Academic journal article Journal of Curriculum Theorizing

The Fire Inside: A Critical Meditation on the Importance of Freedom Dreams

Academic journal article Journal of Curriculum Theorizing

The Fire Inside: A Critical Meditation on the Importance of Freedom Dreams

Article excerpt

In the fall of 1985, I went off to college where I had the good fortune to meet many fascinating people, but none more captivating than Roni, Durban, and Abner, three South African students, each with his own stirring story of exile. I was attracted to them immediately. They were funny, always playfully harassing me about the misvirtues of American women. They were serious students with different perspectives on most things. But above all else I was attracted to their fire--the passion, determination, commitment to continue the struggle to abolish Apartheid. Whenever and wherever they could, they spread the word about the tragedies in their beloved country and the unending struggle to reclaim it. They would often share the paper of the African National Congress with me, warning me sternly about accepting without question U.S. representations of events in South Africa. In their presence, I always felt their fire, even on their day of national mourning, the day they remembered their comrades who were killed in the 1976 Soweto Uprisings. Even on that solemn day, the fire was quiet but fierce. I was as awed as I was inspired by their raging fire, for it was the one thing that reminded me most of home.

Growing up in a family committed to Black nationalist politics has impacted me greatly, and perhaps not in the ways many would like to think. I am neither a separatist nor do I believe in the superiority of Black people. I think about my family politics more as a direct response to the racism Black people the world over have suffered for centuries. Black nationalism is, in the words of Haroon Kharem and Eileen Hayes (2003),

   a continuum of thought and political directives adopted by black
   activists to promote a sense of solidarity and collective action,
   and to give black people political control of their neighborhoods
   and social and cultural institutions, including schools. (83)

The most important idea I take from my family's commitment to Black nationalist politics is that we can and we must work tirelessly to change our world and in the course of doing that we inevitably change the world. Over my lifetime, I have listened to the stories and have even witnessed many of my family members taking on the powers that be, in strategic and relentless pursuit of our collective freedom dream (Kelley, 2003).

Riding in the limo to my grandfather's funeral, I quietly basked in the glow of the fire as my uncles, aunt and their friends in struggle engaged in deep re-memory, an effort--according to Toni Morrison (1984), to "dwell on the way it appeared and why it appeared that particular way" (385). Just when I thought I had heard all of the stories, there were more about police attacks, protests at the city council, and recollections of my grandfather as freedom fighter. Also weaved through their stories was the ambiguity at the heart of most revolutionary social movements (Kelley, 2003). Despite the vigilance with which my family members stand for justice, often times their protestations do not change the oppressive power dynamics. They do, however, do something I think immensely important; they communicate to me and the thirty something other grandchildren and great grandchildren that our power to do relies not so much on what we are allowed to do as it does on our courage to act on those things we believe must do to improve life for the disadvantaged, disenfranchised, and dispossessed. This is the gift of the fire, passed onto me through my family's narratives of freedom dreaming.

When I entered academia, I brought the fire with me. Little did I realize the magnanimous effort I would have to exert in order to hold on to it, to continue to nurture it. Some time before I decided to make academia, the primary place from which and against which I would continue the struggle, I had already determined that my education, regardless of the obstacles, would be a quest for the fire that would drive my freedom dreams. …

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