Artist: Amaryllis DeJesus Moleski
I'm still brimming with emotion triggered by the court's acquittal of Trayvon Martin's murderer
, but I haven't given up hope. Oftentimes, the most hopeless moments are those that inspire us to look most deeply within ourselves and our own communities, and we discover, perhaps with surprise, that we're the ones with the answers we've been hoping to find. I've been coming across answers infused with creativity ever since I asked the question of "What will we do?"
The thing is, I'm not seeking answers from the criminal justice system. I already know that what I'm searching for can't be found in courts or prisons or police departments. Mia Murietta wrote an insightful piece entitled "Justice for Trayvon Martin: Why Punishing His Killer Isn't Enough
," posted on the Ella Baker Center's blog, Ella's Voice. As she pointed out, "Our 'justice' system doesn’t deliver justice. It enforces laws. It is a legal system that creates and perpetuates the kind of structural racism and devaluing of black lives that lead to killings like Trayvon’s, Oscar Grant’s, and so many other unarmed, young Black men
." The George Zimmerman case doesn't highlight some previously undiscovered flaw in our legal system. It sheds light on what many of us already knew – that when the criminal justice system operates as it's designed, it bolsters systems of oppression and continues to harm those who have been degraded for centuries. People of color know this. Low-income people know this. Queer and trans people know this, as demonstrated in
Toshio Meronek's Advocate article, in which he frames the choices of LGBT people of color facing violent situations as "Be Killed or Be Caged?" For those of us who aren't white or upper class or straight, it's no surprise that justice for Trayvon does not exist in a courtroom. So, how can we assure our minds to believe that Trayvon can rest in peace? How can we comfort one another in these times of fear, knowing that
any one of us could be the next one murdered in a violent act ruled "justifiable"? How can we hope for change, when every arrest, lack of arrest, or verdict contributes to our loss of faith? I still don't have all the answers, but as people are gathering together to help one another through this difficult time, I'm gathering more clues as to where the answers are for me. And for me, all answers point to creativity. With creativity defined as the use of imagination
or original ideas, it's no wonder that this is the source of hope for me right now. Justice for Trayvon doesn't exist in preexisting systems, so now is the time for our imagination to come to life. I see examples in the city of Oakland, where I live. Betti Ono Gallery has been offering safe space
for folks to come together in reflection and solidarity, to have dialogue about the verdict and the kind of change it calls for. Down the street, Solespace
has had Art 4 Justice workshops
to give those who are emotionally impacted by the verdict some time and space to express themselves. And I also see examples from around the world. The #blacklivesmatter hashtag
has spread throughout the internet to show that we value black lives, even if the courts don't. New pieces of art are coming into existence every day, to mourn for Trayvon
and to depict alternatives to the systems
that allowed Zimmerman to murder him without consequence. Writers are sharing their words of reaction, hurt, and healing – Vanessa Huang included my words in this found poem
, "a living monument of love." Stevie Wonder announced
that he refuses to perform in Florida while the state's Stand Your Ground is in place, and other artists are beginning to follow his lead
You see my point. When we feel lost without hope, we've got artists, musicians, and innovators to create hope for us. On the side of those who want to uphold oppressive systems as they are, they've got badges, uniforms, and gavels. That's a lot of power. It can feel like a losing fight. But then again, another definition of creativity
says that creativity is "marked by the ability or power to create, to bring into existence, to invest with a new form, to produce through imaginative skill, to make or bring into existence something new."
Sounds like a lot of power to me. Where injustice currently exists, we have the power to create something new.
I'm dedicating today's poem to the good people of POWER
, who, rather than staying hushed, are speaking up. They're spending the morning calling for accountability from the City of San Francisco and fighting for justice for low-income people of color. Read details here
of the legal showdown over health concerns surrounding the construction in the Bayview-Hunter's Point area of the city.Go POWER!Here's a rough poem I've been piecing together. hush
here is where we learn to hush:
at mama’s bedside
to sleep, she needs the silence
of secrets submerged
below soft voices
here is where we learn to hush:
before the pulpit
voices may boom from behind it
but from where we sit,
not a word of the pain resting in the pew
not a word
here is where we learn to hush:
where words don’t come from live voices
where words are set it stone
we learn to keep our voices scattered
never gather enough sound at one time
for it’s always time to hush, now,
so silent before we shout Maisha Z. Johnson
I really can’t believe 2011 has arrived already. But I guess I should get used to it. So, like everyone else I’m spending my day reflecting on the past year, thinking about the next one. For me, 2010 was full of highlights, and I hate to reduce it to a silly top-ten list, but if I didn’t I might ramble on forever about my year. So here they are, my Top 10 Highlights of 2010:
CUAV’S 2010 Safetyfest
was a spectacular highlight of the year. It was great to be a part of the planning process as a member of CUAV (Community United Against Violence
), to help launch, in April, a festival of events designed to build safety in queer and trans communities. Events included everything from self-defense workshops to opening and closing celebration parties, and it was all thanks to the combined energies of community members giving time and money and resources to help empower each other. I was so thankful for the chance to lead a writing workshop and an open mic, where folks astounded me with their presence and words. Planning for Safetyfest 2011 is now underway, which is very exciting. Watch this look back at Safetyfest 2010 here
Continuing my membership at CUAV has been a highlight of 2010 in general. Opportunities have ranged from being a part of transformative Safety Labs
to reading poetry at rallies
in support of social justice. Not to mention building community, and growing as a person in all that I’ve learned along the way.
