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‘What I want as an African-American woman is to be heard, be seen and be counted’

June 5, 2020 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose


This guest column is written by Rev. Michelle Simmons, founder of Why Not Prosper.
As the executive director of Why Not Prosper, and wearing the hat of someone who was formerly incarcerated, I often find myself evaluating where I am as far as values and priorities for myself and the population that I serve. In this column I want to ask, “where are you?”

Dear friends and readers, my name is Reverend Dr. Michelle Simmons, and in addition to serving as executive director of Why Not Prosper, I founded the program in 2001 from my own lived experiences around trauma, addiction and incarceration. It gives me great honor to be able to be on the front line with formerly incarcerated women because I know firsthand what struggles they endure.

When I ponder the same question I’m asking you —where am I? —  my mind goes one place and my heart goes another. Experience has taught me to follow my heart and because of that, I am 100% sure that spirituality — defined as being grounded and embracing radical self-love — is of great importance to me in times like these.

Because I am grounded and present to myself, I think about where I am in dealing with the pandemic, chaos, and turmoil going on in our world and city today.

What I have come to realize is I am in a place of pivoting. Simply put, pivoting allows me not to look at my current circumstances but rather, what I want. And what I want as an African-American woman is to be heard, be seen and be counted.

This is why voting matters so much to me.

In this past primary of June 2, it seemed like I had to pick from the worse of two evils: one, possibly contracting COVID-19; the other, not voting in the primary election. What I chose to do instead was apply for a mail-in ballot and read the instructions thoroughly. I completed the form and submitted it in a timely manner to ensure my vote would count. I also ensured that I followed every instruction so that my vote would, in fact, be counted.

So when I ask the question, “where am I?” I can answer: I am grounded in forward movement and taking action. I am grounded in making the change when and where I can.

The mail-in ballot process would have been unthinkable to me six months ago. I would have never entertained it or deemed it necessary. But on June 3, as I write this column, I am so glad I did. This time on election day our city was in an uproar, protesting and looting. National Guard presence everywhere. It was just too much to bear.

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But what I was very comfortable and confident about is that I had cast my vote, that it was received and counted. And that I get to make a change by doing so.

The same way I started this column, I’ll end it: Where are you?

Where are you putting your attention? What are you focusing on? What matters to you?

If you are not registered, get registered and make your voice heard and your thoughts count.

Contrary to popular opinion, African Americans do count, we do get to vote, we do matter. But we have to exercise that right. There are many essential devices in our homes, such as a refrigerator, but if it is not plugged in, it doesn’t work at all. Our vote is critical, but only if we use it.

If you are not registered, June 3, 2020 was the first day to register to vote and get prepared to vote in one of the most important elections in our history — so you can count as well.

It seems that with our ever-changing world, society, city and days, it is really important to be grounded.

Where are you?

I am so happy that I found my place, knowing that I matter, and count. Making my voice be heard by casting my vote, at any and all costs.


Philadelphia Uprising 2020

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