My Voice Matters

I am writing about two women I met recently who opened my eyes to activism: National Co-Chair and the Director of Community Engagement of the Women’s March: Bob Bland and Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs. When I first saw these women at the International Congress of Youth Voices in San Francisco this summer, I thought they were attending the conference as mentors who had accompanied students. I didn’t think much from seeing them; yes, I did judge them a little bit, but in a good way, lol.

On the second day of the conference, I read two names on the schedule, and from these names, one of which was Bob, I didn’t know that the guest speakers were female. I sat in the second row of the auditorium, and on the stage before me were two beautiful women who were there to teach me how to strive for justice for every human race.

The Women’s March started in 2017, when a group of women gathered to protest against unfair policies regarding human rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, and many other issues. Bob and Tabitha shared their experiences of that time, and then spoke about the power women have when we stand up and fight for what is right. I realized in that moment that the possibilities of change are present.

It is hard to use the skills we have as women or men, especially in today’s world where we see the ugly side of racial issues spreading into human veins like a virus. As I sat there listening to Bob Bland and Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs, however, I began to understand that it doesn’t matter how old you are or what times we are living in: we have to advocate for unheard voices and unwelcome faces by any means. We all were created equally, and with any means we can find we should respect each other and help each other as one race, the human race.

Bob Bland and Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs explained that it can be scary and hard to start a movement or an activity, but it is always worth it at the end. Becoming an activist can be through writing poetry, blogging, or signs you hold at public events—wherever your voice can be read and heard and felt. Sometimes you might face being arrested or being denied access to enter certain places, however, this doesn’t mean you should leave where you are; instead find a place to thrive in, a place to make the world know that this is what’s happening, and it needs to end or to be fixed so that positive change can come.

Today I call myself an activist because I believe that as long as I am still alive my voice, my vote, and my life matter. Everyone deserves a chance to live freely without fear of tomorrow.

Will you be an activist and add your voice to the world you are seeing today?

@Imprintonmyheart
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A Woman Stands Firm

On August 4th, 2018, I met one of my biggest role models. I was standing still, holding my emotions. I was not ready, but I had to be. She is the type of woman each feminine youth from Africa aspires to be. The five-minute talk we had reminded me that I matter. She is known as a novelist, the author of Americanah. She is a mother. She immigrated to America like many of us. She struggled as an immigrant student like I or anyone else does nowadays. Her name is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I was not expecting her to be open-minded. I was expecting her to be the type of African who gets famous and thinks of herself as superior to others. But she is the most humble and honest human being I have never met. Besides being famous, I will tell you she is really hilarious and wise. My ICYV teammates and I are allowed to call her Aunty Chi now, lol. I could write so many pages about her, but let me tell you in just a few lines about my experience the day I met her.

When I asked her what she thinks about being a young immigrant living in America today without a biological family around she looked at me and smiled. She said, “Sister, you will see crazy things, people will laugh at you, they will always criticize you, your accent, etc. Instead of feeling grumpy, just look at where you started and where you are today, and make something good out of it. Because that will always be part of your life; people who are nice, and not nice. People who are positive minded and those who just sit and judge others.”

I asked what she thinks about being a student of feminist who immigrated to the United States from Africa, specifically, and how she overcomes criticism. She stated, “In school, people will tell you that you are not smart and will always try to downgrade you, but think of yourself as the new role model for those young people behind you who are afraid to take risks like you did, and make them believe that it is possible to do it. You need to stand firm as feminist.”

Oh, how I learned from Chimamanda about feminism! Well, should I say womanism? Is that even a word?

I am not sure what word is used when it comes to minimizing the abilities of a woman. The word that many think is appropriate to use when referring to us (women) as who we are not. I believe a feminist should be always ready to fight. It is so hard always to find a way of ending the usage of this word. Many people have changed the meaning of this word as a way of discriminating against women in general. Many acts of violence, abuses, and the depression that so many young girls are facing nowadays stems from this, and all girls and women can relate to it.

I learned from Chimamanda these things: A woman should not always explain or justify who she is. When it comes to gender, it should run in people’s mind and blood that we are equal as human being. Cheering a man’s achievement is great. However, don’t underestimate this: a women’s success is not always appreciated. A woman should not have to be ashamed of her gender or personality. Now, hear me right: a woman should not critically generalize the opposite gender as trash or use any other names. Not every man is horrible or trash.

A woman should teach those around her the power of being a woman, not to be ashamed or scared of her body. To be who she is. A woman’s dream should not be being married at a young age by force, or cooking in the kitchen for her husband only. A woman should be educated, and she should have dreams and goals. A woman should defend and protest for her rights, and a woman should speak up when necessary. A woman should always show her capabilities of doing right when negativity is exposed. A woman should turn her fear into her destiny.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is right: “We Should All Be Feminists.”

