Celeste once told me, “Leelee, your life change every week.”
She said this after our sociology class when we learned about the perpetual violence of the prison industrial system and I said, “The reading for today’s lecture changed my life.” And it did. However, I hadn’t realized I said it so often but my dear friend (who listens to me even when I don’t listen to myself) picked up on this pattern. And it’s true, I do change a lot. I think my life changes every day. And to be honest, I enjoy that flexibility. Change is valuable. Change is good. That sounds common, chiche, easy, but it is so true. However, change is very hard. Sometimes, I want to change and can’t and other times, I don’t care to change yet I am completely transformed. The most consistent force of change I’ve experienced in my life (other than death) has to be reading. When I read a good ass book, article, or essay I start to think different and talk different and to me, it feels so damn good. I’m offered language and gain insight from someone else’s discovery of new and old worlds. I also gain insight to myself, insight that I would not have access to without spending intentional time with words. And it’s hard to change someone. Most people will say it’s impossible.
“You can’t make someone change if they don’t want to change.”
But that’s not true! I’ve approached books as skeptic, critic. Prepared to find error with all the skills I paid handsomely for in the university. I’m never trying to change, I just do. I didn’t read as a child. To be honest, I didn’t know how to read. I would remember books by heart. Books like The Stinky Cheeseman. I’d study every page intensely, grateful for illustrations (and it’s a paradoy picture book about how stupid fairytales are, even for kids). I remembered each story from times teachers or daycare staff read it out loud (after I demanded of course). But I don’t have strong memories of reading the words myself until I came across the book as an adult. I didn’t know how to read. Not really. I could read words but in 3rd grade, I read at a 1st grade level and my comprehension was shot. It was so bad my parents figured I better get checked out. They weren’t sure if I was just actin’ up in class or if this was serious. I was diagnosed with ADHD. That explained why it was so hard for me to hold information. Why I would struggle to read a sentence out loud and forget it as the words escaped my mouth. Gone, as if it were never there.
And then it happened.
13 years old, I met Lorraine.
It was in Oakland California at Calvin Simons Middle school. Though the copy of A Raisin in the Sun had no photos, I remember deviating from my normal group of friends and retreated to a desk in the back. This class was like Sister Mary Clarence’s music class from Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit but before she turned it around. It was wild. But I found something… someone. And she had changed me. I have no idea why I took to that book more seriously than the others our english teacher tried to get us to read. It would be another 9 years before I picked up a different play (Doubt by John Patrick Shanley). I had no relationship to theatre at the time nor had I ever read a book on my own. But, Hansberry demands attention and I had no choice but to give it to her.
ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
She achieved what I had been told was impossible. She held me and my deficiencies and showed me I’m wasn’t alone. I can be alright even when things ain’t… alright. At the time, me and my family were living with my grandmother and cousins. A bunch of us slept on the floor in the small three bedroom apartment. In total, there were 9 of us there and this book gave me the space I needed at that time. I read about a family who lived with family. No space, but the 5 of them still managed to have hope, dreams and love for one another. I remember reading some of the scenes faster than others because I wanted to get to the parts with Beneatha. I wanted to be Beneatha so damn bad. My hair, like hers was thick, course, nappy and there was something about her acts of resistance that drew me in and reminded me that it is okay to claim the nappy. Embrace the nappy. That nappy hair is okay.
Even if you’re judged for it.
Change is good.
Most recently, I’ve been changed by Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and now I’m preparing myself for the revolution and apocalypse. I’m currently being changed by both Gloria Anzaldùa’s book Borderlands La Frontera the New Mestiza and SOS- Calling All Black People: A Black Arts Movement reader. I take it personal that all of this work was not only created for me to enjoy, but also to grow, learn, and forever be changed.