Letters to our ancestors - Generocity Philly

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Aug. 31, 2021 2:45 pm

Letters to our ancestors

In this guest column, the three coauthors of the recent report "How the Pandemic Response Has Failed Young People" write letters to themselves from their descendants, imagining a future transformed by youth-empowering policies.

Imagine if your descendants could send you a letter from the future...

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This guest column was co-written by Deja Morgan, Alexi Chacon and Madison Nardy, members of the Youth Action Board of Community Legal Services.
We are the Youth Action Board, a group of young professionals selected by Community Legal Services to help share the stories of young people in Philadelphia with critical civil legal issues.

We were hired during the COVID-19 pandemic and came into these positions with different experiences related to unemployment, housing security, and concerns about student debt relief. After hearing false narratives about how young people were dealing with the pandemic, we decided to write a report to highlight the real hardships young people faced throughout the COVID-19 crisis and to think big picture about creating a more fair and equitable world for young people to return to once we fully recover from the pandemic.

After having a Youth Action Board session where we unpacked a chapter of Octavia’s Brood around the concepts of lineage, legacy, and reimagining, we decided to write letters to us from our descendants recognizing the work we are doing now as change agents to create a better world for them.

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Dear ancestor, 

I want to reach my hand back in time and pull you into my now. Although, you stepped into every possible dream you had and LIVED IT, I just wish you could revel in the reality you set forth in motion for us, but all I can do is thank you because you continued to dream even when you felt like “reaching the other side” as you’d say, was impossible. 

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I remember reading some of your journals during that COVID pandemic and it doesn’t make sense to me that everyone was just expected to operate as if you weren’t enduring the most traumatic time of your lives. We’ve been out of touch with our bodies for too long. They tried to convince us that grind culture was the way when all we really needed was rest. We still feel the generational trauma while undoing these curses, but together we’ve been able to undo a lot.

Our ancestors have always held the blueprint to freedom. Because freedom wasn’t a destination, it was the journey, the present moment. When you decided to rest — even just for 15 minutes — you were teaching us that our rest cannot wait.

When you decided to play — and reject the notion that physical enjoyment is only reserved for the young — you taught us to hold on tighter to our inner child. You found the time to embrace the things that made you happy, refusing to commodify them. You all knew that life was meant to be enjoyed and for every inch of it to be lived. 

You fought for a world where our basic needs are seen as rights not luxuries.

Housing is not just affordable but accessible to all regardless of income. We look back on the past and remember that we never want the term housing insecurity to become our reality again. We literally help build our communities.

We’ve reclaimed our neighborhoods overtaken by heartless developers and restored and returned homes back to families who hold deep roots in the area. Our communities are self-sustaining.

We followed the work of our ancestors in Africa and created Susus. Meaning that our community has been able to pool money in order to support daily and long term needs of our people. The joy of living amongst each other, feeding each other, and using our gifts as growers, healers, teachers, artists, and much more has come to make our lives much richer than we could have ever imagined.

Thank you for fighting for a world where access to basic shelter was not a business used to line one’s pockets, but where collective and communal care became the driving force of our ability to thrive.  

Together, we created abundance, and you all taught us that it was meant to be shared with everyone and not to be hoarded. After all, when something is abundant, that means there’s enough to go around for everyone. You taught me how to live outside of a scarcity mindset and understand that caring for myself creates a well of abundance for me to extend back out into the world. If my neighbor is taken care of, so am I, because as you learned in the pandemic, all we really have is each other.

We thank you for your courage and dedication. Wherever you are in the universe I hope you are thriving and feel all this love I have for you. 

With gratitude and abundance.

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To my ancestors,

Thank you. Thank you for working to create a more just world you could not even fully conceive. I will admit the world I live in today is much more nurturing than the world you used to live in.

