“Your duty is to scream those truths that one should shout but are merely whispered.” –Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Sometimes in the pursuit for lessons from my past, I discover that a single event has been a gradual time-released dose of medicine for my soul. At various points on my life’s journey, I garner just enough truth and nourishment from that experience to guide me forward to yet another morsel of healing and personal growth. As a lover of words, I’m not lost on the miracle that one such experience took place in an unassuming bookstore.
Eso Won Books, a Black owned independent bookstore now located in Leimert Park (4327 Degnan Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90008), opened its doors in 1989. For three decades, co-owners James Fugate and Tom Hamilton have been providing experiences of Black culture and history to their surrounding South Los Angeles communities through books and cultural events. The first time I stepped into this haven of Blackness, the course of my life changed in that instant.
I was a college student needing to purchase the required books for an elective African thought class. The professor informed us that the books would not be available at the campus bookstore so we were sent to Eso Won Books. Upon walking through the entrance, the space enigmatically called for my honor and respect. I obediently surrendered to it by walking slowly, quietly, and attentively while taking in the abundance of books on the shelves. It didn’t take long for me to realize that practically all the books were by and about Black people. In addition, the books represented multiple genres: literature, poetry, mysteries, non-fiction, fiction, etc. Knowing that this place of business was owned by Black men only made this moment that much more powerful. A feeling of pride and belonging filled me. I came to understand that I was responding to the call of Black writers, poets, historians, pioneers and ancestors to whom I indeed owe honor and respect.
However, after making my purchases, I walked away from the bookstore with an undeniable provocation that would smolder for a large part of my life. Why were all the contributions and riches of my cultural and racial history kept a secret from me? By this time, I had been in the American educational system for about 20 years. Year after year, school taught me that Black history was Martin Luther King, Jr. and slavery. I was taught about “the” African-American writer, Langston Hughes. Eso Won Books released a barrier of ignorance that was being covertly inserted into my life. I was now determined to uncover truths about who I am; who Black people are and share these truths with others, like me, who didn’t know what they didn’t know.
In my 20s, uncovering truths led me to frequent visits to Eso Won Books and diving into written words that “wouldn’t be available at the campus bookstore.” I immersed myself in all things connecting me to my African-American identity. I read everything, attended cultural events, joined organizations, and created organizations with a passion. I met and discussed with like-minded thinkers to analyze race, race matters, as well as, historical and political progress. This passion continued to drive me through my 30s and into parenthood. It fueled my purpose in becoming an educator. My drive for informed racial identity became the foundation for nearly all of my behaviors and decisions.
This passion simmered to form a deep seeded belief that in order to feel belonging, it was essential that we all have a deep understanding of our own identity while accepting the identity of others. Honestly, in those early days of uncovering truths, my focus was all about securing racial identity for Black people and lifting us up while informing all others that they need to start accepting our truth. Inviting challenging conversations to open the dialogue was liberating, empowering, and comfortable. However, I was usually the only one feeling comfortable by the end of the conversation. Sadly, it took years for me to understand that though my intention was to liberate and empower ALL with the truth, I was actually missing the mark. I thought truth alone would bring us all to the light of acceptance and connection. Unfortunately, truth alone is not enough.
You see, my good intentions were offered from a seed of indignation planted in my mind all those years before. My thoughts, words, and actions came from a hurt of being denied of the beauty of my family, my people, my ancestors…myself. I didn’t want anyone to feel the pain of hidden secrets that if told would help bring the whole self alive. Regrettably, I shared truths in a way that was received by some but made others annoyed, self-conscious, nervous, or confused. But the point is ensure that the truth is heard and received by all. Today, the essence of my belief remains unchanged. Self-identity and acceptance does bring people together. However, it has blossomed to include not just racial identity but all ways in which we identify ourselves. Make no mistake that my anger and pain continue to be real. The difference now is that I’m able to share truths from a place of love by filtering my hurt through compassion and forgiveness. When I talk about that moment now, the energy behind it beckons for connection and understanding not shaming. In the past, I cried tears of bitterness and animosity whenever I shared this story. Now, I can offer a warm smile while the listener cries cleansing tears of empathy and relationship. I’m being heard. We all belong and we can own that belonging when we know who we are at the core of our being. We enhance belonging when we recognize the whole being of others and accept their truths. May we all allow our truths to be heard.