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Dying and Rebirthing

(This was written in response to receiving an invite to apply to be an ambassador at the Women and Girls Rising Initiative at the Ford Foundation in September. Now, I don’t know if I’ll be accepted, but any opportunity to get my words out is just that—an opportunity!)

Upon receiving the invite to apply for this prestigious honor, I linked my fingers in a cat’s-cradle gesture, and remembered Ida B. Wells-Barnett. You see, Ida is one of the Mothers who I pay homage to each and every day I am out in the world as a woman of color, student, and mother, dedicated to the ideal of social change, service, advocacy, and creating a better world for my daughters.

Mrs. Wells-Barnett was concerned about violence against Black people, segregation, civil and women’s rights, and the economic prosperity of our (Black) community in a time when to speak on the evil was to risk death. Born a slave herself, much of Ida’s life was spent in the struggle for equality for people of color, especially women. Ida B. Wells wrote for the Negro Press Association, the Evening Star, and Living Way, writing under the name Iola, going so far as to become editor of the latter publications.

Her articles were reprinted in other black newspapers around the country. These events mirror much of my own narrative; I come from very humble beginnings and have recently begun to find my voice in local publications, where I, too, speak to the injustices done to people of color the world over, especially women. I have begun to see my words reprinted, re-whispered, and praised. Like Ida, I am an outspoken critic of the current legal climate, mired in racism, which continues to create no small disparity in who goes to prison and for how long, or who lives and dies, even.

I believe that if the world is to change it will come from the arms and voices of the Mothers of the world. As a child, my mother would comb my hair and say ‘Mija…my daughter…the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world!’ I think that is from the Bible, but I also think it was my mother’s way of telling me that I could do whatever I wanted in this world because I was born to do so. For so long I had no idea of what my place in the world would be as a woman, but the twists and turns my life took showed me a path. It has not been the easiest life, but I needed the struggles I faced in order to have a better sense of what changes need to occur. I also needed those struggles to further cement the lessons learned under my mother’s comb…we rock the cradles, and so we are charged with birthing the cultural, environmental and social systems that will effect change for the world.

We cannot effect these changes if many of us are too poor and too sick to do so. Economic status and health disparity are inextricably linked. Recent issues regarding women’s health will only widen that gap. Women’s inequality in health care access is a direct reflection of their lack of power in society, and though many women in this country speak, some of the decisions made ‘on their behalf’ don’t feel as if anyone has heard them.

I often ask myself how it is that so many of us are content to allow some man on Capitol Hill poke and prod, write, read, and legislate, on things he is often atrociously ill-informed on? Poorer women need a voice and I intend on ushering in the wave of women who will tell you how it really is. People need to know and understand that rape does not shut down the ability of victim-egg and aggressor-sperm to join and create life. They need to know and understand that women are still dying from illegal procedures meant to end life, that we are dying of infection from mutilated and infibulated parts.

We are still dying at the hands of men that all we wanted to do was love and help us keep the family unit intact, and the poorer, browner, and less English-speaking we are, the larger these problems are. We are dropping dead of heart attacks and cancer continues to wage insidious war on our breasts, uteri and ovaries. We are ill. We are poor. And still we die in the name of change. It is up to women to rebirth this place now, to tell the stories and say the names which need to be told and said.

At this point, I cannot speak to what my overall vision is. I know, simply, that I have lived enough of my life fighting that I shall continue to do so. I make myself laugh a bit for even typing that last sentence. Many of the women in my family mellowed considerably as they aged, and anyone who knows me knows that this is not to be my story. I will be thirty-nine next year, and have only recently found my voice, along with several tough grey hairs and laugh lines around my eyes which I hope intensify before I leave this plane. I’m loud, clear and passionate about the systems I despise and about the people I love.

There is so much injustice in this world and I just do not see how one can sit quietly and watch it all. I no longer understand the mentality of ‘oh, well, I can’t do anything about it’ because I know we can. And if I think people are not listening to me, I try a new approach, so that they will hear me.

What’s next? We are next. Women are next. And it is my sincerest hope that the world is ready.

About Desiree Napoleon

Desiree Napoleon is a Public Policy major, Psychology minor at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford, CT, and is a mother of three, residing in Hartford CT. She has been an intern at the CT General Legislature and was most recently part of the Spring 2014 cohort of NEW Leadership New England (NH Institute of Politics) . Her awards include the Sr. Maria Rose deLima Nolan Founders’ Award for excellence in Political Study as well as a 2014 Adelante certificate for her commitment and dedication to fostering social change in Latino communities. In her spare time she cooks, writes, and smashes the patriarchy brick by brick.

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