I found myself sitting in a confined space, with my knees grasped and pushed my forehead into the tops of my kneecaps. I let my fingers run angrily up and down the sides of my legs as the cadence of my inhale versus my exhale became more staccato in nature. I was burnt out. As I sat in the closet of my bedroom peering out of the door trying to think why I wanted to be a teacher, be in the field of education, or why I even thought that this was smart to begin with, I caught myself. I realized I had sipped the mythical drink. I thought, and believed, that just by being hard working, focused, well-intentioned, academically demanding, and organized I would reap the deserved benefits that are “success.”
My student teaching placement felt more like a mental marathon of negotiations between empowering and enabling. My courses became racial battlegrounds. My mind became an epic trance between choosing mental liberation or structured and systematic oppression. I came to the conclusion II was simply an African American male in a space that tolerated me on multiple levels – I was positioned by structures, limited by hierarchy. I was a product of systems that wanted me to be a specific type of black man but never simply a human being occupying space. In this moment of personal and professional purgatory, I had to reflect on what went wrong through all of this. I failed at maintaining myself.
As my rear end grew uncomfortable from sitting on the hardwood floor, I stood up and opened the closet door. I looked at a room that screamed assimilation. Awards from organizations decorated the walls, the awards allowed to exist because the power structures permitted them to. I looked at the shoes I wore and the notebooks filled with thoughts and reactions to instruction, I even looked in the mirror, once again feeling dismayed I could not find much of myself outside of the constructed frame of existence I had learned and subsequently perpetuated. Was I problematic? Was I myself? Or was this person a remnant of an African King who had been mentally raped for centuries, placed in the woods of West Virginia, and now called himself Ronald James-Terry Taylor?
I was a product of systems that wanted me to be a specific type of black man but never simply a human being occupying space. In this moment of personal and professional purgatory, I had to reflect on what went wrong through all of this. I failed at maintaining myself.
This reflection was scary. I rubbed my boiling fingers across my face only to find impressions in my skin once known as blemishes, were actually stories of times I tried to scrub my fear of complete comfort away. I was descending into a split humanity…one of which had no agency. DuBois had written about me. I was the double conscious negro. And yet, I had the audacity to want to be an educator.
In that moment. as I felt the impressions across my skin, I thought about who I wanted to be – not for myself – but for the many people who I would encounter and address in the field. I had to think, whom would I showcase to the world. The 21-year-old manifestation that I called “me” was preparing to engage in a revolutionary act to preserve my humanity. I decided in one split moment to live, and to live not with a label or designation, but for life to unapologetically sing through me. I acknowledged my body was a temple, a sacred place, a grail that could be filled with as much light (or darkness) as I would permit. I had to trick myself into believing I was capable. Dancing seductively with Jane Crow, I had to lay in a bed of lies to make my truth heard.
Did I sell out?
Did I complete the transaction?
I removed the veil oppressive systems placed on me. I spoke to my truth, greeted it, sat down and asked how it was doing, and even offered it a glass of water to ease the intensity of the heat in the moment. Truth reminded me I had to define who I would be and stick to that definition. I had to walk in my true victory and not in a processed package found on aisle 49 of a super center. What truth did not tell me though, was that he resided within me and always did.
I decided in one split moment to live, and to live not with a label or designation, but for life to unapologetically sing through me.
The veracity of life I had sought, the definitions I would have to form, and the maintenance of self that I longed to learn, sat within a catacomb of my mind waiting to be tapped by the bodily balance of need, opportunity, and platform. I invited truth to follow me into the bathroom of my apartment. As I undressed before truth, I realized the impressions I had seen along my skin began to form into words. Some of them spoke of power and others spoke of joy, but truth showed me that in the impressions were small wells of oil; running and pouring into the wealth of a developing nation that sat at my feet, juxtaposed between my legs. I was not simply a manifestation of context. I was alive.
I bid truth farewell and I entered my closet once again, this time on my knees. Opposed to realizing that the systemic pressures around me were affecting me, I chose to acknowledge that I had power. My power was within me. Despite centuries of slavery, decades of legalized oppression, and moments of microaggression and mental anguish, no one could take my power because they did not know my truth. And that, has made the journey worth fighting.