our country is like a constantly growing patchwork quilt. Every piece adds to the prosperity, narrative and strength of America.

What can we learn from this? When you know better you are SUPPOSED to do better. Just as violence, hate and fear exist in America; hope, change and progress endure the same. Which side will we choose to stand on? What values will we choose to  possess? The challenge is clear, so is the choice. I beg you not to retreat from the heavy task to build a freer, more loving and just society. I beg you to instead reload your minds with the knowledge and values needed to move everyone forward. Don’t retreat in fear, reload with hope. The time is ripe with immediacy, begging for a choice to be made.