Multicultural Graduation 2017

As always, things are wild in my life right now—I had a super busy week, presented a poster at my university’s Undergraduate Research Symposium, and then got horribly ill and missed almost an entire week of classes. More about that in my upcoming June GHDR Review Post, though; this post is about something else that happened in among all of that.

So, at the recommendation of a friend, I was invited to apply to be a student speaker for this year’s PSU Multicultural Graduation. The theme of this year’s graduation event is From Resilience to Revolution, something I definitely feel qualified to speak on. I wrote a speech, recorded myself reading it, and sent in the application, but in the end I wasn’t chosen. The student who was chosen is a brilliant young man doing very important research, and I am as excited for him as I am disappointed not to be chosen. But I decided to share the speech I would have given with all of you. So, without further ado, here it is:

 

I’d like to start by reading a poem I wrote in honor of my mother.

Forever Rising

Work-weary women
stand in the doorways
of sleeping children’s bedrooms
        watching
smiles faint on their lips
pride-full and wondering
    I made this
    with my bare hands
    I cradled this life into being
ain’t that a heck of a thing?

See, our mamas taught us well
these single women working
for our best possible future
        always
looking to tomorrow
where there may yet be nourishment
    bread for hungry mouths
    books for hungry minds
    labour transformed by love
to sustain life.

And we came up
protected by ancestors
these warrior women’s work
        & sacrifice
paved our way towards freedom
so now we come to a place
where we must also take up
this precious mantle
    the latest generation
    preparing to push the next
    towards the mountaintop.

Hello, my name is Tessara Dudley, I am so grateful to be speaking to you tonight. And I want to say this: we made it; because of our parents, our aunties and uncles, our friends, cousins, partners, mentors, our own indomitable spirits, we are here. Tonight, we stand at the end of one road, preparing to embark on a whole new journey. Some of us, myself included, never thought we would reach this moment. This place, this institution, was not meant for us, but we have taken it and made it ours. We have carved out this beautiful space, together. We are making room for justice through our very presence.

For some of us, it’s been a hard road. We’ve been challenged, not by new knowledge and robust intellectual debate, but by the pressures of systemic discrimination and inequity. Some of us have faced microaggressions, struggled to feed ourselves and our families, or experienced loss of health and happiness. It has taken hard work, but we are here celebrating together. Our ability to find and build community is among our greatest strengths.

2 years ago, I didn’t know if I would make it to graduation. After the police violence in Ferguson, I stressed myself sick, swinging between 3 and 13 hours of sleep a night, going and going until I couldn’t anymore. My professors were very understanding, and I got through fall term with Bs, but I spent a month seriously thinking of dropping out. I kept hearing the criticism of academics and academia: we’re too isolated, we don’t do anything to make our communities better, our work isn’t connected to the “real” world. As I saw images of children and disabled people being tear-gassed, it became harder and harder to feel like my work here mattered. I had a deep internal crisis that year. Two things kept me going: the love of my family and friends, and the amazing, affirming support of my professors. Without my professors in Black Studies and the advocacy of the Disability Resource Center, I wouldn’t be on this stage today and, again, I’m so thankful for the collective work that has gotten me here.

Together, we have persevered, and we are not conquered. But is survival enough? What of those who could not be here tonight to cross this stage and be honored by this loving community? What of those who follow us? We are resilient, but there’s more to life than pushing through adversity. How do we build on the work of those who came before us? How do we push our communities into creating a truly equitable society? How do we live our authentic truths in a world that tells people who look like us they have no worth?

We have built a vibrant, inclusive community, but we need to keep pressing outward. There are so many people who want to be here and are prevented by institutional barriers. Racism, gender bias, disablism, classism, documentation requirements, and other barriers keep out students who could benefit from post-secondary education, students who could use that education to benefit their communities, and whose experiences and perspectives would greatly benefit this university. Instead of scarcity, we can adopt an attitude of abundance: our accomplishments are not diminished by the expansion of this space, but are instead enhanced.

If I had left back in 2014, I know I wouldn’t be on the path I’m on now. I wouldn’t have been able to take the history class that busted my world open, and I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to spend a wonderful semester at the University of Ghana, and I wouldn’t have been chosen for this year’s McNair Scholar cohort. I wouldn’t now be preparing to go to grad school, or following my dream of becoming a teacher and researcher. Without the strength and courage I found through this community, I wouldn’t be whole.

No matter where we go after this night, it is time to take this same spirit into our workplaces, our community organizations, and our future academic departments. Wherever we go, we can bring revolutionary insight and bold action. We can press the edges further and further outwards. We can enlarge the circle to make room for the voices being left out.

To revolutionize the world, we cannot let fear stand in our way. Change is hard, and sometimes it’s scary, but as Audre Lorde said, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” Being afraid and doing what must be done anyway is the bravest act of all.

None of us are free until we are all free. Our communities are not whole until we all are present, able to be our whole selves and build the future together.

Thank you.

