Category Archives: Spirituality

16 Years Sober: Gratitude

Sometimes a moment set aside to display a little gratitude is good. There are a few times a year that this comes about for me, but May 2nd is one of particular importance for me. It was this day, sixteen years ago, in 2001 that the life I now enjoy was given to me. No, that is not the day I was born, that was some thirty-five years ago and we celebrated my born day and my mother on April 5th. 05/02/01 was my first day sober and today makes 16 years.

I remember, when I was 16 years old and in a juvenile prison when an O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago came in to speak with us. He said that he remembered being more free while locked up and more a prisoner while he was on the streets. Back then, I thought he was full of shit. I thought he was out of his mind, so I wrote him off. I was not until I was 19, had overdosed on ecstasy, walked across the country, joined a priesthood/cult type of thing, relapsed, slithered my way back to Seattle and into of self-made pit of quicksand that stretched in all directions as I hurt and destroyed relationships with everyone in my family; doped out, strung out, and on my way to throw myself from the Aurora Bridge that the O.G.’s words came back to me. It was at that moment that I finally understood what he was talking about and what he meant when he said that he was a prisoner on the streets.

That night I made myself a promise, namely, that if my life did not get just a little bit better then, I could always return to the bridge to finish what I started. A brother of mine used to say, “when the pain outweighs the pain, then we change.” What he meant by that was when the pain of doing the same old thing over and over again becomes greater than the pain of doing something different, doing something to change our conditions, then we opt for the lesser of the two apparent evils. Of the many decisions I have made in my life, that is perhaps the one I look back to with the least regret, the most pride, and absolute gratitude and humility. I used to underestimate the power of planting a seed in a mind especially, a mind that seems as though there is nothing for the roots to take hold within. Life is an awesome thing and sometimes it takes much experience to prepare the soil adequately for the seeds once planted to sprout.

For anyone who has traveled down this path than no further explanation is necessary, but for those of you who haven’t it was no easy feat. There were many days that I wished for death to visit me quickly. There were a few years that every day my stomach felt like it was tied in knots because I wanted to get loaded so bad I couldn’t make sense of the world around me. But the people close to me held me down and encouraged me not to give up. One person in particular, aside from my mother who held me down always and with true heart, a bother to me eternally, Marcus. I know for sure that without him and through him, Seance, no one would know me as Renaissance, and I would not have emerged as the prolific artist, emcee, and poet you all know me to be today. I am almost as certain of this fact, as the fact that had I not have gone to that juvenile prison that I would not have met that O.G. whose words eventually granted me the guidance I needed to reclaim my life, and that it was there that I first began to write poetry. These are just a few of the most prominent examples from my life that I appreciate the opportunity to recall that I neither got to where I am today alone, nor would I have really wanted to, and that I have a lot and many people in my life to be grateful for and whom I love dearly to this day.

Since I got sober, I have made the rounds of the people and the institutions I caused harm to when I was lost in my addiction and sought to set things right by them. I got my G.E.D., then my high school diploma, an incredible feat for one such as I who had earned a 0.0 G.P.A. in high school prior to dropping out. I earned a printing degree from Job Corps. I failed out of college my ‘first’ attempt. I worked my way from a day laborer in my mentor’s construction company to being his partner. I started, hosted, and planned the Cornerstone Open Mic with Marcus which we ran for five years and built an incredible family of emcees, poets, DJs, and musicians. I worked with The Service Board (TSB) as a way to pay forward the grace and investment made into my own life by a life-long friend Rice Yoba who showed me that Hip Hop is so much more than blunts, bitches, and 40s, but that it was revolutionary, educational, powerful, and my heritage. And I returned to college, was the valedictorian of North Seattle Community College, and barely skirted under the honor roll at the University of Washington when I graduated double majoring in History and Philosophy. I have studied immigration in Greece, lived with the Peasant Rice Famers in the Philippines, and been a Climate Justice and Black Liberation organizer fighting against police brutality and to end mass incarceration, on the front lines with our Indigenous relatives in Washington, Arizona, and North Dakota, and fighting against the dehumanizing deportation and incarceration policies of the United States.

I have done a lot, that I know for certain would not be possible had I not sobered up sixteen years ago. However, it is not the things I have done or that I have accomplished that matter to me most. It is that I am no longer a slave. It is that I have my own mind. That I can see clearly. That I do not destroy relationships, but I build and nurture them. Today, unlike when I was a youngster, I have the ability, capacity, and the desire to love, and I am loved in return. These are the things in my life that I value the most and that I am most grateful for. These are the things that I fight so hard for and that I will never sacrifice. These are the things that I fight to make sure others have the opportunity to enjoy.

