What inspires you to act? Every activist and political person I know has a moment that flipped the switch for them. In casual interviews, friends have cited enormous moments like the Iraq war and more local moments, like anger over inadequate public facilities for their child.
Books that made advocacy seem accessible, mentors who encourage, corruption that infuriated. The reality is, if our eyes are open, we should be reawakened every day to act. Too many moments, though, can make us completely overwhelmed and shut down to our own potential power.
For me, looking back, it was an odd moment that pushed me to the brink of involvement. Yes I had met many people suffering from fear of displacement or in the midst of it, but I didn't know what that had to do with me.
I had read books, but they seemed far away and I felt very small and powerless. I felt in many ways that I didn't have the skills, the insight or the experience to be truly helpful. I fantasized that in 10 or 20 years, I would have an awakening that would signal "my turn."
But then I opened up the Greenpoint Star on my lunch break. Seriously, it was this very newspaper! The year was 2007, and I was shocked to find a young man's photo on the front page under the headline "cyclist killed."
I was 23, and this young man, whose name was Craig Murphey, was only three years older than me. I read the article with horror as his eulogy asserted what a good and righteous person this man was. Craig was an activist. He did anti-hunger work and volunteered in his free time providing safe walks home for women and LGBTQ people, the article told me.
Friends spoke of a warm and generous spirit. I had never met him, but In reading about him, I admired him and wanted to be his friend. And as I read of his death, I started to cry. Deep inside me, I had a revelation.
I had been afraid to start. I had used my youth and ignorance as an excuse. But the reality was, I already had the only skills I needed. The skill to listen with empathy, learn, and ask questions. I was usually afraid to speak my own opinions in that period, but I knew how to grow them.
And there was Craig Murphey, who had lost a life he was using generously and well. And here was I, still alive, who had something still undiscovered to give. I vowed to start asking questions and listening to the answers. And I vowed to stop excusing myself for what was really my duty as a person who loved and cared.
It is hard to stay motivated, especially since this city requires so much struggle. People can be mean, greedy and short sighted. But there are so many around us who aren't that way. Who are giving and concerned for all of us. And I, well though I often stumble, I am finding that voice inside me more and more every year.
Not a month goes by that I don't remember that man I have now outlived, who I never knew but loved this community as I do. I hope I am doing him justice. I am thankful that he woke me up to my own power, and my own responsibility to serve others, and I'm sorry we couldn't do this work alongside each other.