By Randi Gloss. Photography by Deun Ivory.
What needs unchaining in your life?
Often, when we think about freedom, it’s more of a “we” context than “I”—a lofty, supposedly universal notion that especially those of us from the diaspora, perhaps more closely have tied to our ancestors enslavement and eventually their subsequent freedom.
But what about you? What does freedom look like in your own life? What does it sound like? What does it feel like? What or perhaps, who, has shackled your happiness? Your confidence? Your ambition?
In the many lessons that can be taken from Freedom Summer, I’d like to draw out three things in particular—courage, commitment & creativity.
The volunteers, be they from the North or South, threw themselves into the risky work of voter registration in Mississippi. Harassment and abuse were commonplace. Bombings and burnings, routine. Safety could not be guaranteed. Arrests were likely. Less than two weeks passed before the kidnapping and murder of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Matthew Schwerner. Yet still, they persevered.
What does courage sound like in the context of liberating yourself?
Imagine if, after a few days, weeks even, the Freedom Summer volunteers changed their minds. Decided the risks were too high, the work too taxing. What then? What type of message would that have sent to the Black Mississippians and Black folks across the country who were still being denied their right to vote?
And, even before them, the volunteers committed their time and energy to learning how to register people to vote, curriculum and logistics for setting up Freedom Schools and promote the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The planning began months earlier, in February. The work begins before the results become visible.
What does commitment look like within your own freedom struggle?
By the end of the summer, 41 Freedom Schools had been established across Mississippi. The basics were taught—math, reading and other traditional courses but the brilliance of the curriculum was that the over 3,000 students were taught what was missing: Black history, the philosophy of the civil rights, and leadership skills.
And, if I can go there with y’all—how do you think they went about convincing hundreds of well off white college students not to “save the Mississippi negro” but to instead invest themselves into a world that required them to surrender their privilege?
What does creativity feel like in your pursuit of freedom?
I challenge you to not only think critically about your freedom but to act on it. Freedom is a journey, undoubtedly so, but you cannot lose your shackles if you do not begin to search for the keys.
I saw keys in the hands of Bree Newsome as she took down the confederate flag. I saw keys in the hands of Issa Rae as she committed to create a show that was truly for us, by us. I saw keys in the hands of Elaine Welteroth as she revolutionized Teen Vogue.
I see keys in the hands of Raquel Willis, Elle Hearns and Janet Mock as they labor to create space, advocate and share the narratives of trans women and gender nonconforming folks of color.
I see keys in the hands of the Mothers of the Movement who’ve resisted despair and continue to fight for their lost blood.
I see keys in your hands. As often as it is said, chanted, shouted, Assata Shakur’s words still ring true.
What would it mean to replace the “we” with you? It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.