Malachi Davidson

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To Challenge Fear; To Achieve Love

Posted by Malachi Davidson on

In this life, I am making an effort not to act as though, in just my 21 years on this earth, I have come to know it all. In fact, if there is one thing that I know with unmatched certainty, it is that there is so much that I don’t know. In no way am I suggesting that I am clueless––though that is more often the case than I’d like to admit––or that my experiences thus far haven’t taught me much. The amount of things that I actually do know, however, are minuscule compared to the things that I wish I could know, and intend to, one day. One of the things that I wish to know more about is love. 

When you think of the word, maybe you are overcome by vibrant imagery, pleasant thoughts and strong sensations which flood the mind; or maybe, you’re like me, in that you have little understanding of what it could be. I’m aware, however, of what it’s supposed to be. From what I hear, it’s a “special feeling” that means I have a strong attachment to some “thing”. If anything, love is made out to be a looming feeling, always slightly out-of-reach; constantly pursued but never caught. I have, I believe, experienced the after-effects of love. You know, the heartbreak, those inexplicably dark emotions which weigh upon the mind and body like an anchor, implying that love was there, but is no longer. 

It is possible that your experience with the four letters: l-o-v-e, whom, when together, represent this enigma, are different; perhaps somewhat similar, or nothing alike at all–and that’s okay. My idea on what it means is based on what I have both heard and experienced, and are mine and mine alone. I find joy in deciphering the meaning of such obscure concepts, and I recommend that you do the same, if you don’t already; and use others’ ideas only as a basis for formulating your own, nothing more nothing less [there are, already far too many who let others think on their behalf]. And, of course, I urge you to do the same with me and my beliefs. This essay is meant to serve, not as an argument, but a conversation, between you and I, but more importantly, between you and yourself. Let’s talk about love. What is love? What is not love? What is made possible through love? And how does one go about achieving love? As you read through this paper, I want you to question the things that you read, internalize the concepts that I portray, and reflect on how they apply to you and your life; and hopefully, in doing so, we can begin to build an understanding of the term, and of ourselves.

My desire to have this conversation was inspired by the conversation that I had with the ideas laid on paper by the late-great James Baldwin, in his essay The Fire Next Time. This fascinating text, which was released at a crucial point in American history, just 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and just before Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic March on Washington, provides invigorating insight to the American––specifically the Black Americans––experience in twentieth century America. Baldwin offers discourse on concepts such as Blackness, racial identity, and religious manipulation amongst many others; in a way that is both stunning and awe-inspiring. One of the major themes throughout is love, not the romanticized, head-over-heels love like in movies, but a love which “takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within” (Baldwin 341). 

The last emotion that comes to mind when I think about the state of America in the 1960’s, or just throughout history in general, is love. Hate almost always, fear, yes, but love? Where was love? Was love in Rialto with Rodney King, or in Greensboro as students were dragged from the restaurant counters? Was it in New Orleans with Ruby Bridges or in Chicago with the rioters after we lost, yet another, true American hero? Throughout the history of genocide, murder, hatred, and oppression committed on this continent, and every other, where was love? Just the thought of such incidents, such atrocities, is enough to muster any and every emotion other than love; but, maybe love, in its anonymity makes the case for its value. Maybe we can’t pinpoint its location because we’re still unsure of its meaning? But still, I seriously doubt it was there––but if it was, did it look on with disgust, with shame, did it look at all? But, as Baldwin suggests, it is easy to internalize hatred and thus be fueled by it, and to reciprocate that negative energy with added interest. To live like that is to live like them [those fueled by hate]; is to live a life absent of love; to be ruled by fear, fear of change, fear of losing, fear of oneself–that hardly seems like living at all.

Fear is something that I am all too familiar with. I do not have to question fear, whether I know what it is or not, or what it can be, because it is something that I have experienced, and will continue to. Fear, like love, is something that we all encounter at some point, as it molds itself to fit perfectly in all of our lives. The fear that I experience can be similar to the fear that you have, but there’s a limit to the similarities, and that is because my fear is tethered to my own life and to the things that I have experienced. Since I was a child, I have been operating out of fear. I was scared of so many things: spiders, anything slimy and alive, upsetting my parents [beatings were in fashion during my upbringing], and making others uncomfortable. In fact, I feared unsettling others so much that I often sacrificed my own happiness for theirs; and I don’t mean that in any virtuous way, but in a dangerous one. In sacrificing myself, I lost a sense of who I really was, and it took 21 years for me to realize that that fear actually had nothing to do with anyone else. This fear was actually a fear of not being accepted, not being “loved”, not being liked; and that’s on me. I feared it so much that I did everything in my power to keep that from being the case. I forced myself to like what others liked, to do what others did, and to be, what I knew in my heart, I was not. This fear was learned, taught by my surroundings and our society. To be a child, Black, in a seemingly White country, meant that I didn’t fully understand the fear that I saw all around me, but it had so much to do with who I am. The fear that my father had which required me to come straight home after school, the fear that my grandparents had as I attended a predominantly white school, the fear I felt watching other children, as Black and as young as I, die on the news shaped me into who I am today. I didn’t understand the fear that was all around me, but I knew that there was something about me, something so apparent to others yet invisible to me, that was the cause of this dislike, this hatred; so, I made it my mission, for my own survival, to be liked by everyone.

