In a day and age where we are forced to confront the sad reality of racism and police brutality, it is important to stay aware of what is happening around us or, more simply put, stay woke. The popular saying “stay woke” means to always be informed, especially in a time when the news is often purposely manipulative. If you are a young adult that is woke you most likely have attended or even organized a protest and are vocal about injustice.
On the other hand, if you find yourself in the company of one who is woke, it might be discouraging if you do not possess the same cultural knowledge. So what happens if you’re not woke? What if you have been pressing the snooze button and have been sound asleep? I have to admit that I was someone who fit this category but throughout college I encountered many people who genuinely had a passion for their community who opened my eyes, no pun intended. For example, Faith Miller, the cofounder of the website Dear Sista Friend, an amazing online network created as a space to encourage and empower Black women, was my college roommate. I also attended summer camp since eighth grade and had college pre-med classes with Tyrell Russell, a bright young man who is devoted to civil rights, a great poet and even better leader. By their sheer presence, these individuals challenged me to become a critical thinker, to think more deeply about social justice issues, and ultimately ignited my desire to always “stay woke.”
I will admit that this change did not take place overnight and throughout my journey I often questioned why Faith, Tyrell and others were so dedicated to protesting and discussing police brutality. However, today I want no more than to be by their sides supporting them every step of the way. My transformation first began with educating myself. Anyone who desires to “be woke” first needs to learn their history. After all, people fought and died for the very rights we have today and if we are going to learn to fight, it might as well be from the people who were at the frontlines of the battlefield. I first made a conscious decision to read books written by Black authors. I read An Intro to African American History by Joanne Turner-Sadler, The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley, How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (trust me it’s not what you think), Buck by M. K. Asante, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Invisible Man Got The Whole World Watching by Mychal Denzel Smith and Black Coat White Doctor by Damon Tweedy to name a few.
Although I am a long way from my goals, I am able to speak more intelligently and accurately about issues affecting the black community, have a deeper love for my Black brothers and sisters and want to help the movement in any way possible. So, sistafriend if you have been woke since the day you came out of your mother’s womb I applaud you. Remember to be patient with those who do not come from the same intellectual background by always being a kind leader offering words to inspire rather than belittle. And to the sistafriend who may have been sheltered growing up, have no interest in news and politics, or have a hard time figuring out what Black people are so mad about, there is still hope. Do not allow anyone to make you feel lesser than for once being half asleep, but instead find someone who inspires you, read an article a day, attend a protest or two and remember there is beauty in growth. Know that there are multiple ways that we can engage our Blackness. Stay Black! Stay beautiful! Stay woke!
Sharnell Cori Robinson graduated in May 2015 from Southern Methodist University with a B.A in Psychology and Biology and now lives in New York. She will be attending medical school in the near future. Sharnell also enjoys spending time with her family and writing poetry.