The awakening

Well it only took 15 hours in transit, but I finally made it back to the West Coast. No more subway, no more concrete jungle, and no more extreme heat—but I have found that the Moxie remains.

REVELATION: Racism does exist in the state of Washington!

Oh really?

So does homophobia, sexism, classism,and all the other –isms and –phobias that plague the rest of the world. I say this, not because I believed otherwise prior to our program, but rather, I didn’t have the instruments to recognize them or I wasn’t concerned enough to call them out.

“Ignorance is bliss” has never held more true for me than after this summer in New York. While Washington you could say is a lot more “forward-thinking,” it is in no way perfect.

This transition back home has not been easy. Conversations with people seem to ignore key issues and to be missing real substance. I can’t talk about everything because I either don’t feel comfortable speaking my mind or I don’t think they have the competency nor any personal interest in holding the conversation in the first place.

Do you really care?

I’m stuck—between wanting my Moxies back and having context for these discussions surrounding gender, race, and sexuality, and wanting to enjoy the company of my friends and family without acknowledging that anything is wrong.
But I can’t ignore them, no matter how nuanced and “micro” the aggressions are. Now it not only rubs me the wrong way, but I am forced to think about it. I analyze it because it’s an instinct. I want to do something about it because otherwise, it eats at me.

I am officially woke y’all, but it has its ups and downs. It’s tiring to cope with, but powerful to have in my possession. Being home at home is a struggle, but only a sliver of that which will be encountered back at Duke.

Nonetheless, I am anxious to go back. I am intrigued to see how I conquer the rest of my Duke years (really life in general) and I want to thank Moxie for giving me the tools to do so.

Once a Moxie, Always a Moxie

It has officially been one week since leaving New York and the Moxie project and somehow this week has felt like a century. It is amazing how much I had gotten used to the lifestyle of the city: constantly busy, always exhausted, very little downtime. My body had finally adjusted. But now that it’s over and I’m no longer working everyday, I find myself counting down the days until I will be back in classes and work and just having something to do at all times. I think being a Moxie made me forget how to relax.

Upon leaving New York City, I went straight back to Durham and immediately reentered the Duke bubble. What I’ve really noticed though through talking to my Duke friends this past week is just how unique the Moxie project really is. When I try to explain the program and its many components people just don’t quite get it. None of their internships or research projects also involved reading academic texts, taking part in seminars, and going to reflection dinners. Many of their summers consisted of going into work each day, putting in the hours, then going home to put it all behind them for awhile until starting again the next day. It’s hard to explain what it was like to have the themes of our readings and the context of our work follow us throughout everything we did, whether at work or with other Moxies or neither. The Moxie project is truly one of a kind and I’m now realizing just how lucky I am to have been a part of this program.

And unlike many other internships I could have done this summer, I don’t feel as though being a Moxie ended when I left New York City. I can actually feel how much those 8 weeks have affected me. The most noticeable impact I’ve felt since finishing the program is that I think I have officially found my voice.

When someone makes a racist, sexist, homophobic or just offensive comment I physically can’t just brush it away anymore. I find myself with an intense urge to call them out and explain why what they said was wrong. I am more confident in my political beliefs and my passions and have found myself actively participating in discussion on political and social issues, something I once would shy away from. The Moxie project gave me the language necessary to express my opinions and convictions and for that I am forever grateful.

The only real regret I feel at the moment is that I didn’t participate in this program earlier in my Duke career. I am realizing how much more attuned I am to the everyday oppression and microaggressions that exist even just within our Duke bubble. I plan to spend my senior year using this new voice and the strategies I’ve learned to help make (or at least start to make) some actual change to the systemic issues in our school’s community. And then after I graduate in less than a year (yikes) I feel confident that the skills and perspectives I’ve gained this summer will carry with me into everything I do.

Once a Moxie, always a Moxie.

Never Really Over

I’ve avoided writing the dreaded “Moxie has come to an end” blog for as long as possible, but overdue would be an understatement. Last Saturday, when I woke up and saw everyone packed and our rooms nearly empty, it felt so unreal. The eight weeks spent in NYC had been so incredible and it was sad to see that the amazing people, brilliant conversations and beautiful city were going to be behind me.

In all honesty, I did not know how or to what extent this experience was going to impact me or shape me as a young woman, a student, and an activist. My friend had mentioned that I was going to see things differently and that  how I experience college, see the world and approach situations was going to change, and she was very right.  Within the one week I’ve been back home, I’ve noticed that I did see things a bit differently; I was very keen of my surroundings and the situations I was in.  I was hyperaware  of the interactions I had and how I saw my friends and my sisters handle everyday situations.