It is clear that for you, student debt was a yoke that either kept you in poverty or kept you at risk of constantly falling into poverty. So many young people cornered into this situation that had no viable end in sight. It is scary to me that debt could be conceived by us and be so hard to dismantle. It is even scarier to me that the concept was made up by us, but for a long time it was hard to even name the systems that created it. People were disempowered by lacking the information to name the very forces that oppressed them.

Even more worrisome was the reality that those who could name the systems that brought about debt as a tool for exploitation were not immediately moved to do everything in their power to abolish it.

I got so confused reading articles about the debt abolition movement and seeing that those with the power to write policy to immediately alleviate others from financial distress wanted to enact piecemeal solutions. What good would $10,000 of debt cancellation do if the same value in interest could rack up again within a short number of years? Why would you treat a symptom of the issue and not address the root cause of it in the first place?

Maybe I’m being a little harsh. Eventually debt was abolished, and it took a series of policies that grew public awareness about the exploitative nature of debt.

I think it was around the time that debt was abolished that we also saw different social issues begin to be rooted out.

I wish you could have known all the details of how our government underwent a public reckoning. Policy was not some abstract concept that communities felt disconnected from. Our entire conception of government changed because we began to understand that lawmakers did not inherently have the insights needed to solve our problems. We understood that we could solve our own problems.

We started asking ourselves, if we knew the most straightforward solutions to the challenges we face everyday, why weren’t we writing the policy?

Today, we don’t rely on out-of-touch policymakers to write our laws. I think the youngest person to help co-author a policy was nine years old!

I am scared though, of the potential to go back to the way things were during your lifetime, when it seemed like many people’s needs were overlooked, and who got to live a nourished life was a frustrating game of chance with incredibly low odds.

The liberation I feel today I do not take for granted.

The world I live in today came about from empathy, compassion and strengthening community bonds. It came about by empowering everyday people and by letting go of systems that were designed by powerful people to exploit us and protect them.

If you were able to read this I’d say that a better world is coming sooner than you think and it is thanks in no small part to your activism and your hope.

(Generocity graphic)

Hi, it’s me again.

We have dinner together every night. It’s my favorite time of the day because I get to reflect, learn, and gather with people that I love. My favorite part about dinner is all the stories Grandpa tells us about how society worked very differently than it does now.

I remember a few dinners ago Grandpa told me back then, people only worked to survive. That isn’t what we do. We work because we love what we do, not work because we have to.

He told me that while you were in college you were taking classes during the day, working at night with no time to rest, all while being a caregiver. It’s difficult for me to grasp the idea of living a lifestyle like that. The idea of having to struggle just to survive. But that didn’t stop you from fighting, because you knew that was no way to live. Working so hard that you can’t reflect and gather with people that you love, like we do every night.

I admire you. Not only did you work hard to survive, but you worked hard to change that lifestyle so generations after you wouldn’t have to work hard to survive. We are able to do things we love, and enjoy life the way we want to enjoy it.

I am starting college soon, and of course we talked about you during dinner. We talked about how the college experience was drastically different during your generation.

I feel incredibly ready and prepared. We have one of the best education systems in the world, including free higher education. I am so thankful for you because I get to devote all of my time and energy to my studies.

I don’t have to worry about paying tuition, working, or rent, since we have universal basic income. We can choose to devote our time and energy to doing things we love instead of wasting time working jobs that exploit us just to survive.

While writing this letter, I was still trying to decide where I want to devote my time and energy in college. But I think I figured it out.

Because of the tireless fight you fought, life is stress-free which gives me more time to do the things that I love. And the thing that I love most is gathering and having dinner. I’m going to study culinary arts.

Just like you: your passion was for creating a better world so generations beyond your lifetime can succeed, and I want to do the same with food. Now we live in a society where no one is struggling, or forced into labor, and can spend time doing things they love, like have dinner with grandpa.

I won’t let you down.

###

  • Read Deja Morgan’s column on housing insecurity here.
  • Read Alexi Chacon’s column on student debt here.
  • Read Madison Nardy’s column on unemployment, caregiving and education here.
  • Read about the process of researching and writing the report here.
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