I was fortunate to be raised in a community where talented, multi-skilled African-American people were encouraged and supported to wear many caps. Most important, they wore them well. They were teachers, clerks, accountants, cleaners, and nurses by day, yet in the evening they embraced an alternative life re-emerging as community historians, haute couture seamstresses, caterers of local and international delicacies, artists, musicians and more. There was another world to their world, and in this alternative space they were respected authorities in their field.
In my community, everyone was a migrant from the south. We could all look to South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi as a place of origin. Most families had not arrived due to well thought out plans but were swept up via the Great Migration to look “North” for better opportunities. Our parents remembered walking away from everything to go and build again. Perhaps this led them to encourage us to be multi-skilled. They knew that what you once were and what you became after migration were often two different things!
Looking back, I realize that our parents saw education in itself as a bridge over to a better lifestyle. They did not, however, focus solely on the title of the degree. We learned at a young age that having a passion or a “hustle” was not a bad thing. We witnessed many a person transition their “hustle” from a side passion to a main income. While we were raised to give 100 or 125% at work, to aggressively pursue an array of career options, and participate in all training opportunities our 9 to 5 work was never seen as a form of lifetime security.
In retrospect, people in my community fed their souls and the souls of those who lived around them. It is quite telling that in an all-black, semi-rural, low income community, those of us who went to college decided to study a degree that reflected our skills and passion. Our parents were the perfect demographic to insist that we all become engineers, accountants, etc. in order to make money. Yet this was not always the rule. I chose to do a Bachelor in Art, Masters in Fine Art and a Master in Education and Leadership.
Perhaps it was the memory of letting go and starting over that encouraged our community to reinforce passion and dreams. While education was touted as that something people could not take from you, it was also seen as the best tool for freedom. With that degree in hand, we were taught if we had to move to another city or new position it would be easier to build or start over. Maybe passions were encouraged due to the unspoken fear that if racism or bias became insurmountable in the work place then that alternative passion could make life sustainable. More important feeding your soul after 5 PM is a place that allows us to be outstanding without having to apologize.
We believed in all of this because we had living proof in front of us that illustrated, dreams don’t take place between 9-5. I do not find it amazing to operate an English resource center in Dakar, and create works of art at the same time. I know what the elders in my community always knew. Passion often feeds the soul after 5 PM.