But this is a very, very small part of what I have learned.

I learned that as much of a bliss ignorance is, it does not compare to the value and power of knowledge, and that we can learn not only from our professors and teachers with abbreviations before their names, but also from community members and leaders who know too well, the struggles as well as the solutions.

I learned that like most things, social justice and activism are processes rather than destinations (I know, cheesy). Some may not find their power through their voices, but maybe through their words or their art that speak louder than any voice.

I learned that if you want to solve an issue pertaining to a specific community, you need to speak to the members of the community. Especially if the issues at hand are involving young folks, we should encourage these young activists instead of discrediting them. We need to ensure that they are at the center of the conversations we’re having.

But most of all, I learned that every great thing takes time, so patience was going to be something I needed to remind myself of very often.  When it all feels like it’s for nothing, or that there’s no progress being made, it was important to remind myself that the ‘small’ steps we find tedious are the ones that become the building blocks of great movements.

So, as much as I see that Moxie is over, it never really is. I’m so incredibly thankful for these eight weeks because I have learned so much from every reading, every seminar discussion and weekly reflection. And as scary as adult life seems, and as unsure as I am about what exactly to expect from my three more years of college, I know I’m going through these things with confidence,  and perseverance. From the early days and the late nights, from the long commutes and 90 degree days, I could not be more thankful for this experience.

Finding my inner Moxie

After reading an article almost a year ago about what it’s really like to escort at an abortion clinic, I started to believe two things: Escorting is the noblest act that one can do for another person, and I could never do it. I based the former conviction on the selflessness and courage that I gleaned from the article’s account of clinic escorting; I based the latter conviction on the softheartedness and sensitivity that have comprised my personality for as long as I can remember. As luck would have it, both convictions were wrong (or perhaps, slightly mislead).

The Moxies visited Choices Women’s Medical Center during our first week in NYC, and some of us escorted the following day. The decision-making process that I underwent before opting to set my alarm for 5 a.m. the next morning was nothing short of grueling. I questioned and re-questioned whether I was “ready” to escort, whether I had the chops, and honestly, whether I would burst into tears at my first confrontation with a pro-life protester. These concerns rested on long-standing beliefs about myself, the implications of which The Moxie Project has helped me understand. This particular lack of confidence, coupled with the certainty that I’d eschew logical reasoning and respond to a difference of opinion with tears, stems from the gendered qualities I was socialized to have—care, tact, poise—as well as the qualities I wasn’t socialized to have—nerve, audacity, strength. I needed moxie, and Moxie delivered.

The protesters had beaten us to the clinic, and Un-empowered Lauren immediately felt the shock and anxiety that she had expected. I observed the protesters’ lack of consideration for the patients’ comfort with disbelief; the care I mentioned earlier transformed from gendered sensitivity to resolute anger. With the encouragement of the other Moxies, Empowered Lauren offered patients smiles and support. I felt like a strong individual gaining even more strength from the community of escorts who were doing the same thing.

all you need is love

Having explained why the latter conviction was mislead, you might be wondering why I feel now that the former was, too. I chose to focus this blog post on my escorting experience more than two months later because I have done quite a bit of reflecting on the meaning of “empowerment” since returning home from NYC. If you had asked me to pinpoint a volunteer experience that signified empowerment prior to The Moxie Project, I would have answered clinic escorting. But you can’t reduce empowerment to a single action, just like you can’t reduce feminism to a single shift in mindset. I left Moxie feeling empowered, but that feeling developed over the course of two months of reading, living on my own (with seven friends), and learning the importance of incremental change from my supervisors at NJEP. Moreover, harnessing strength in your beliefs and using them as a shield against others’ opinions can feel a lot like empowerment, but “true empowerment” (if such a thing exists) is a more collaborative and trying process than I could have ever imagined.

For what it’s worth, escorting at Choices was one of my favorite Moxie experiences. I felt that I was truly giving something back to the community that hosted me for two months. This brief foray into clinic escorting opened a door for me, showing me the myriad ways that I had the potential to serve both as an individual and as part of a community of people who care. I sincerely hope that more people experience this empowerment and work to create these experiences for others.

