Sunday, December 14, 2014
To Be the Voice
These past few weeks have been A LOT! Between wrapping up classes and finals, preparing to go home for 3 weeks, becoming more and more immersed in the activism happening in Durham now, and working on my research project for the UN CSW fellowship, I’ve barely had time to process everything I’ve been doing. However, I’m very excited about the progress I’m making on my research project. I’ve partnered with a great organization, InStepp, whose executive director has been very supportive. I hope that even when this fellowship is over, I can continue to work with them in some capacity.
This week, I got to interview a few of InStepp’s clients who’ve recently been released from prison and have participated in InStepp’s Employment Re-entry Assistance program. I got to listen to their stories, their struggles and hopes for the future as well as their thoughts on the criminal justice system, its treatment of women and society’s treatment of women as a whole, particularly women of color. It was really helpful and inspiring to hear the voices of the women at the center of this entire project I’m working on. One woman, who expressed how happy she was that an organization like InStepp would get attention on an international level, after our interview told me that I could be the voice for women, specifically black women, who are incarcerated or have been incarcerated.
I knew she meant this in the context of my research project and the presentation I would be giving at the UN in March, but I couldn’t help but think about this statement in the larger context for some time, and I still am pondering it. What does it mean to be “the voice” of a group of people? Is that even the goal? Especially when one has a more privileged position than the people one is speaking for/about, how can one truly be an advocate, one that amplifies the voices of more marginalized others and creates the platform for those others to speak power to their own truths. But how can an advocate still speak to their own truths and leverage their privileges and individual abilities in ways that can go against the status quo?
As I get more into this advocacy research paper, these questions will be guiding my process. Instead of being the voice of incarcerated women in the United States, how can I be the microphone from which their voices speak through me? How can I combine my own skills and insights while still centering the experiences and thoughts of the women represented in the work I do?