By Lindsey Hennawi, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine
The church was African Methodist Episcopal (AME), which we began attending after my mother had a falling out with the priest at our Catholic church over what color skin Jesus had, how it differed from his depiction in the church’s paintings, and whether the congregation was “comfortable with” or “ready for” any change thereto.
The march occurred roughly two years after my mother made me, at age four, watch the entirety of the Roots series. At age five, she explained to my Daisy troop during our Thanksgiving celebration that Columbus’ arrival didn’t really do wonders for our Native ancestors’ livelihoods. I was 15 and it was 11 years after the march, when she mentioned, offhandedly, like it was a story she could have sworn she had already told, that the reason she pulled me out of the same Daisy troop was because the mothers would not let their daughters be my friend after they met my dark-skinned grandmother and thereby clarified my multiracial mother’s and my ethnic ambiguity.
The march was around the same time that my mother framed her Malcolm X “By Any Means Necessary” poster to hang prominently in our living room. And it was 10 years before my best friend and I started a women’s rights club at our high school, where the response ranged from the support of fellow self-proclaimed feminists who were similarly enraged over issues like pay inequity and domestic violence and the hostile skepticism of the older boys who chalked it all up to penis envy. It was 13 years before my first trip to Palestine and 14 years before I returned to the West Bank to work for the Right to Education Campaign, where I heard stories of the intimidation and incarceration of university class presidents and schoolchildren. And it was 15 years before I found myself at the center of a small controversy after getting into an altercation with a priest at my Jesuit-Catholic university over my distribution of sexual health materials on campus.
There were, of course, many different factors that prompted me to become what people would consider an “activist.” I am the daughter of politically conscious parents who raised me in a racially and economically diverse area of a “blue state.” I was always encouraged to volunteer in my community. I had the privilege of belonging to a good public school district — and later, a good private university — where I had teachers who took notice of and nurtured my interests.
But I came of age in a tumultuous time. I was 12 years old when I turned on MTV and watched the Twin Towers fall. Later that week, Osama, the friendly Jordanian deli owner who usually greeted me in Arabic, said “hello” and whispered that I should start calling him “Sam” instead. In the following months, my nation went to war again and again and I learned to articulate my opposition to it, developed ideas for the ways tax dollars could be better spent. Education. AIDS research. Prison reform.