Expect the Best, Prepare for the Worst

Waiting for my plane at LaGuardia Airport, I was feeling accomplished, excited, and a little sad. My Moxie summer was ending, but I was about to begin a new chapter in my life influenced by all that I learned during my Moxie experience. I was hopeful that I could impact the world in some tangible way through my personal activism. As I was contemplating all these things and reflecting on my time in New York, a seemingly friendly stranger sat down next to me and began talking.

facepalm
Trying not to punch the talking stranger.

What came out of his mouth next, however, was worse than I could’ve expected. He began to “share” his political beliefs, including his total support for Donald Trump, that the feminist movement is pointless and supporters of it probably have psychological problems, and something about the feminization of men and how sad it is that men are dying virgins because our society has moved away from traditional gender roles. The timing of this conversation was so ironic; it took all the patience I had to calmly listen to his ramblings. After around 45 minutes of this, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I stood up and politely told him I would wait for my plane somewhere else and that I no longer wanted to speak with him. When I finally found a seat in a corner somewhere, tears were running down my face.

transformationI realized at that moment the incredibly new person I had become over the summer. Before, I would’ve felt awkward and just silently sat through the conversation, or maybe even agreed on some points. Now, I was brought to tears because I wanted to defend my beliefs so badly and was faced with such open disdain. I expected the best, but hadn’t prepared for the worst. When leaving an experience like Moxie, you have to think ahead. Not only how has the experience changed you and what have you learned, but also how and when will you apply that? How will you ensure that you have the confidence to, and what will you do when faced with opposition?

One week post-Moxie, I find myself in a very different environment. I am currently in Athens, Greece shadowing medical doctors in local hospitals. Literally and figuratively a world away from the feminist theory that I was studying for the last two months, Moxie is still at the forefront of my mind. I have had conversations with fellow group members and total strangers about why I identify as a feminist (which, by the way, I now do). I have had a transgender friend open up to me about his experience–something that would’ve never happened if not for the TransCare program I worked on at Choices. In the whirlwind of this past week, I have had some of the best and worst interactions surrounding feminism that I’ve ever had. In the end, I cannot determine how someone will respond to my opinions, but I will cherish the positive reactions and prepare myself for the negative. I look forward to the chance to share what I learned, whether at Duke or in the outside world.

My new home!
My new home!

 

The Time Has Come

The time has come to speak of many things- Lewis Carroll

When Lewis Carroll wrote that he didn’t know about Moxie. Since saying goodbye to the Moxies just a week ago I haven’t spoken of much else. A lot has happened this week…the Democratic National Convention…but I’ve stayed in the Moxie mindset, i.e I’ve dissected my life and I can’t go back. All summer I listened to people bash feminists casually, bash non-profits casually, and criticize Duke Engage casually, but I was enveloped in the warm embrace of my sisters in Moxie so…

I was immune from the haters obviously, as I was chilling in NYC with my feminist cohort, supported by my non-profit, the program coordinator, and the director. But now I am back in the real world and in a month I’ll be working for an unnamed corporation (the kind that runs background checks and drug tests). How have I adjusted to being thrown back into the real world?

giphy

Post-Moxie, everything looks different. The grass on the other side of woke is not greener, it’s jade and emerald.

 

a postscript

Set the scene: A micro-town in Indiana, a family reunion, a 99th birthday party for a woman who has faced enough hardship in her life to deserve a birthday bash with her entire extended family every year. However, that extended family is large, white, largely religious, and conservative. In New York, you defended the South as not being entirely filled with bigotry and hatefulness. Back with a myriad of Southern folks, though, you have to take a breath and revisit that assertion.

Act 1: Respect Your Elders

You shan’t reveal her name, but she is related to you, in her eighties, and wearing a pink button-down. She has asked about your summer, and you tell her: “I worked with kids of parents who are survivors of domestic violence, oftentimes kids who witnessed the violence.” She proceeds to tell you three disparate stories about slapping and hitting her children and how she needed to show them that she was their mother and in charge. She adds, almost as a punctuation, how appalled she was that her son, upon her question about what he would do if one of his children were gay or lesbian, responded “I would be okay with it, as long as they were happy.” You feel as though you have been socked four times in the stomach, but you are in the South and gentility is the name of the game, especially with the elderly. “That’s good you think about your grandchildren so much,” you say, and then escape to help prepare the homemade peach ice cream.

Act 2: Jokes Aren’t Jokes

Your second cousin who says Obama is a terrorist brings his girlfriend, who is two years younger than him at fifteen and, apparently reading the room, opens with a joke about crossdressers. When a group of you sit under a tree and you say “Her shade is beautiful,” she pushes up her glasses, tucks her hair behind her ear, and responds sardonically: “Did you just assume the tree’s gender? Triggered.” She hits her boyfriend, on his side, on his back, with her phone case. He slaps her plate out of her hand in the line for cornbread. They laugh. You wince. They’re young, yes, but already raising hands to each other. You wish you could talk to your supervisors. You wish you could say something. You wish, you wish, you wish.

