A Letter to My Younger Self

A Letter to My Younger Self

By Jamala Rogers. Posted August 7, 2022.

Jamala Rogers. Photo by Mark Wilson.

Hello Young Me,

I’m writing this letter to you because there will be times throughout your life when you question the inevitability of good to triumph over evil. There will be times when you have doubts that the various movements are effectively organized to challenge the formidable enemies of the entire planet. Over the years, you will confront the adaptive elements of capitalism and tackle both the overt and covert manifestations of racism, patriarchy, and homophobia.

The life you choose will not be easy. I regret to tell you that the struggle will get more difficult. For example, a seemingly harmless but imposing weapon will be unleashed on the world called social media that will lull people into narcissism and individualism. There will be sophisticated weapons developed to engage in endless wars of mass destruction. You must never give up hope. Know that it will be people like you who slow down the country’s annihilation with strategies and tactics to educate and organize the people. It will be people like you who will wage the struggle for the total transformation of U.S. society. So, never give up.

Mock election, Belzoni, MS. Photo by Matt Heron via Civil Rights Movement Veterans website.

As a child, you are already starting to pay attention to the civil rights struggle of the South on the family’s black and white TV. You have seen the gruesome photo of young Emmett Till in Jet Magazine. You are an avid reader who’s paying attention to your surroundings. It’s about to get ugly. One life is unjustly snuffed out, and your life will change. Forever.

On April 4, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will be assassinated, and the entire country pretty much goes up in flames, including your hometown. What happens after Dr. King’s death will look like a full-fledged war on the Black community. The sight of army tanks in your neighborhood shatters all notions of safety and security. Night fall will bring the sounds of bullet exchanges, the sting of tear gas on the membranes of your lungs, the sight of orange and yellow flames lighting up the black skies. You will think Hollywood, but this will be no movie. Before it’s all over, smoldering fires will be all that’s left of many blocks. The drug store where you work after school will be leveled to the ground. Worse, there will be human carnage. Seven dead including a 12-year-old Black kid; he could’ve been your own little brother.

It will be an unforgettable sight that will have a profound effect on you. It will be years before you can totally process this situation. You will need more political sensibilities and the language to fully articulate what happened to you. One thing will be unmistakably clear: the government—your government—always responds with lethal force to people who look like you.

Life starts moving fast and you will struggle to make sense of all that you’re seeing and hearing. This will be a defining moment in your young life. The trajectory is unalterable.

To make sure young, militant Black leaders of the future are redirected, government monies flood the ghettoes. You will receive an academic scholarship that was not forthcoming before the rebellions despite your demonstrated intelligence. You’ll be the pride of the family as the first child to attend and finish college. This will take you from your safe, segregated cocoon where all that you ever needed and cared about was in walking distance. The tactic to disorient you and put you on the path to being a complacent Negro backfired.

You’ll be shipped off to a predominantly white institution where your first radical act was to join the Black Student Association. These are revolutionary times and so, you and your peers will insist the name be changed to Black Student Association for Revolutionary Action. BSARA will go on to take over the administration building with a set of demands ranging from getting Black faculty to having Black courses like Black History. You’ll win these demands and revel in the power of organizing.

Black Student Union protest at Northwestern University, May 1968. Photo from Chicago Defender.

On the home front, Mom thinks you have lost your ever-loving mind. This Black shit was not part of the plan. Her philosophy was just study, get a degree and get a respectable job. It will be years before she tells you of the anxiety she endured during your college years. Her own lived experience in the South will be a constantly reminder that when Black folks challenge white authority, it doesn’t end well for the Black person. She’ll pray often for your safety and the return to sanity, hoping that you’ll grow out of this dangerous fad as you grow older. You don’t. Like I said, the trajectory is unalterable.

On campus, you will meet young people, including whites, from all over the country with opinions like yours about the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, Black Power, and a host of other issues confronting the nation. You’ll start traveling with BSARA members to other campuses and to their hometowns to see what was happening in those spaces. These will be exhilarating times and you’ll soak up all the cultural, social, and political happenings. You’ll read lots of books (like the Autobiography of Malcolm X) and newspapers (like The Black Panther). You can’t get enough about Blackness, and you’ll embrace your new African identity—big Afro hairstyle, African clothes, name change, the works. You’ll be ready for the revolution which you believe is right around the corner. You’ll tap into the belief that the ultimate and final race war is about to go down. Black folks will be victorious, claim the land and live happily ever after.

