I was sitting in the house Friday morning when I scrolled through my Facebook feed to find that protests were beginning after the failed conviction of former police officer Jason Stockley for the murder of an unarmed man. I saw many of the people I’m connected to posting about how they were either downtown protesting or asking how to support protesters with supplies. Having taken the day off I was free to go downtown and join them but I didn’t. Instead, I spent the entire day, from sunup to sundown, thinking and writing. This thinking brought me to the fact that I view myself as one who seeks solutions to the core issue as opposed to being a reactionary. Rather than run out and protest I’d rather find a way to prevent the need to protest in the first place.
It was later that evening when I remembered a request from my friend Gabbi to volunteer at 6 a.m. the following morning [Saturday] to help with setting up for Conscious Fest, a festival that builds and promotes positive images blackness. I’m not a morning person at all which is why I didn’t give her a straight answer when she first asked. However, I did plan to volunteer, just later in the day when I would free from having to engage with the early AM.
After seeing all of the hurt and anger that was being expressed regarding the verdict I myself began to feel a sense of frustration, not at the verdict, but at the fact that this has become an all too familiar routine for black people. I was frustrated that I have to continuously discard my happy feelings for the day in exchange for rage because we continually face every form of discrimination that the so called color-blind population swear no longer exists. Every time we see that first post about an injustice we know what time it is. Even if you don’t consider yourself politically active you are dragged into these feelings by the world around you.
This intensifying frustration lead me to a place of wanting to contribute, not towards tearing down the city in protest, but building up something else that will support our people. This brought me back to Gabbi’s request for volunteers. As much as I resisted getting up at 4ish in the morning to make it to the Conscious Fest setup on time I decided that it was something I needed to do, so I made that commitment.
My decision to go beyond my already planned level of volunteering lead me into a 12-hour day that ranged from moving and setting up tables three hours before the event to staying an hour after to help with cleanup. Most photographers who volunteer their services simply do so in the capacity of a photographer which is capturing images. I did more than that because I realized that as important as it was to document such an event it was just as important to contribute towards its existence. This philosophy possibly gave me one of the most unique perspectives of Conscious Fest and I’m grateful for having experienced it in the way that I did.
What did I get from an experience that I both photographed and volunteered for? I got a true sense of what it takes to build a movement, literally from the ground up one table at a time. Many people show up after the movement has already been constructed and let their social media accounts give them credit for their presence but I had the opportunity to be there before these people ever showed up. As a photographer, this translates into experiencing a deeper connection with the people you capture and allows you to no longer see them as just subjects, but as comrades that you’ve bled and sweat with. This is what it meant for me to be Conscious on September 16th, 2017.
Years ago I had an idea for a book to write. In college when I decided to change my major to creative writing all I could dream about was someday writing my own book. I didn't know what exactly I would write about because I had a love for all different types of books, both fiction and non-fiction. At one point I even dreamed about writing a book on relationships because I wanted to give my "expertise" on the subject that my friends have found me to be so helpful with over the years. A few years after changing my major there I was, finally with an idea to work with.
A few months ago I found new inspiration to pick up where I left off after a few years of false starts that gave my book idea shape but brought it nowhere near completion. I wrote notes, outlines, and text that was to become a book but didn't feel that I had the right life experiences to complete it from an honest and enlightened perspective. After looking back over my past writings I had a revelation on how to move forward earlier this year. The subject that I started off with was far too broad to tackle. However, after putting it aside and allowing my life to develop a little more I found a specific idea within the broad subject that truly spoke to what I was feeling. I found my subject.
In addition to finding a specific focus I also had to find the appropriate format through which I could convey my idea. I've known all along that it was going to be non-fiction despite the appeal of fiction. Within the world of non-fiction books there are still many format options. My choice was narrowed slightly but there was still a lot to choose from. After careful research I opted for the memoir format. I chose the memoir because this genre is specifically for writing on a specific life experience, which is where I want to go.
For about a week I debated writing this blog post because I knew if I published it then I would become accountable for having to actually produce a book. It’s also not common practice for for me to reveal projects that I’m working on in their early stages. The compromise I decided to make with myself was to go ahead and make the post because I feel it's an honest representation of what artists experience in the early stages of the creative process. In exchange, I won't say what it's about so I can maintain some degree of creative cover. I will only say that it's a memoir about a life experience that I’m constantly gaining new perspectives on. I also realize that the risk of speaking about a book before it's actually book, there's a chance that I won't finish it or that it could take years. I'm okay with that because it's honestly in what projects go through when we first dream them up, some live and some die. Hopefully, this one will live on to inspire others.
What I really want to focus on is the experience of writing a memoir more than the memoir itself because the experience of working on something can be more valuable than reaching the finish line. The first thing I've learned is that writing about a life experience takes a lot of courage. The process of digging up memories, both pleasant and painful, is extremely unnerving at times. This reminds me of the quote, "anything worth having won't come easy." Anyone can write the chosen highlights of their life from a place of comfort but a good memoir requires you to be truthful about everything, both good and bad. You have to be brave enough to relive the thoughts that you had and carry them with you once again throughout the writing process. A positive outcome is that revisiting difficult times can grant you a new perspective or even the closure that you've been seeking.
As much as it can hurt to be honest about the not so perfect things we've done I believe it's necessary both for us to fully realize the growth that we've experienced and to show others that they're not alone in what they're going through, if we choose to share those things. In my personal experience, I've learned way more life lessons from reading memoirs than reading any type of self-help tips. Telling an experience through story is a lot more motivating than just giving bullet points. When we can feel struggle, especially struggle we can relate to, we can also feel optimism that that struggle has an end and will lead us somewhere wonderful.
A lesson that I learned while volunteering with a local mentoring program, The Village, over the summer is that there are people that don’t know things that our society considers basic knowledge. Some may not know at what age to potty-train children or how to establish credit. You cannot learn these things if you’re never exposed to them by someone who does know them. This lesson served as further inspiration for me to share my experience because there’s a great chance that someone may be able to learn from what I’ve learned and I feel that it’s my moral obligation to share. Accomplishing your dream is great but if you can help others in the process, that’s even greater.
I think one of the most important lessons for me in undertaking this project is that our dreams always start with us. For me this means my dreams of writing books starts with writing about myself. I could have easily opted to be a ghostwriter of someone else's story but I would have been writing their story of growth before I'd written my own and in the process missed all of the lessons I'm destined to receive.
In conclusion, I invite you along on the process of continuous learning and exploration. Whether or not we reach the end and see a beautiful glossy cover with my name on it we can all at least say we've share this experience together and hopefully learned from it.