“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.“
I remember the first time I saw I Am Not Your Negro and the way it changed my life. I wasn’t too familiar with James Baldwin’s work prior to that moment. A huge misstep on my part. His words rang bells in the most hollow parts of my soul, filling them with the inspiration they longed for. How could I have lived 26 years without Baldwin in my life? Where would I be as a writer, right now, if I had been exposed to his work earlier? I often struggled with the kind of writer I wanted to be. I Am Not Your Negro ignited me, reaffirming my love for words. It put my yearn for writing into perspective and helped me define my voice.
I studied film and television production in school. Screenwriting came easy but I always felt like I could do so much more. Fiction never truly resonated with me and poetry bubbles deep inside my soul sparingly. James Baldwin introduced me to the power of the essay. A different kind of essay. One that was creative but informational and poetic. Essays that had the power to fuel whole movements and push an entire body of people forward. His words hold true for today as if he wrote them yesterday.
A true prophet.
James Baldwin entranced me and I’ve been obsessed with him ever since. Baldwin described himself as a witness to the movement. He was able to exist in spaces and write about it, offering a unique perspective on the most pressing issues of the time. As an observer, he provided social and cultural commentary. He was a different kind of activist, the kind I realized I wanted to be. I knew that I wanted to help change the world but I didn’t know how.
Like Baldwin, I leave the marches and physical protest for those better suited, and instead prefer to work behind the curtain, being the one providing the fuel to those who prefer to physically hit the pavement. I defined activism in a linear way before Baldwin, thinking that there was only one way to show real support for a cause or a movement. Baldwin proved me wrong. I could still be an important part of something.
He proved to me that you could play the background and still bring about massive change.
Baldwin’s work opened people’s minds and planted seeds that would later grow into the strength needed to affect change. He possessed a kind of confidence that was instilled in him by his father, who made sure Baldwin knew his roots. His father taught him that confidence comes from knowing who are you. Baldwin knew exactly who he was, became comfortable in his truth, and used that to do things, and excel in ways, that others could only dream of during that time. In Baldwin’s day, it must have been extremely difficult to really get to the root of the injustices that Black people faced (and still do) in this country.
When you define yourself as a writer you are making a commitment to write about the human experience no matter what style of writing it manifests as. I am inspired by people, and focus my works on various aspects of that experience. I want to share different perspectives with different people, especially those perspectives that are often misrepresented in mainstream media. I’m currently on a deep exploration of self, using my past and present experiences as my motivation for refreshing and thought provoking work. The words in my brain scream to escape and I oblige, allowing them to flow on to paper in whatever form they choose. I refuse to limit myself.
Creative writing is one of those things that can be tailored to many different bodies of work. As someone with so much to say, writing is my outlet. My essays are long conversations with myself, conversations that I’m eager to share with others. I sit and write, thinking I know what I want to say, but once the words start flowing I’m at a loss at all the hidden thoughts that find their way to the light. The ones hiding so deep inside me I never knew they were there. Writing is my solace.
Baldwin’s work pushes not only me, but all of us, to challenge ourselves and go after those things that may seem impossible.
Who inspires you to write?