The Only One

No ‘rock video girl’ touched my heart so deeply as Jayzik Azikiwe, who starred in Dire Straits’  Skateaway video. When I was a little girl, I so wanted to be continually imbued with the spirit that she embodied: vibrant; independent; carefree; and confident. Just listening to that song now makes me feel fantastical.

This past summer, we had a Rock of Ages party the weekend that movie was released in theaters. After the movie, we went back to my house to overindulge in food and alcohol, perform karaoke (everything from the movie’s soundtrack songs to The Sound of Music), and watch old videos. I was a meticulous music video recorder for many years, and have a collection of nearly ten complete tapes full of videos – most of which are now available on YouTube. One of my sisters, who also loved the Skateaway video, looked up information about Jayzik on her phone as we watched the video.

I was fascinated to learn that her father was the first president of independent Nigeria. Like her father, Jayzik was also an activist in addition to being an artist. I learned that she really was very much like that girl in the video – but so much more. Sadly, I learned all of these things by reading her obituaries. Jayzik passed away in 2008.

I think I might write a book about her one day. Or maybe I could write something about her with one of my very favorite authors, Chimamada Ngozi Adichie.

Jayzik makes such dreams seem possible.

From Nail Files to Geraldine: The Emergence of my Political Identity

My political identity is rooted in my social and cultural identities, my unique personal beliefs, and my lived experience. This political identity is emerging rather than fixed; over time it has evolved and expanded to encompass my deeper and broader understanding of the world in which I live.

My first political experience was campaigning for Guy Kratzer, who was then running for reappointment to Allentown City Council. My job, as a very young child, was to hand out nail files sporting his name to voters as they entered the polls at Muhlenberg Elementary School. I believe this was 1979, but my memory could be mistaken. I suspect that one of my sisters was a student in Mrs. Kratzer’s social studies class at Trexler Middle School at that time. My second memory is my father running for school board in 1980. In Mrs. Helwig’s kindergarten classroom that same year, I voted for Ronald Regan in a mock election. I didn’t vote for him because I supported his platform, but because brown seemed to be the most presidential color to me at the time (it was a color matching game). For the next few years, my political memory is limited to the occasional whimsical wearing of one of my J.D. for Mayor buttons.

In 1984, I feel that my political identity crystallized with the presidential election and my work to support Geraldine Ferraro for vice president. I was nine years old. In my elementary school class, again at Muhlenberg (apparently the epicenter of my political emergence), we formed teams based on who we would like to support. I chose Mondale/Ferraro because, despite the fact that most of my family is Republican, my parents were solid Democrats. I noticed generalized social and cultural differences between the Mondale/Ferraro group and the Regan/Bush group. This was the first time that I felt like part of a group, that I belonged somewhere in the social sphere. I felt as though I had arrived.

I especially loved supporting a woman for this important political position, which seemed totally natural to me. It never occurred to me that a woman could not do whatever the heck she wanted to do, or that she would be discouraged from doing so by others. While I didn’t appreciate the significance of this historical moment at the time, I am so grateful to have lived through it and to have been a part of it, even if only in a very small way. I cannot imagine who I would be if it were not for Geraldine Ferraro.

By the way, I think the official presidential color should be purple.

Broken Glass, Shattered Dreams, Becoming Whole

Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of freedom, courage, and dignity for all people. It was along a street named for him that mine were so unjustly stolen from me on what was supposed to be my first day of high school 23 years ago this week. Due to a combination of healthy teenage rebellion, bipolar disorder which at the time included hallucinations and delusions (possibly the result of 12+ years of consistent prescribed codeine abuse to treat my allergies), and the circumstances of my life, I ran away from home seven times that summer. I was quickly heading toward either a living or a literal death. At the moment my life was threatened and I was attacked, my soul left my body and did not start to return, albeit in little unrecognizable fragments, until at least five years later.

At a recent Crime Victims Council of the Lehigh Valley training, the speaker lamented about a time when women were revictimized by the police. I lived through that time. The police suggested that I was raped by a friend. They scrutinized my clothing, suggesting that I provoked the attack even though I work a long sleeve shirt and long pants. The chief of police laughed out loud at me when I told him the perpetrator told me he was a cop. The detective told me he had a never-ending mountain of paperwork and that he didn’t have time to work on false reports. The police lost the evidence that could have been used in court. They manipulated my family into believing that I made the story up to get attention. They were skilled oppressors.

About 15 years later, I moved back to my home community after living in Philadelphia for the past six years. I started a job just down the street from the scene of the crime as an advocacy and outreach coordinator at a regional food bank. It was here that I both confronted my past and found my future. I passed by that awful place nearly day on my way to and home from work, a symbolically meaningful everyday act that gained significance over time. I was no longer a desperate teenager destined for death; I was a woman on a mission. I had the tremendous responsibility of advocating for some of the most vulnerable people in my community. People like me. I was excited about my work and felt truly alive. I realized that I lived so that I could be an example of compassion, hope, and love.

The police sent me a letter to tell me that they would put a copy of the emergency food resource guide I created in every patrol car in the city.

When I first thought of sharing this story on this blog, I felt a sense of personal shame. But really, I should feel ashamed that it has taken me over 20 years to share my story in a meaningful and helpful way. I feel ashamed that women and children are still at risk of being unsafe in my community. I am ashamed that people who suffer from mental illness are socially, culturally, and economically marginalized. I have a lot of compassion for people who are chronically homeless, addicted, or otherwise feel stuck in a tumultuous cycle. That was me. That is me. That is us.

Rethinking Utopia

In 1998, I lived in a 15th floor studio apartment in West Philadelphia. At my desk overlooking both lovely Fairmount Park and the city skyline, I created a never published website simply called Utopia. The vision for the project, according to the second home page I developed, was to empower and motivate young women and men to actively construct their lives and communities in order to exist more peacefully and harmoniously with themselves, others, and the environment. I promised readers to publish a quarterly journal entitled Utopia: An Overture of Peace and Harmony and to create a website that would: educate people about their rights, responsibilities, and human potential; distribute information that is helpful in cultivating compassionate, well rounded, and determined human beings; share experiences among each other so that we may learn and grow with each other; analyze psychological and social theories and discover how to apply them to get more out of our daily lives; enlighten with art, poetry, and prose; and provide an exchange for buyers and sellers of intellectually stimulating, ecologically sound, and socially responsible products and services.
With the exception of the last statement and the nuances of naivete, I am struck by the similarities between the aforementioned forsaken website and the relaunch of The Fruition Coalition this summer. Something deep within my soul, which I have repressed and redirected over the past 15 years, is yearning to be set free.

I am grateful for the many detours my life has taken since the initial conceptualization of Utopia: I have earned two and a half graduate degrees; helped to raise two lovely girls who are both now college students; and served the community as an executive director and in several other capacities. All of these experiences — indeed, all of my experiences — will inform the ongoing development of this and other projects. I am especially grateful for this opportunity to integrate my inner dreams, perhaps my soul purpose, with everything I have learned about myself and the world in which I live throughout my early adulthood. Still a work in progress, I look forward to reviewing blog posts from The Activist’s Muse, posts on Le Salon Utopique, and recordings of classes from The Fruition Academy of Social Imagination and Action in another 15 years to reflect on my journey and the person I am becoming.

Thank you for being a part of this journey. To Utopia we go!