Fear is an interesting thing, because the actual crux of our fears may be very specific, very small, but the way in which it can influence everything else is anything but small. It courses through the mind, the heart and the body like the winds of a hurricane, shaking reality and flooding our very being. Fear is dangerous, because it is too similar to what I had imagined love to be. Fear, alone, can be the driving force behind everything we do, affecting others, and ourselves, in strange ways. My father’s strictness––derived from his fear of losing my brothers and I to this cruel cruel world––was something I despised, and like all children eventually do, led to my rebellious attitude [ignorance truly is bliss]. The fear that drove my grandparents, which they accrued from a life spent in the very time that James Baldwin writes about, was my endowment, ingraining a sense of distrust so historic, I couldn’t not acknowledge it. The empty void, which filled my heart as I saw, in Treyvon Martin, myself, or any of my friends, reinforced that looming fear of the world that I had as a child, and have yet to shake. My understanding of fear, my experiences with it, are what have allowed me to see eye-to-eye with James Baldwin when he says: “it demands great spiritual resilience not to hate the hater whose foot [or knee] is on your neck”. Through my dealings with fear, both in my life and within those around me, I have come to see how hatred can be an outcome of fear; a fear of oneself, of one’s supposed identity––or lack-there-of, of losing the things that make you, you. To hate, or live in fear, as a result of my own fear, seems contradictory and a complete waste of time and effort. Fear is capable of everything that love is not, and when coupled with power, fear can––and has––bred destruction, manipulation and death. But, maybe fear can carry with it, love. Maybe love is like a rainbow, which shows itself only after the storm brought about by the lashings of fear, signaling something beautiful to come; but only attainable by those who pull through, injured but strengthened, having survived the worst of the worst.

Baldwin depicts love as something tough, graceful, daring, and growing (Baldwin 341); love is faith, to commit to something that cannot be rationalized, to have the courage to achieve the impossible. Love is, to throw caution to the wind, and dedicate oneself, completely, to the improvement, advancement, and enhancement of yourself and the larger society, for the sake of our survival. This love is not conditional, only extending to those who desire it, this love is not selective, only given to those deemed worthy, this love is not selfish, only surrendering some, this love is not––easy. It is difficult to go against the status-quo, or the fears which drive us, but nothing easy is ever worth having, or keeping for that matter. How exactly does one go about “achieving” this kind of love? As I read The Fire Next Time, I posed this question to the text, and it responded, saying “power is real, and many things, including, very often, love, cannot be achieved without it” (Baldwin 328). If love is the weapon that will slay our fears, then we should wield it with pride, but it cannot be thrusted without power. Power, as I have seen and grown to understand it, isn’t money, fame, or anything of the sort; power is the ability to influence change. 

How exactly, does one achieve this power? It is easier said than done, for sure. Change is only truly had by changing everything, by grabbing the “now” by its branches, upheaving its roots, sweeping up the leaves, leaving space for the seeds of the “new” to flourish unbothered. To do this on a personal level, within your own life, may be your hardest challenge yet, as it would require the removal of those metaphorical masks that we “fear we cannot live without”, rendering us exposed. To make change on the larger stage, the societal stage, requires the deforestation and reforestation of everything. In the process, the have-nots would find no issues in letting go of a system which was never meant for them; but those who do have, those who cling the sense of safety, of money, of power “by which one can only be betrayed” (Baldwin 339), will be hesitant, and will be fearful of these changes. But the only way to achieve love, within ourselves, and with and for everyone else, is to take everything that we know now, and place it behind us, building instead toward what lies ahead.

So I ask again, both to you and myself, what is love? It seems, to me, that the answer can really only be found within myself. Not because I already have it, but because the process by which one––you and I, separate and together––achieve love, begins inside us. Love, as I understand it, is achieved through the process of confronting the fears that live within each of us, with the intent to no longer hide from or be controlled by them, but to accept them. To accept, and in that moment, be courageous enough to commit to changing them––eradicating them, completely. When I look at love in this light, I think that it was indeed present in Rialto, in Greensboro, in New Orleans, Chicago, and anywhere else that fear rears its ugly face; because these instances of fear, have inspired a movement of love within the survivors. A love that has dedicated itself to changing the world for the better.

