For much of my childhood, the apartment complex I grew up in was my world. From the outside, its reddish brick exterior was lackluster. Plain even. But to walk beyond that exterior was to find yourself in a world immersed in the kind of lush greenery Louisiana is known for. Sidewalks slicing between buildings and outlining green space where 100-year-old oak trees grew tall and wide near 50-year-old magnolias, both surrounded by the homes that had been carefully raised around them. Each building was like the last. The entire community uniform, well kept and continuing its relationship cohabitating with the nature between the reddish brick walls.
There were some paths, however, that told a slightly different story. One where the roots of the trees that made up this garden-like fantasy had come to disturb the constructed environment it was only meant to accentuate. Where concrete sidewalks bubbled up, and in some cases ruptured completely from tree roots that refused to remain hidden beneath a surface and demanded space, life, freedom.
Like most of us, I started this year thinking I had time to wait for the perfect moment.
After 10 years in Baton Rouge, I hit the interstate — a passenger seat covered in travel snacks and a U-Haul trailer hitched to my car. It hit me, “I’m actually doing this.” Over just two days, I was driving 1,600 miles away from the only place I’d ever called home. Leaving my family and all of the comfort that came with them. Taking the biggest risk I’d ever taken. Making the biggest bet I’d ever made on myself. And the further I drove the more my fear turned into excitement. Why? Because like the roots of the trees that slowly broke free of the sidewalks around my childhood home, I needed to grow.
After graduating from college I stayed in Baton Rouge because it was what I knew. I’d developed a network of friends and family that made the little big town feel like home away from home. You were no more than one or two degrees of separation from anyone else, and it showed. Organizing a community event could be as simple as putting together a tailgate, tapping into the usual suspects of community leaders whose networks spread easily across the city. A rare thing to find so easily in a city. You could lead here. You could make change here. You could very well find a pathway and community to do anything you wanted to do. It was a safe and comfortable place for me to lay my roots, but as my tree grew taller and wider, I found it often bumping up against the world constructed around it.
At multiple points, there were experiences telling me that laying down roots here was akin to a tree laying down roots in a downtown city block. On one hand, I could limit how tall and wide my tree was able to grow, shrinking myself to fit within the acceptable confines of the local culture. On the other hand, I could resist and allow my roots to fight constantly against the concrete sidewalks covering them and buildings surrounding them.
Sometimes it was observing how the boundaries that created Black communities were blatantly reinforced with racism and oppression that maintained those boundaries. Sometimes it was acknowledging the queer experience in a small, conservative town wondering if there were others whose growth had been stunted by the oppressive concrete structures surrounding them.
Either way, there were things that told me this wasn’t a place where I could grow in the ways I dreamed that I could, but that this was a place where I could stay safe and avoid the challenges of the unknown. But was that me? Spoiler alert: No.
In Brene Brown’s ”A Call to Courage” on Netflix, she says explicitly:
“For me, the fear of shame, the fear of criticism, was so great in my life, up until that point, just paralyzing, that I engineered smallness in my life…It wasn’t worth it to me to step into my power and play big because I didn’t know if I could literally physically stand the criticism.”
She’d perfectly put into words how I’d found my way into resentment. I resented the place I was in every time it reminded me just how much work there was to dismantle racism. I resented the white people around me for the sheer ignorance of not knowing how different peoples’ lives were just five miles down the street. I resented a place that relegated queer culture to one pocket of the city where it would be tolerated but rarely celebrated. I resented myself for staying. For putting my aspirations to the side, putting my fears up front, and prioritizing the comfort that was this place, knowing that my tree wasn’t meant for it. Slowly, but surely my desire to remain comfortable paled in comparison to my need to find and own my power.
Every day of this year has been a reminder to live in the present moment and claim your power.
Like most of us, I started this year thinking I had time to wait for the perfect moment. I had time to tiptoe into the deeper end of discomfort and let my body adjust at a slow, even pace. Then week after week, month after month, the world became something altogether different than what I’d known. Each day challenged what I knew the world to be and seemed to remind me that nothing here is promised. No job, no house, no opportunity is guaranteed. Better yet, that what you once thought of as scenes from sci-fi thrillers are now daily life. Global efforts to contain a virus. Record-breaking wildfires. So many named storms in the Atlantic that we literally ran out of letters in the alphabet. Every day of this year has been a reminder to live in the present moment and claim your power.
I didn’t come to Los Angeles with the dream of being an actor, a singer, or even a photographer. I just came to live. I came to a place where my roots could have some freedom and space to grow in whatever ways they choose. Where I’m not as surrounded by concrete sidewalks forcing my roots to remain underground. Where I could play as big or as small as I chose to and walk in the magnitude of my power. That was my goal.
I could play as big or as small as I chose to and walk in the magnitude of my power. That was my goal.
Our roots are the stories of our lives and how we do or don’t allow them to grow symbolizes the core of who we truly are. Sometimes they lie on top of the ground for everyone to see, and sometimes they’re the vast and complex system lying beneath your surface. Let them stretch and grow. Let them intertwine and reach as far and as wide as they want to. If there’s something you need to say, say it. If there’s something you always wanted to do, do it. If you’re surrounded by concrete sidewalks, rupture them by demanding your freedom in every way or plant yourself somewhere that you can. As for me, I’m ready to grow higher and wider until the limbs and roots that comprise me tell a story worthy of my ancestors.