There are several things I want to state before I get into this blog:
- This blog may be difficult for some people to read and I understand that. However, this is my truth, and I know no other way to tell it but then to speak my truth.
- This will not be a quick and easy read but it is worth it.
- I am writing this blog in the context of being a Black woman. While I know and understand being silenced happens to women across the globe I am writing this from my perspective of being a Black woman. Please do not flood my comments with “It happens to White women too.” I understand that, and I dare say as a Black woman, I ‘overstand’ how it is to be policed for being Black and for being a woman.
- I will try to be as chronological and accurate as I can -this incident happened almost 3 years ago.
It was the beginning of a New Year, January 2015, the time when everyone starts their, “New Me. New Year,” pledges only to find near the end of January they have foregone their resolutions and gone back to everything they vowed they were not going to do. For me, this time it was going to be different. This year I was going to do something different. I was going to take a gamble on me after 16 years of working at a church where I served as the church secretary and the Administrative Assistant to the Pastor. I had been working and writing poetry over the course of 10 years, and it was finally time to make a decision; Hannah do you want to work in this office for the rest of your life or do you want to at least try to do what you know you were destined to do? After 16 years, I was ready to walk into my destiny.
I can recall driving to work each day, sitting in traffic during my 20-minute commute thinking, “There has to be more to life than this. Surely God did not put me on this earth to answer phones, schedule appointments and make copies.” Please don’t misunderstand me, there is nothing wrong with those things, but I knew in my heart that God was calling me to do something else, something more. I appreciated everything that I learned in my position at the church, but I knew that I was supposed to be writing. There was more that God required of me and I was ready to accept what I was called to do.
I remember I had a conversation with my Pastor at the beginning of the year and I said, “I am leaving this year.” I didn’t know when and I didn’t know how but I knew that 2015 was my year to depart. You know when it is your time to leave, and I knew that I was long overdue. I had grown comfortable in my position, my paycheck, office, parking space and a designated seat on the second pew. But being comfortable is the first stumbling block to change. Being comfortable allows you to linger long after your time has come and gone. And my time at the church was over. At this point, to be honest, I was merely going through the motions. I had done the job so long, I could do it with my eyes closed and make no mistake, I could and did do it well. I took pride in my job and made sure to complete all my tasks with excellence.
But I knew the clock was ticking…
Then, I got a call from a friend to write a poem about power for an event that she was having. She told me that I could write it any way that I wanted as long as the theme was about power and uplifting women. That night I took pen to paper, and I penned my poem entitled, Power. In the poem, I wrote several lines that I knew were directed at me because often when poets write they are not writing just to encourage the audience but writing to heal themselves. The day came for me to perform the poem and I will never forget my friend stood at the microphone and said, “Introducing one the greatest writers I have ever known…Hannah Drake,” and I started reciting Power as I walked through a crowd of one hundred or more women. And then I got to the line, “To have the courage to leave a job that doesn’t pay you what you are worth.” And I kept reciting, “I will not dim my light in order for you to feel brighter, baby I was born to shine!” And finally, “Today is the day that I step into my destiny!” While the women were on their feet cheering, every line was like a gut punch to my soul! My soul was screaming, “Hannah look into the mirror! You are speaking to yourself!” And I took a long hard look, and I was afraid. Afraid to step out, fearful of the unknown, afraid of what I couldn’t see, fearful of failing, afraid of trying. So, after I came down from the high of doing what I was called to do, I rested in my familiarity of being comfortable. But something had shifted. My office felt a little bit smaller, my parking space didn’t mean that much to me, my position on the second pew was irrelevant. What was important was that I live, that I fulfill my purpose, that I do what I was destined and designed to do.
I knew that it was time to go. But each day I continued on the hamster wheel refusing to accept the inevitable.
But God has a way of moving you even when you refuse to budge.
I will never forget the day. It was a Wednesday in November. The leaves had started to die on the trees, winter was settling in. It was time to embrace a new season. Who knew a new season was about to enter my life. I remember sitting in the hallway telling the janitor about setting up a room for a meeting. He refused. To be honest to this day I cannot remember why he refused, but in hindsight, I can say I now understand his frustrations. However, I was adamant that this room needed to be set up for a meeting, not for me, but for the Pastor and as his assistant that was my utmost duty, to make sure everything that he needed or even thought he needed has already done. The janitor’s refusal would leave my job incomplete and as someone that prided herself on the excellence of her work that was unacceptable. And the janitor and I had words, lots of them. From the hallway all the way down to another office. I do not write this blog like I am innocent. He was serving up words, and I was serving them right back. No curse words or anything like that but we were both competent in our ability to give a dignified read to one another, and we did.
