Forgive me for if this post wanders a bit from power mapping, but so many emotions run through me this week… I have been thinking about how this power we speak of is reserved for some and searched for by many. This past weekend marked the anniversary of the death of Desmond Jenkins, an 18-year-old kid who was shot and killed in August 2019 just feet from the front door of his Raleigh home. His mom is one of my closest friends- someone I have known for over 40 years. She did everything right. She did great in high school. Went on to excel in college so she could get a leg up on a great career. As ADOS people in this country, we are told education is the great equalizer, right? Getting a good education and a good job should be all folks need to make it…. The circles we naturally inhabit just make this conversation so complex and confusing.
My guy Des grew up in a good and safe two parent household with his sister in a thriving area of NC. But life happened. My friend got divorced. Desmond’s father lost his job and could not keep up the alimony payments. His mom had to take a couple extra jobs and move into a not so safe neighborhood for a few years until she could scrape up the funds to get into a more stable environment. The people who had access to Desmond and in turn he was bonded to from grade school until high school were not exactly part of the “talented tenth” ADOS (American Descendants of Slavery) folks can self-segregate towards. (Look it up…). Unfortunately for Desmond, his fate was to lose his life senselessly due to association. Those bullets were not meant for him that day, rather some friends of his that lived in the old neighborhood he was fortunate to move away from years ago.
So, what the hell does that have to do with our conversations today about power and access to power? Proximity my friends… It is an interesting concept. So many people are proximate to power just by being born, some folks make intentional plans or are trained to be close to it and use it, some folks have to build towards it, some folks have a natural pathway to it and may never lose it, some folks can lose access after a critical life event. Access to resources and the ability to make change is power. Bonding people and ideas is power. It manifests personally, in groups, and at an institutional level- I opined last week that neither way really had more impact than the other. While I feel and see strong powers who resist change, I am continually reminded that there are more people who want justice, than not… at least must believe that.
Martin Luther King spoke to this a year before he was killed. He said in a 1967 sermon about authority that “Power” is the ability to achieve purpose.” For me, access to power has been like one of those “choose your own adventure” books. I wonder all the time if the tactics I have used were smart or dangerous to myself or others I care about. What paths to mapping power and searching allies for change have cost me some emotional toll? How are my conscious or unconscious stereotypes impacting how I think about this? Am I counseling the right people? What is the long play here?
When mapping out relationships and strategies to create and build power, I am not always clear if I have documented what my goals are for my mental edification and if they match the results I want to achieve in partnership. How natural am I being in leveraging relationships and intimate time with individuals making connections? To truly be an ally is to unite myself with another to promote a common interest. Someone who I trust in this work must really be interested in justice and be aligned to the fact we both stand to benefit from the bond or connection they share. There is something honest and powerful about naming that. I am happy to occupy the spaces I am in but highly critical of those spaces at the same time…
The work I have been adjacent to and possibly guilty of myself can reek of paternalism- where decision-making is clear to those with power and unclear to those without it. I have a particular life experience as an ADOS and challenge those who often don’t think it is important or necessary to understand the viewpoint or experience of those for whom they are making decisions, but must be just as thoughtful of spaces where I can be guilty of the same thing. There’s so much to unpack here about these circles of power we can access and use… I’ll be thinking about my how whatever I’m doing can help make sense of what happens to the folks that can’t access this power directly and the folks who are resting in power.