In Search of Freedom

Freedom is an old song that people of color, particularly Black people in America, have sung for so many generations. A song that our great great great ancestors sang. One that even today, I am still in search of.

 

As a Black woman, who grew up in South Central LA in the 90s, I intimately witnessed and experienced the impact of poverty, community violence, housing instability, war on drugs, police brutality, mass incarceration, and inadequate education; which were all merely backdrops of my childhood. Yet, my inquisitive mind often left me in search of answers. Because how could we live in the “freest country” yet my reality reflected the furthest thing from freedom? This very paradox birthed my thirst for knowledge and little did I know, it would also galvanize my passion to change these very conditions; not only for myself and my family but also for others who have been disproportionately affected by the gross malfeasance of systemic oppression.

 

I grew up in a large blended family. One that birthed ten children in total between my father’s children and my mother’s children. Of those ten, I am amongst the youngest of my siblings. The eighth child to be exact. However, as of today, I am the only child with a high school diploma, and the first of my family to pursue a bachelor’s degree and a masters degree. I do not highlight this boastfully, but to bring context to what oppressive conditions can produce. Education was a refuge for me. During my primary years, my mother advocated for me and my brothers to be bussed into outer-city schools that were more resourced than the schools in our community. School was a space that provided me a consistent sponsored meal, a sense of daily structure, and a means to stimulate my young curious mind. I found myself hiding in books that allowed me to expand my world and to dream beyond my present circumstances. And although I excelled in my academics, I couldn’t help but notice the distinct difference in the communities in which I lived and the environments in which my schools were situated.

 

Then, one day everything became painfully clear. On March 31, 2007 my 19 year old brother was murdered at the hands of gun violence, outside of our father’s home. I was 13 years old, and I didn’t quite have the words to describe how I felt, but I knew something was seriously wrong with that reality. Shortly after our traumatic loss, my 16 year old brother struggled to mentally cope and 9 months later he found himself faced with legal charges that incarcerated him for nearly 13 years. Both of these adverse experiences left me feeling heartbroken, confused, and defeated. Yet, I had to persist the best way I knew how.

 

Now, at the age of 27, I have tools, evidence, and language to describe the very culprit that produced these devastating realities for not only my family, but for so many other Black families all across the country. I know this because in my professional capacity over the years as a clinical therapist, a community organizer, and a national manager for the NAACP, I’ve heard so many Black peoples’ stories that mirror my very own. These stories are not produced out of isolation, but out of a larger enemy named systemic racism, racial oppression, and white supremacy, a rigid nexus of power that overtly protects and enforces itself. The maintenance of this system is not only deadly to Black lives, it robs our communities of its greatest birthright: FREEDOM. Thus, in the spirit of Fannie Lou Hamer, I firmly believe that None Of Us Are Free Until All Of Us Are Free. And of the many things that 2020 has revealed to me, one is surely that; as a community, we all have a responsibility to one another, as our freedom is entangled into each other.

 

Our ancestors have fought the long and enduring fight for justice and freedom.

Now, the baton has passed onto our generation, as each generation must discover its mission. Freedom is our generation’s mission and we must not lose sight of that.

While the current social, political, and economic landscape has been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, more now than ever, we must step into that responsibility as if our life depends on it because it does. I take on this charge by pursuing law school in hopes to eradicate the injustices in the criminal legal system that disproportionately incarcerates Black bodies. In addition to that, I co-founded Black Girls Leadership Academy, a national organization committed to being a viable resource to the leadership of young Black girls and women by focusing on their personal development, cultural identity, and global character.

 

My charge to our community is to be of greater service to each other, however we deem possible. Whether that is with our personal or organizational resources, our expertise, our donations, our innovations, our connections, or our love. We have a collective responsibility to meet the needs of this moment. I fully believe that we are the ones we have been waiting for.

Jazzalyn Livingston

Jazzalyn D. Livingston

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Website: www.Blackgirlslead.org

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