Activism and Its Consequences
By Khafre Abif
July 17, 2012
It has been some time since my last blog entry. I must apologize to those of you who have been following me. The last three months have been the most challenging time I have had in years. I have to share with you all that in November 2009 I decided to follow what I believe my God has purposed for my life. That purpose is to use my professional and personal life story to speak, share, write, educate, advocate full time on the battlefield against the pandemic of HIV/AIDS. For me, what that means is devoting all of my time and attention to Cycle for Freedom, public speaking, writing for The.Body.com, as well as attempting to self-publish Cornbread, Fish and Collard Greens: Prayers, Poems & Affirmation for People Living with HIV/AIDS. All of this has come with great personal sacrifice. My employment is my activism and thus far what has been generated I am grateful for, however it has not allowed for personal sustainability.
When asked what is most difficult about social activism, renowned feminist activist Shelby Knox replied, "That activism has consequences." Knox didn't just mean that activism can be the catalyst for social change, but that it has very real, and sometimes serious, personal costs. Knox referred to activism as a privilege -- one that carries the responsibility of including the voices of others. Like social movements of decades past, those who have the privilege to organize must make sure not to silence or ignore the voices of those without that privilege.
As Knox's role in the promotion of comprehensive sex education became more intense and more public, she worried that her activism might reflect poorly on her father and possibly hurt his business. Her parents, for their part, worried that Knox's activism might adversely affect her academically and socially.
Knox's activism, in other words, not only had public consequences, it affected her relationships with her family and her faith. But Knox was fortunate that she maintained the support of her family throughout. That is a blessing that I can't say is true for me. After my MaDear's passing my sister Raquel has become my biggest cheerleader. I love her dearly for how each time we speak, each email she responds to and each prayer I know she prays for me, "I am lifted."
The very existence of personal consequences is the reason activism is a privilege: not everyone has the ability to engage in activism without putting their jobs, families or personal safety at serious risk.
As with the civil rights and women's rights movements of decades past, the privileges and consequences of activism today are not equally spread throughout the population. Poor women, women of color and single mothers are more likely than white women to face prohibitively serious consequences for engaging in activism. Many barriers result from their proportionally higher poverty rates, low job security and work autonomy and small to nonexistent financial safety nets. Yet, these are precisely the groups most often in need of social advocacy and representation.
There is, therefore, a responsibility that accompanies the privilege of activism. Knox argued, "That those who have the financial and social stability to bear the personal consequences of public activism have a responsibility to those who cannot. The responsibility is to those for whom such consequences are too great a burden to overcome -- those for whom activism may cost them their jobs or their families."
In his famous essay titled "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience," nineteenth century American writer Henry David Thoreau urged citizens to "Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence." Nothing less than liberty and democracy were at stake, Thoreau maintained.
However, when citizens follow Thoreau's advice, using their bodies and voices to confront anti-democratic practices and agents of injustice, they often pay a steep price, while their victory is seldom clear or immediate.
That question should be at the heart of my quest to build a sustainable activist career -- actually, it should be at the heart of your quest to build a happy and productive life. In my opinion, it is a question that every human being should give deep thought to throughout her or his life.
Objectively, it is clear from history that even small changes are meaningful.
On a non-objective, more personal level, the answer to the question of whether your sacrifice was worth it depends on the answer to this one: Who are you? I am asking the question even of myself as I also ask, "How to make it through the night." I know that my God is faithful, God would not let me be tested beyond my strength, but with the testing God will provide the way out so that I may be able to endure it. Even while am pressing through this dark night of the soul as the density of the external world presses against me, presses against my very core and all I want to know is how to make it through the night. There have been times in these last six months that I have gone so far as to think that the spiritual path I have been following just isn't working and maybe this thing called God isn't real after all. However, as many other saints will speak to, these experiences will bring you to your knees to reveal the power of God. These tests are the gift to the soul that will allow me to continue to walk toward spiritual liberation.
The significant gains of the civil rights movement were won by people, not processes. Against incredible odds--and often at great risk--the thousands of activists in the modern freedom struggle won victories that touched their own lives as well as those of their neighbors and future generations.
Thus far the price I am paying is silence from family, friends, other who say they are in this fight. The price of often standing alone and pressing forward on the campaign's which are my life, self doubt and the last six months homelessness. I recently exhibited at the two-day Juneteenth Wholistic Health and Natural Hair Expo. I was scheduled to provide a workshop on both days. Not one person came to the workshop either day. As I was returning to the exhibit hall I began to cry. A woman who I met the day before saw and asked what was going on. I shared that I don't know why all the silence. She said to me, that GOD has me covered. She reminded me that what I believe is that every struggle that I am going through is only to give my GOD the glory on the other side of completion. She reminded me of what my MaDear shared with me before she transitioned: "What God has purposed for your life is not about you. It is about those people who will be affected by your story and your work." MaDear believed that things like this don't happen in the natural, but in the supernatural.
The question is this: Will I hold GOD's hand, look the fear of criticism in the eye, continue to step out in faith and live out my God-given purpose for the sake of others and for Christ? The answer is, YES I will.
Khafre K. Abif, AIDS activist, has been thriving with HIV for more than 20 years and is a father of two teenage boys. Khafre is the Founder/Executive Director of Cycle for Freedom. Khafre is one of five men in the inaugural class of The HEALTH (Health Executive Approaches to Leadership and Training in HIV) Seminar Program developed by My Brother's Keeper, Inc. He has also served as the Community Co-Chair for the New Jersey HIV Prevention Community Planning Group. As a librarian in his first career, Khafre was the first recipient of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA)'s Dr. John C. Tyson Emerging Leader Award. Forthcoming books include Raising Kazembe and Cornbread, Fish & Collard Greens: Prayers, Poems and Affirmation for People Living with HIV/AIDS.
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March 9, 2015 - My Sister, My Sister: A Blog Entry by Khafre Abif
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