“What we don’t see, we assume can’t be. What a destructive assumption.” ~ Octavia Butler
“We all know, or at least sense, that the world is upside down: we act as if there is no end to what is actually finite—fossil fuels and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions. And we act as if there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually bountiful—the financial resources to build the kind of society we need. The task of our time is to turn this around: to challenge this false scarcity.” ~ Naomi Klein, “Occupy, I Love You”
“The events in our lives happen in a sequence of time but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order…the continuous thread of revelation” ~ Eudora Welty
“My deepest impulses are optimistic; an attitude that seems to me as spiritually necessary and proper as it is intellectually suspect” ~ Ellen Willis
All the selves I am are the places I’ve been.
Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition. ~ James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room
I am passionate about cultivating human empathy, curiosity, and connection, and I have served in various roles and environments to empower individuals through creative exploration and expression. I have chosen all of these incarnations based on a personal precept: I want my words to matter, and I want to help others make theirs matter, too. In the classroom, on the page, in the streets, and in my community, I have attempted to forge words into an energetic force that both inspires and embodies movement.
Write You Are! represents the culmination of my pedagogical efforts, educational endeavors, professional pursuits, creative work, life experience, community engagement, and enduring passions, reached via a healthy dose of inspiring vistas, narrowed pathways, detours, and left turns. Missteps, mistakes, and misgivings. Reckoning, redirection, and rebirths.
My process of discovery and synthesis bears the imprint of urban centers and wilderness, main streets and backroads, silence and shadows, skyscrapers and stoplights. A roving, critical, empathic, and creative eye has cast my attention to the shadowy and interstitial, to borders, edges, and corners. These frontier zones have afforded me new perspectives, vivified salient yet suppressed concerns, and materialized solutions unseen from other vantage points.
From “vocare,” meaning “to call” or “to summon,” we alight on vocation: the constellation of impulses and energies that beckon our spirit, mold our sensibilities, and deliver us to our unique life purpose. From a young age, I knew that my vocation would traject along two transformational axes: a grounding in service, mobilized through language as direct action. This aspiration would arc beyond the spoken and written word to find, name, and materialize more expansive understandings and enactments of self, world, and other.
I am repeatedly called to the inescapable and manifold ways that words matter. Words tell stories (and lies), embody histories (and erase them), and shape attitudes and behaviors. Words do matter. Words are matter. My deepest intentions are to excavate and mine language to redress the injustices enacted in its name and to simultaneously create new words that imagine and enact liberatory and liberated futures. In this quest, I have consistently labored to build networks of revolutionary regard, mutual care, transformative solidarity, and inclusive community engagement. I have committed my life to dismantling racial hierarchies and inequities; interrogating and challenging power structures, profit margins, and institutional gatekeepers; disrupting narratives of deservedness and entitlement; reducing economic disparities; and closing resource and opportunity gaps. I have consistently advanced by advancing others: by furthering others’ voices, concerns, experiences, efforts, and issues.
My principal drive is to center the margins. Centering the margins means protecting the vulnerable, empowering the disfranchised, and breaking down hierarchies of power and privilege. It means listening in and speaking up. It means drawing toward and not backing down. It means raising my voice in service to others and helping find yours in service to self. It means seeking and respecting the varied sources of knowledge that fuel social good and sustain collective well-being. It means using my professional credentials and institutional access to dismantle the replication of systemic privilege and pedigree.
Centering the margins means disrupting the ethically corrupt practices and morally bankrupt narratives around poverty that belie our country’s mythology of material prosperity and moral supremacy. It means confronting and redressing histories and contemporary realities of dispossession, displacement, and discrimination. It means acknowledging racism as the bedrock of racial classification, racial violence, and race-based hierarchies that founded this country and continue to propel its institutions and frame its central paradox and hypocrisy. It means acknowledging the carceral system as an extension of state-sanctioned racial violence and the criminalization of poverty. It means divesting from an economic system that is anti-democratic, predatory, exploitative, annihilating, alienating, and soulless.
