Road to DC: Durham, NC (Part 3) — In part three of our Durham, NC conversation we hear from Atrayus, founder, president and CEO of the non-profit Movement of Youth, which serves the “educational and social needs of underrepresented populations.” He’s also currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Christian Practice from Duke University Divinity School. His inspiring story is captured in part by a powerful TEDx talk he gave in 2014.
On our current moment
I’m in Divinity School, and one of my favorite verses is from Hosea 4:6: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” And then in John it talks about “The truth will set you free.” And I think what’s really alarming is, I think we’ve arrived at a post fact, post truth society.
One of the truths of this country is that it was founded on white supremacy, and to not be able to have honest conversations about that is a problem. I mean, we really need to dive into how that has set up systems of inequity that have created spaces in which people of color are constantly under attack, and have been de-invested from, and have been pushed to the margins of society. So I think we need to deal with white supremacy.
The second truth has to do with the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. In many ways I think his legacy has been sanitized, where people focus, and I think very intentionally, on MLK as a fighter for civil rights, in particular for black folks.
“When we can societally re-determine what it means to be successful, and how success shows up, then I think we can finally get to this notion of how severely we’ve been disconnected because of it”
But what I think people forget is that he was assassinated when he was doing the Poor People’s Campaign—when he was able to dial past race and say, yes race is there, but it’s also a distraction, because slavery was an economic system…it was always about money. And as soon as he started trying to align people of various races that were poor, then he became very dangerous, because he was able to unite folks.
So while I think we need to deal with race, I also think it’s really a distraction. Because I think that capitalism is the root of why a person like Trump was able to get to where he is, because he represents this false model of success—the flashiness, the gross consumption and materialism that is directly connected to the oppression of other people.
So I think that when we can societally re-determine what it means to be successful, and how success shows up, then I think we can finally get to this notion of how severely we’ve been disconnected because of it.
On “becoming unbound”
If we can get beyond these material things and we can get back to authentic relationships with one another, then I think we’ll really be in a space where we can be become unbound.
And when I say unbound, I think there are so many systems and belief systems and thoughts that bind us, that stop us from being able to show up and fully be ourselves…we’re constantly in this space where, when we step into a new location, we have to extract a part of ourselves in order to survive.
I’ll speak for myself. When I walk into a space—you know, so I’m black, I’m a man—I have to think about which portion of me is showing up now.
Something very simple that I’m sure folks of color can relate to, is this whole notion of ‘code switching.’ I was taught that when I get into certain environments with white folks, I have to act a certain kind of way in order to be able to navigate. And it’s just something that I naturally understand. I know that when I walk into a store, I keep my hands out of my pockets, I know that I’m not going to go into secluded areas, and I’m going to look people in the eye—because I don’t want to become a target.
If I get pulled over by the police, I know there are a number of things that I need to do that I am consciously thinking about that I don’t think white people really have to deal with.
And so for me, being a person in this country of color is essentially dealing with micro aggressions every single day.
On becoming awake
And so to get back to the original question, what does this time in the country mean to me, it’s a time of urgency, but I think it’s a time in which we’ve been in the midst of a long slumber, and now we’re slowly starting to wake up and say, ‘wow, this shit really happened’, and we have to figure out what we’re going to do about it.
Because the ways in which we’ve been living are unsustainable, and the amount of damage that can be done in 4 or 8 years, if that were to happen, could damn well be irreversible.
And so I think that it’s imperative that those who are concerned and awake continue to learn and grow, but further, to find ways to build the types of connections we need to dismantle the current systems we have in place that are creating the outcomes we currently have.