Act 3: Shape Your Present

One of the child brigade, muddy-legged and sprinting around like a sweet Southern cliché, is pushed by her sister and calls her r*t*rded. You speak sharply without a beat, and she looks at you wide-eyed. No one has ever told her this word could be wrong, or hurtful. Your heart aches for all the autistic kids, all the kids with learning disabilities or growth disabilities that you interacted with this summer, and how easily you know she could brand this slur upon them. You, being twenty to her ten, take on that mythical mixture of cool teen and authoritative adult, and being told off by you brings her stinging shame. “I’m sorry,” she says, eyes cast downward. All you can do is hope she will think about this again in the future.

You miss Moxie. You miss it, and you keep starting when you realize where you are, not at work and not in the city and not reading feminist theory every single day. But all of this has given you strength, if only to get through the reunion. You are full of ineffable little gratitudes. You hope those that they are meant for understand, somehow.

Exeunt.

Why you mad?

I am an optimist. Really I am. But one week into the outside-of-moxie world and I feel I’m always frustrated by the world around me and sadly lacking 7 other people to discuss it with.

This weekend I was celebrating with a friend for her 21st birthday in New Orleans. It was my first time in this city — the city’s divisions were physically clear. In certain parts of town, residential buildings were dilapidated and unused. But the famous Canal St. was well lit and full of expensive shops and restaurants, Bourbon St. showed almost no sign of having ever been submerged under several feet of water.

I wonder if I’d visited NO a few years ago if I would have been as shaken by the calls in clubs for “sexy ladies” to come up on stage? A man in every establishment with some form of amplification announcing that men please “not touch the ladies on stage, but buy em a drink first!” Ah yes, I thought, another example of capitalism perpetuating rape culture. Selling drinks and women’s bodies along with em! The message was sent loud and clear.

All along the famed Bourbon street, men on balconies above shout and jeer at women below, asking them to perform in some way to earn a string of beads being thrown down at them. Some skip this part altogether, and elect to get a woman’s attention by simply throwing the necklaces at her.

One bar describes the possible “side effects” for the number of signature drinks one consumes. At 4 drinks it reads, “chicks may be inclined to show their tits. I spent most of the weekend contemplating the state of our society as I saw women’s bodies used as advertisements, incentives to purchase drinks, and rewards for paying cover charges.

None of this is unique to New Orleans, of course. I’ve found myself being similarly critical of some parties at Duke, and even in certain places in New York.

In all of these formerly “fun” settings, I am disgusted by things I once saw as normal, and terrified by words and acts I may once have been flattered by. This is a result of my own growth over three years of undergraduate classes and experiences. But for my new habit of making connections between things I’ve read and things I experience from day-to-day, and my tendency to spend time thinking about systems of power and effects of marginalization on people – I have Moxie to thank. As burdensome as it can be to take issue with several things I hear or experience almost every day, it is also a blessing. I can’t speak to the lives and intentions of all of the people around me, but I can speak to my own journey. And knowing how far I’ve come in terms of developing worldview that doesn’t simply accept things as they are makes me all the more grateful to have had such an amazing summer program.

I hope I don’t lose my new habits. I hope I’m getting closer every day to being a true radical – someone who can affect real change. And most of all, I hope I never stop being pissed off at the world. This angry black woman hopes she stays that way.

21597-mad

 

It’s getting REAL

This past Saturday, a reminder popped up on my iPhone to alert me of my flight in one week. I am only THREE DAYS away, from returning home to my real life, and only ONE MONTH away, from returning to the Duke Bubble.

Wait, what?

I find it so funny that I came to New York and into our program, thinking that this would be entry into the “real world.” I wouldn’t have a resident assistant down the hall or my parents hovering over my every move. I wouldn’t be just taking classes, but I would be working a full-time job, not to mention a full-time job in the Big Apple, quite possibly the busiest city I’ve ever stepped foot in in my entire life. I would be cooking, cleaning, budgeting, all for myself—sort of a simulated adulthood, right?

Not going to lie, it was a lot at first.

We. Were. Busy.

