Years ago, a bitch decided to step out of my comfort zone and volunteer at a local women's shelter. I was a member of a women's group that facilitated community projects, including life skills and women's health classes at a local shelter.
I will never forget my first class…walking into the shelter full of fear and assumptions only to find a home, however temporary, full of noise and families. What began as an experiment quickly grew into my passion. The women are teen mothers, many had been thrown out of their homes and too many had been abused physically and mentally. Although my life had been radically different, I saw myself in these women…the need, the hope and the fear of a life just beginning.
I had never witnessed feminism in action in my community, working through me and yet still empowering me, until I began working at the shelter. Theory was replaced by reality, rose-colored glasses got new lenses and bullshit was hosed down to reveal the world as it is for many of my sisters. The struggle was made clear to me…my own and my fellow sisters…and we were united through our oppression.
It was and remains one of the most profound experiences of my life and I was determined to share it by any means necessary.
So, I worked up a partnership with one of the local St. Louis financial shops. Women would volunteer through my classes by teaching financial management and basic budgeting. Most of the residents had never managed their own finances and I saw this as a great opportunity for them. But I also knew that this was an opportunity for the women who would teach the classes as well.
I showed up on a random Tuesday, excited and eager to get started. Things broke out as usual…the children went with the designated sitters and the mothers went to class. The woman teaching was brilliant. I had met Tracey before…she was from the county, very successful and a mother of three. She seemed stunned by the personal stories casually related in class.
"My momma had me at 15 and I had my baby at 14, so nobody ever told me about checking accounts or stuff like that. No one I know has one."
"If my man takes my baby's social security number to get the gas turned on what is I to do? Say something? Yeah, right…and get the back of his hand."
Tracey faltered and I almost stepped in, but she recovered nicely.
After class, I joined her to play with the kids and we gathered them up to read a quick story.
As we left, Tracey turned to me with tears in her eyes.
"There are so many families here? How many…how many shelters are there like this?" she asked.
A bitch replied, "I don’t know, but the waiting list for this shelter has 300 women on it."
She shook her head and exited the building.
A bitch honestly didn't expect to see her again, but she came back…and kept coming back. The women warmed to her and she to them, so her class quickly became one of the most popular.
As the term came to an end, she took me aside.
"For what?" I asked, genuinely surprised. "Shit, thank you for helping us out so much."
"No. No, you don't understand what these classes have meant to me. I was scared. I'm ashamed to say it, but I was scared to these women. I've learned a lot…so much. So, thank you and I'll see you next year."
Theory had been applied through the simple act of my sisters in the struggle teaching and learning from each other. I was inspired, empowered and fired up because Tracey was and I could see that the women she taught were too.
When people ask me why I became a feminist I tell them feminism found me.
Step outside your comfort zone and apply some of that theory.
Get active and get found.