During the course of my law school application process in my senior year of undergrad, the interviewer at a top-tiered law program asked, “If you could identify one song as the soundtrack of your life, what would it be?”
I’m a survivor
I’m not gon’ give up
I’m not gon’ stop
I’m gon’ work harder
I’m gonna make it
I will survive
Beyonce’s track “Survivor” immediately came to mind. But I didn’t dare respond that way. In part because I was a serious law school applicant and scholar completing a degree in philosophy and I didn’t want to admit that I so closely associated with a Beyonce track. But mostly because I didn’t want to invite a follow up question about exactly what I had survived—pretty much everything!
- Father killed before I was 11
- Drug addicted parent
- High school dropout
- Gang banging
- Childhood sexual abuse
- Domestic violence
- Low self-esteem
- Teen pregnancy
If I had actually taken the time to think about it, I would have responded, “Survivor” with pride. There I was having survived all of that and living to sit in the space of a top-tiered law school program as a viable candidate. In that case, and in many others, I censored myself. Withheld some, or all, of my journey for fear of being judged. If you followed my blog a few years ago, you know that I shared considerably more personal information than I have here at my current address (ericathurman.com). It was a conscious decision made in part by the fact that I worked for other organizations or, at various times, was in the job market and that I have considered running for elected office at some point in my future. I wanted to be careful about what I put out there. A Google search immediately provides potential interviewers with information that would be illegal to ask during the interview process. Simply put, my business is all up and through these Internet streets and the more personal I am in this space, the more vulnerable I am in every space.
So I tried to maintain a balance but lately, as I’ve discussed issues of domestic violence and sexual assault, I’ve experienced a dissonance of sorts. I don’t write about Black women from a distance and it is equally illogical for me to continue writing about sexual assault/domestic violence survivors, teen mothers and single mothers from a distance.
This space of writing so publicly can at times be draining, overwhelming even. I’ve tried on many occasions to stop writing publicly and to give up performing spoken word. Without fail, the moment I make that decision, a young woman approaches me to say that my words captured her own experience, that my refusal to feel shame about being abused gives her permission to release herself from self-blame, that my words gave her the courage to finally talk about her own experiences. Even when I’m discouraged about the lack of discussion (via comments) on many posts, the emails come privately. So my purpose is clear. It’s the politics of writing that I struggle with. When I hold back in this space, I miss the opportunity to impact girls and young women.
In continuing to write, I have to make a choice. Am I going to continue censoring myself or am I going to write for my audience—the very reasons I survived all of that? I write for the young girls and women whose journeys so closely mirror mine in hopes of eradicating harm to future generations of girls. If that means that one day a potential employer/contractor will examine my words/journey and opt not to hire me, it’s a chance I’m willing to take. On many occasions my mentors have reiterated that it’s not about me. It’s about a counter narrative, an alternative to the narrative that says little Black girls who share my experiences are destined to become statistics. I’m a survivor.
This God given talent blessed me
With the ability to heal myself
So I’ll put pad to pen every time my spirit bleeds
If these are the last days
Consider this my last deed
My final act of giving
Because I’m living every word my mouth speaks
But if this piece contributes to someone else’s peace
Lord, please don’t take this pain away from me