On January 1, 2016 I visited Twin Oaks. The summer home of Frederick Douglass in Highland Park Beach in Annapolis, Maryland.
The house is beautiful. It was closed on the holiday, but I was able to walk around the space and stand “as a free woman and look across the bay to the land where I was born a slave”.
I felt ambivalent to the new year. I did not feel particularly excited. Nor did I feel any sense of transition. It felt like another day with things staying pretty much the same. However, once I saw the house. I was reminded of what Ayi Kwei Armah calles “the eloquence of the scribes”. Douglass was a gifted orator and prolific speech writer. Glancing at his notable quotes this morning was uplifting. Brother Douglass came with the good word on the regular basis.
Two things became especially meaningful on my walk around Highland Beach. I saw a facebook post that said that new years resolutions are not necessary for those in the process of becoming because everyday is a process of eliminating the old, toxic, unhelpful and unproductive life and nurturing the new, healthy better personhood. I identified with the sentiments (and I’m summarizing because in my newsfeed browsing, I don’t remember the post or what it said exactly).
Douglass’s famous Fourth of July speech landed on my heart on my walk. He opens the speech asking what relationship does he, a formerly enslaved African, have to do with the celebration of life and liberty that he is ardently and intentionally kept from pursuing. Douglass uses the platform to present a rhetorical debate on the existence of this celebration among the indignity of slavery with the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all.
What does this new year celebration mean for us, if we are not constantly and consistently in the pursuit of becoming new and better in terms of radical love and acceptance for ourselves and others? What does it mean to make new commitments at the beginning of the year when there is not time or mechanism for us to celebrate progress or to encourage accountability? What does it mean to claim Pan-Africanism using a Gregorian calendar? What does it mean to us that we are entering yet another year of the pursuit of liberation as we did the year before?
These are the questions that hang heavy on my spirit as the new year opens.
I am content in many ways. I am looking forward to this year (in the same way I’ve been looking forward to it since I started my PhD program) because I should hopefully finish my dissertation this year. This also means that I will be looking for jobs outside of my hometown. I’m looking forward to nurturing some of the really dope relationships I’ve come to appreciate over the last year. There are some people, places, things, and idea that I will consciously not engage in the new year. I knew that was coming.
My new years ambivalence reminded me that I’ve done a lot of work to be self-aware this year. To know who I am, what I want, and how I want to move about the world. More importantly, I’ve agreed to really love myself, who I am, how I am and why I am. It’s allowed a greater sense of security and in many ways a great sense of dignity.
I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence. – Frederick Douglass
I enter the new year holiday thinking about what modes of accountability do I want to instill in my life this year. I want to think about what changes do I want to be talking about at the next holiday. I want to challenge the resolution process to be more frequent and more personal…deeply connected to our daily journeys with one another.
Without a struggle, there can be no progress.-Frederick Douglass