Centering the margins means building power from the bottom up and sideways in. It means elevating and injecting the energy of our youth into policy and practical reform. It means preserving shared (hi)stories and authoring new ones. It means agitation, provocation, and reparation. It means agility, tenacity, and veracity. It means caring, sharing, transformation, and renewal.
Centering the margins means NOW is always the time. And GO is always the word.
“My fullest concentration of energy is available to me only when I integrate all parts of who I am, openly, allowing power from particular sources of my living to flow back and forth freely through all my different selves, without the restrictions of externally imposed definition. Only then can I bring myself and my energies as a whole to the service of those struggles which I embrace as part of my living.” ~ Audre Lorde, “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”
As a connector and conduit, I work across diverse sectors and geographies to break down silos that separate communities of interest and hamper concerted effort toward the social good. I have always recognized that intersectional issues demand multifocal lenses and multivocal approaches and that radical politics are inspired by rooted approaches to complex problems + imaginative visions that rise up and out from them. This foundation has organically driven the range of my professional practice and direct service, stretching across teaching, strategic communications, organizational consulting, editing, development/fundraising, mentorship, and creative arts facilitation. My core mission is to help disrupt, redress, and rewrite narratives around poverty, homelessness, race, deservedness, and dignity in this country. I have acted upon these intentions in varied capacities and environments for several decades. I am always looking for more opportunities to contribute my expertise, experience, and passion to make impact and advance transformative social and political agendas.
At the heart of my professional and service streams is sharing and redistributing resources—of all kinds and through all channels—in order to bridge visibility, opportunity, and communication gaps. From facilitating drop-in writing workshops at local laundromats and public housing sites, to partnering with youth to diversify school curriculum, to securing books for libraries in underserved communities and spaces, to collaborating with formerly incarcerated individuals to share their stories, to mentoring first generation college students to achieve academic success and apply to graduate programs, to authoring and editing reports, audits, and anthologies with dozens of stakeholders and serving on foundation grantmaking committees…and everything in between—my work is inclusive, emergent, and multi-dimensional. And, I am always building from this base by widening and deepening my community involvement and maintaining a fierce commitment to personal growth. Routine cross country road travel through urban and remote areas alike consistently widens my exposure to the boundaries that define us and the bridges that connect us.
My work is definitively people-centered—person-centered. Although I partner with many organizations and institutions, my knowledge base and impact level is driven primarily through individual interactions and relationships. Through this deep and diverse field of engagement, I have learned that bridges of connection and mutuality can be forged across seemingly intractable divides and that this agenda is key to uplifting intersectional causes and concerns. My path has been anything but linear, and yet it has been guided by a singular vision: “Change” with a capital “C” is created through individual impacts that ripple through private lives and build public belonging. And the world changes as we change, through imprints and impacts—heart to heart, hand to hand.
My professional service mimics my broader attempt to toggle between agitating for Change and creating impacts. I assist with small-scale efforts and large, complex projects, involving hundreds of stakeholders, that are systems-level-driven. I believe that regardless of scale, our actions in the world are significant; that each one of us performs “small acts” on a grand stage. What we say, what we do, where we go, and how we get there—it all matters. Within a ceaselessly dynamic field, we are all bumping up against and moving in relation to others who shape our field of experience and perception.
I work hard to harness and leverage my skill set, personal connections, and institutional relationships to elevate and amplify marginalized and under-resourced voices and issues. I do this through opposing means: by helping people with lesser access to corridors of educational and professional advancement gain entry to zones of power and prestige (colleges, graduate programs, fellowships, jobs, residencies, grants, internships, funding streams, etc.) and by working on a grassroots level—within institutional structures and outside of them—to create a world where those those zones are dismantled and democratized and privilege is not entitlement. Where siloes are shattered.
