What Is Your Guiding Light?

Photo from Flickr

On and off since my breast cancer diagnosis, I have not been sleeping well. When I went on leave to focus on my recovery from surgery, I had more time to focus on making sleep and other basic self-care habits a priority.

After my leave ended, I started radiation and returned to work within a day of each other. Again I had to learn new sleeping patterns as my daily schedule had drastically changed within only a couple days.

Then my radiation ended, and I had to readjust my daily work schedule and relearn new sleeping patterns. It is as if my body does not know how much to rest because it does not know what to expect.

My body sure was jolted by recent stories of Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and most recently Rayshard Brooks.

It has been challenging, but I have been determined to sleep as well as I can. I started sleeping earlier in the evening. That way, if I woke up in the middle of the night, I would have more time to return to sleep. So far, that strategy is working.

I think I slept about seven hours last night. I vaguely remember waking up in the middle of the night, saw that my lamp was turned on, turned it off, and returned to bed. Aside from that interruption, I slept the rest of the night.

For me, that was progress compared to the nights of less sleep that I got before.

I woke up around 4:30am this morning, which was okay since I fell asleep some time between 9:30 and 10:00pm. I checked the time on my phone and went on my social media. I saw this Instagram post by activist and public theologian Christena Cleveland, PhD:

It was a reminder that today, June 17th, is the five year anniversary of the White supremacist massacre of Black congregants in Charleston, SC.

There was no way I was going to return to sleep after reading that.

Christena Cleveland’s post actually reminded me that one of my first blog posts on Unfiltered Snapshot was about that shooting. On June 21, 2015, I wrote Don’t Forget the World Around You. I read this post now. It was meant to be inspiring, but honestly I am frustrated that people, particularly non-Black people (myself included), have the convenience to forget the world around us in matters of anti-Blackness and racial injustice. Here is an excerpt from what I wrote in this old post:

I understand that life may be so busy that it is hard to keep track of every news story locally, nationally, and internationally, but at least try if you aren’t already. Furthermore, paying attention to the world around you doesn’t just include listening to the news. It’s also being mindful of the people in your immediate world–whether they include family members, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, or random people you bump into on the streets.

When I read this, I feel like I should have pushed the call to action further. We are way past the point of “listening to the news” and “being mindful of the people in your immediate world.” We all need to take collective action to dismantle structures of White supremacy in our institutions. In my old post, I also wrote:

If we forget about the world around us for too long, we risk losing our connection to the grand scheme of things. We risk missing out on opportunities to better ourselves and our world.

Now I read this excerpt, and I would argue that the risk is larger than “missing out on opportunities to better ourselves and the world.” That wording sounds so centered on self-improvement when these issues actually transcend personal growth. Yes, personal growth is part of how we improve our world, but we also need systemic change.

If we forget about the world around us for too long, the greatest risk is failing to protect the lives, health, safety, dignity, and human rights of the humans most frequently minoritized, marginalized, and persecuted in our world.

This is why I follow Christena Cleveland on social media. I purposely need to follow people who remind me that the world is bigger than my immediate responsibilities, worries, and goals.

When you inhabit a system that was not designed to care for you, advocating for systemic change is a form of self-care.

As a career coach, I work with individuals on their personal growth and professional development; however, my work is not completely about the individual. I understand that people seeking growth need to analyze their experiences both through individualistic and systemic lenses. The same is true for assessing our lives beyond our careers.

Here is what I notice with this mindset: People who are relatively comfortable and privileged have the choice to ignore the world around them in favor of attaining their personal goals. Do you want to get that job? Get that promotion? Get that degree? Pass that test? You can do it if you focus primarily on that and treat improving the state of our world as an extracurricular activity or hobby.

Minoritized, marginalized, and persecuted people do not have the luxury to treat social justice like an extracurricular activity or hobby. When you inhabit a system that was not designed to care for you, advocating for systemic change is a form of self-care.

This is why I am not surprised that a public theologian like Christena Cleveland has been so vocal about creating safe spaces for Black people. She does not have the privilege that her non-Black peers have to ignore this part of her world. If you follow her career, she has written about racial and other social divides in numerous articles and the award-winning book Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart. Last June, she spoke out against anti-Black racism when resigning from her faculty position at Duke Divinity School.

When I read her open letter last year, I was not surprised that she experienced anti-Black racism, but I still was upset for her. With that said, as a longtime fan of her work, I also was inspired. For various reasons, many people do not make the decision to call out what is toxic, unhealthy, and discriminatory at institutions. As a career coach, I get it: we all need food, shelter, and water. Still Christena Cleveland chose to follow her guiding light. She left a hostile environment at a prestigious institution because none of the prestige in the world was worth sacrificing her commitment to justice, dignity, and liberation.

What is your guiding light? What do you follow? What are you willing to sacrifice in the name of following your guiding light? Considering all of the darkness in the world, now is the time to answer that question and act on your answer.

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