EDITOR'S NOTE: Rage and Grace Amid COVID-19 | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

EDITOR'S NOTE: Rage and Grace Amid COVID-19

Douglas Panzone created this artwork as part of the Belhaven Heights community mural project. Photo by Azia Wiggins

Douglas Panzone created this artwork as part of the Belhaven Heights community mural project. Photo by Azia Wiggins


Azia Wiggins

These days, I find myself in a state of perpetual rage.

Most days that rage is filled with disgust and with each growing day the more I learn, the more I read, the more I open myself up to diverse conversations, it seems the more time I spend on the side of darkness. I find myself having to pull away more, become acquainted with isolation just to quiet my mind. I am deeply saddened at how we the people have become mere puppets in a political play, with government leaders putting on a production of clear profits over people.

In Mississippi, will it take bodies piled up on North State Street outside of UMMC before we all stand hand-in-hand, unafraid to collectively unite and govern ourselves? What will it take before we together demand what rightfully belongs to us all: a living wage, affordable housing, resourceful communities and the death of food deserts.

I digress.

At the beginning of this pandemic, I wrote to you about the silver linings of it. How I looked forward to the weekends since it's been so long since I was off on a Saturday. I went through my stage of making the most of a situation I couldn't control. That was a time of new favorite movies and new favorite snacks: "Train to Busan," "The Old Guard," "Hannibal" and Wild Cherry Fanta, Ched 'R' Peppers, Nutrageous Bars, Nacho Cheese Doritos dipped in mild queso dip.

As time goes on, and the state and nation continue to lose the battle with COVID-19, leaving all of our brokenness laying bare for the world to see, my time in this new quarantined life has also evolved.

I have been praying that my Creator makes my purpose clear and that I be a part of the solution. However, having this time to focus on myself has indeed exposed many of my own demons. Some I've slayed, some I still battle with, and some beget new unintended lessons.

I've learned how naive I can be when it comes to accepting certain information and simultaneously how dismissive I can be when I'm within the earshot of something I strongly disagree with or don't believe in. I've learned that although something may be true, often the idea, the information given is incomplete.

This includes information on the 
internet, in articles and books, information from colleagues and family teaching me about specific issues, and even information from others concerning others—character assessments based on the perception of someone else.

I have had to unlearn a few things. I've had to question my own affinity for judging one's character and it's been hella uncomfortable.

I've always been a do-your-own-research-type person, but during quarantine, as I talk less and listen more, I've become more adamant about taking out the time to listen to those I don't agree with, to truly listen without responding. I now have a deeper understanding of the importance of free speech. I have a more profound responsibility to uphold the statement, "Black people are not a monolith." If that is indeed true, then most certainly democracy is not a monolith.

There is a war among the people nationally, but for me the divide is in the microcosm of Jackson, among my own Black people and municipal leaders in this predominantly Black city; it pulls on my heart more. 

Here I am—a political novice, a millennial—the bridge between seasoned leaders of Gen X and the ambitious and fiery Gen Z, trying to figure out where I fall in.

I've been to Jackson's People's Assemblies and the Real People's Assemblies (see pages 8-9) led by ordinary citizens that have had enough of what they see as corruption and neglect from city officials, and I can't stand fully on either side. Like many others, I'm not sure who to trust.

My heart and mind found solace is the words of Mayor Choke A. Lumumba when he said to me in a breakout room during the last People's Assembly: We need collective genius, political activism and political education to make room for progress.

I also believe strongly in the words of Adofo Minka of the Real People's Assemblies: "Black representation does not equal Black power."

The distrust forming in my spirit has made it much easier to follow my own convictions. Although continual, my rage is best friends with logical, critical thinking and compassion. When confronted with the question of who to trust, I've decided to tap into the purpose God has given me and focus on using every tool handed to me to build up my community little by little, and with my pen and voice, line by line.

Even though I am angry, I sin not. I have learned that there is a time and place for all things, even loss and victory. I'm 
mature enough to have tasted the savory palate of justice and peace at the right time, and although my anger is the fuel, anger alone is incomplete and is not designed to deliver justice.

There must be diplomacy. There must be a strategy. There must be grace.

Don't confuse grace with weakness or think my grace is gullible. I can make strong demands and simultaneously display grace in how I hold conversations with those I hold accountable. I can practice grace when I disagree with someone, but understand that our disagreement doesn't discredit their worth and experience needed to fight on collectively. If we are going to survive this national undoing, we must hold our leaders accountable tactfully.

I was watching a docu-series on Youtube called "Iconoclasts with Maya Angelou and Dave Chappelle" a few weeks ago, and Dr. Angelou said something that stuck with me: We have to be very careful of the words we use. Another lesson: I have to be very careful of the words I use.

I know compromise is necessary to reach unity and not just among Black communities, but across all racial, religious, gender and sexual divides. However, I refuse to compromise on my freedom and the freedom of others. Where we are now, where I am in my anger, in my thirst for progress and true freedom for all is a necessary place. Let's continue to fight for our collective genius across all barriers and show the world the true power of democracy.

Azia Wiggins is the executive assistant of the Jackson Free Press.

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