Fewer Days Left Than Past: Mid-Trip Musings

I’ve been feeling a little melancholy this weekend. It’s a combination of things like feeling as though I’m a boring person for not going out and travelling around Ghana more, worrying that I might be missing out on a lot of fun of travelling by focusing on studying, worrying about how little time is left in the semester, and feeling shamed by dudes here regarding my reticence to befriend men. That last is one I’m fighting with myself over: the way some of the guys have treated me is actually not okay, and they’re not entitled to my friendship or time. Still, I feel like I’m being rude or something. A guy flagged me down to chat the other day, and asked for my room number (but not my name, which is kind of rude). He said he saw me and liked my personality (which is just ????) so he wanted to be my friend — which is the exact same way a few other guys have approached me, and definitely does not make me want to be friends with them. One of the guys who cleans the hostel here has more than once tried to talk me into buying him food (order me, actually), despite the fact that we rarely talk much and don’t really know each other. Plus, there are a couple guys who’ve straight up proposed to me within minutes of meeting me. Some people have told me this is a joke, and some people have told me that it’s not, that they actually hope to marry an American for citizenship. Honestly, these dudes are exhausting me, and making me want to stay in my room.

I actually feel guilty for spending so much time alone in my room, which is probably pretty irrational — it’s my right to do what I want with my time. I just can’t shake the feeling that I’m “wasting” this opportunity. Many of the other students arrange trips every weekend and go out every other night, and — even though trying to do homework on trips stresses me out and I don’t actually really like drinking or hanging out at bars — I feel like that’s something I should be doing to get “the most” out of my time here. (Now that I’ve written that out, it actually sounds even sillier than it does in my head.) I’m enjoying my time here, and I have made  friends with some Ghanaian students and with some women who work in the Night Market and one of my TAs. I’ve learned how to navigate an entirely different university, and I’ve been on tours, and gone to beaches, and those experiences aren’t less valuable for having been planned by my study abroad program.

I do wish I could stay, though. There’s so much I’d like to see, but I don’t have time to do it, since I have classes and homework. I’d love to go back to Kakum National Park to just sit in the forest for a while. I’d love to go to the Volta region and visit the falls there. I’d love to tour the palace and explore Kumasi. I just don’t have the time (or money, frankly) to do it. There’s one month until final exams start, and then I’m going back to the US. If I had more money, I’d stay 2 extra weeks here, after the semester ends. I will come back some day, though, and do all the things I wish I could do now.

Another reason I wish I could stay has to do with my health. Studies indicate that discrimination can strongly impact physical and mental health. Fibromyalgia is exacerbated by stress, leading to a rise in symptoms; this is why a lot of medical advice for treating fibro boils down to stress management. While living in Oregon, I find that periods of less stress lead to reduced symptoms, but I still need to keep my cane with me, as well as carrying “the kit” — a bag of health management tools for controlling fibromyalgia and diabetes symptoms. I can walk longer without getting tired, and I use my cane occasionally to help with my balance. Exposure to chemical scents, too much loud noise, a stressful event, or another trigger can render me unable to function within 20 minutes. During last fall term, I didn’t use my cane for the first two weeks of class, but soon found myself experiencing greater stress and needing to use my cane every day. In contrast, within 3 weeks of landing in Ghana, I stopped needing my cane at all. In fact, during the last 2 months (September and October), I can only recall needing my cane 4 days, even though I have had serious trouble finding scentless hand soap, and frequently encounter people wearing a lot of perfume. Living here the last 2 months has been almost like not having fibromyalgia; I would be lying if I said that wasn’t a nice feeling. In light of this, I’m honestly a little afraid of returning. I miss my friends and family, but at the same time I’m scared of going back to being in that much pain, being that tired, all the time.

Still, I have to go back to finish my degree and graduate. I know I have a beautiful, giving, loving community waiting for me, that I have friends and family who care for me and will listen to me rant and cry and reminisce and so much more, who will give me hugs and feed me and remind me that I have good things in my life back in the US. I can come back some day, and I can visit other places. I can go on with my life, and I will.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my time here, even if it’s mostly spent at my dorm, in my room: studying, reading, and recharging.

 

 

P.S.: I feel super self-conscious about always asking for money, but I still need to raise funds to cover school costs, food, and toiletries. Please donate to my Crowdrise, if you can, and share the link on social media to help me cover the next month and a half here in Ghana.

Other ways to support my semester abroad: CrowdriseZazzleBookSpoken Word AlbumPatreon

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Groundhog Day 2015 Resolutions: October Check-In

I’m taking 16 credits this term, and the classes are all brilliant, but the workload’s a bit much already. Then, I spent several days helping a friend in crisis, and struggling to both make time to study and support my friend. On top of that, I got a cold last weekend! But I’m keeping on as best I can. I’m trying to stay up on my schoolwork, since I’m in Seattle for the Social Justice Fund dinner; I’m representing Black Lives Matter Portland, as we’re a recent grantee of the organization. Trying to take care of myself and manage my stress, which is the thing I seem to struggle the most with…

(This month’s Groundhog Day Resolution Review is below the cut.)

Continue reading “Groundhog Day 2015 Resolutions: October Check-In”