When I'm asked a question like, "Why choose to work with the ACLU?" I usually retort, "I was born this way." But that's not entirely accurate. The truth of it is that I was made this way.
When I was nine years old, I read a book you may have heard of by a writer you may know; "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Of course, at the time, my adolescent mind believed this book would be about a physical bird singing in a cage—a mockingbird, right? I could not have been more wrong. The story is an account of Maya Angelou's life, beginning at the age of nine and carrying on until she is sixteen years old.
I was made this way because, like Maya, I also grew up in the South (Jackson, Mississippi). Like Maya, my parents divorced when I was very young. I felt abandoned by my father, and I also had a passion for singing. And when I choked on a song that I had been practicing for months while in church, I also wanted to stop speaking.
But because I felt rejected and misunderstood, I set out to prove myself. And instead of choosing silence, I chose sound. When I read Maya's story, I knew that although Maya chose not to speak, she had a voice—her brother Bailey—and later her poetic justice.
Thus, I now fight for the rights and freedoms of Mississippians because I know why the caged bird sings. I have been the caged bird trapped inside the Orthodox Church, racism, colorism, and the pressure to be better than my white counterparts. Through these experiences, I hold these two tenets in my life to be true: (1) everyone makes mistakes, and (2) everyone deserves to be loved. To that end, I chose the ACLU of Mississippi to have the opportunity to be a Bailey to all Mississippians.
I want to amplify the wrongs of our criminal justice system and be a part of the solution to fix it. I want everyone to know that those who have made mistakes should be treated with love and afforded redemption.