To My People Who Have Suffered: An Open Letter From FUREE

February 2, 2017

To My People Who Have Suffered and Wish to Suffer NO MORE,

“Being a slave in this modern day, is forfeiting your body to the state.”  -FUREEous Youth, Discussing Mass Incarceration

Discussions about the bodies of black and brown folks usually center on police brutality and mass incarceration, it is very seldom that we discuss our physical well-being in the context of intersecting factors that all converge to put our bodies in harm’s way.  But that intuition is never buried too deep, and our duty is to allow it the opening it needs to erupt to the surface.  When we talk about the safety and security of our bodies, are we talking about the ability to provide it shelter and warmth?  Does the dialogue make room to identify the risks posed to our air and water, when corporations and governments decide their profits are of more value than our lives?  Are we acknowledging the power given to elected officials over our bodies within our communities, when we don’t stay actively engaged in local politics?  Or what about the egregious disservice to the minds of our youth when we don’t provide opportunities for development, empowerment and leadership? For isn’t our mind one of the greatest assets our bodies have bestowed on us, allowing us to imagine the incomprehensible and manifest the impossible?

FUREE’s membership and staff have been asking these questions of ourselves a lot more lately and inviting others to share in our vision for a more unified army of social justice warriors, willing to shake the foundations of everything we know and everything imposed on us to achieve a dream.  While the dream of Dr. King rings bells of hope throughout all corners of our society, we should also recognize the other dreams that have been vital to shaping our struggle.  Dreaming is what sparks the drive to action, and our dream is one that requires struggle and sacrifice for it to blossom as a reality.  But we must first unlock the chains that prevent our dream from rising to consciousness and as we’ve seen in the past few months, we can no longer afford to sleepwalk our way to liberation.  Wasn’t it our revered sister Assata Shakur who recognized we can’t afford to be spectators while our lives deteriorate.”?

 Since January we’ve seen the power a few ill-advised and malicious pen strokes could wield over our bodies, in covert displays of violent oppression reigning supreme and unencumbered by the very institutions claiming to uphold checks and balances.  We’ve witnessed and fought against the intentional transporting of our country back in time when religious discrimination was ostracized on paper yet openly practiced in public, when women’s bodies were subject to the dictatorial rule of misogyny’s totalitarian rule.  We’re watching the rapid and excruciating death of self-determination when more and more people are unable to secure stable employment, and thriving is no longer the priority when most are thrilled by the prospect of just being able to survive a little longer!  Blackness still remains a punishable crime often carrying the weight of a death sentence along with it, and most of our country wrongfully equates the recognition of our value with the demise of theirs.

Our struggle is an odyssey of unwavering and remarkable endurance in the face of everything our oppressors have thrown at us!

Most of us saw this day looming in the distance threatening us with thunder and striking us with lightening.  We’ve trailed the trends of oppression across the country and mapped the roads that led to this moment.  We sounded the warning bells and readied the armor; we pleaded for an awakening and buckled down for constant vigilance.  But we’ve also continued to operate as if it is business as usual; we’ve somehow found complacency in the predictable ebb and flow of power and oppression.  We’ve clung doggedly to the tried and true, unwilling to flex our collective muscle and adapt our strategies to the situation at hand.  We’re playing by a rule book that was buried in the backyard and forgotten about, only to wonder why the rules aren’t working.  All the while our enemies continue to shape shift like tricksters in the night, even co-opting our philosophies for their approach and have repeatedly proven formidable opponents by taking an intersectional approach to keeping us underfoot.  They are no longer satisfied with attacking one freedom at a time; they’ve attacked us on all sides at once while we still pay lip service to our own intersectionalities.

This is not to say the real and important work isn’t happening, I’ve caught wind and participated in some amazing movement building that inspires my spirit to great heights and fortifies my body to commit for the long haul.  Across NYC we’ve been communicating and collaborating more, identifying the ways for us to converge on all the different issues we’re fighting around, and collectively brainstorming what our movement looks like in this unique moment of chaos and uncertainty.  This moment calls for a flexibility of tactics, a willingness to question the ideas we’ve fostered and cultivated for so long, and the motivation to see it through even if it shakes the foundations of everything we knew before.  Our struggle for liberation is also a struggle for the evolution of humanity, for us to be better versions of ourselves even when it calls our beliefs into question.  It is our discomfort that spurs our growth and our willingness to pierce our own bubbles to reveal our vulnerabilities.  I am so proud to be among creative minds, loving hearts and inspirational movement leaders, we are truly a force of nature and I know we’re ready to embrace that NOW.

 While in Washington D.C. during the week of Inauguration when thousands came out to enthusiastically oppose the ceremony of our new Marmalade Mussolini (I couldn’t very well pen this candid and thoughtful letter without a bit of humor), I was amazed and awed at the solidarity and grit of our people coming together around common cause while at the same time allowing space for our differences without division.  One of the prominent reoccurring themes that emerged for me was the conundrum of conveying our stories, and recognizing that all of our stories are in need of telling but there will be moments when my story challenges you and yours will confront my own.  How do we transport our stories from our heads to each other’s hearts without competing for that space?  What does it mean to tamp down your defensiveness and judgment to deepen the substance of our collective message?  If our message is what endears us to our communities and we desire a world of bonded inter-community power, shouldn’t that message encompass the stories of us all?

I’ve always been most influenced by just one little statement at the end of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2009 Ted Talk on The Danger of a Single Story:

“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

We all have so much work ahead of us it can be dizzying and disorienting, I’ve been shamelessly public about my own internal struggles with emotions that rebuke all containment.  What’s most important in these times is the recognition of our humanity and the realness it entails, the strength to allow ourselves healing moments of weakness, the humor to get ourselves through without permanent scars, and the willingness to engage each other with patience and nurturing.  I want to see you all standing with me when our dreams become the reality; we cannot afford to let even ONE comrade fall because we are in this together!  FUREE is committed to seeing this through and we hope to see you there when we have a moment to look up and take in all the people standing there with us!  Are you with me fam?

And to give you a little something to melt your hearts after all of that preaching, below are some great photos of our time in D.C.!

In the Glow of Love and Light,

Shatia Strother- Program Coordinator, FUREE (Families United for Racial and Economic Equality)


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