“There’s an imaginary bar set where a lot of us will bump our heads on. That bar is imaginary. It does not exist unless you want to make it exist. There are a lot of men and women who have succeeded in going over, climbing through, or breaking through that bar, and they didn’t use any type of “I can’t do this because ___”.
Your limitations are set by yourself.”
– Nema Jackson, Amana Parent
My dad was and continues to be my greatest inspiration. He gave us a clear understanding of the value of what it meant to be a black woman, and that we were precious and valued because of how unique we are.
At the same time, he made it clear that the society around us will not see us that way. There’s a totem pole, he would say, and Black people (especially women) were always at the bottom of that pole- whether in pay, representation, or education. So he gave us not only an understanding of who we were and what our worth was, but also made sure we were aware of how society viewed us.
The Power of Voice
I grew up in New York City, which was a true melting pot. From the time I was young until college, I was always engulfed in the Black experience all around me.
I can recall my first visit to the Schomburg Library and lining up on the streets outside of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. building on 125th Street in Harlem to see Nelson Mandela, a mere four months after serving 27 years behind bars for opposing apartheid in South Africa.
It was when I went to college in Boston- which was predominantly white city, that I experienced racism, classism, and sexism for the first time. Although my dad had prepared us not to be surprised, it still came as a shock. But the key is to realize that this is real life. You have to ask yourself ‘How do we deal with this in real life?’
The foundation my dad gave me pushed me to become an active participant in changing culture and conversations while I was in college. I was the president of the school’s Black Students Association. On campus, the African American Institute building was where Black students could go and hang out. It felt like home to us. This was the building that had always been a face, a voice, a home for the African American community in Roxbury/Boston, Massachusetts. Activists met here. Black Panther meetings were held here.
But, our college had decided to tear the building down. This was not okay. So we rallied students and emulating our leaders before us, we staged a sit-in and activated students to address the lack of oversight in maintaining and growing the Black presence on campus. The “Institute” as we affectionately called it, was more than just brick and mortar. It symbolized struggle, dedication, and a persistent commitment for Black students to be represented throughout the University permanently
We occupied the building for 40 days and 40 nights. (Click here to view the news article of this event).
On that final day, a decision was made to tear the building down. We ended up holding a protest where we shut down all of Mass Avenue, a main thruway in Boston. There were thousands of people out there.
Now that I look back on that moment, it’s rather magnificent to think about the passion and commitment that a handful of college students had for a building. But again- it was more than a building – it was a space that was uniquely ours, where we felt safe. If you go there today, there’s a new building erected in the same footprint of the old one, and it still bares the name of the first African American Vice President of the University, John D. O’Bryant.
I think the biggest thing I try to do for my kids is to never diminish how important they are- that each of them is beautifully and wonderfully made.
I emphasize the importance for them to love themselves AND love each other. If you don’t love and respect each other, you can’t expect anyone else to do that. People will only treat you based on what you allow.
And if you can commit to that, you’ll achieve heights.
Shared with Love & Light,
Nema Jackson Roberts