Be the Storm. Be Empowerment.
Yours truly, fourth from the left.
In mid May I received an email from my sorority’s listserv that would serve as a catalyst for so many things to come. My lovely sister, Stephanie Pozuelos, from Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Incorporated (brief pause while I stroll and kick the call) had emailed our listserv asking if any sisters in the DMV area provided direct mental health services to children, adolescents, and/or teenagers, and would be willing to speak on a panel discussing their work and challenges. She explained that that as a fellow with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) one of her last tasks was to conduct a briefing on Capitol Hill.
The minute I saw Capitol Hill the first thing that popped into my mind was, “I ain’t trying to be around a bunch of stuffy politicians who would probably need a chart to be able to pronounce my name”. Did I mention I can be a bit cynical at times? I must’ve read that email like three times. Deleted it, moved to inbox, deleted, moved to inbox. I kept getting pulled towards the email, but something was stopping me from replying. Fear of what would happen when I spoke? Fear that I wouldn’t know what the hell I was talking about? Fear that the next step towards building my brand was coming and I was hella scared because I don’t feel ready? Self doubt was hounding me. Wondering if I was really cut out being an entrepreneur, building an empire, and bringing to light my purpose in the world. I decided to leave it to the universe. I said that if this was meant for me, I would receive a sign and if so, respond the next day to Stephanie. Within an hour of the email being sent out, I received one text message and two emails with Stephanie’s email from three other sisters. Each one of them saying the same thing, “this is you”. Well crap…one I could’ve ignored but three?! Yup…it was time to step up to the plate. Thank you to those three sisters by the way, yall the real rockstars!
I reached out to Stephanie the next day and said I would be willing to volunteer my time to speak on this panel. Through emails and texts, I got to see the work Stephanie had done and man oh man…is my sister the ish! Smart and dedicated, I knew I had to impress because she was going to knock it out the park at the briefing. I prepared as best as I could with stats, theories, current research, and most importantly true grit and experience from working front line with the kiddos she would be advocating for at the briefing. Kind of like sharing war stories but instead, I was planning on sharing moreso about the gaps which allow our black and brown kiddos to slip through the cracks when it comes to mental health issues. I didn’t know what to expect when I headed down to the Hill. After all, when it comes to politics, I go from zero to hundred with no pelos en la lengua (or not afraid to speak up)! However, I have learned the importance of being informed politically and knowing where your opponent stands. Plus, I have to keep my sophistiratchet balance. Word my younger sister uses to describe me and yes..I feel old…didn’t even know the word existed.
Day of the briefing I was a bundle of nerves. I’ve given many presentations and been a guest speaker at different events, but I was about to speak on……Mother. Effin. Capitol. Hill. I walked up to the senate building where the panel was and stared in awe. I had never been anywhere near the Capitol except for back in the day when we used to hang out at clubs near there where we had NO business hanging out at. I plead the fifth on details. After going through security, something changed. This energy came over me and what came to my mind completely eliminated the unknown. Here stood a brown girl from the hood, born and raised in Washington DC to two hard working and loving parents who never gave up on her and believed in her no matter what. A girl who was told she wasn’t college material and graduated high school with a 1.2 GPA. A girl who fought physically, emotionally, and spiritually for herself and others. A girl deemed to have no future. A girl who faced fears, pain, trauma, and the likes, but ended up not only accomplishing her personal and professional goals, but now was about to speak on a panel on the Hill as a doctoral candidate and expert in the field of mental health issues experienced by Latino youth. That girl was me, standing in that senate building about to fight with knowledge and come on I gotta be gangsta…drop that knowledge too (lol). When I tell you that a wave of fire came over me and I was ready to conquer that briefing..pssshhh you couldn’t tell me nothing! My mission was not to save the world with that one briefing, but to empower myself and those I fight for. Those I advocate for. Those who have been turned away or given the same messages I was once given. My goal was to give a face to the forgotten, the hurting. I spoke on behalf of the black and brown kiddos I had seen time after time, broken, discouraged, or all together pushed away. If I could reach at least one person in that briefing to make a change on policies or at least start a conversation, I had done my job. This is what it means to be empowering.
Empowerment does not have to be a huge event, although that might be the ultimate goal. Empowerment is as as simple as listening to others who have been oppressed, sharing our research or ideas, advocating for a client, mentoring others, starting a dialogue, listening to each other. Empowerment can be a small gesture with an overall powerful message. It could be you facing your fears, pushing out your comfort zone, and taking on what you thought you couldn’t. Some say that empowerment has developed a negative connotation and I say..the hell with those who think that! When you empower yourself, you build a stronger you. The day I said yes to pushing out my comfort zone and speaking on the Hill was my movement towards empowering myself against the self doubt and uncertainty I felt. You change for the better and push it all to the limits. You stand up for that kiddo you were or person you dream to be. In the midst of it all, you can prove that despite your faults or treacherous past, you are not defined by it. It is a part of your history, but not the road map to your future. My final words to you: empowerment is contagious and you have what you need to make it spread. Now go out there and show the world the boss you are!