I have never questioned that I had power. What I have realized is that I have been in situations where I have not used my power. Sound familiar? Power is, for me, the ability to use one’s influence to create or facilitate a positive outcome. At times power is used for self-gain, but I have found that the most satisfying use of my power is using it to help someone else.
People of color have historically absorbed the effects of the abuse of power and the negativity left in its wake. Consider that as a citizen the power of police officers is generally seen as positive and comforting. But when one belongs to a class of people that has been the brunt of official police misconduct, over-policing and disproportionate punishment. Well… you get my point.
I experienced this reality first hand when my youngest son was in high school. One evening he returned home long after his school-night curfew, banging on our door. When I let him in he was breathless, scared and shouting that he and friends had been carjacked, shot at, and that he had lost his coat, wallet containing his ID and our house keys in the melee.
I instantly picked up the phone to call the police to help us and he immediately implored, “Ma don’t call them.”
The officers arrived and minutes into the encounter I understood why he was reluctant. They were abrupt, rough, and separated me from my son to question him about ‘gang affiliation.’ He was immediately seen as a perpetrator not a victim. A male neighbor seeing the police cars came to check on us, quickly intervening as character reference for my son. He helped get the encounter back on track. Thank God for him! That was my first direct encounter with the reality that not all police officers are your friends and that power abused is frightening.
I’m a resident of Greater Roseland, an urban community nicknamed, “the wild hundreds,” where there is not enough structural support from the homes of youth, from the many faith institutions that populate the community, from mental health agencies, and more… In this community, Diane Latiker, uses her power; the power of one person, to make a difference. For years this mother of eight has opened her home to teenagers to keep them off the street. She eventually founded a non-profit, appropriately named, Kids Off the Block, so that other children might have a safe place; somewhere to be nurtured and supported, rather than be sucked into street life.
She is power full; not because of political advantage, or the trappings of success. Diane is powerful because she confronts the fact that our children are living in the urban wilderness, defined by Wikipedia as “a natural environment on Earth that has not been significantly modified by civilized human activity.” I am convinced that it’s time to elevate and support the people who are doing something in our community, rather than those who are ‘supposed’ to be doing something.
My current focus is to use my power in my own family, my block, my community. Recently a neighbor’s home caught afire displacing the family. I sent my neighbor a message asking if there was something I could do to help. I also knew that her pride wasn’t going to allow her to ask me for anything. Then fate stepped in and I saw her one morning at the damaged site with a contractor. As we chatted she said with exasperation, “I don’t understand it, the twins want a prom send off from our burned home, they say they don’t want to go to prom from the hotel where we were staying.” I have known her twin daughters their entire lives and in that moment I realized that I had the power to help her give her daughters the prom send-off they deserved and I used it. Their prom send-off took place at my home which is directly across the street from theirs and it was a lovely affair full of their friends and our neighbors.
As citizens, when we care about issues and conditions, local or global, we have to find a way to advocate for them.
I invite Garden Spices readers to find one thing in your community, one problem, one person that would benefit from the application of your ‘power of one.’ The power of one, one million times, one trillion times is a lot of power. Use it.
– Susan D. Peters
Susan D. Peters, aka, Ahnydah (ah-NIE-dah) Rahm, brings a wealth of experience gained as an expatriate living in West Africa. Her memoir Sweet Liberia, Lessons from the Coal Pot, received the Black Excellence Award for Non-Fiction from the African American Alliance of Chicago and the Mate E. Palmer award for Non-Fiction from the Illinois Press Women’s Association. Broken Dolls, Susan’s second book, represents her foray into the mystery market and is the first of a series featuring Detective Joi Sommers as its heroine. Her work is featured in three anthologies, Baring It All, the Ins and Outs of Publishing, Signed, Sealed, Delivered … I’m Yours, a contemporary romance anthology, and The Anthology of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association. Buy her books online and at www.SusanDPeters.com.