The Lessons A Year Of Reflection Taught Me


For the majority of last year, I've journaled almost daily—sometimes two, three, ten times a day. I'm talking poems, affirmations, tear-stained pages of frustrated rants and emotional pleas; detailed accounts of my biggest goals and worst fears. Last year, I found solace and sanctuary in writing, and yet somehow the task of reflecting on the year in its entirety feels daunting.

2017 was about stripping things away.

Some change was extremely reluctant, some was exciting. I had to come to terms with a lot of unhealthy behaviors and hold myself accountable to a standard higher than I previously felt capable of living. I also had to embrace myself fully, and learn that I can be imperfect and amazing, anxious and ambitious, hurt and whole at the same time. This is honestly the first time I've felt a real emotional connection to the year that has gone, and a true expectation and exhilaration for the year to come.

2017 was transformative for me. It broke everything down to be built back up on more solid ground. I feel it would be negligent to let such a pivotal year pass without serious reflection and extracting the lessons that I have learned. That extraction may be painful, but the year also taught me a lot about my ability to handle pain. Below are other lessons I learned over the course of a year.

Pain Is A Wonderful Motivator, But She Burns Out Quickly.


It's the kind of food that fuels you but leaves you starving at the same time. Pain forced me to claw my way out of a dark place, but when I emerged, I realized that it alone would never keep me going. Once pain has served its purpose—to awaken you, to kick you into action—let it go, and choose to operate from faith instead. I'd rather be running toward something good than away from something bad. Love-based over fear-based actions, always.

Don't Get Over It - Get Through It.


If you were on a track running laps and came to a hurdle, naturally, you'd want to jump over it. But when you lap around, there it is again, waiting to trip you up. Every time you jump that hurdle, you make it over and you smile…but every time you come back around, your body is more tired and your mind more exhausted than before.

What if instead of jumping over, you ran right through the hurdle? It would shatter and splinter. You'd fall and scrape your knees, get injured, and probably lose the race. But when you got back up and ran another lap, that hurdle would be gone—demolished—nothing standing in your way.

The track is your journey and the hurdles are the obstacles. Whatever those obstacles may be—rejection, loss, sickness, unemployment, etc.—don't try to get over them, work through them.

It was about confronting my pain, looking it in the eye, getting to know it intimately. That meant a lot of writing it out, even and especially when it felt messy, ugly, or embarrassing. Initially it hurt more than anything, but slowly I discovered root causes of my problems and now I believe they have significantly less power to trip me up because I can see them coming.

You Are Not Your Mind.


This was a big one for me. Struggling with anxiety and (at one point) depression, I've battled with the notion that I was defective because I just couldn't think like other people: Why can't I just be positive? Why is this so hard for me and so simple for others? Why am I so afraid of things? What's wrong with me?

Nothing is wrong with me.

I realized that just because I have "bad" thoughts doesn't mean I'm a "bad" person.

I am not my mind or my thoughts, but rather the observer of those thoughts. I've learned the distinction between being defective and harboring a defective mindset. As the observer of my mind, I can choose new, productive thoughts, remain vigilant against unhealthy habits, and build a new experience of life. It is a slow process and I'm still working on it every damn day (can't stress that enough), but it is possible. My first step was realizing that I am not a negative person. I am simply a person who has been practicing negativity for far too long.

Hobbies Are Vital.


When all your ducks aren't in a row, it can feel trivial and even irresponsible to indulge in "free" time. We think we don't deserve to enjoy ourselves because we haven't achieved enough. Bullsh*t. Enjoying your life should be a MUST, especially when you're healing.

For me, that meant dancing, writing, and for the first time, exercising for enjoyment. Make sure you confront your pain but don't make your ENTIRE life about whatever's hurting you. Go dance, read, sing, whatever. Blow off some steam. Why constantly strive to build a life you won't even allow yourself to enjoy?

I Thrive In Purposeful Isolation.


I discovered that I have to get really still to hear God's signals. That meant not only clearing the clutter of my mind by free-writing stream of consciousness into my journals, but also clearing social clutter. I skipped out on social events I didn't absolutely need to attend; my phone was often on airplane mode or turned off altogether.

I did way more things solo and discovered that my time alone should be a sanctuary, not a sentence.

In spending more time on my own (in vital combination with addressing my issues, working through my pain, and taking action toward improvement), I felt more at ease with myself and less concerned with where I was in comparison to others. A few strategic hiatuses from social media now and again also don't hurt! Now, I love being alone not to hide from the world, but to reenergize in the midst of my own being.

It's OK Not To Know The "How" Of Life.


I'm still working on everything on this list, but this one in particular is really challenging for me. On a rational level, I recognize that lots of people, especially people my age, have no idea what the hell they're doing. However, my anxiety tries to convince me they've all got it figured out and I just didn't get the memo. It is a work in progress, but I'm letting go of the "how" and focusing more on the "what" and the "why."

There Are Upsides To My Anxiety.


Before last year, I never, ever thought I would look upon my anxiety with anything other than resentment. But last year, I made a purposeful shift in perspective. Yes, it brings me really low, but in another way, it has allowed me to build up the best parts of myself. When you know what it feels like to feel controlled by your mind, you're more empathetic toward others and the struggles they might be going through. I'm an imperfect person who still judges and misreads, but I am proud to say, I have become much more aware of the words I speak and the power they hold to either affirm or cut someone deeply. My anxiety makes me more compassionate, more understanding.

It has also pointed me in the direction of my purpose. Even if all the details may not be planned out yet, I know that in whatever I do, I want to help others not to feel the way I have felt for so much of my life. I want to support people and lift them up; empower them to reclaim their lives from an overactive and often over-negative imagination. While I can't say I love my anxiety, I love that it has shown me the purpose in my pain.

You Are Not Your Circumstances.


I have been seeking full-time employment since 2014. Anyone who knows that struggle knows the havoc it can wreak on your mind. Though things are in a better place, this is something I struggle with on the daily and remains one of the biggest triggers for my anxiety. Still, in the midst of my year of healing, I have gradually come to accept (stubbornly) that where I am is not who I am.

Before you had a career or "likes" or relationships, you had a soul; therein lies your worth, not in any title or status. I have to remind myself time and time again that I am a good-hearted person, I am trying, and I am more than enough—right where I am.

There are probably a million other things the year has taught me, but I have to end this somewhere. On April 25, 2017, I turned 25, which made it my "golden year". Admittedly, at the start, it felt anything but golden. But now that I sit here re-reading my journals and writing this all out, I am nothing but grateful for the way this year has molded me. It set the foundation so that I can build on more secure ground in 2018 and beyond.

For anyone also coming off a difficult year, I urge you to reflect. Indulge in your transformation, in your strength for making it through. Celebrate all of your tiny victories because sometimes, that's the momentum you need in order to keep going.

Don't stop now. You are never alone.

*Originally published on Medium

Featured image by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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