I have invigorated more people to articulate freedom through writing in the last year than I have in my ten years of teaching. Starting my MFA Writing program at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in autumn 2020, I was a teaching assistant for Thurgood Marshall College’s Dimensions of Culture program where I taught introductory social justice theory, history, composition, and research skills. The program culminated last spring to where my students researched and developed projects that responded to campus issues in ways that would positively impact the community. While the students developed their projects, I crafted my own. DOC TAs had the option to plan, implement, and improve an anti-racist teaching strategy and receive a certification in Anti-Racist Writing Pedagogy. My strategy was to mold student-teachers and teacher-students by emphasizing class discussion and empowering students to consult one another for help with their writing. I highlighted what students had done well in my grading practices and gave thorough commentary on how to better articulate their main ideas rather than overcorrect their language, especially for ESL students. As a result, my students consistently gave me exceptional reviews and told me verbally or in writing how my comments helped them feel more confident as writers and as people.
My strategy evolved when I taught nonfiction this winter quarter. Personal essay-writing was daunting to many of my students as they reached into themselves to tell stories often filled with trauma and self-denial in their mostly short lives. As one of my students quoted me in her final reflection, “writing nonfiction asks a lot of you.” I felt challenged to dig deeper within myself to support them with additional culturally relevant multimedia materials. I also shared how I navigated—and am still navigating—my literary and educational journey while Black, non-binary, low-income, and neurodivergent. In turn, my students were more open in class and in their writing, including non-traditionally aged students. A disabled student, along with a few of her younger classmates, launched a disabilities student group and a disabilities studies journal while a father requested to switch to my workshop group because of the impact I made on him in the first week of class. My experiences as a creative writing teacher this year demonstrate that I am meant to teach and write for my life.
Of course, as a queer person, my journey isn’t linear. When I entered my program, I had a firm trajectory for achieving my goals: My partner and I would attend the James Baldwin Conference in France before leaving Chicago for what my godfather called our “shiny new life” in San Diego. My MFA thesis would be a partially finished (and published) collection of essays chronicling my twenties as a Black non-binary person navigating the American educational system. A year after graduating, my partner and I would marry; I would build my publishing company while he advanced his nursing career and moonlit as a musician. We would later move to Africa to pursue my Ph.D., travel the world, and raise a family.
The Universe, however, often has its own way of revealing our paths through lessons on the human condition. First, the world experienced a sweeping health crisis that showed us the value of connectivity. By the end of the year, my partner had passed away from longtime health issues just ten days after his 30th birthday. Halfway through writing the latest essay for my collection, I reasoned that I should probably finish my twenties before trying to write about them at length.
The world stopped. My world stopped. I needed to begin again after a cascade of endings. So, as I did with the passing of my father and grandfather during college, I decided to write my way out—and keep helping others articulate their own freedom, too.
I have many goals I want to accomplish before I die. I will change the world for the better by guiding people toward what Audre Lorde called the erotic, helping others reach inside that “deep place of knowledge” within themselves and, “…touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears.”
This fall, I started writing my MFA thesis, a novella that follows Myles, a Gemini non-binary music student tasked with arranging a song that would unshackle the African diaspora—and thereby all people, universe-wide, dead or alive—from spiritual oppression before the start of the Aquarian age. To make the arrangement, Myles must unravel their divine feminine and use the vibrational forces of Black music, particularly during the spiritual revolution of 1968-1979, to travel space and time and communicate with the dead. My thesis works toward a Black queer liberation theology that I intend to develop later as a Ph.D. dissertation (tentatively titled “Queertique”) and is stylized as an epic poem in biblical verse to queer spiritual texts. Throughout my two years with my partner, from our first date at a concert in Chicago to blasting his trusty speaker on our only beach day together in California, music was our connection to each other, to God, and to the outside world. This book became my self-salvation and I hope its message and techniques will change the world.
But this is just the beginning.
In my third year, in addition to completing my thesis, I will complete a chapbook of poetry, video, photography, and dance reflecting on lessons about intimacy, place, and the Divine learned during the pandemic. After completing my degree next spring, I plan to expand my now-small editing consultancy, 5D Publishing, into an interactive publishing platform that prioritizes marginalized writers; my novella will be the press’s prototype. I will also finish my book about my twenties, continue teaching creative writing and interdisciplinary research methods as a professor, and one day open a school for social justice and the arts.
I hope the reading committee agrees that I’m doing vital work that uplifts disenfranchised voices and chooses to support my intellectual and professional endeavors with a PFLAG Scholarship.