I am because of my community and I only am because of my community. Without my community I would not be. My community is the reason that I am still alive. My community is the reason that I am here. And my community is who I receive my direction, guidance, and passion from. I am an extension of my community and my community is an extension of me.

There are two people in particular from my community who I esteem above all others and who have had the greatest impact on my life and who I am as a human being, my mother and my partner. My mother not only gave me life, but has been the continuous rock and guiding light who has kept me grounded on the right path since I was born, and she has never wavered.  No matter how tight money was, or how hard times were, she always loved me and my brother unconditionally and gave freely of herself without question or regret. She has worked hard all of her life and has always put others before herself. She taught me everything I know about being a man. I can remember, how she would scowl at my brother and I when we were younger and be like, “I am not going to go clean up after someone else all day long only to come home and clean up after you monkeys!” She taught me the value and the reward of hard work and that I am never to push my responsibility off onto others, especially women who already give so much. Without her and her love and guidance, I most certainly would not be. And my partner in life and in crime, my heart; I would be lost without her. Until I met her, I did not think that true love actually exists. I did not think that I could devote myself to someone else so fully, or that I could ever permit someone to be so devoted to me. She continues to surprise me and to reveal the beauty of our world to me. She has this way of seeing the beauty in everything and everyone, that until years together was simply beyond me. And whether times are at their worst or at their greatest, for four years now I have been blessed to share and be partner in everything. Zahara took me to my first protest when Portland Rising Tide organized and shut down the Columbia River in protest of the tar sands that were being shipped through Washington to be transported to China. It was Zahara, who showed me that I am nothing without my community, but that I am everything with you and that I am liberated. It was Zahara who helped me to believe that I and you have immeasurable value and that we are worth much more, and that we are worth fighting for. Without my mother and my partner, I would not be Renaissance and I would not be the human being I am today.

I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful for each and every one of you. I am grateful that today I have the opportunity to continue to strive for the life I know we all deserve and to become a better human being. And whether anyone reads this or not, at least I know, that I have taken, if but a moment, to display my gratitude.

Thank you.

#PowerToThePeople

Growing Pains

You remember those pains we used to get in our legs and arms as our bodies were growing when we were little? I do. Sometimes they were so bad I could not sleep. I would toss and turn all night long and never find peace. No matter which way I turned it only seemed to make the pain worse. It felt like it would never go away.
 
I get migraines. I have for years. They started after I survived a fatal car accident when both my breathing and heart stopped for several minutes. I had to have brain surgery and was in a coma for several weeks. When I came out of it not remembering anything at all, like I mean complete amnesia, the worst thing physically I suffered was chronic migraines. After the many years of dealing with these I have noticed one of the strangest phenomenon; I never noticed when the pain stopped hurting. I would just be going about my life and then it would come to mind that my mind was no longer hurting.
 
That is also how I remember what it was like after the growing pains went away. But something else I also noticed about the growing pains was that when I would get measured I would recognize that I had also matured.
 
Lately I have been going through a new kind of growing pains, and it is uncomfortable, and it feels like it will never be over. However, instead of it being something I am familiar and altogether comfortable with, this time I am feeling the stress of spiritual growth. Yet, even with all of my experience and knowledge that at some point these pains will pass, and that when they have that I will have matured into a more developed human being. Right now it hurts. The worst part about these spiritual growing pains is that the spiritual is not something that lives in isolation, like the pains in my legs. No, the spiritual blunders that are causing my pain, that is the growth is also affecting the people I care the most about. In fact, without them I doubt that I would even notice the pains at all.
 
However, there are two things that I have learned. First, there is nothing that I can do to change the fact that I am currently going through a growth spurt. Second, Unlike the physical pains that were personal and only affected me, and no one else could help or intercede; my spiritual growing pains are nothing of the sort. So, as I trudge through and into this new chapter of my life I am relying on those I love and those who love me.
 
Perhaps that is precisely the lesson that my spirit wants me to learn. We are spiritual and social beings and we do nothing alone. As a matter of clarity, trying to continuously do things alone when it is obvious that I cannot is a harmful symptom of toxic masculinity. It only serves to shut me off from the sunlight of the spirit, which for me shines brightest in the people around me.

