Perelman Quadrangle, University of Pennsylvania.
There is in every person something that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in herself…
There is in you something that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. Nobody like you has ever been born and no one like you will ever be born again – you are the only one. And if you miss the sound of the genuine in you, you will be a cripple all the rest of your life, because you will never be able to get a scent on who you are.
- Howard Washington Thurman
Baccalaureate Address – Spelman College, May 4, 1980
Returning from Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, the hub of the American project’s origins, and a current symbol of it’s trajectory, has left me in a place where the silence of introspection that has sought to find a place in my life post graduation has finally – after all this time – found itself realized.
Throughout the duration of my final year in undergraduate, involvement in multiple student organizations, multiple/simultaneous places of employment, rugby, academia – both in class and extracurricular, working on my first publication, and traveling for conferences kept me very (very) busy. Though being busy is not a sure indicator of productivity, and I’m not sure enough of it’s merit to defend busyness as a prerequisite of productivity, I was surely busy. The primary reason being that I was playing “catch-up,” insofar as when it came to my younger years, the beginning of undergraduate, the time spent on introspection with the goal of tangible success was lacking, immensely.
Of the consortium of students that the school system deemed worthy of investing it’s limited resources in, most of us began to find ourselves fiscally, academically, and maturity-wise, lacking in the ability to function in a way that lends itself to sustainable success in the classroom. The good number of us that made it through undergraduate made it through just barely by the skin of our teeth. This can be said of a great number young adults, but, unlike those who have the space to recoup from mistakes they make in school and in life, most of which being the price to be paid for growing into adulthood, those of us who come from underserved communities tend to recede to the very environment and behaviors one was said to have been working to transcend. This sort of recidivism, the sort that intersects between the socio-economic and cultural realms, is to be unpacked another time. What is significant here for our purposes is the importance of a moment of reflection. From my small corner of East Atlanta, the inability for those who do not have the resources to take the time, our most valuable resource, to be still and reflect, is not easily found.
There is wealth in the time spent in examining the great wilderness of one’s inner-self in light of one’s responsibility to creating a more human dwelling place. By way of divine mathematics, life has led me to a space where this sort of introspection is possible, however foreign, due to the busyness of life. This has been no easy journey, beloved.
From the academic mill, it has been a very long time since I have been challenged, fundamentally. Yes, examining the lack of “horizontal” definitions, of epistemes of the work of Michel Foucault, sifting through with accuracy Walter Rodney’s perspectives on the underdevelopment of Africa and the development of the Western World, or producing an academic musing on the role of James Baldwin in the contemporary classroom are all challenging. Each of the aforementioned tasks are undoubtedly trying work, but they are, and should be, the sort of inquiries and productions that serve as the effect of ones examination rather than the cause. And for me, it is true that these challenges serve as the cause of a more fundamental challenge: that of examining why, how, and for whom the project of one’s life is of both personal and communal value. The danger in functioning otherwise is the potential placement of importance on work, with disregard to the vacuous work or not. What we do, the works that we are called to do, must be at all times tied to the deep well of introspection in the hopes that we can produce a substantive life project. In undergraduate, upon being blessed with the resources to flourish, I functioned in a space where I was afforded the opportunity to examine and expound on my interests without having to necessarily specialize.
But, as we know, there is much work to be done, and to be in tune with both what is and what one believes should be is to be in constant awareness that there must be progress from now to some point, seeable or unforeseeable, in the future. I know the world that I come from. I had to leave it to see it in a different light to begin contextualizing what I knew, somewhat akin to the way one must step back from a painting in order to view it in a different context from that which is native to the viewer.
The catalyst behind this musing is a conversation between Dr. Shaun Harper and myself at the graduate School of Education at University of Pennsylvania. Though he is on sabbatical, he agreed to meet with me for several hours, only taking a break to discuss the more tangible aspects of the programs I’m interested in, and It was one of the most fruitful academic experiences I’ve had in since my last day of my Major Figures in Philosophy course with Dr. Gabriel Soldatenko this past May. It was a well needed and lively discussion, because there are few people among those I have met who have the ability inquire in a way that evokes a critique in a way that makes space for constructive self-examination, Dr. Shaun Harper is one of the few. I’ve been charged to undertake that forever-necessary assignment of self examination. There is work to be done. I cannot wait to see what I come up with, but in the meantime, while I reflect, I’ll be working on my application. Penn feels as if it is the place that I should be, so what I plan to do is set forth the best bid and leave the rest in the hands of God. But, I must specialize, and this is the wealthy conundrum I look to examine over the next several weeks (that I’ve been fastened in for the past several months).
In closing, It is the genuine intrinsic nexus between one’s self-examination and the one’s self-actualization that give one’s work substantive meaning in life. With all of the work that must be done, especially in the field(s) which I have spent so much time watching, learning, and engaging with, It is time to do that which is most difficult, for me: find my niche within academia, the kind that is tied to my interests and the greater good of the people I wish to serve. There will always be the sound of the authentic whether or not one is able, or willing, to step down from the outer chaos to inspect the chaos. There must always be the understanding that we must actively pursue that which is genuine in us, and be genuine in our efforts to do so.