I was participating in a training during the summer where we were asked to share our life story in a visual way. We had about forty-five minutes to put our entire lives on paper. At first I felt overwhelmed, but as I began to draw and find the language to articulate the pivotal moments of my life I became eager to express myself.
It was in this space where a now beloved friend and colleague of mine said, "You should really make a graphic novel out of your story. Seriously. I'd use this to teach my class." Never did I think my life could be a site of study and insight. I had certainly identified myself as a survivor of multiple injustices and betrayals in my lifetime, and I thought that acknowledging the fact that I was alive and mostly in tact was enough. The idea that I had anything to teach or say about my recovery process had not crossed my mind till that moment. It took about a month for me to digest my friend's words and finally do something about it.
Out of the idea that I indeed had something of value to share came this zine. A small way to take some of what I’ve learned about living, and using the identities that are often devalued and ignored as a creative endeavor. As a way to rise and find a purpose for living defined by an internal will that has never ceased, in spite of outward conditions saying I should give up. I do believe that internal will has been an unyielding love that surpasses all human understanding.
Up until releasing this zine, I had felt bloated with all my information and lessons on the road to healing. At some point I'd have to make the decision to stay uncomfortable in the gas of it all, or just release it, and I know the metaphor is visceral, but healing is a visceral, fully embodied process, it's an incredible release of what you thought you needed to hide to make it in this world...I felt like my friend's reading of me and my story forced me to come into the light and share a piece of myself I would have kept to myself. So I share this with you because I think if we’re going to talk seriously about social justice we’re going to have to get frank about the role of radical healing and doing our internal work to reconcile the ways in which these systems of exploitations have hurt us and the people we love.
We must also take the magnifying glass to our spirits and see how we have internalized some of the destructive habits that have disfigured the way we show up in the work. Are we overly concerned about being perfect? Do we have tendency to shut down the emotions and perspectives of those that are often shut down and ignored in larger society? Do we shut down our own feelings without a constructive way to address them? Do we even know what we feel? Do we run ourselves ragged in the pursuit of justice? Do we assume that social justice has to look and have a particular delivery to be right? Do we have issues with conceding power and giving up control? Do we care about making the world safer for each other, or do we just concede that since society at large is unsafe this gives us carte blanche to pass on such brutality in our organizing and academic spaces? What are you willing to let go of to heal?
These questions are not meant to be facetious, they often emerge in the spaces we organize and study in to find a road to peace and justice. So I ask them to you, because they have helped shape how I embody my work and build relationships. I strongly believe that the next frontier of social justice will be a call for us to find balance between theory, social-emotional intelligence and personal wellness. And if it’s done honestly, we’ll become sharper and unwilling to hide from all that makes us numb to suffering.
Ten years ago it was so difficult to have a conversation about radical healing and wellness—particularly within a social justice and academic context—it was seen as detracting from the real work of organizing and forming an objective political analysis that spoke to the material conditions of millions. But I think knowing how to speak to the heart of a matter and see a person’s full humanity is integral to social justice work, it certainly is essential to healing, and from the looks of this world we all have some serious healing to do. I hope my zine helps start a conversation with your heart on how to mold an imperfect life into a work of art that shines and leaves the world better than it was before you arrived.
Itoro Udofia is a writer, cultural worker, composer and avid meditator living a creative life. She has received residencies and fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, SAFEhouse Arts, Alleycat Books, the San Francisco Writers Grotto, The Edward Albee Foundation and Summer Literary Seminars (SLS, Kenya). Last year, she won third place in the Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Award for her story, "To the Children Growing Up in the Aftermath of their Parents' War." She is the Executive Producer and Founder of the Healing through the Arts Festival, a festival committed to the sustainability of Black students on college campuses through wellness and the arts. Currently, she is working on her first novel entitled, The Soil Below, a story following four generations of Nigerian women grappling with generational trauma, migration, and change as they weave themselves into the American fabric. For inquiries visit https://www.itoroudofia.com/