Leadership

A leader should be a servant to the people. However, when I say servant, I do not mean a slave because human agency and the capacity for choice is what distinguishes a leader from a tyrant or a slave. It is not what a person does under compulsion that we tend to hold them morally blameworthy for, but rather, for what they chose to do given that there are or were reasonable alternatives. By servant I mean a person who acknowledges the presence and the humanity of people, makes the time to understand their concerns and desires, and actively chooses to fulfill those ends. The ends of the actions of a good civic leader and good public service should be a more just and equitable society wherein people have the greatest amount of liberty to pursue their goals with limited infringement upon the goals of others. I am a member of the Climate Justice Steering Committee with the local, grassroots, community organization “GotGreen?,” and last year we developed a survey to discover the issues most pertinent to the citizens of south and west Seattle. We hosted several community forums to share our discoveries and to get feedback. The result of our community engagement is a campaign that will focus on food justice, housing security, and access to adequate health care. Had we paternalistically imposed a campaign upon our community instead of being servants to our community we may have missed one of their most important concerns, housing security.

I am not a Criminal. I am a Human Being

I am not a criminal. I am a human being.

Categorizing and labeling me a criminal as if it were a universal and everlasting classification and definition is not only detrimental to myself, but also our society. I am a human being who at some point in my life committed what has been called a crime.

It is called a crime when people steal food to survive, or clothes to stay warm, or sell drugs when all other work is inaccessible. Yet, when corporate CEO’s rob billions of dollars from our economy and force thousands into homelessness, they are rewarded with severance checks. Pharmaceutical corporations monopolize the “legal” drug market that gets countless people hooked on opiates. The U.S. government kills indigenous people and topples their governments at a whim, but that is also legal. We must challenge what is labeled a crime and why!

The stigmatizing label of “criminal” is dehumanizing, and is inescapable. The ideology of individualism it’s founded upon denies any context, or any future classification. It further creates a renewing and eternal criminal class in American society whereby we are barred from employment, education, and residence. All clearly understood to be dehumanizing practices.

The Prison Industrial Complex is a vicious, insatiable monster that must be dismantled with all of the ideologies that support its existence.

I am a human being.

I was born a human being and I will die a human being. When someone digs up my bones 5,000 years from now and finds my femur they will determine that it belonged to a human, that it is human. There will be no question whether it was a criminal. When my mother was pregnant with me, the doctor did not walk into the room and tell her, “well it looks like you’re having a criminal” when she asked if I was a boy.

I am a human being who has done some things that were wrong, some things that caused harm, and some things that were necessary for my survival. That however, did not augment me from being a human being.

Any concept, argument, justification, or action that asserts otherwise must and will be challenged.

To Stand in the Shadows and Follow in the Footsteps of the Greats

Since, I was first introduced to the concept of making a pilgrimage to the South following in the footsteps of the Freedom Riders and Voting Registration activists, I have been incredibly excited to go to the very places where our liberties and freedoms were fought for and won.  I fully understand that racial and political climate is not the same today as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, but to feel the same weather, to walk some of the same streets, to see some of the same buildings and landscapes will help to make the stories more tangible to me. I have also just received notification that voting for all equally is still being challenged in Alabama: According to “Raw Story,” in the counties where 75% or greater of the registered voters are non-white citizens they will stop issuing driver’s licenses. This is a problem because photo identification is required to vote in Alabama and this will potentially bar people in those counties from voting. So, although the situation is different there are also more than remnants of the Civil Rights Era for us to learn from and participate.

Without question, the component of this adventure that I am most apprehensive about is all the cushy, emotional, touchy, feely stuff that has become such a norm at all of our meetings; and we are going to be on a bus together for over a week where I am sure this will be an expectation. I do believe that these types of experiences have their place, but because I have been so active in fighting an unjust system and in reactive modes of operation wherein I have had to silence or hide my emotions, this is somewhat difficult for me. On the one hand, it often feels like a waste of time to me, especially, since there are battles that I believe need to be fought. For example, while we will be on this pilgrimage the budget hearings for the City of Seattle will be going on and will be determining how much money is allocated for alternatives to incarcerating youth; a struggle that we have been waging for quite some time. Or in other cases, such as, people dying from police brutality, when responses to the unprovoked and unjust violence are necessary.

In my brain and the way that I have been thinking for so long, getting mushy and emotional has not been a high priority. However, I have also been coming to realize the importance of building community and that requires a deeper and more personal characteristic to our and my relationships. This is something that I have been watching emerge in the pilgrimage group. So, although, it is uncomfortable, I am beginning to see that it has advantages and is something that I have needed for much longer than I would care to admit. That however, does not change the fact that the emotional stuff on the bus is what I am least looking forward to during our pilgrimage.

I have never been to the South and as a result, I have never had an opportunity to experience being immersed in the Southern culture I have heard so much about. I mostly hear negative opinions about the South, but here and there brilliance has shined through the reports I have received. I am hoping that our short time will broaden my perspective about a people and a place I have never experienced firsthand. I do so loath forming opinions about subjects based on other people’s perspectives; it feels too much like rumors too me to fully trust.

