A couple of weeks ago, I had to conduct interviews for leadership positions in a service program I’m a part of called Alternative Spring Break (ASB). Warning, begins shameless plug: It’s a nationally recognized, student-led program run through Howard University’s Office of the Dean of Chapel that provides students with a service learning experience while positively impacting communities across the country. As the Site Coordinator for ASB’s Chicago site, I interviewed students who wanted to become team leaders in Chicago as well as other cities we will be serving in the spring. While I was in one interview with another site coordinator–who was particularly quiet throughout the interview–he looked up from his evaluation form and ask the nervous freshman, “Do you consider yourself to be a conscious person?” Now we were given a list of questions by our director to ask the students so that we could evaluate them effectively, and whether someone was ‘conscious’ or not definitely wasn’t on that list. Granted we all veered off and occasionally asked site specific questions. But when he asked the girl about her consciousness–who by the way looked like she’d pass out at any moment–I looked at him suspiciously wondering why he’d ask her something like that.
Fast forward to Monday night, November 24, I was just about to pull out my suitcase and start packing for my trip home for the holidays when I got a message from a groupchat that the Grand Jury decision about the murder of Michael Brown would be announced in minutes. Although I had an idea of what the verdict would be, I still turned on my TV and opened my twitter app, hoping that for once humanity would prevail. No such luck. I sat and watched CNN for a few minutes, listening to St. Louis County “Prosecutor” Robert McCullough tell me and the rest of the world that although it’s clear that “Officer” Darren Wilson was responsible for the death of Michael Brown, physical evidence didn’t support that his conduct was wrong or worth him being put on trial. I sat listening to him tell me and the rest of the world all of the reasons why Michael Brown was somehow not a victim, but instead was the aggressor who had to be stopped. I sat listening to this representative of the law say that this decision would not be skewed by public opinion and that social media was the devil in cyber form. I sat listening to bullshit wrapped in a cloak of some rose smelling concept he called “truth.” And I suddenly I couldn’t sit anymore.
I hopped up. Threw on the nearest pants and shoes I could find. Grabbed some cash and my keys and I was gone.
As I was driving into DC with a friend, that question popped into my head again. “Do you consider yourself to be a conscious person?” Had he or anyone else asked me this before I came to Howard, I would have said no. My idea of consciousness was being this militant, government hating, Back-to-Africa type of person who got on their soapbox every chance they got and spewed conspiracy theories that were so far gone you wished someone would institutionalize them (sinks head in shame). I’d never considered myself conscious in that sense. I just knew right from wrong and thought that everyone else did too–an assumption that many of us have mistakenly made. But as I drove as fast as I could, within the speed limit of course–I have outstanding parking tickets–I began to think about what has become important to me over the years. Sure I’d like to have a poppin’ job as an entertainment journalist, hobnobbing with celebrities and getting into social events for free. And I could probably make a really good, middle class living for myself going into editing and publishing. But why would I waste my time writing an article about the latest misadventures of Kim Kardashian and her klan when I could be petitioning to stop the over policing in Black and Latino communities. Or organizing meetings of like-minded people–à la Ella Baker–and starting a revolution. Or at the very least talking to just one young person and positively changing their perception of themselves and their culture.
Now does that make me conscious, or just a decent human being?
Five hours, two sore feet and a semi-nonexistent voice later, I put this into perspective. To be conscious is to literally be aware of and responding to one’s surroundings; or in short form, to be awake. And so as I sat at a table in IHOP with three friends and fellow protestors discussing everything from locs to “Black Power,” I couldn’t help but think of all the people who were asleep. Not just physically asleep–although I can’t imagine how anyone could sleep after the announcement that night–but mentally as well. Those people who believe we’re in a post racial society. Those people who think seeing one Black or Brown face in the boardroom is normal. Those people who think Iggy Azalea is the best female rapper of all time (fix it Jesus). And right then and there, I got my answer.
Now, if you’re on the fence about your level of consciousness–you know, trying to decide where you are on a scale of one to Don Lemon–I wish I could help. I can’t be the judge of this for anyone but myself. All I can tell you to do is wake up and take a serious look at your surroundings. Take a step back and see the world outside of your own stresses and triumphs. Get a good picture of what this world is coming to and ask yourself if you’re okay with it. Because the view from here sure as hell doesn’t look right to me.