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?