With a host of friends, I will have the opportunity to meet some of the people who fought and won some of the rights we have today, and that many take for granted. I will get to listen to their stories firsthand, be able to feel their emotions, see their expressions, and share new and old experiences with people that I look up to and will stand with if the opportunity ever arises. We will be exploring the South for a little more than a week, getting a crash course in challenging the government and culture, seemingly against all odds. The harsh reality is that many were lost during the struggle and so that will be part of the learning as well, as some of those horrible stories are relived. But, we cannot forget the stories and the lives of those who gave so much to ensure a brighter future. All of this will inform and shape how I make decisions in the future and I am going down there with space prepared in both my mind and heart, so that I can carry as much back with me as is humanly possible.

Today we are confronted with a form of segregation and apartheid that is similar, but at the same time vastly different from Jim Crow because in the mid-20th century, the segregation was up-front and in people’s faces, but today it is behind fences and cement walls. The language that is used to justify the system of oppression has also evolved, but the feelings that gird them have remained somewhat consistent, however hidden them may seem to be. Challenging the system and the ideologies also seems to have changed because as the people have learned from the Civil Rights Era, so has the government and the people in power who wish for the system to remain the way it is; who protect the status quo. Our identities are much easier to track down and our relations much easier to flesh out today than in the 1960s because of the advent of social media so, it is not as easy to remain off the radar of programs or organizations like the COINTELPRO or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.), respectively. However, the risks do not seem very much different than what the people we are going to meet were faced with, namely, restrictions on their life, liberty, and quality of life. I am hoping to learn how they managed to keep up their strength and dedication in light of the omnipresent, impending doom that always loomed right around the corner. I would love to learn just how they were able to motivate people and how they were able to overcome the petty difference that arose between the people. I especially want to learn how they addressed the class issues both within and without the Black communities they engaged with and how they were able to reconcile those differences.

To accomplish learning these things it will require that I neither, climb into my social shell, nor that I cling to it, but instead that I set it aside and expose myself to the uncomfortable emotional and intellectual experiences on the bus and at our stops along the way. Otherwise, I will not be able to engage in the conversations where such questions may be asked and lessons learned.  It is a small price to invest to gain access to a wellspring of knowledge and wisdom. Who knows, I may even make a few life-long friends along the way and stretch my conception of community all the way to Alabama after this trip.

A Good Assumption

Start from the assumption that people are well meaning and intentioned, do not jump to conclusions without first asking or discovering what the intended conclusions were/are. If it is discovered that their intentions are just, and are informed that their means will not achieve just ends, they may be open to amend their means so as to achieve a more just outcome. If their intentions are not just and the outcome is not just then the person or group can and ought to be held responsible for their actions, punished if necessary, but excluded from full participation in the community with all the relevant privileges until such time that the harms is rectified and the relationships have been brought to reconciliation. Either way, by assuming honorable and just intentions we do not unfairly attribute blame and harm upon those who mean well while contending in an uncertain world; that would prove to cause more harm to the community than good.

p.s.

Those who will openly conceal their true intentions will not only be more trustworthy, but will reveal themselves to the desirable community members. However, those who seek to conceal their true intentions will tend to have motivations in opposition to the health and sustainability of the community. Knowing their intentions would reveal that they do not belong in the community and are thus hoping to free-ride on the agreement and compliance of others at the cost and the risk of the community.

The Importance of Solitude & Reflection

During this period of reflection some of the lessons I learned while I was a priest have been revisiting my mind; namely, that Jesus often secluded himself from his disciples and other people to ground himself in the truth. The lesson that is echoing from this for me is that he felt the need to be acutely sure that his motives and intentions that would lead to his actions were in alignment with his beliefs. In my particular case, this pertains to what I believe to be morally right, not just for today, but well into the future. The world we enjoy the pleasure of existing on today has been loaned to us by our progeny, i.e., it is not our world to destroy. Therefore, my decisions and actions should respect what does not belong to me, but I am not always certain of this. I am also not always certain that my actions serve the greater good of our people here and now. To move forward ignorantly, without regrounding myself in the truth, couched in my belief in what is morally right is dangerous not only to myself, but others as well.

Reflection, self-appraisal, and purification are vitally important for the work and the workers who are actively engaged in striving for a better, just, and lovable world community.

Vacant Predictions

Lots of people want to make claims about how good or bad some event, statement, person, or action is and the impact they think it or they will have on the movement for justice and achieving freedom from oppression, but I am not so sure that anyone truly knows the impact of any one particular thing. It sure does lead to a lot of energy spent bickering with each other and not being focused on the major problems at hand. For better or worse, it does seem that everything comes together for a reason. I think that as long as we keep our eyes on the prize of achieving liberation, then liberation is what we will have.