And then it happened. Out of nowhere this janitor took the papers and manila envelope he had in his hand and hit me in my face. PAUSE! It reminded me of one of those BET movies, record scratch, “I bet you are wondering how I got here…” Did this man just hit me in my face? Then I said, “You bet not do that again!” AND HE DID!! Again, he hit me in my face with the envelopes! I called on God, Jesus, Joseph & Mary not to hit him back. I am from the old school. You hit me, and I hit you back!! But I knew I was in church, and I was the Administrative Assistant to the Pastor, so I was going to have to swallow down this man hitting me not once, but twice! AND I WAS LIVID!!! All the times I had a man put his hands on me flashed in my mind. From my childhood to relationships to now. The very fact that I was in Louisville was behind me and a man fighting. The ONLY reason I came to Louisville was because I was in a battered women’s shelter and my father called the shelter, and I happened to pick up the payphone, and he said, “Come home.” So I did. My life had been affected and altered by violence, and once I came to Kentucky, I made a vow never to let a man hit me again. And yet here I was in the church with a man hitting me.
I told the church secretary what happened and she was floored. She tried to comfort me and calm me down, but that train had already left the station. I went into my office and fought back the tears as I loudly remarked, “You hit the wrong person!” Now that I think about it, “Who would be the right person?” I cannot recall who I called but I knew this information would spread through the church like wildfire and it did. I was angry, I was hurt, I was ashamed, and I was embarrassed. How could this happen to me? I managed to work for almost 20 years with not so much as a complaint and now this.
Silence is lethal…
I went home that night and never said a word. I don’t know why. Even today I wish I knew. I slept in a bed of despair blanketed in my anger and shame. Who could I tell this story to? Who would believe me? Even when I thought about it, it seemed crazy and unbelievable to me. How could I leave a life of abuse only to enter a place that should be a sanctuary where I was hit once again? I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. And time passed…days…until Monday came and the Pastor walked into my office, and I knew why he was there. He sat across from my desk, and admittedly I felt surely he has my back on this incident. This will just be routine questions that I could and would more than willingly answer. But then the questions shifted as I was asked repeatedly, “Did I hit the janitor?” I never laid a finger on the janitor, and I am the type of person, if I did, I WOULD TELL YOU! I have no reason to lie. It appeared to me that this was going to be the narrative painted, so I sat back in my chair as he continued saying something along the lines of, “The janitor has been let go, and we are going to suspend you for 3 days.”
“For what?” I asked.
“For yelling and you could have diffused the situation by not following the janitor down the hall and continuing the conversation.”
So, let me get this straight. After 16 years of impeccable service, I am being suspended for 3 days for raising my voice along with another co-worker that was yelling at me? Suspended for having a heated conversation as we BOTH walked down the hall to another office? I tried not to think about all the times I heard other people in the church raise their voices and just focus on the situation at hand. “And then this man hits me not once, but twice, and I am supposed to what, be silent about it?” Interesting. He slides a paper across my desk about my suspension to accept the 3-day suspension and honestly I cannot recall if I signed it or not. I remember I asked, “Can my suspension start now?” He said yes, and I gathered my purse and walked out the door.
A still small voice.
As I was heading home I will NEVER forget, I made it 4 blocks, and as sure as I know my name is Hannah, God said, “Go back and get your stuff.” I knew that was it. That was the door for me to walk into my destiny and I wasn’t going to let it close. For one of the FIRST times in my life, I didn’t question God, I didn’t second guess, I didn’t pause. I whipped my car around and headed back to the church and started packing up my office. It is funny, after 16 years, everything I had of value to me fit in one box. I put that box in my car and headed home, hitting the highway feeling relieved. It was one of the first times that I had stood up for myself. I was not born to go along just to get along. I remember I was at the stoplight at Taylorsville Road and Park Laureate Drive and I called the Pastor and said, “I am done. I don’t want to do this anymore. I quit.” And for the first time in years, I felt free. Did I have a job lined up? NOPE! Did I have health insurance waiting on me? NOPE! Did I have an endless bank account with money flowing? NOPE! But I had God, me, a pen, and a notepad. I had the me I always wanted to be, free to write and say anything that I wanted to say and that was worth more than all the riches in the world. I started working at the church in my early 20’s, and now at almost 40, I was finally able just to be!
So, everything is perfect now, right?
Wrong. After the euphoria of quitting my job wore off, reality set in. I had a daughter in college. I had rent to pay, lights and gas to keep on and food that was needed on the table. But make no mistake when God opens the door, God paves a way. I had a friend that I met with and told what happened, and he said, “How much money would you have made for the remainder of the year?” And I told him, and with no hesitation, he wrote a check for that amount and said, “Now go do what you said you wanted to do. You want to write? Go do that.” It all sounds so fairytale happily ever after perfect, but I was hurt. I cried, I yelled, I cried some more. How was this fair? How was this right? I get an email from the Pastor accepting my resignation. It was 3 sentences. After 16 years, it was all summed up in 3 sentences. Then I get an email from the finance department they would finish paying out my salary for the remainder of the year along with my health benefits. Fine. I only asked for one thing when I left, my phone. I had the phone for over 5 years, and I wanted to keep the number and transfer the phone in my name. So I did.
The next few weeks were a haze. How do you find your footing after something so traumatic? After 16 years everything that I knew had shifted. And then my friend came to my house, and she allowed me to cry, and out of the blue she said, “I want you to recite your poem Power.” What? How was this the time for a poetry reading? I was having my own personal pity party, how dare she! “I want you to recite your poem, Power,” she said again. And so I did. “Power….”
