As a black, queer, first generation American of Abyssinian (Ethiopian/Eritrean) descant who struggles with mental health, my identity and the communities I belong to are often subject to sociopolitical discourse and scrutiny. Growing up in a historically red county like Fresno (the unofficial armpit of California) taught me many lessons. One being that when confronted by the many faces of oppression, activism is not a choice. It is a responsibility. It is my sincere belief that wherever a marginalized body enters a space, their ancestors and their respective hi(r)stories enter that space as well. And together, we paint pictures and tell stories of grand specificity before speaking a single word.
Though activism has been a hugely significant theme in my life for as long as I can remember, I have begun to struggle with the word itself. My mother’s philanthropic work (“artist“) is an utterly shining standard to strive for, and after growing up with such an example, it is difficult for me to identify with some types of activism that we see today. It is clear that the pressing issues of modernity have transformed activism into a mere implication that seeking justice is done by posting a rant on social media or even just sharing a certain political opinion. Though this type activism is a definite need in today’s digital world, using one’s education, physical presence, and political voice to promote equity in every single aspect of life is more my style.
In 2005, my mother and I founded a nonprofit organization named ISBHA, the International Society for Better Health Access. I was 6 years old when I began sitting in on ISBHA’s meetings and absorbing the work that my mother and her colleagues tirelessly pursued. Along with donating all the money I got on holidays and birthdays, I became a co-founder of ISBHA’s youth group; gathering friends from school and church, planning events, leading meetings and fundraisers, etc. for 13 years. All the money raised was spent on building a mill, a water system, a K-8 school, and providing free medical care in Jemedo, a village in the countryside of Ethiopia. We gathered sponsorships for the students and other children in the village, 30 of whom are students/graduates of higher education in the nearest city, Kobo. ISBHA assembled crews of local Fresno doctors and made annual 6-week trips to Jemedo, where I served as a translator for the team while they facilitated needs assessments and provided medical care for local families. Sadly, pursuing my studies across the country at NYU has made it difficult for me to be as involved with ISBHA as I once was, but my pursuit of a better quality of life for all people is nowhere near over. I am currently only a few courses away from obtaining a Politics BFA from NYU and am planning to get back to working on ISBHA’s team as a legal aid assistant, paralegal, or part time human rights monitor while I continue to seek out artistic opportunity.