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I’m Feeling “Great”

Posted by Malachi Davidson on

The new is not so new,

Least not for the latest while.

Long-since I had something to do 

Oh, so long since I have had a smile

A drag? A bit, I will admit

I still smile from time to time.

Though my happiness did submit

Once I locked myself inside

Scared, but not alone…

At least that’s what they say

That way of life we have outgrown

I still remember to this day.

The struggles of this thing,

Of the “thing” that they call life

The happiness that it should bring

If I overcome such strife

But what do I know bout pain?

About struggle? Sacrifice?

There will be nothing to gain

If I don’t put up a fight.

Fight with all you have

Especially when you have nothing

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Keep Fighting

Posted by Malachi Davidson on

“I see you been on your grind.”

I spent my time tryna catch up,

Was falling behind.

“Well, it seems like now is your time.”

I been here patiently waiting

And I am sick of this line

I feel like i’m trapped

I’ve been grinding and grinding

“–It’s all a part of the path.”

Guess I shouldn’t be mad that they won

And like I’m constantly losing

Now what homie, I’m done.

“I mean, at least you made it here,

Keep track of your growth

All you’ve done in a year”

You know what, I guess you right.

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Still On My Grind

Posted by Malachi Davidson on

I think I need time to relax

The sight of my mountain just made me collapse

I’m not too sure how much more I can take

Who knew so much would go into just tryna be great?

“Just take your time”, like it’s all about pace

They know it’s more to it, they lie to my face

Are there some secrets that they wont let be told?

Keep it all to themselves with the hope that I fold?

Keep your tricks, I aint ask for no help anyway

I was down bad, and I aint have no place to stay

All those bills but I aint have no money to pay.

These new trials are lite, they won’t stand in my way

Don’t know how, but a way I will find

I think I’m lost but I’m still on my grind

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Are You Alive?

Posted by Malachi Davidson on

A consistency of life is fear

As simple as can be.

All forms of life experiences it

All cannot overcome.

To experience fear is to be alive

But to live by it––is to die,

Suppressing imagination by way of fear

Is not to be alive.

Fear, most influential of them all

Limits, alters, obstructs and destroys

But it does not––no,

It does not kill; that’s all you

To live under limits is a façade.

To live is to experience

To challenge, to love, to choose;

To live in fear, is to avoid all of the above.

Then what is fear?

The hand which pulls the strings?

The thought which drives the conscious?

The butterfly quarreling in your gut?

Fear clouds the light of the bravest soul;

Fear may inverts one’s world;

Fear leads the unknown to the unventured;

Fear’s source of strength is your weakness.

It exists in between, not to be seen

It’s filter alters perception

It turns a spider to creature, a shadow to a monster;

Its true fear is to lose control.

To grow is to challenge

To challenge is to overcome.

Fear is but a mirage, a tactic of the puppeteer

To grow is to fight fear––is to live.

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

That’s A Pretty Big Deal.

Posted by Malachi Davidson on

By: Malachi

The conversation had by Dr. Carla Shedd and Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, facilitated by Dr. Cathy Davidson was one that was very heartening, especially during this current political and social climate. 

During a time where Covid-19 is running rampant through our most vulnerable communities, where lynchings are on the rise around the country, in the midst of a rather demoralizing presidential election, when we’ve watched their justice system tell us that our lives still do not matter; it has been easy for myself and many others to mute the outside world in fear of feeling desensitized, defeated, and hopeless. 

The last few months in particular have been very demanding, both mentally and emotionally. My attempts at keeping my hopes up have been very difficult, however, I can say with certainty that after viewing Change Series: Making Education More Equitable I was left feeling empowered. Not in a way that could ever erase the painful feelings of helplessness caused by the consistent injustice around us, but in a way that instead better prepared me for the challenges that lay ahead. 

For starters, to hear such an insightful conversation surrounding racial inequities, both through a social and institutional lens, was extremely vital, especially when this conversation is had by two highly educated Black women. As a Black man, listening to a conversation surrounding racial inequities could be very risky, but when led by Black women, who have historially sat at the intersection between race, sex, and class I felt, safe. 

That’s a pretty big deal. 

Safety is not something that I, or people who have similar experiences to me, may feel very often. We do not feel safe within our communities, within our schools, and definitely when outside of our communities (for many different reasons); making safety quite the rarest of commodities. But when given the opportunity to hear conversations that need to be had, led by the voices that are often the most silenced, I felt most comfortable. 

