Sometimes a moment set aside to display a little gratitude is good. There are a few times a year that this comes about for me, but May 2nd is one of particular importance for me. It was this day, sixteen years ago, in 2001 that the life I now enjoy was given to me. No, that is not the day I was born, that was some thirty-five years ago and we celebrated my born day and my mother on April 5th. 05/02/01 was my first day sober and today makes 16 years.
I remember, when I was 16 years old and in a juvenile prison when an O.G. Vice Lord from Chicago came in to speak with us. He said that he remembered being more free while locked up and more a prisoner while he was on the streets. Back then, I thought he was full of shit. I thought he was out of his mind, so I wrote him off. I was not until I was 19, had overdosed on ecstasy, walked across the country, joined a priesthood/cult type of thing, relapsed, slithered my way back to Seattle and into of self-made pit of quicksand that stretched in all directions as I hurt and destroyed relationships with everyone in my family; doped out, strung out, and on my way to throw myself from the Aurora Bridge that the O.G.’s words came back to me. It was at that moment that I finally understood what he was talking about and what he meant when he said that he was a prisoner on the streets.
That night I made myself a promise, namely, that if my life did not get just a little bit better then, I could always return to the bridge to finish what I started. A brother of mine used to say, “when the pain outweighs the pain, then we change.” What he meant by that was when the pain of doing the same old thing over and over again becomes greater than the pain of doing something different, doing something to change our conditions, then we opt for the lesser of the two apparent evils. Of the many decisions I have made in my life, that is perhaps the one I look back to with the least regret, the most pride, and absolute gratitude and humility. I used to underestimate the power of planting a seed in a mind especially, a mind that seems as though there is nothing for the roots to take hold within. Life is an awesome thing and sometimes it takes much experience to prepare the soil adequately for the seeds once planted to sprout.
For anyone who has traveled down this path than no further explanation is necessary, but for those of you who haven’t it was no easy feat. There were many days that I wished for death to visit me quickly. There were a few years that every day my stomach felt like it was tied in knots because I wanted to get loaded so bad I couldn’t make sense of the world around me. But the people close to me held me down and encouraged me not to give up. One person in particular, aside from my mother who held me down always and with true heart, a bother to me eternally, Marcus. I know for sure that without him and through him, Seance, no one would know me as Renaissance, and I would not have emerged as the prolific artist, emcee, and poet you all know me to be today. I am almost as certain of this fact, as the fact that had I not have gone to that juvenile prison that I would not have met that O.G. whose words eventually granted me the guidance I needed to reclaim my life, and that it was there that I first began to write poetry. These are just a few of the most prominent examples from my life that I appreciate the opportunity to recall that I neither got to where I am today alone, nor would I have really wanted to, and that I have a lot and many people in my life to be grateful for and whom I love dearly to this day.
Since I got sober, I have made the rounds of the people and the institutions I caused harm to when I was lost in my addiction and sought to set things right by them. I got my G.E.D., then my high school diploma, an incredible feat for one such as I who had earned a 0.0 G.P.A. in high school prior to dropping out. I earned a printing degree from Job Corps. I failed out of college my ‘first’ attempt. I worked my way from a day laborer in my mentor’s construction company to being his partner. I started, hosted, and planned the Cornerstone Open Mic with Marcus which we ran for five years and built an incredible family of emcees, poets, DJs, and musicians. I worked with The Service Board (TSB) as a way to pay forward the grace and investment made into my own life by a life-long friend Rice Yoba who showed me that Hip Hop is so much more than blunts, bitches, and 40s, but that it was revolutionary, educational, powerful, and my heritage. And I returned to college, was the valedictorian of North Seattle Community College, and barely skirted under the honor roll at the University of Washington when I graduated double majoring in History and Philosophy. I have studied immigration in Greece, lived with the Peasant Rice Famers in the Philippines, and been a Climate Justice and Black Liberation organizer fighting against police brutality and to end mass incarceration, on the front lines with our Indigenous relatives in Washington, Arizona, and North Dakota, and fighting against the dehumanizing deportation and incarceration policies of the United States.
I have done a lot, that I know for certain would not be possible had I not sobered up sixteen years ago. However, it is not the things I have done or that I have accomplished that matter to me most. It is that I am no longer a slave. It is that I have my own mind. That I can see clearly. That I do not destroy relationships, but I build and nurture them. Today, unlike when I was a youngster, I have the ability, capacity, and the desire to love, and I am loved in return. These are the things in my life that I value the most and that I am most grateful for. These are the things that I fight so hard for and that I will never sacrifice. These are the things that I fight to make sure others have the opportunity to enjoy.
I am because of my community and I only am because of my community. Without my community I would not be. My community is the reason that I am still alive. My community is the reason that I am here. And my community is who I receive my direction, guidance, and passion from. I am an extension of my community and my community is an extension of me.
There are two people in particular from my community who I esteem above all others and who have had the greatest impact on my life and who I am as a human being, my mother and my partner. My mother not only gave me life, but has been the continuous rock and guiding light who has kept me grounded on the right path since I was born, and she has never wavered. No matter how tight money was, or how hard times were, she always loved me and my brother unconditionally and gave freely of herself without question or regret. She has worked hard all of her life and has always put others before herself. She taught me everything I know about being a man. I can remember, how she would scowl at my brother and I when we were younger and be like, “I am not going to go clean up after someone else all day long only to come home and clean up after you monkeys!” She taught me the value and the reward of hard work and that I am never to push my responsibility off onto others, especially women who already give so much. Without her and her love and guidance, I most certainly would not be. And my partner in life and in crime, my heart; I would be lost without her. Until I met her, I did not think that true love actually exists. I did not think that I could devote myself to someone else so fully, or that I could ever permit someone to be so devoted to me. She continues to surprise me and to reveal the beauty of our world to me. She has this way of seeing the beauty in everything and everyone, that until years together was simply beyond me. And whether times are at their worst or at their greatest, for four years now I have been blessed to share and be partner in everything. Zahara took me to my first protest when Portland Rising Tide organized and shut down the Columbia River in protest of the tar sands that were being shipped through Washington to be transported to China. It was Zahara, who showed me that I am nothing without my community, but that I am everything with you and that I am liberated. It was Zahara who helped me to believe that I and you have immeasurable value and that we are worth much more, and that we are worth fighting for. Without my mother and my partner, I would not be Renaissance and I would not be the human being I am today.
I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful for each and every one of you. I am grateful that today I have the opportunity to continue to strive for the life I know we all deserve and to become a better human being. And whether anyone reads this or not, at least I know, that I have taken, if but a moment, to display my gratitude.