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The Wholistic Picture: Power or Not?
It's About Finding the Truth and Purpose of Your Life

By Sue Saltmarsh

November/December 2005

Sue Saltmarsh
In a recent article pointed out to me by my bright colleague, Keith Green, Phill Wilson (see article in this issue) writes, "We are each responsible for keeping ourselves healthy, for keeping our communities engaged and for keeping our leaders vigilant. We may not know much about this epidemic, but we know this: If we all demand accountability of ourselves, we can make a change."

Which brings me to the issue of Power and, especially, in keeping with the theme of this issue, power for people of color. Before any of you look up to the corner of the page and think, "Huh, she looks pretty damn White to me -- wonder what she thinks she's talking about," let me just own that I've asked myself that question more than once. What business is it of mine? I would like to think it's my business the way it was John Kennedy's business to validate and support the fight of Martin Luther King Jr. and all those who fought for civil rights. I am human and so it is my business to see to the welfare of those of my species, regardless of their color or their language or the country of their origin.

That said, my years of working in the HIV/AIDS community have left me occasionally feeling a bit hopeless. Though Righties like to identify sinful and/or illegal behavior as the cause for the rampant spread of this disease in minority communities, it seems more insidious than that to me.

It seems to start at a basic, foundational lack of Self. Too often Power is identified as wealth, violence, the ability to get what you want no matter who gets hurt. Role models like Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Rae Lewis-Thornton, Barack Obama, Nancy Shearer, Alondra de la Parra, Luis Gutierrez, Chrystos, Leonard Peltier and Ronald Rowell are eclipsed by the immediacy of the thugs on the corner who threaten the safety and security of everyone in their scope, by the abject poverty, by drug and alcohol abuse.

But I am wondering how the communities of color that I see and interact with can begin to turn back the tsunami wave of hundreds of years of negative messaging and how and why did they accept it to begin with?

As much as I'd like to, and as much as I try to accomplish this through my work, I can't just say, "Come on! Feel good about yourself! Have some dignity and self-respect! Make choices that defeat negative expectations instead of proving them right!"

In order to do that, to make that kind of sea change in your life, you have to find and use your true Power. This kind of Power has nothing to do with money, race, religion, where you live or who you know. It's about finding the Truth and Purpose of your life and standing by that Truth and Purpose no matter what the challenge. It's not about begging for handouts or seeing how much you can get for free or asking God to save your ass. It's about looking at yourself with no illusion and recognizing that, yeah, you may have made some mistakes and you may have been hurt and you may not have the money, food and shelter of the next guy, but the only one who's responsible for changing that is you.

It's about saying, "No," not only to the people and circumstances that would keep you in the victim mentality, but also to those in your family, your church, your prison, your school, your 'hood/barrio/reservation who tell you there's no use, that you're not worth shit and you never will be, that you better just get drunk or high and forget about the rest. It's about listening to Senator Obama -- not just what he says but how he says it -- reading the poetry of Maya Angelou, hearing the symphony that Alondra de la Parra is conducting, and seeing that they all said no to the forces of limitation, discrimination and degradation. It's about not just reading and understanding, but also feeling the power of MLK saying, "Above all else, we must retain our dignity." All those people have found their Power and have decided to shine their light bright and strong so we can be inspired by it. Rae Lewis-Thornton, Nancy Shearer and Ronald Rowell are bright stars for us to follow in the fight against AIDS. Not only have they struggled with racism and discrimination, but they've done it while also being on the front line of the AIDS war.

As much as I resist it, it seems like the bottom line here is a matter of personal choice. When someone tells you you are worthless or powerless or going to Hell, you must choose whether to accept that or to dispute it or, even better, prove it wrong. Of course that is a gross simplification, but why not start from that simplicity?

As we gather together in support groups and clinics and political meetings, we must be conscious of addressing not just medications, symptoms, new treatments, quality of life issues, program funding, education and prevention, but we must also be thoughtful and aware of not perpetuating the negative. Make a conscious choice not to be truer to what another group may expect you to be than you are to who you really are. And if you don't know who you are, figure out who you aren't and build from there.

Power is an amazing healer, a force of joy and satisfaction, a true Guide to making this life count. In the language of the work I do, it is also rich golden yellow, a color that looks good on us all.


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