Tag Archives: place

An open letter to my Durham / NC community

Dear friends,

It’s hard to believe that I’ve spent the past five years building a home here in North Carolina. When I first moved here in 2012 to begin graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill, I thought, “2 years, and then I’m headed back to the west coast.” That’s not at all how things worked out. My decision to stay in North Carolina was originally one of practicality and convenience – lower cost of living, more professional connections with which to find my first job out of grad school. But now I believe that there was far more at play. I believe my ancestors were calling me home. “You have work to do here,” they said to me, “and we have work to do on you.”

Moving to North Carolina was the start of my (long overdue) politicization. It was here in North Carolina, and in Durham specifically, that I developed a political and social analysis that was able to deconstruct patterns of oppression. Moving to North Carolina also supported my continued racial identity development. Durham is where I learned that there are all kinds of ways to be Black, and that I have no reason to apologize for my particular flavor of (often bourgie) Blackness, to white folks, or folks of color. Durham is where I turned thirty, battled breast cancer, battled suicidality, grew into the person I am today.

Knowing all of this history, it is hard for me to believe that I am leaving Durham. Soon. At the start of September, my parents and my partner will help me load a U-Haul with all my possessions, and drive 8 hours to my new home in Montgomery, Alabama. I have accepted a job with URGE, Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity, as their Alabama State Organizer. The short explanation is that I am moving to Alabama to be closer to my partner, who lives in Selma. The truer explanation is that I am moving to Alabama for myself. In moving, I am admitting that I desire and need and deserve romantic love, and that I can make choices to prioritize that need and desire, something I have rarely if ever done in my past. It has been an extreme paradigm shift for me, talking with B about building a life together, forming and growing a family together, integrating the communities that make up our constellations of support. Until our relationship began to reveal itself as “the real deal,” I had assumed that I would forge my way through life unpartnered, have a child unpartnered, do my best to live a full and gratifying life, unpartnered. Not that those who are unpartnered are less worthy or less whole or less adult than those who are. Spending 28+ years unpartnered showed me the ways in which our society treats single people as less than, as though they are waiting in some sort of purgatory. In my experience, people don’t know how to categorize or place you when you’re single.  I remind myself regularly that I am no more or less worthy, no more or less whole, no more or less alone, partnered to B than I was before he became a foundational presence in my life. Neither of us subscribe to the “partner as lover and best friend and primary/solitary source of support” mentality. And so in some ways, moving to Alabama is going to be hard work for me, as I seek to build a new community of support, and seek to maintain my ties and bonds to folks here in North Carolina.

In moving, I am also acknowledging my desire for growth and challenges (like, extreme challenges, apparently). For at least a year now,  I have claimed a commitment to the southeastern United States. This is where my people are from. This is where I want to be, and where I believe I belong, even in my areas of difference from the people around me. Within 30 seconds of hearing me talk, people know that I was not raised in the South. Strangers in barber shops have told me that I “look educated” without me even opening my mouth. Fears of being scene as “uppity” plague me in a variety of predominantly Black spaces. I am aware of the ways that I am “other,” even among people of color here in North Carolina. But I have gained a level of security in my sense of self to own it, and laugh it off, knowing who I am and what I’m about and what work I still have left to do.

I see now that my claim of commitment to the southeast was a somewhat shallow one. By southeast, I really meant North Carolina. I would throw a fit anytime I had to drive through South Carolina and actually exit my car, always looking around to make sure I saw at least one other Black person before deciding it was safe to make a stop for gas. This move is an opportunity for me to put my money (what money?) where my mouth is, and make good on my commitment to this region so rich in civil rights and social movement history, this region that has taught me so much about self-love as a Black woman, and what it means to fight for my own liberation, and the collective liberation of us all.

If you had told me five years ago that I would be accepting a job as an organizer, I would have called your bluff. I was very adamantly not an organizer. A facilitator, a trainer, a coordinator, yes, but never an organizer. I think I had it in my head that my introverted self was too reserved to do the work of mobilizing folk, that my bourgie self was too privileged to do the work of empowering marginalized folk without it being paternalistic, that as a young woman who didn’t realize she was Black until age 25 would never be sufficiently politicized or radicalized to take a leadership role in social movements. And yet here I am. I think my understanding of organizing has changed and matured, with much maturing left to do. I see organizing as another means of facilitation, facilitating communication between people who share areas of struggle, facilitating opportunities to build power, training folks as leaders and change agents in their own lives.

I am, in many ways, broken-hearted to leave Durham. In other ways, I am confident that the relationships, intimate and casual, and connections, close and loose, that have sustained me while I’m here in North Carolina will continue to sustain me as I move into this next chapter. What I’m saying is, I need you. Yes, you. To be available for in person visits and long distance phone calls and Skype sessions. To visit me and spend time with me and my partner as I build a new home. To remind me that I am good, that I’ve got this.

What I’m also saying is, I thank you. For all the ways you have invested in me and allowed me to learn from you, the ways in which we’ve learned together. From my process of politicization, to my process of racial identity development, to my expanded understanding of gender and sexuality, to my deep love for doing work with young people, to my process of battling physical and mental health crises, you’ve been there, and you’ve supported me, in large and small ways. I am forever grateful.

Now… let’s do all the fun things before September 2nd.

Much love and solidarity,
Mawiyah