Liberation Road

Changing for Love


Trigger Warning: This status, the reaction to a young Black rapper’s death, and my comrade’s responses to what I said inspired what you are about to read. This story will likely be very triggering so please do what you need to do to take care of yourself before, during and after reading this.

I am a Black, Southern, Trans, Socialist, community organizer. I use he/him pronouns, and on most days, I identify as a gender expansive non-binary person. I don’t believe in binaries or false dichotomies, including those regarding gender. I am a Socialist because I believe ordinary people have done and can do extraordinary things. I am a prison abolitionist because I believe that punishment, including prison, doesn’t work to deter crime or make communities safer. Poor Black and Brown people are disproportionately sent there, and it doesn’t actually rehabilitate anyone. I believe that in order for us to see liberation in our lifetimes, we must build our strategies from visions of love for our people that is stronger than any hate our enemies could ever have for us.

One of my best friends Karissa was saying the other day that she thinks people usually come into our movement in one of two ways; either through their heads or through their hearts. For me, it was definitely my heart. I have been reading political theory for a decade, but when Trayvon Martin was murdered, that was the event that propelled me into action along with hundreds of thousands of other young Black folks in 2012. I was so angry and full of rage. I became frustrated at everyone who wasn’t in the streets. I eventually started studying with a group of socialists that were able to connect what was happening with the murder of Trayvon and how Zimmerman was being treated to a larger problem in this country: the system of white supremacist capitalism. They taught me that articulating the problem in a direct and succinct way was only half of the challenge. The other part was working with the folks I was organizing with to develop a vision and strategy for how we could solve whatever problems were plaguing us.

Four years later after, organizing nonstop, I realized at my first BOLD (Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity) retreat, that my past and current trauma, heartbreak, rage, and anger was consuming me. My anxiety and PTSD were at an all-time high and I had forgotten how to breathe deeply. I didn’t have a regular resiliency practice and my spiritual health was basically nonexistent. I was in the habit of running away from pressure. But that is no way to build trust with people you love. Malcolm X said, “Only those who have already experienced a revolution within themselves can reach out effectively to others”. So, if I wanted to be a better organizer, I knew I was going to have to be transformed.

At that first retreat, I made a commitment to loving myself so deeply that others would be inspired to love themselves just as deep. I figured that if it was true that hurt people hurt people, and free people free people, then I was going to get free and then help other young Black queer and trans folks do the same. My commitment started out as something that was for other people I cared about. I didn’t love myself enough to make a commitment like this and mean it. But there is a methodology to somatics that basically gives you the ability to do anything as long as you are willing to practice. The way I automatically responded to this young man’s death was a clear indicator to me that I have changed the way I see the world.

I came out of the closet as a lesbian when I was 12 years old. I am from a very religious background and my family has never been fully supportive of me because of this. I am a survivor of multiple sexual assaults, one of which led to an unwanted pregnancy that I aborted. I have been in and out of mental hospitals and seen a myriad of therapists and psychiatrists. My hate for the folks who hurt me had me hating myself so bad that I have struggled with suicidal ideation for all of my adult life.

Because I had lost hope for my own happiness, I was organizing for my community. Through the practice of organizing, I got really good at creating environments conducive to the leadership development of Black folks. The first major contradiction I had to reconcile was if they were magic, then I had to be as well. When I learned to start actually loving myself deep enough that folks could see and feel love rolling off of me, my commitment to my healing also became embodied. While I started out organizing being led by my anger for how Black folks get treated in this country, now it is the love for myself, my people, my ancestors, and my future descendants that informs how I navigate hard situations.

Being led by love doesn’t translate to nonviolence or even pacifism. To me it means that I choose to prioritize creating processes to build infrastructure to take care of and protect the most vulnerable members of our community over hating or celebrating the demise of others. It means that reacting to my enemy or those who act in service of my enemies is deprioritized, because they don’t deserve my emotional labor.

I will admit that my timing was wrong and I should have been more sensitive to what other survivors were going through. I should have taken more time to check in on my friends and see how they were doing instead of leading with the statement I made. Though my timing was off, I am confident that my message was right. In my opinion, folks on the internet celebrating this man’s death were just as wrong as folks blindly mourning him. He was killed in an armed robbery over a Louie bag. That is a poor people’s crime. The person who killed him was no hero avenging the harm that he caused to others. That day they were both victims of capitalism.

Every survivor is different. We all should have the room and space to feel all of our feelings. But if we are trying to practice the politics that we speak, we will have to deal with contradictions that show up in our work. This situation highlighted a contradiction for me of having an abolitionist politic and celebrating the death of an abuser. The two cannot co-exist for me. I don’t believe in punishment as a way to hold folks accountable and it doesn’t necessarily give survivors any relief either.

Geneva Ayala is the only name I will say regarding this incident. She is the deceased rapper’s ex-girlfriend and survivor of multiple acts of violence by him. When it was reported that she was in fact, not celebrating the rapper’s death other survivors immediately diagnosed her as having Stockholm syndrome. Black women survivors are often told that however they are feeling about violence done to them is wrong. This situation helped me realize that I don’t hate any of the people who hurt me in my life. I remembered that hurt people, hurt people. My vision of freedom and liberation for Black people includes a healed version of them too. I want all of us to have a chance to grow and get healed and live to our fullest potential as humans. It is that love for all Black people that informs every part of my life, including my politics.