Lucky for you, you’re about to be grounded in reality. You’ll connect with Black nationalists in St. Louis who want to start an organization. All of you will visit the national headquarters of the Congress of African People (CAP). You’ll see the tangible programs and institutions that Black people have built and immediately desire to be a part of it. Your crew will come back home to build the St. Louis chapter of CAP. This is where you’ll cut your organizing teeth and experience phenomenal personal and political growth. You’ll arrive at two significant insights: the world is not black and white, and that the struggle is a marathon not a sprint. Being Black is not enough, you’ll need ideological clarity and a political analysis about this capitalist world you were born into.

Amiri Baraka and fellow artists at Spirit House in Newark, NJ. 1966.

The search for truth and clarity about what it will really take to truly change the power dynamics and the systems of oppression will be sobering. You will always be up for the next challenge, the next stage of struggle. You embrace Marxism-Leninism as frame to look at monopoly capitalism and its global destruction to the peoples of the planet. Socialism will look like a legitimate alternative to the barbarism your people have faced since being captured and brought to these shores. You’ll dive into a deep study of the M-L classics and the liberation struggles of Africa, South and Latin Americas.

The response of white people in power will always be to protect the status quo. You don’t know what the term means now but you’ll come to understand that the way capitalism works in that white men want to stay in control of people and resources. The system will keep working class people fighting one another while being super-exploited by the system for the mega financial profits.

Each political stage of struggle will propel you into new spaces where you will meet different kinds of people who are also fighting for the right of humanity to thrive. Through your involvement in multi-racial organizations, you will learn how various cultures and oppressed nationalities live. Your comrades will invite you into their worlds, and you’ll do the same, discovering the many commonalities of people fighting for dignity, for land and for liberation. You’ll discover the significance of working for multiracial unity in the working class.

These experiences will not be purely political in nature; they will create a memory vault of inspiration and joy. The deep and trusted friendships you develop will last through time. You will go through a lot with this cherished group of folks, from trauma to joy and back again. These will be comrades you love, respect, and admire. It is important to remember this because life will get frustrating, disappointing, and challenging. This is when you must open the vault to get what you need to preserve your political and psychological balance. There will be plenty of “remember when we” recollections whenever you all get together, no matter how much time has lapsed or the distances that separate you. These memories will sustain you through the low times of despair and disappointments.

Friends. Image by Joseph Redfield via Pixabay.

As you approach your 72nd birthday, some will marvel at your resilience and express curiosity about your long journey. You have maintained an enduring commitment to revolution in the U.S. and will still possess a sense of humor about life. By now, you have borne witness to political assassinations, COINTELPRO’s intent to neutralize the Black Liberation Movement, the bombing of a Black community, environmental catastrophes caused by global warming, destructive viruses that ravage the world, a blatant attack on the World Trade Building in front of our eyes, videotaped murders of Black people by police, drug epidemics that don’t discriminate, an attempted coup on the U.S. government instigated by a former president and his racist supporters, and much more. No doubt, there are more to come.

Jamala Rogers. Photo by Lance Thurman.

You will organize your way through all of this to emerge stronger and unrelentingly optimistic. There will always be trials and tribulations, but you will have what you need to keep pushing forward. As a Black, working-class girl from a segregated neighborhood, I can emphatically tell you that it will be your journey of political awakening and organizing experiences that transform you into the Black, feminist, revolutionary and world citizen you were destined to become. Value the journey. Value the wisdom of the ancestors as well as the collective lessons of your comrades. Your choice to stay the course will always be intentional. The trajectory is unalterable.


Author’s Bio: Jamala Rogers is a longtime organizer in the Black Liberation Movement. She is an avowed feminist and unapologetic socialist. Jamala is a featured columnist in several publications and the author of Ferguson is America: Roots of Rebellion.

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