By Asantewaa Boykin, RN
I am the daughter of Valerie Boykin and the granddaughter of Bertha Brandy. Both women taught me that family and community are not only important, but truly the backbone of our survival. I have always harnessed the spirit of rebellion. As an activist, I’ve bravely confronted injustice -- both in the streets and in the healthcare system where I work as a Registered Nurse specializing in mental health and emergency medicine. I began my journey into activism in San Diego where I worked with the “Feed The People” movement. After moving to Oakland, CA, the place of my mother's birth, I became a founding member of the O.N.Y.X. Organizing Committee. O.N.Y.X. was active and prominent in the struggle to achieve justice for Oscar Grant. Later I co-founded the Anti Police-Terror Project, a multi-generational, multi-ethnic organization committed to the eradication of police terror.
2015 was a rough year. Rebellions were happening all over the country in response to the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO. I had just finished nursing school, was enduring fertility testing and treatment, and my mother was growing increasingly ill. Between frequent trips back home, meetings on top of meetings, direct actions and studying for Nursing Boards, life felt heavy. In the midst of all this unrest and uncertainty, joy came. I was pregnant. The studying continued, direct action continued, my mother's condition didn’t improve, but there was new life happening. Unfortunately my daughter was born at 23 weeks and didn’t survive, and my mother passed six months later. I had resolved that they wanted to be together as ancestors. Though comforting, this resolution came after many tears and much struggle. At some point during this fog of grief I remember being told “be kind to yourself.” Though I don't remember who said it, I will never forget those words.
As simple as it sounds it had never occurred to me. In my activism and studies I had extensively contemplated and articulated things like Justice, Equality, Power, Fairness, and Equity, but not kindness. I knew what it meant to be kind to my patients and how to show compassion for victims of police terror and their families. Kindness as a self directed act was foreign.
I was grieving. I was not only grieving the loss of my loved ones, but grieving the realization that the future I spent my life fighting for may not actualize in my lifetime. In the midst of that grief, I began considering kindness. I had become skilled at crafting narratives in my head that sounded like, “That was sloppy, do better,” “I'll sleep when I die,” or “No one cares how you feel, get it done.” I came to understand that this narrative was not kind. When these words reared their ugly heads, I’d ask myself, “Would I say this out loud to anyone else?” If the answer was no then, with mindful intention and practice, I had to remind myself that I did not cause my daughters death. I had to remind myself I had been a good and present daughter to my mother, and that I had done my best because I always do.
This simple action changed the relationship I had with the memories of my mother and daughter. It also changed how I operate in relation to movement works and the folks I worked with. I began to sit with memories of me and my mother laughing or cooking together. I remember the moment that I told my daughter that this life was hers and for her to do with it what she chose. I dwelled on the victories we won for the people, instead of the thing we have yet to do. I began to offer my comrades compassion and not just accountability.
We can be our own worst critics. This goes without saying. For those of us who carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, our failures not only affect ourselves but also the people/institutions we serve.
With that said, my loves, “Be Kind to Yourself.” After all, in the end we are all motivated by love. Love for our people. Love for the people we serve. Love for the folks we work with. Love for our families and friends. In order to truly love them all, we must also love ourselves.
To be about the business of our ancestors on behalf of our children is the highest calling one can have.
Asantewaa Boykin is a proud native of San Diego, CA. As a poet, she’s written daring pieces that challenge her audiences’ thought processes. As a designer, she has applied her love for both artistic expression and resistance. As a co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP), she co-chairs the First Responder Committee, creating models for independent investigation of police terror and establishing long-term support for impacted families. She uses her knowledge of nursing and activism to provide Street Medic training for direct actions and community training on Trauma Centered First-Aid. Her highest and greatest honor is being the mother of her two-year-old son, Ajani, and her bonus daughter Aryana.