Dr. Shedd and Dr. Cottom kept it real, and for that I am truly thankful. I learned about the structural and political barriers that I will face upon continuing my education at the graduate level; and what I should expect both of myself and of the institution that I would be entering. Conversations like these are essential, because they prepare the marginalized for the challenges that await them, while simultaneously shining a light on the existing inequities and challenging the institutions to do what is right.

Blog Posts by CUNY Peer Leaders

Think For Yourself

Posted by Malachi Davidson on

Think For Yourself

We tend to take for granted just how amazing we–as humans, as individuals, as lived-experiences are. Think about all the things that you’ve accomplished thus far. For starters, you’re alive amidst a global pandemic. Not only has life as we knew it changed tremendously (and will continue to do so), you have changed as well, and slowly but surely you’ve adapted to life in the crib, and that’s been harder than you may realize. Secondly, and possibly most importantly, if it weren’t for your ability to think critically and rationally, you couldn’t be where you are today.

I know that if it weren’t for all of my experiences thus far, including all the times I’ve screwed up, disappointed someone I care for, and even let myself down; I couldn’t have grown. The lessons that I’ve learned about the world and about myself have all come as a result of my failures. Those same lessons have taught me to not only do better for myself, but to have faith in my ability to figure things out. The more I think about it, who would know what’s best for me anyway? Only I can truly know what I like and don’t like; I’m sure the same could be said for you.

Now, having reminded you of this, why have you been so hesitant to rely on yourself?  Why do you look to others for the answers to your problems?

I ask this because I have begun to notice a new trend, which I hope won’t amount to anything more than just that; which is letting friends, family, influencers, or just about anyone with a twitter account make decisions for us. The ways by which we receive information is so fast and accessible, that at times, our first interaction with a piece of information is through someone else. In my experience, there have been few times where someone has successfully relayed information to me that was completely absent of their own personal bias’. There were, however, many times where the opposite was true; and my first time learning about something was from an article, reaction or retweet, accompanied by their personal biases and beliefs–and possibly only a fraction of the story. I found myself holding onto strong opinions on things I knew very little about. It wasn’t until conversing with someone who really knew their sh!t that I realized I truly knew nothing.

My advice, try not to be like this. I was naïve and didn’t give any thought to how I was receiving my information or who I was receiving it from. I became hesitant to give my opinion, in fear that those around me would think otherwise; in fear that someone would expose my limited understanding or lack thereof. I couldn’t even trust my own thinking. I questioned my every thought, contemplating whether or not those ideas were actually mine. This is a rather frightening situation to find oneself in, and it forced me to reflect upon myself and really grow to see how and why this was even possible. Why was it that “my” stances on things could only be supported with regurgitated arguments and borrowed beliefs which were never truly mine to begin with? I had to re-evaluate how I received and internalized it. I had to learn how to be more critical and skeptical of the things that I am told. I had to develop a desire to want to know whether or not what I was seeing was the “truth”, and not a distorted version of the facts.

Now, just to be clear, I am not saying that wanting to know others opinions and ideas on things is wrong. Is there truly something wrong with doing some research on something before making an investment, or collecting information on the experiences of others before passing your own judgement? Not necessarily, however, I do believe that this behavior–if done too often, and left unchecked–can develop into a habit of letting others influence us to the point that they’re practically thinking for us. 

In order to get out of this habit, I have been intentional about improving my ability to think critically and create my own opinions, not just choosing one that I like the best. In this way it’s like doing mental math. What is 55+76? Though I am sure that each of us is capable of computing the answer in our heads, those of us who are accustomed to computing even the simplest of math problems on the calculator app will take longer than those who don’t to find 131 as the answer. I say all this to say that like mental math, when we take the time to be critical and formulate our own opinions, we are strengthening a skill that we’ve had from our very first breath, and it would be a shame to let such a useful skill go to waste.

As tedious and annoying as the process may be, do not avoid the work. When we avoid the process of discerning fact from fiction, from choosing what we agree with or disagree with, when we begin to trust others more than ourselves, we let what has made each of us so special go to waste. The ability to dictate someone else’s thoughts, let alone your own, takes an immense amount of work, and there are people, entities, and organizations who are more than happy to go through this work on your behalf. The result is that they acquire a certain kind of power–of control–over those who so eagerly sacrifice their own agency through allowing others to think for them instead.

I can’t provide you with a how-to manual on how to think for yourself. Not because I am keeping holding my secrets hostage, or because I do not have a real answer, but because this is something that only you can figure out. It’s your life, live it your way.

Remember to think for yourself.

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