@Imprintonmhheart

BE THE AMBASSADOR

On the afternoon of Friday, August 3, 2018, our mentors greeted us and showed us the steps to take to check in to the Hilton Hotel. On my way through the lobby I saw many new faces. The excitement in the room was overwhelming. Holding my room keys in my hands, I shared the anticipation. Here I was, a young Burundian living on her own, getting to attend the first International Congress of Youth Voices. I stopped where I was and gave thanks to The Telling Room for helping me write and share and for giving me the chance to be there.

Our journey together started with a walk in the Bay Area. The sun was shining. It was a little windy in San Francisco. I felt nervous and wondered how my experience would go. I felt like we would sit and listen and share ideas, like in a class at school. Little did I know I was going to be meeting so many wonderful and wise authors, leaders, and student delegates!

We arrived at the ferry dock. As I was looking around I saw a living legend and Civil Right leader, the Honorable Rep. John Lewis, standing with us. My heart began beating like a drum. But I knew what I had to do. I had not come so far to stay silent in a moment like this one. In my mind, I was like, “I have to talk to him! I have to get some wise advice from him. It’s now or never, Thecla, it’s now or never!”

All of the delegates were boarding the ferry. My first instinct told me to make sure I was in the front row so that I would be among the first people to get to talk to the Congressman before the boat’s departure. I saw him standing, hugging each student who walked toward him. We had heard he was sick the weekend before, so having him right there among us was a huge surprise. Then it was my turn. I walked toward him, my hands shaking. He looked me in my face and said, “My daughter, it is a pleasure to see you today.”

I will carry the precious moments of talk we had with me always. After telling “The Legend” my name and where I was from, he immediately sat me down beside him. He asked me how I was feeling about moving from an unstable country only to arrive in the United States to see what is happening here today. I was honest and sincere, saying that the world is changing and the human race is ill-fated. People from the same origins fight each other like mice and cats. He stated that when he was around my age he did not like the way people were being discriminated against, he did not like racial segregation. He was so passionate about saving his brothers and sisters! He explained to me that if we want a change in life then we need to understand that it all starts within our hearts.

“What do you want and what do you want people to remember you as? At the end of the day you will see people hating on you, maybe you might be beaten, or placed in jail like it happened to me multiple times. But you need to fight for what is true. You need to be the ambassador of those youth around you. Don’t hate people due to their race, gender, or what they believe in; but help them grow by lighting their ways. Fight the good fight, keep hoping. If you lose hope go back to where you started, be inspired by what you have done and keep going. You have a moral obligation to do something, speak up. Be the light and never underestimate your capability.”

His words gave me even more reason to keep representing other youth voices, the voices of those young people who are afraid to speak up due to language barriers. I loved what John Lewis stated that first day of the International Congress of Youth Voices: “Be in trouble, good trouble and necessary trouble.” It is my obligation to use my voice to speak loudly and fight for anything done in the darkness.

In using my voice in that moment, I was thrilled to give to the Honorable Rep. John Lewis A Season for Building Houses, a book that holds the stories of young writers and leaders from all around the world now living in Maine. I wrote and published my own story in that book, which The Telling Room published, and it was my great honor to bring it with me. It was my duty to represent all youth voices, and putting it in John Lewis’s hands, and sharing the pages of it with him, was a huge accomplishment for me. Because now The Legend is a reader of that book. And then we shared what it was like to be an author. He told me about his own books, and about a graphic novel he had written. I can’t wait to read his books!

I can’t imagine a better way to start off my experience in California, sharing my voice with the world’s great young writers and leaders, than by this encounter with John Lewis. To all my young writer and leader friends and delegates, do not stop working. Hard work never killed anyone, and at the end it is worth it. Use your voice, use your writing. You don’t have to be an expert but you can become one. Strive to succeed and make those around you aware that each voice matters. Be the ambassador, for all youth, for all of our voices, everywhere.

YOU ARE A QUEEN

Dear Woman,

The level of your stress is elevated to a point where you have forgotten who you are. Today you are finding refuge in eating a lot, sleeping a lot, drinking a lot etc…

Your body shape is changing. You cry day and night. Depression has knocked at your door. Maybe you are thinking to commit suicide. Rumors all around. Your so called best friends betrayed you and it is

making you feel unwelcomed or unwanted.

Please allow me to remind you few things:

Let me remind how beautiful you are.

You are Created in many shapes and colors, you are unique. You are nothing to play with. Your curly, straight, short, long, or braided hair looks amazing. Your smile shines like the stars in the sky. Even in struggles you still hold it down like no other.

In your eyes I see strength, dedication, and the way you strive to survive.