Another great part of 2010 was volunteering with the inspirational people of POWER
(People Organized to Win Employment Rights) in various capacities. They do really great work
that helps a lot of folks, and empowers folks with the tools to help themselves, and the time I’ve spent with them has taught me a great deal about organizing in ways that can really enact change
· U.S. Social Forum
This was one of the great opportunities that came with being an active member of CUAV – the staff invited me to be a part of the delegation that attended the U.S. Social Forum
in Detroit. The USSF was a conference of activists and organizers who brought knowledge and open minds to share with each other tools for making change. For example, a workshop with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration
(BAJI) featured a panel of folks speaking on immigration and shared BAJI’s findings
on black communities’ involvement in immigration rights movements. There were so many workshops at the USSF that it was hard to choose which to attend, but being me, I tried to pop into as many of the arts-related workshops as possible. Workshops like “Art is Change”
with Anasa Troutman were enlightening, and I was inspired not only in my own writing
, but also by the power of words
to move others, as I saw people like Anasa making a difference in folks who would carry her words across the country and to the rest of the world. I’m grateful still for that time spent in Detroit, especially because now we continue to share what we learned and what we shared with others while we were there.
In an exciting milestone for my writing, in 2010 I got a short story published for the first time. Transfer Magazine
published my short story “The Single Woman’s Guide to Surviving a Miscarriage” in Transfer 99, and gave it the Leo Litwak Award for Fiction. Whoo!
· Quiet Lightning/sPARKLE & bLINK
Some of my most thrilling moments this year were all thanks to Quiet Lightning
, a local reading series that’s given a great range of writers a place for their words. They gave me a place during Litquake
in October, and again in November
, and I’m so thankful for those unforgettable experiences. Hell, I’m thankful just for Quiet Lightning, whether it includes me or not, because Rajshree Chauhan
and Evan Karp
are doing something wonderful for the San Francisco literary community
. And with Quiet Lightning, of course, I’m also grateful for sPARKLE & bLINK
, the publication featuring each month’s readers (which they also generously offer for free on Scribd
· San Francisco Lit Community
I’m thankful that this year has introduced me to the thriving literary community
that’s such a lively part
of the Bay Area right now
. I’ve had such a great time at events like Quiet Lightning, Literary Death Match
, the Living Room Reading Series
, 14 Hills
events… I could go on, and there are plenty more I’ve yet to see as well. To say that it’s exciting to witness and participate in such a vibrant scene
hardly captures how thrilling it all is, and I can only hope for what the next year will bring as we walk through the doors that are opening for writers in and around San Francisco.
· HIV prevention
I feel like I can’t not mention my so-called “day job.” If my writing is the side of me that is the wild, unstable artist, then I guess my stable side is what has me walking the streets of the city at odd times of the night in an effort to prevent HIV. Working as a study recruiter for the AIDS Office
of the San Francisco Department of Public Health has been challenging in some ways, but it’s been a highlight of 2010 in that I’ve been a part of an extensive effort to reduce HIV infections, and for some, substance abuse, and along the way I’ve had the chance to learn about other people by connecting directly with them.
· Writing Ourselves Whole
Another that can’t go unsaid – I’ve participated in several of the incredibly transformative workshops of Writing Ourselves Whole
, and recently I’ve had the pleasure of working with the workshops’ facilitator, Jen Cross, with some of the duties that help her efforts to reach others move forward. This is another of 2010’s gifts for which I’m immensely thankful, and I look forward to connecting more with Writing Ourselves Whole in 2011.
· Graduation / Grad school
And I can’t leave out, of course, my graduation in May from the Creative Writing department of San Francisco State University
. I feel like I’ve taken a long journey
through school, so I had a whole lot to be thankful for upon reaching graduation. And now I’m looking forward to the next step, as I apply to MFA programs. Maybe I shouldn’t count this as a highlight until I actually get into grad school, but deciding to move forward with the process has been a highlight of the year for me.
Okay, so if you’re counting you’ll know that this is actually highlight #11. But I couldn’t resist adding it, because I wouldn’t have the platform to go on this rant of reflection and gratitude without this blog. I would definitely call Inkblot a highlight of 2010 because it’s been a part of my growth as a writer, it’s helped me connect with people I admire
, and it’s been one way I can share all that I’ve learned from the thrilling and critical moments of the year.
Thanks for being a part of it all with me. Have a safe night. Happy New Year!
This weekend I helped run a Bowl-a-thon
for POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights
). For a couple of months now I’ve been helping Aspen, POWER’s tireless fundraising director, get together the details for this fundraiser, so it was great to see all of our hard work paying off.
Here’s a question for you – which of the following activities can support low-income people of color, youth and immigrant communities?
- dressing up in outrageous costumes with some of your co-workers or closest friends?
- dancing your way through a game of bowling, to earn a score so bad you win a prize for your last-place finish?
- taking a break from eating pizza to race to the DJ booth and answer a trivia question?
The answer, I’ve learned, is all of the above. Who knew that social justice work could come in the form of a blissful day at the bowling alley? I’d call this an art – just as artists take what’s familiar to us and make it beautiful, taking the sometimes exhausting, sometimes depressing task of fighting injustice and making it joyful helps remind us of why it’s all worth it. It’s worth it to see the folks most affected by society’s problems rise up and thrive, dance and laugh. Knowing they’re doing more than knocking down bowling pins – they’re heading for justice, and knocking down anything in their way.