I’ve had the pleasure of loving, creating, and working with incredibly smart people. As someone who is not easily impressed, I have to say that the people that love me the most in this world, the ones who care about my work, who hold me accountable and allow me to think about the depth of my people’s condition are all incredibly smart people.
I’ve known for years, especially since leaving the Obama Administration in 2012, that these incredibly smart people were going to save me. They were surely going to save us all. If someone had asked me in 2012 if we could name the exact people, I would have not only named names but titles, given addresses and cell phone numbers of the exact somebodies that were going to save the world.
I thought President Obama himself would personally turn into one of the greatest ancestors of all time and lift all 30 million of us black, under resourced, marginalized and oppressed folk out of subjugation. Yes, I did. I did and my mama did.
And for everyday that went by and we weren’t free, I looked at the ones who were supposed to save us with even more venom. I quietly nudged them. Wrote unsolicited emails. Posted long diatribes on Facebook and texted folk with fervor and criticism. I was waiting on them. The world was waiting on them. Didn’t they know?
Then I thought, they just need more help. They need more people so that they can be the people. And then I thought, they need more money. We need to support them and uplift them and make sure they are resourced so that they can save us.
And then. I looked around at my peer group, those amongst us, who were waiting for the 50 and 40 year olds to be smarter than us and closer to freedom and realized they weren’t necessarily.
Did the ancestors know that they were grand ancestors before they became them? Did Rosa sit on principle or did she believe she was chartering history? Did Ella Baker know that she would live in my mind with infamy before or after she headed the new york state NAACP? Did Michelle know she was marrying the first black president of the United States? Did she know she’d be the glorious thing we’d ever seen? I wonder how much did Harriet know how daring, bold, and audacious she was? Did she know there would be children named after her? Did she know we would think of her often and weep? I wonder how much did John Carlos and Tommie Smith know that they would be made of metal in the National African American museum? How much was Medger Evers waiting for someone to save us before he laid his body down so that we may all know some taste of freedom? And how much did Huey, and Bobbi, and Malcolm, and Zora, Sojourner know that they’d be grand ancestors before they decided to do something.
I’ve been waiting on Harriet Tubman to save me my whole life. That’s just the truth of the matter. I sit in meetings, I say what I know to be the smartest thing I’ve ever said and feel inadequate. I am waiting for Harriet to tell me what to say. I am waiting for Harriet to walk in the room and relieve me of my duties. I’m sitting in her stead, I think. I grow tired of speaking up, and speaking out, and leaning in and leaning out.
Where is Harriet?
I had, a few weeks ago a pivotal moment in my life. One that I am still trying to unpack. I gathered for an incredible day of fellowship with some of those same people that love me the most in this world, the ones who care about my work, who hold me accountable and allow me to think about the depth of my people’s condition. And something profound came over me, through multiple friends and multiple signs: Harriet Ain’t Coming.
I was like a kid waiting on the next car to be my mama’s. Until I sat there all night and realized, she wasn’t coming.
How much did Harriet step up because of her own agency? Because she knew that if she hadn’t, it wouldn’t be done? And Harriet didn’t have a Harriet either. What she had, that I have and need to harness everyday is a profound sense of courage. Why I am waiting on someone to save me? Why am I waiting on someone to save us? What if this is all to call ME for a time such as this?
The notion that I could touch the hem of her garment and move in the way that she did, in the night, in danger, as a Black woman. My God. She lives in my memory in infamy. She is who I believe Spirit to be and to think that I could ever be such a grand ancestor, I must be delusional.
I’m starting to believe though, more and more each day that we are absolutely the one’s we’ve been waiting on. No matter how much we tell ourselves that there must be someone else smarter, better, more qualified, with a lot more agency, we too have Harriet’s blood running through our veins. How do we take her spirit and legacy and call forth a new level of audaciousness in ourselves? How are we holding ourselves accountable to lead?