In my head, this month’s missive was to be full of hope and optimism, rainbows and sunshine. Blossoms are blooming. Millions of vaccines are going in arms every day. The world is starting to reopen. The sun is shining brighter and the days are getting longer. Spring has sprung. My intent was to make this missive motivation for you to go forth and conquer the rest of the semester. But people are still refusing to wear masks. Black people are still getting harassed, assaulted, and killed in the streets. Children are still waking up in cages. Our Capitol still looks more like a militarized zone than a bastion of democracy. Elected representatives are still more interested in keeping their own power than in empowering the people they were elected to represent.
“If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.”
Then I had a conversation with a good friend and he brought up the notion of legacy. For those of you who have been through our Research Program, you know legacy is a thing for us. We talk about Louis Stokes’ legacy (our program’s namesake). We then charge the Scholars to come up with their own legacy statement. We’ve done the exercise multiple times and it is usually a hit. College students are not often tasked with considering their legacy. We want them to be mindful of it, but not consumed by it. Do the work and the legacy will leave itself. So, this missive could simply be about defining, framing, or describing your legacy, but that is still not quite it.
Then I listened to Renegades, the new podcast from former President Barack Obama and rock icon Bruce Springsteen. They too were having a conversation about legacy, but theirs looked backwards at the legacy thrust upon them by their forebears and how heavy that can be. They made a great point, we all wrestle with ghosts. Whether it is filling the void of whatever was believed to be missing or living up to the myth that we’ve been told of who we should be. Then Springsteen dropped this jewel, “The trick is you have to turn your ghosts into ancestors. Ghosts haunt you; ancestors walk with you.”
“There is beauty in our roots. Sometimes we think our roots are shameful, and people tell you that you're no good or your ancestors are no good or that you come from a neighborhood of no hope and terrible crime. But it's about the beauty of those places, and I carry that with me.” - Luis Alberto Urrea
It takes courage to turn around and look squarely at what is haunting you, process it, and let it go; to let go of whatever negativity you see when you look back, understanding that it does not have to be your burden to bear. You can put it down, right now, and keep moving forward. Iyanla Vanzant talks about us all having baggage but being very careful not to let it become monogrammed luggage. Once that happens, you’ll carry that bag even if there is nothing in it, just because it is so uniquely yours. Even worse, you will start to look for things to put in it to justify keeping it. Don’t be that person. Let’s be clear, it is not as simple as looking and saying so-and-so did this or such-and-such did that and now I’m FREE. It takes work, and more often than we seek it, it requires help. I am a huge proponent of therapy, counseling, mental health wellness, whatever you want to call it. Easier said than done, I get it. I had some of the same thoughts you might have right now; I’m not crazy; I don’t need any help; I’m not telling anybody all of my business; it’ll be fine after a while. All lies… I went and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I'm still doing the work in my own way. All of those excuses are just more ghosts haunting you and holding you back. I’m not saying that you all need counseling. But I am saying that we all need to process our past to free up our future. If you don’t need any help to do that, great. If you do need help to do that, get it from whomever, wherever, or whatever works best for you (healthy stuff only...).
“I feel very lucky to have grown up having interaction with adults who were making change but who were far from perfect beings. That feeling of not being paralyzed by your incredible inadequacy as a human being, which I feel every day, is a part of the legacy that I've gotten from so many of the adult elders.” - Marian Wright Edelman
“Even as you make progress, you need the discipline to keep from backtracking and sabotaging the success as it's happening.” - Nipsey Hussle
As we come out of spring break and gird up for the final push through the semester, after this year maybe we need to think a little differently about how we approach our respective nexts. I have heard it said that people will emerge from this pandemic either better or worse with very little in between. If you look at yourself and want to see more better, here are some things that you can do:
1. Turn thoughts into words into actions into habits. In my mind, I am amazing. I know ALL the ways to work out and be productive and eat right. In reality, I could lose some weight, watch less everything, and eat less junk. To get from here to there takes doing not just thinking. One of the things that has helped me is asking what the healthy/productive/awesome version of me would do. Watch one more episode/video or get back to work? Run to a drive thru at 11 pm or eat that apple in the kitchen? It’s okay that the apple doesn’t always win, it just can’t always lose.
2. Start TODAY. Do at least one thing to make yourself better. Then do it again tomorrow, and the day after, it can be more of the same thing or different things. What is important is that every single day, you do something to make yourself better than you were the day before.
3. Document your journey. It can be a journal, a blog, a vlog, voice memos, social media posts, scrapbooks, whatever you want. Find a way to document what you go through and how you think and feel about it as you go through it. In 20 years you will be very glad you did.
4. Take care of YOU. A new normal is emerging. The world is reopening. As it does, take care of yourself in real and tangible ways. If you need help, get help. If you need help finding the help, just say something, we are here for you.
5. Take care of Business. You are here to get your degree. You have persevered through pandemic, campus closure, zoom, all of it. You may not be doing as well as you hoped you would, but you are still doing. Keep showing that Grit and get this done. The world needs to see the brilliance you have to offer.
“Do something today that your future self will thank you for.” – Anonymous