In the country, black and brown children suffer from a disadvantage of being forced into public schools with a lack of quality resources, a lack of quality teachers, and a lack of quality programs. So if a child suffering has a gift in writing, where can she find a safe space to grow in her craft? Where can she go to express her artistic vision? Who can she talk to that will actually care enough to not only help her perfect her artistry, but to use it to help her heal?
When I was in high school, I had just transferred from a school where black and brown faces populated the school halls to a place surrounded by white American suburbia. In an attempt to fit in and make deeper connections, I decided to join a literary club. My English teacher was in charge of it. She was a decent older white lady who had once called out a little black boy for spelling his name incorrectly according to the rules of standard English. And sometimes she gave another little black girl a hard time because she liked to talk, but could hardly read. But I thought to myself, ‘It’s okay’ -- okay enough for me to join her literary club -- because who else could I turn to? Where else could I go? She was the only one offering a program that interested me -- for free.
I remember my first meeting. I was running late. I ran out of the bathroom and rushed down the hall, and as I barreled my way into the classroom, I blabbered a “I’m sorry I’m late,” catching attention I didn’t want. And as I scanned the room, reading the expressions of all the little white girls -- of the teacher -- I felt a deep loneliness. A sense that they wouldn’t have cared if I didn’t show up. That they weren’t too pleased to have me there. So I never went back.
It wasn’t until years later, in my adulthood, that I was able to find information about publishing, to teach myself about the expectations of an author, to work day to day on my writing, and seek critical feedback from others. What if someone had helped me navigate the waters of literary theory, criticism and the publishing industry in my youth? What if someone gave me the resources and confidence to keep writing? What if I had a safe space where I felt wanted? Felt seen? Maybe I could’ve done big things. Or even better, I could’ve channeled my hurts into my writing. I wouldn’t have been alone, searching for acceptance. I would’ve had a lifelong mentorship. A sisterhood of guidance. A circle of healing.
It's never too late to seek mentorship, to keep steady with your vision and purpose, and to heal. That's why I founded WRITING FOR FREEDOM, a non-profit with the purpose of helping those passionate writers of diverse backgrounds find their voice.
"That's why I said you're stupid," the words fall out of my mouth like a bomb, "She got a 58 on her reading test, guys." The few who swarm me laugh, but I can sense them tensing up. Same as me.
Why am I like this?
"She's so dumb I bet she can't even read time."
The classroom erupts in laughter. Their hyena squeals bounce off the walls and echo in the hallway. A blaring noise that drowns out the girl's sniffles. A red flush taints her brown skin as her eyes water and shimmer with embarrassment.
I'm sorry, I want to say, but now all eyes are on me. They stare at me with such admiration for my witty remarks. A few in the back watch me with the same disgust and disdain as the teacher. Mrs. Newbury. A true owl -- Old. White. Lifeless.
She'll just tell me to sit--
The wooden chair scratches the dirty white tile. It screeches to a stop, silencing everyone. Mrs. Newbury stands.
"Mr. Johnson." She slams her wrinkled hands onto her steel desk. Shock waves rattle her bones and her arms begin to shake. "Principal's office."
What? She...she never sends me to...her. Why would she--
I stare at my dark brown hands, my focus tracing the white cracked skin webbed between my fingers.
What will she say?
My eyes flicker to the clock. With only fifteen minutes left in the school day, maybe I'll be off the hook. I know she's usually busy right after school.
Maybe she'll be eas--
"Mr. Johnson?" the gap-toothed secretary calls for me, snapping me out of my thoughts and back to reality.
"The principal is ready to see you."
My feet drag to the door and I see my reflection under the sign that says 'Principal Johnson.'
Coming into 2020, I had my own vision of what I wanted as a writer -- to be traditionally published.
I write a lot of things: poetry, book reviews, essays, travel articles...
But, if I had to choose one thing I LOVE to write, it'd be stories -- thoroughly developed imaginative fiction. And I have a dream of being published (preferably traditional publishing) as a YA author. And for a while, that's all it was. That was the end goal. But for some reason it felt a little hollow. Selfish.
Would I love to see my titles on the spines of books in Barnes &Nobles?
Would I love to search my pen name on Google and see the title author next to it?
Would I love to collaborate with artists and create an anime-style adaptation of my work??
OF COURSE! AB-SOUL-UTELY!
BUT...But...I've come to realize the fulfillment of creativity doesn't lie in the circulation of my work. The attention my name garners. The life I breathe into my craft. It lies in the breath of those who pick up my story. In the hands of those who read my words. The eyes that examine my work.
The minds I can impact.
So, my purpose is bigger than being published. It's finding a way to use my writing -- my gift -- my imagination -- to support, collaborate, and inspire.
I'm moving through 2020 having faith, meditating, and writing with the hope that I'll see the God-given vision clearly. I have big dreams, as do many people, so I'm going forward to make the dreams of many come true one word -- one story -- at a time.
As a person who has grown up loving to read, loving to write, loving to dive deep into my imagination, I have had the unrealized dream of becoming a writer. And when I say unrealized I mean I didn't realize this was my dream until recently. But when I look back, my whole life has been immersed in writing and telling stories.
For as long as I can remember, I have been creating stories. In elementary school, the images of my bedtime stories swirled in my head, keeping me awake. In middle school, teenage romances made me too excited to fall asleep. And in high school, I couldn't rest until I put my own idea on paper.
Stories have been my best friends. Whether I was imagining characters, filling a brand new notebook with the worlds built in my head, or trying to draw a comic -- actually a manga with the desires of turning it into an anime one day -- writing has always been a part of me.
A few years ago, I started my first novel manuscript in my adult life (I've lost the few developed in my adolescence). During this time, I was at a really tough point in my life: I was teaching high school, working on my master's degree, and part of that time, working as a waitress just to get by. I had nothing to excite me. Nothing to fill me with the same warmth that burned in my mind and heart when I was a child. I didn't even think about writing, until one day the flame returned.
In a fleeting moment of silence, I had an idea. I drew my character. I gave her a name.
And then I sat at my computer and began to write. It took me years to finish an 80,000 word manuscript, and right now I don't believe its a story meant for publication, but a friend once told me 'No time writing is time wasted.'
The love that I put into that story, the passion that drove me to sit for hours -- YEARS -- crashed into me and it hasn't left. And I'm grateful because I realized the dreams I thought were long gone were still here, lying dormant in my mind, in my heart, just waiting for me to wake them up.
Sometimes I think about the time I've spent pursuing other things that didn't fill me with the same sense of purpose simply because I need to be an adult -- pay bills, own a home, get married, maintain a family, etc -- but I've come to realize that my dreams are not futile. They don't need to lie dormant anymore. And to be writer I don't need praise or recognition.
I just need to write.
The stories I love are the stories I want to tell. And hopefully, one day, someone can hear them and it can keep them awake, dreaming of new realms. New characters. New stories.
Just like me.