Your voice needs to be heard. That’s what I tell my public speaking students on the first day of class. So much of my message, my life’s mission really, is to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. Well, that requires people to speak up and share their truth even when it’s risky or vulnerable, especially when it’s vulnerable. It is then that our power and greatness shines brightly.
Last week, I saw a young man, Jay, do exactly that – speak his truth – in a powerful and inspiring way. At the Q & A segment of Michael Eric Dyson’s talk on Race and Race Relations in America, Jay was the first at the mic. He spoke about his experience as a young Latino man on campus, his desire to feel a sense of belonging for himself and other students of color and the barriers he experiences. The whole audience was riveted by his heartfelt plea to create something different, not just for him but for the next generation. I was in awe of Jay’s eloquence and courage.
Now…I recognize that Jay’s experience isn’t unique. It’s unfortunately all too common on college campuses across the country. It was happening when on my college campus – that sense of exclusion, both conscious and unconscious, that had students of color feel unwelcome and unwanted. A continued conversation is needed. It is an uncomfortable conversation for sure, but an essential one. We cannot remain silent. We must ALL courageously step into this conversation with compassion and connection at the forefront.
So when someone from the college responded to Jay’s plea with a commitment to take action and continue the conversation, I was excited that it didn’t fall on deaf ears and someone listened, not with defensiveness but with an interest in engaging. I am hopeful that this is the first of many exchanges in the dialogue.
When listening to Jay, I was reminded where I stopped engaging in this conversation, not just about race, but about social justice issues as a whole. In my twenties, I was a loud mouth activist who spoke up anytime I heard a remark or witnessed an act that perpetuated oppression, be it racism, sexism or homophobia. Whether it was my personal and professional life, I would not stand for any injustice.
Now, I have noticed areas where I have silenced my activist in my professional life. While many of my programs incorporate courageous conversations about oppression, the silence has infiltrated in little ways. I hold back on Facebook or Twitter so as not to upset or offend any of my followers. But in my silence, there is a form of condoning, an allowing, that I have perpetuated by not speaking up, but not speaking out against the injustices that are happening across the nation every day.
So, inspired by Jay’s courage, I am committing to speaking up and speaking out against the oppression that still plagues our country. If this is the land of the free and home of the brave, I must be brave and speak out to ensure true freedom for all who live here.
I need your help though. I ask that you join me to speak up and speak out. I need you to be brave and speak out for justice. It doesn’t require a protest sign, all it requires is for you to speak your truth.
There may be areas where you do speak out and for that I thank you greatly. However, if there are areas where you don’t, now’s the time. The next generation is waiting.
Question: Where do you feel silenced? Where are you willing to speak up?