Won and Done?

Photo by Alexander Lam @alxznder

Part of the answer to the question, How Free Exactly Do You Want to Be? lies in how vulnerable and authentic we are willing to be when and if we show up. We must know that all of our life experiences can be useful and instructive, much in the same way the words of our ancestors are for us now. What we write and share has the potential to be the very salt for someone else’s stew of life. Regardless of how hard we think we’ve fought, we can hardly be done.

Just one day after the 2016 United States Presidential Election, I was more than vulnerable. I still felt too raw to delve into the morass of what I felt – resentment, rage, anger, uncertainty, bamboozlement, fear, and suspicion. The reality that an agenda fueled largely by hate and fears of “dispossession” had won the election was beyond upsetting.

I was feeling too spent to speak, and too reluctant to explain my rightful fury to my youngest daughter who joined me while alone in my bedroom. I wanted to savor whatever wonder she had; perhaps in it, I could have reimagined an alternate interpretation that would pull me out of the apocalyptic shock I was feeling. I attempted to sort through some of my blue funk by writing poetry. I tried desperately to type the words into my phone, but not before long, I was interrupted by my youngest daughter.

“Whatcha’ doing, Momma?”

“Writing a poem.”

“Funny, I’m reading poetry.”

“Really? Something from school?” I ask, though I’m only half present.

“No, this is Maya Angelou!”

She held the book up high above her head to show off its cover. I couldn’t have been more pleased and she couldn’t have been more proud. She could have selected any of the number of books on her shelf, but this particular evening, my eight-year-old daughter chooses Maya Angelou’s book of poems. It was clear that my daughter and I needed each other, but it was the ancestral glue of Mother Maya that held us together, filling in the vastness where our words could not.

Maya Angelou (1928 - 2014) Poet. Novelist. Activist.
Maya Angelou (1928 – 2014)

I plunked down on the bed, right  across from her, and took my turn at flipping through the pages. We dug both of our elbows into the quilted cover and kept quiet. I called out the names of some of the poems. The Lesson, On Aging, Request, Just Like Job. 

I returned to the poem she’d been reading, On Working White Liberals, and read it aloud:

I don’t ask the Foreign Legion
or anyone to win my freedom
Or to fight my battle better than I can.

Though there’s one thing that I cry for
I believe enough to die for
that is every man’s responsibility to man.

I’m afraid they’ll have to prove first
that they’ll watch the Black man move first
Then follow him with faith to kingdom come.
This rocky road is not paved for us,
So, I’ll believe in Liberal’s aid for us
When I see a white man load a Black man’s gun.

Maya Angelou, On Working White Liberals 

Oh, Maya!

Like that of many other Black writers and creatives of her time – Audre Lorde, Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Gwendolyn Brooks, Claude McKay, Rita Dove, June Jordan, Nina Simone, to name a few – Angelou’s poetry sought to process and push through some of the natural rage that came with living while Black in a largely oppressive, patriarchal, White supremacist state, while still daring to hold it accountable. I was now drawing my very strength from them, through the deep literary well of their written testimonies and narratives.

388920cc092326b08b5d8dbbf1fc5ba3Their gracious legacy enrobed me and made me feel both powerful and capable. I could almost envision them nodding their heads in quiet disbelief and admonition, much in the same way a beleaguered parent would seem after her child encounters the very fate she warned against.

I hadn’t remembered the poem, On Working White Liberals, but it was timely as it highlighted the complicity and antipathy that I believed got us to this very juncture. Maya’s uncompromising commitment to humanity is dwarfed only by the invisibility and silence of those who present themselves as allies, as expressed in the poem’s last two lines:

So I’ll believe in Liberal’s aid for us
when I see a white man load a Black man’s

Angelou’s words are unsentimental and direct. She does not ask anyone else to fight her battles, but rather, puts the responsibility for freedom squarely on the shoulders of all who claim to believe in its necessity, including the implied faithful. “Then follow him with faith to kingdom come.” 

