Apr 252012
 

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There is a picture in my mother’s house.  My four-year-old self stares out of it with so much confidence. She is sure. Left hand planted on hip. Right hand gripping a bright white parasol, trimmed in lace. Right leg tossed over left so comfortably. Even then my legs were long, in this picture they are covered in white tights and tipped in one of many pairs of patent leather Mary Janes. She wears this smile that says, “Just watch me.”

Four-year-old me was a powerful force, and as I grew older I suspected that it scared some people.

I have vivid memories of that moment of fear in people’s eyes. Perhaps from family members who wanted to keep me safe and unharmed; who worried about what a smart mouthed little black girl would reap. I remember the stare of the nun I questioned in second grade. In my small southern town, I was one of less then a dozen children of color in the entire school. I was different and lonely. I wondered why Catholicism was so different from the church I went to three days a week. She didn’t answer my question, she wanted me to be quiet.  Eventually I was quiet.  I was quiet when kids teased me about being spoiled and rich and yellow. I was quiet when my white classmate told me that I couldn’t play with her because I was a nigger. I walked away. Said I didn’t want to play with her anyway.

But it wasn’t true. I did want to play, and I was tired of being different. When I was ten years old I begged to go to public school.  Once there, I made sure to keep my grades at an appropriate level to avoid my parent’s harassment–but not get too much praise or recognition. I worked on blending in quietly. It was a tricky tightrope. But I learned to walk it and sought peace in the silence.

I left for college, found a community where it felt safe to be me, and then delicately began the task of figuring out just what that meant. I was surprised to find that it was hard to find the voice I’d hidden from myself years before.  Years later, I could say that I had cultivated what seven year old me wanted desperately. A community of peers, powerful women of color, who accepted me for whatever it is that I happen to be.

However, ten years later, believing that I was still afraid of scaring others, I realized that I was afraid of truly wielding my own power. As I worked to create a more just world for others, I allowed myself to be silenced. When colleagues ignored my opinions, I stopped sharing them. I even silenced myself–but there was no more peace in the silence.

Today, I am reclaiming that power that my four-year-old self so effortlessly wielded. I find it in glimpses. For me standing in my power is about seeking and finding those glimpses. Sometimes it is easier than others. A new pair of Mary Janes still helps.  The beautiful brilliant sister friends are certainly helpful, too. In the end it is–much like everything else worth doing–a choice. A choice to speak loudly even when I know that others would prefer my silence.  A choice to make uncomfortable decisions, because I know that they are the right ones for me. Because I know that they will help me serve myself, and in turn, my community and in turn the world.

My absolute highest hope for the Standing In Our Power Network is that it would be a place to BE with other powerful women. It would be an encouragement to make the choices we know are right even when they are hard. I hope this network will help create a world where little girls stay loud–a world where we hold tight to our parasols and maybe even our smiles as we defy those who wish for our silence.

Allison Conyers is currently an organizational consultant who lives in Washington, DC.  She has a special passion for implementing strategic campaigns to empower marginalized communities and change policy.  Recently, Allison lead communications efforts at the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth and the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association.  In those positions she developed comprehensive message frameworks and developed and facilitated trainings for hundreds of health care providers, attorneys, advocates and others across the country.

The immediate past board chair of the Progressive Communicators Network, Allison was one of the founding members of its Katrina Information Network in 2005, when she served as the Communications Coordinator for National ACORN–the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

A former journalist, Allison received a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Journalism with a concentration in Public Relations from Howard University in 2003 and obtained a Master of Science in Organization Development in American University’s NTL program in 2011

 

  4 Responses to “Reclaiming My Power – by Allison Conyers”

  1. Your story reminds me of the strike of women workers who demanded “bread AND roses.” We want to take our rightful place of wisdom and leadership, AND we want to have our parasols and Mary Janes! It’s not a contradiction to women.

    Our silencing ourselves is scary; I saw it in my granddaughter, who was a feisty 4 year old, and then became so silent and withdrawn when she became a teen no matter what I did to try to help her remember her real self. Women of color are doubly pressured to be silent, since the voices of women and of any people of color are often deemed unworthy, and you describe well how you learned it was wiser to be silent. I hope Standing in Our Power will help create the conditions where girls of color will be able to remain powerful without skipping a beat.

    • Thanks so much for your comment! Yes, the lesson that I was constraining myself was such a hard one, it was much easier to point fingers at others. What’s really exciting to me is that each of us can choose to be our true powerful selves, I also hope that this network will help create conditions that support that.

  2. That was a wonderful self-reflection. I must share with you that I too reflect on my younger self and believe that those ideas, dreams, hopes, and fears of the me then are very powerful and relevant to the me of late. It is funny how we so easily turn over power to outsiders. Luckily, though we are cherishing the power within more each day.

  3. Al, this was just what I needed to read. I pictured you, pictured me, and other little girls who “figured out” how to manage and not stir up too much trouble for themselves.
    Beautifully written and applicable to many, some who don’t want to admit they’ve become silent. How empowering and frightening to think about who we are and the power we possess. Once you acknowledge it you have to do something with it, right?
    I’m sure younger Allison would be cheering you on with a telling smile.
    And as I continue on my path, I believe younger Aliya would be picking out my brightest, most pattern-confused “go get ’em” outfit with a dance on the side. Go us!
    I’m so proud of you and I love you.

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