In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., people are dedicating the holiday weekend to volunteering their time, giving attention to pressing issues through forums and public discussions, and reflecting on a vision of equality and dignity that we are still trying to achieve as a nation. (Not even the current president of the united states can fully understand, grasp, or put into action what it means have love and respect for all people. Nonetheless…)
January 15th is a national day of service and love. It also happens to be my very own Independence Day. It was literally the day I became the most powerful woman I knew.
Two years ago, I decided to walk away from a lifestyle of constant striving, which consisted of a daily habit of looking for the next self-serving thing (i.e. acceptance of my creative/academic work, promotion and tenure…).
It was the day I realized I had spent many years of my life focusing on my reputation in the field. I was proverbially being “crunched into other peoples’ fantasies of me”. Fantasies included but were certainly not limited to: professor, theatre scholar, and blackademic. Not only was I being “crunched”, as Audre Lorde put it, I was also presenting myself as a sweet and compliant piece of fruit– allowing people to devour me to my core. I was being “eaten alive”.
I remember bringing in the new year in Charleston, South Carolina, and realizing after completing my vision board how badly I wanted out of that self-serving, sunken place. Lauryn Hill describes this need to get out as “the freedom to create and live without someone threatening, controlling, and or manipulating the art and the artist.”
So, on January 15, 2016, I fully came to myself. For the first time in my life, I discovered an independence. The freedom that came with the decision to climb down from what I felt, in my heart, to be an oppressive artistic and professional ladder, is a feeling that continues to empower me.
I no longer feel anxiety when entering a classroom nor do I feel tethered by competition when I walk into a meeting or any room filled with other professionals/creatives.
Achieving this level of independence required a huge sacrifice. And even though I still find myself in sacrificial mode two years later, I remain ecstatic for my freedom and discernment.
I remember being asked, “Did you have to quit though?” …It’s a good question. Could I have achieved this level of independence and tenure at the same time? Why couldn’t I have both? The answer: “War in the Mind (Freedom Time)”.
In the words of Ms. Hill, “Get free! Be who you’re supposed to be!” And remember:
“When we seek to give and serve rather than to acquire, we become more free, more alive and more joy-filled persons.” (Beliefnet.com)
When you make a decision to take a leap from the most popular and prestigious pursuits and discover servant leadership; you tap into an inclusive and radical humanity. A kind of spirit you see in amazing human beings like Dr. King, who once said:
“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve…You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’ve grown a lot and I’ve learned some valuable lessons throughout this freedom journey. The most important lesson: Know when someone is shaping you into who they want you to be. They may go about it kindly, lovingly, and with great intentions, but stay sharp-sighted. Practice discernment. Be true to yourself.
Clinnesha D. Sibley is an award-winning playwright and published poet/essayist. She is the Literary Arts Instructor at Mississippi School of the Arts in Brookhaven, MS. For more information, please visit: http://onepagerapp.com/clinneshadsibley.