I thought if only more people showed up before now, if only more people spoke up, if only more people put their metaphoric elbows to the wheel and committed to reshaping the broader dialogue on what inclusiveness and humanity looked like, if only more people showed and proved themselves to be allies, if only more were willing to fight publicly for what they claimed to believe privately, in solidarity and visibility with the already vulnerable and seemingly expendable, if only…. but alas, it couldn’t end there.

Commit your whole selves to paper even as you seek to make sense of your pain.

This moment with my daughter was Spirit providing me with the very disturbance and counsel I needed; my daughter was merely the conduit. This special time with her was akin to the quiet time I remembered being set aside for reflection at the end of a Sunday church service. During this time, the pastor would encourage the congregation to stay in their seats and silently contemplate how it might better navigate the world once it removed itself from the hallowed walls of the sanctuary. Only this time, the pastor was replaced with a beloved community of literary ancestors.

I inclined my ear to their wisdom, for they had lived through far worse. Together, they came to deliver an urgent word that a sermon alone could not offer. Their expressions assured me that this business of writing as a tool of resistance is anything but a notion, anything but finished. I felt newly burdened, though in the best way possible.

Their charges to me, and now to you? Write the stories of our people; we need no allies to validate how we feel. Commit your whole selves to paper even as you seek to make sense of your pain. Write not only your pain, but be sure to also write your deepest joys, pleasures, and triumphs. Write of love and of truth. Write of betrayal and of redemption. Write of your faith and your doubt. Insist on your very wholeness. Show up even when you feel broken; this too, is part of your story. Continue…. even and especially, when it feels like the race is done.

How do you resist? How do you write/ move/ create/ love/ show up in spite of disappointment?

Avril Somerville is the author of A Journey Of Life On Purpose. She is in the stages of bringing her début novel to light. To request Avril as a speaker at your next event, please go here.

Featured Photo Credit: Alexander Lam @alxznder

10 thoughts on “Won and Done?

  1. Avril, I wish I’d read this the day after the election. Then, I’d felt so hopeless, even though I don’t live in the States, and have no direct experience of the oppression that minorities experience there. But I FELT for them, as if I were in their shoes. After reading your post, I feel even more emboldened and faith-filled. So, thank you, my sister, especially for that final charge. It resonates with my vision for the direction of my writing.

    If you never knew before, I adore Octavia E. Butler. I tell you, we storytellers have a power that’s almost frightening. She did what?! I need to re-read “Parable of the Tenants”.

    I’m so glad the world has your voice and words. We need you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nadine, you are more than welcome. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. So glad that “Won and Done?” resonated with you on a personal level.

      I need you too, my sister, much in the same way I need the Octavia Butlers and Gloria Naylors and June Jordans and Toni Morrisons and Edwidge Danticafts. In fact, we need a plethora more of narratives from which we can feel more hopeful, more valued, more capable, and less alone. You “felt” for them because the blood is all connected. “Walk good,” you hear? 🙂


  2. I’m not certain where you live, or speak in public Avril. But, if you speak aloud with the same passion that you write, I imagine my ears would be glued to the very ground in front of where you stand. In my opinion, you were meant to write, share, and speak. I hope you see these as your calling. People need to feel your spirit pouring savory wisdom into their stew. Maybe then, more voices will rise, no longer hungry…no longer bland…composed, and ready to act!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Avril,

    I wish words could adequately express the profound richness and depth finding you and your words have added to my being. Thank you for for your transparency, your realness, your eyes that see and share beauty, and a heart so full of life from which they all flow. You are a beautiful spirit, and I’m better for the good fortune of brushing up against that spirit. You are an immense blessing to me and doubtless to others as well – I hope you are richly blessed in return. Thank you!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are welcome, my friend. I miss you- your genuine goodness and sisterhood. I remember when we all sat at our first roundtable to talk about our commitment to our craft. Please continue in this tradition. Pull your stories forward. (Chismal 😉) “make that sunshine”


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