Being fat or skinny doesn’t make you less of a person.

You don’t owe anyone an explanation of what you are going through. No one should know why you are gaining or losing weight, why you did divorce or break up with your significant other, why you don’t go in parties, clubs anymore, and so on…!

Let people who gossip do their unpaid jobs!

Be thankful each day. Before you leave your house every morning, look in the mirror and remind yourself these four words: I am strong, beautiful, unique and Irresistible!

You are a soldier and you have won many wars.

You should not be walking by what society is telling you.

Give yourself time to heal. Do what your heart tells you to do. Slay in that outfit, put those heels on and walk proudly.

We only have one life, have fun to the fullest if you can.

Mostly, do not let anyone astray you from your ambitions.

You deserve a second chance like everyone else.

You can love again, you can go back to school, you can get hired to that job you’ve been looking for, you can do all those things people are telling you not to give it try. Take those risks and you will thank the Almighty later.

Please do not ever forget,

You are and always will be the queen of your throne!

What If…

A toxic world they say. An ungrateful generation that lacks respect, loyalty, humility and acceptance. That is the world we are living in. A world where people are so unappreciated for who they are. Where young couples are destroying each because of insecurities. One partner is more private than the other; instead of asking what is going on, or how to help, some choose to assume: Oh (s)he is following an ex on social media? (s)he doesn’t like me anymore, (s)he doesn’t care about us anymore! Doubts, doubts and doubts!

But what if (s)he is struggling with something else?

In this century men choose to trash their significant others publicly by calling them names; yet they wonder why they changed. We are living on a planet where fights are preferred than communication. Where divorce is the first thing that comes in mind after few months of being married than solving the real issues. Easy to forget all the time and energy it took you to save for the wedding. Those vows loudly spoken in front God, families, and the whole church are also forgotten. Why wasting money and people’s time? Why just not waiting since you know well that you are not going to be able to live with that person? (Well that is me thinking..)

People are becoming more ungrateful because they choose not to see the value of those around them. They compare themselves to others. The same people so often create their own storms and get upset. We are forgetting about gratitude! Being thankful for that woman who happens to be the mother of your children, that woman who cooks for you every day so that you won’t starve. That partner who happen to be your number one supporter in a good or bad situation. We prefer to point out the other person’s mistakes before ours. We smile without smiling, we hide our true personalities.

But what if? What if people work to keep their relationship with their friend, family, or significant others going. What if people would work to be better not bitter. What if people would think twice before acting, speak without yelling, use proper language. What if people would listen to their heart before going with the flow. What if people were more kind to each than being cruel. What we ask ourselves, is it worth to fight for? Maybe it would be more select if we could remember why we started a journey in the first place.

It is Happening…

They used to tell me, “When we were your age, we had to walk miles and miles, without fancy shoes, all by ourselves to get to school. We were all smart and couldn’t fail…” Each time my parents would tell I and my siblings those words, I would laugh. It was kind of funny to me, but as I grew up I started to realize they were trying to teach us that nobody can become successful without sweating and working hard.

I was taught to always try my best, to treat everyone equally, to not give up when things get harder. I was taught to always be kind, patient and humble. I was taught to always be the example in everything I do. I was taught to always get good grades in school (… this was very hard to keep up with when I was a teenager LOL). I was taught to always leave footprints wherever I go. I did listen and I am still using everything I was taught.

And because of that, I am sitting in my little space today, honored to participate in the International Congress of Youth Voices in August. https://www.internationalcongressofyouthvoices.com

My heart is filled with excitement and Joy. I will be representing both my Motherland and my second Home Portland, Maine. Something I do not take for granted. It did take a village to get where I am. And now I get to sit with other writers from all around the world thanks to the Telling Room. There, my writing skills improved. I learned to not be afraid of representing others, to always speak from the heart. Words aren’t enough to express how grateful I am for each person who believed in me, supported me and still does.

All I can say is that I am so privileged to participate in this conference. God knows how thrilled I am to see what my future holds, for the first door of my journey has just been opened. It is happening!

I cannot wait to meet all the great guests, one of them is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and all wonderful student delegates.

I Waited…

In the darkness,

Alone and cold,

Eyes full of tears,

Heart beating like a drum,

I Sat down.

Looking at the window,

The moon lighting,

The Sky full of stars,

A little smile on my face,

Thinking it was a sign,

Maybe he will come home.

I waited, waited, and waited..

I closed the door!

I left my phone on,

Hoping he will call.

Emptiness inside my chest

Breaking me down,

Tightening my throat,

I could feel depression

knocking at my door.

I decided to let it go,

I chose peace over disappointment,

I chose strength over my weakness,

I told myself that everything is going to be ok,

I slowly fall asleep!

@Imprintonmyheart