But in reality, this city, this experience, this job, this group, has all been somewhat of a fantasy. When will I ever again be living in close quarters with 8 other super-woke, bad-ass women? Over the course of two months, I’ve had deep-dive conversations and revelations with these gals surrounding topics that would never have previously been mentioned in any conversation I was a part of. I’ve gotten accustomed to being so disconnected from the normal Duke environment, or my normal home environment—the people I will be surrounded by for the majority of my next 3 years, my “real world.

Now, us Moxies will have to re-enter these communities, and for me, I’m not sure how I will be able to navigate them. I have an abundance of new knowledge and perspectives, and I’m more anxious now to leave than I ever was when I came here. I’m not sure how I’ll be able to have these conversations with other people, who may be close-minded and sometimes, ignorant; how I will be able to overcome this struggle when those people are my friends and especially, in the case of my family. Then, load on top of this my academics and my extracurriculars, and the other formalities of being a “Duke student,” I don’t know how to feel about returning to my “real world.”

Reflecting altogether on this experience, I am so extremely thankful for what Moxie has given me, because I do not believe I would have had this chance at any time in my official, Duke career. Yet, I feel that my Moxie toolbox will make it difficult for me to re-integrate into my past environments of comfort and for me to accept the horrors that plague our country and our world today. What does this mean for my academics, what does this mean for my career, what does this mean for the path I choose in life, and the people I choose to spend it with? What do I really want to accomplish in my life?

But, maybe that’s the point…

Sweetest Goodbye

I hate packing. Not that I’ve started literally at all yet, it’s just mentally exhausting even knowing it’s something I’m going to have to do soon.

mickey mouse packing

Parting is such sweet sorrow. I can already feel myself documenting little “lasts” here and there – trying desperately to check the last few things off of my checklist and constantly reminding myself  that “I’ll be back.” The logical and emotional reminders compete for my attention. What thank you gift to get my supervisor? Who haven’t I seen for the last time without a proper goodbye? How many loads of laundry left? How many more happy moments of laughter amongst the Moxies until suddenly I’m back to life at Duke and they’re just a fond memory.

I’m desperately trying to make myself as useful as possible this last week at work – but I can’t help feeling I haven’t done quite enough. How distant the feeling of knowing I could’ve put more effort into a school assignment is from knowing the difficulties of the people I’ve met and worked with at BFDP will continue, for many, long after I’m gone.

A recurring topic throughout the Moxie Project has been comparing ideas of structural change to the symptom-treating “solutions” that are currently in place. At BFDP, structural change is a constant focus. I get to listen and watch lawyers put out little fire after little fire, helping clients who without forewarning are transferred from one shelter to another, who put up with levels of disrespect and distrust from any authority figure they come into contact with, and are expected to be the perfect parent after being forced to live without their children for months or even years. I realize how lucky I’ve been to work at a place so full of collaboration, kindness, and overwhelming amounts of compassion for others.

Even in the midst of doing this exhausting work, I still see lawyers writing legislation that might give more parents a fair shake a second chance. I see social workers planning and attending special events after work and on the weekends that will support and encourage the parents we serve. It’s a place where a very technical training on housing becomes an impassioned rant about how regularly the poor are mistrusted and mistreated by the unfair bureaucracy that runs the city of New York.

poverty-is-not-a-crime

Looking back on what I expected out of my summer work, I know I hoped my internship experience would be formative, give me a glimpse into a future I might hope obtain, and help me make connections with people I could relate to.

Formative? ✓

Cool future? ✓✓✓

Folks I can relate to? …

I don’t know about that one. Some days I feel like I work in an office full of superheroes, and I’m just the stand-aside sidekick they allow to do some of the filing. Other days I’m given projects that make me want to ask: “Do these people know I’m just an undergrad with limited real world job experience? Do they really trust me to do this right? ” But they have trusted me, and they continue to. And from my perspective, if even one of the people at my job has ever appreciated anything I’ve done, if I’ve been useful to them in any way, I can rest easy. And maybe, if I work hard enough and let my experiences here continue to motivate me, one day I’ll be able to do something as great as what they do (both individually and as a unit) every single day.

side kick~

It’s hard to walk into a place I’ve come to appreciate so much every morning with the knowledge that my hours are very quickly winding down. I’m already missing my life in New York before I’ve even left. But in a way, I’m grateful even for the end. When you’re confronted by the fact that what you see in front of you is a temporary view, you’re able to appreciate it that much more.

i don't want to go

As I pack my bags (and boxes, I have 2 much stuff), I’m making sure I pack away little impressions of this place – what it’s like to work among these people in this office and how grateful I’m going to be to have ever been a part of this.