by Ni’Keah Manning, Staff Writer
March 2, 2017
I can vividly recount the pivotal existential moment in my life that happened four years ago back in college– I was on my bed sitting across from my roommate, crying. But this was a different cry for me; one that was unexpected and troubling but ironically just on time. It was a type of cry that forced me to later recognize and identify what many of us know as the Yin-Yang Chinese philosophy– which describes how opposite or contrary forces might actually be complementary and interdependent to feed one another. Simply put, I remember feeling both happy and sad at the same time and the confusion associated with it. In this moment of despair that had been brewing for some time, I knew I needed something or someone– answers; a mentor; like-minded friends/people ready for action; community; freedom. In that moment, I knew I was crying because of the conditions my community and I face daily on multiple levels; but also because I could feel the answers I was looking for coming somewhere, somehow. Today, I realize that “the happy” and “the sad” both had to be present; otherwise, it would not have been the clarifying moment it was meant to be.
The following semester, as an undergrad student, I would find myself enrolled in a course at San Francisco State University (SFSU) entitled “Organizing for Change in Communities of Color.” The class was assigned to find an organization or agency that did organizing work in specific communities of color. With the expectation for students to spend 30-40 hours with their agency of choice over the course of a semester, we were all required to produced an organizational analysis that followed our experience. This was when I was introduced to the Black Organizing Project (BOP). Immediately, I was intrigued with their work and before I knew it, I understood this was “it” because shortly after getting involved, I realized this was the where, who and what I had been looking for.
Through the Organizer In Training (OIT) apprenticeship that BOP offers, I was placed on a year long developmental plan that would soon lead me into the Black organizer I have developed into today. As an OIT, I was prompted to ask questions like what does it mean to do grassroots work (and really do grassroots work)? What does it mean to develop others and what does/can development look like? What is the true purpose of Black organizing and why is it essential? I was taught to reach and connect with my folks in real ways through street outreach, door knocking, phone banking, setting up 1:1’s and always, always, always, thinking about and creating spaces that our folks can test and apply their skills. Organizing is intentional work all in an effort to spark dialogue and provoke thought and action within others.
In all, the most gratification I could ever receive from this work has been two gifts: reciprocity and clarity. But I didn’t always see the “rewards” of it all. There were multiple times where it was honestly hard to get out in the streets because I was tired, or “not feeling it” and both those feelings were real and valid because I too, am human. But in those very moments, each time magic happened upon me entering the streets– the magic was the interactions and connections I had with my folks. Again, I was and continue to be reminded of the beauty in this work. How is it that the very same things that sometimes reserve me from hitting the streets are the very same things that restores me? Those things being the moments and exchanges of dialogue, hugs, tears, smiles, recognition, love, experiences and the ultimate realization that we all want the same thing. I will never forget the countless times that my sisters/brothers/elders have embraced me with a simple “thank you for doing this and talking to me,” accompanied with a smile you could feel. Or the moments when I’m out with our youth members doing street outreach for the first time and they say to me “Dang Ms. Ni’Keah, I like this. That’s crazy because I would have never talked to these people.”
To create moments and experiences for others that at one point, they could not have imagined is one of my greatest joys and this was only made possible because of my development into an organizer through my OIT opportunity. In essence, developing Black organizers symbolizes another popular Chinese philosophy “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases from being shared.” This happiness (liberation) will only multiply itself if the flame (the work) is being sustained and so it takes us all. It is clear that for the most part, we all want freedom. But it is most important that there are vehicles like BOP and the OIT internship in place to help drive us to our liberation because a vision without the what, the who and the how would be left as just a vision.
Black organizing, in my opinion, serves as the navigation tool needed between Black life and death. For me, the opportunity to be developed into a Black organizer for the Black Organizing Project served as an incubator which has allowed me to understand myself as a Black woman and the role I play in relation to the rest of my community and the world. It has helped me understand that the frustrations of my life experiences as a Black woman are a part of a larger great Black community that is always under systemic and physical attack seeking to strip us of our natural greatness.
BOP was and remains my incubator; the calm in my chaos when I’m feeling hopeless and attacked; my reminder to keep going; the vessel who has reached me and developed me to meet others. As a Black organizer, I understand that it is now my responsibility to identify others who are looking to work toward Black change and liberation but don’t know how to. It is now my responsibility to uplift the light in people in providing spaces and opportunity for empowerment. In paying this work forward, the heart, the fight, the purpose and the passion is needed to sustain it. We must understand that it’s not easy as our fight has never been. And because it’s not easy, we are absolutely what we need, who we need and all we need. Black organizing is not just important, but essential to our survival and freedom.
“[Black Organizing] is no longer something that should be considered as ‘important’, it is essential.”–This is an alarming reminder one of our BOP members, Donna Anderson, recently expressed and since the moment, the daunting reminder has become unshakeable. It is particularly necessary for us to be able to distinguish “important” from “essential”. Important– as generally understood as of great significance or value. Essential– urgent; absolutely vital. The main difference is our ability to understand that it is not enough to view Black organizing as just “important” because then that allows room for us to sit back; hold onto the ideas of what we believe needs to be done; and watch the few others work until we’re “comfortable” and “ready” to join them. Black organizing literally comes down to the question of “If we don’t do it, who will?” We must recognize that whatever we seek to change must and will be done by us and us only.
This work has provided me with a deeper understanding of me, of us. I am healed and not alone because Black love, Black unity, Black power and Black liberation are the ultimate outcomes no matter how long it takes. And if I knew what I know now about Black organizing five years ago, then five years ago I would have decided to commit myself to it– accepting all its trials … and liberations.