Pause… “Repeat that line again.”
“To have the power to leave a job that doesn’t pay you what you are worth.”
“Say it again.”
Tears were streaming down my face, my voice was quivering, but I said, “To have the power to leave a job that doesn’t pay you what you are worth.”
“Okay keep going.”
My voice trembled. “I will not dim my light in order for you to feel brighter, baby I was born to shine.”
“Say it again.”
“I will not dim my light in order for you to feel brighter, baby I was born to shine.”
She sat with me and made me recite that poem over and over again until I believed it. It wasn’t enough for me to stand up in front of other women and recite it, I had to believe it in the core of my being, and finally, I did.
Or so I thought I did.
Still I did not learn.
I remember I applied for a job to be an administrative assistant. Another hamster wheel. Another 9-5 that didn’t move me any closer to where I knew I was destined to be. I got the job, and my daughter said, “Mom you JUST left a job doing the same thing. If you really believe that writing is what you are supposed to do, why don’t you just try?” Out of the mouth of babes. She was right. My fear was keeping me bound. And out of the blue, I had a meeting with two friends, and they offered me a position where I could use my poetry and creativity. Instantly, I knew that was the job for me. I called the other job and told them that I was sorry, but I had to decline the position. It was just a month later, one of the women that hired me for the administrative assistant position heard me speak at an event and came to the stage and told me, “You made the right choice.”
I was finally in my zone. I possessed the power to make my daydreams reality. My future, my life wasn’t in the hands of anyone else. My destiny had already been written before time was time. God knew the plan before I did and only needed me to align with God’s divine will for my life and because God loves us so much, God is willing to shift us BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY! God doesn’t dwell in the realm of comfortable! If you are called to do God’s will, expect and anticipate the shift! I didn’t know what God was doing, but still, I believed. I knew that what God was up to was greater than I could ever imagine.
Forgetting the former things…
By December of 2015, I accepted the new job that would allow me to use my poetry, writing, and creativity in ways that I could never imagine. I entered into January 2016, and my friend gifted me with the Prayer of Jabez book, and I said, “I am just going to start praying this prayer and see if it is true.” And in weeks after writing poetry for almost 20 years, my poem Formation went viral and literally went around the world. My new job has taken me across the United States, using poetry to elevate and amplify the voices of those this world often forgets. I have been to Mississippi, Philadelphia, New York, Alabama, Washington DC, New Orleans, North Carolina just to name a few places. While this may not seem like a lot to some people, this is coming from a woman that never traveled. At 39 years old, I finally got my passport and poetry allowed to travel to Dakar, Senegal. Poetry allowed me to step foot in the Motherland. What is even more exciting for me, is my liberation allowed my daughter to get her passport and she made the trip to Dakar with me. That is how freedom works. It is not just for ourselves, but our freedom allows other people to live free. When I told my daughter that I was going to write this blog, she said, “Mom I am proud of you.” In January 2017, I started my blog, and my very first blog went viral. From there people read my blog all around the globe. I have been invited to write for Cosmopolitan, my blog entitled #DoNotMoveOffTheSidewalk ignited a movement that landed me on Inside Her Story with Jacque Reid and Tom Joyner, my poem Spaces was selected by the National Academy of Medicine as one of the 30 pieces of artwork that speak to visualizing health equity, I was selected as one of the first Hadley Creatives in Louisville, and now I am being nominated to be the first Black female Poet Laureate of Kentucky.
I remember when I returned to church for a meeting and I went into my old office and I was stunned by how small everything looked and my friend said, “You are much too big for this office now, Hannah.” And I smiled. I had outgrown my position a long time ago. No one has a light and hides it under a bushel and greatness cannot be contained. I remained hidden in that office for far too long but there comes a time in life that God will no longer allow you to be hidden.
God has blown my mind! And I wouldn’t take nothing for the journey! Everything that I had to go through to get this point showed me, “Hannah do not be afraid to be a woman with a voice! Do not be afraid to stand up for yourself! Do not be afraid to raise your voice! Do not be afraid to shout when the world demands that you whisper! Do not be afraid to walk in your authority!”
To my women, particularly Black women, I know. I hear you. I see you. I understand that this world will tell you that you are too much. When I watched Serena stand up for herself, my story came flooding back, and I knew I had to share it. Too often Black women are penalized for being loud, and our passion is characterized as anger. We are punished for the bad behavior of some men. We are called ghetto when some of the greatest minds in the world have come out of the bricks. We are considered to be having a meltdown when we stand up for ourselves. We are made into caricatures, depicted as Jim Crow images, wide hipped and big-lipped when we demand respect. Demand it anyways. Stand up anyways. Even if your knees are knocking and your voice is quivering, speak boldly. And when you stand up, know that like Serena and me, it may cost you. You may have to give up one thing, to gain EVERYTHING! But know that the price of your silence will be far more costly.
You have a voice, do not be afraid to use it! If this world tells you that you are too much, they just cannot handle the woman you are designed to be. Be that woman anyways! Just do it! Shout it from the rooftops that you are here, loud, proud, bold and unashamed!