At an early age, I was exposed to the interdisciplinary model of intellectual engagement, an approach that revolutionized my way of thinking and learning about the world, and subsequently, writing and teaching about it. Fields of inquiry—traditionally bifurcated into subject areas and discrete cultural forms—were dynamic and interconnected rather than static and bounded. I zoomed in and zoomed out: seeking to pierce and plumb the depths, then surrendering monocular vision to grasp relationships and context. This fluidity of inquiry and interconnectedness registered on an instinctive level with me, and I embraced the dynamic process of learning and unfettered exploration as my own. Moving on to advanced study, then teaching, I have retained the desire to be ravaged and redeemed by wonder and wanderlust. To be provoked and impassioned by the pieces and the quest to see how they form the horizon of our understandings.
I have always lived and worked in culturally, racially, and ethnically diverse, mixed-income communities, by happenstance of birth, and subsequently by personal intention and professional orientation, a positioning that has shown me time and again how patterns of residential and spatial segregation define access to infrastructure, resources, and opportunities. As a youth, I was inspired by my parents’ immersive, responsive community-based work. My mom taught in the smallest, densest city (just over 1 square mile) in the country’s smallest state, home to a predominantly immigrant, very-low-income school district with a fraction of the resources of its neighbors; the city was and is still the only majority-minority municipality in the state. She hustled, organized, collaborated, and fundraised incessantly: for books, playgrounds, special education instruction and ELL support, parent resources, and so much more. Despite a demanding full-time job, my dad also found time for a dazzling array of service activities and positions. My parents were not members of a movement—they just moved. With, for, and in community. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, our home was a hub for peers and people who needed a meal, a bed, or just extra care.
When I went to New York for college, my sphere widened once again, as I discovered how cities birth selves, how they either perpetuate solidarity or silence. I was not going to be silent. The dissonance and disparities I saw every day in New York’s five boroughs were stark, and they were absolutely defined by color and class. I could neither flinch nor look away. And in many ways, I never have.
In New York, I was introduced to the myths and the harms of notions of scarcity, narratives of deservedness, and ideologies of bootstrapping; how they impoverish even those who benefit from them, how they hinder our humanity and obscure the expansiveness of self-realization. I tumbled quickly into radical politics and revolutionary ideals. Anarchism, Marxism, Socialism, Black diasporic studies, prison abolitionism. For me, the nexus of race, class, and geography simultaneously funneled into and exceeded all of the frames with which I had been taught to see and understand the world. If racial classification is a fiction with real effects, and poverty is a trap that confines individuals and cages communities, what are the ways I am complicit in perpetuating these systems and the philosophies, attitudes, and narratives that drive them? I synched up with numerous incredible organizations of all kinds—social service, political, cultural, faith-based, etc.—that were doing and living the work of uplifting their communities and writing their own stories. These were primarily Black-led organizations and multiracial alliances. I saw clearly then—as now—how skin color structures opportunities, frames perspectives, and impacts resourcing. I entered the fray and joined to their efforts because I saw what had to be done. Then—as now. I moved.
From the age of 18 to 21, I spent almost every Saturday night from 5-10 pm making stops delivering meals to unhoused and unsheltered individuals in New York City. Traveling along a route that only ever grew longer, we visited with people under bridges and freeways, at the Bowery SROs, in Chinatown and the Lower East Side, in the nooks and crannies of urban space that were becoming increasingly policed, surveilled, and privatized. Men, women, children, families, elders. I could never alight on which inflicted more pain and horror: seeing the same faces year after year or the perennial shock of those who vanished without recourse to a why or a where. What kind of system was I a part of where we tolerated people dying of exposure on the streets and denied and deprived those clearly in need of our help? I couldn’t understand the how or the why. The pervasiveness of dispossession and deprivation in one of the world’s richest cities was both perverse and insidious.
The great Ruby Sales once said, “I became involved in the Southern freedom movement not merely because I was angry about injustice, but because I love the idea of justice.” Like Sales, I had both love and anger in my heart. I didn’t know what it meant for them to exist side by side, but I knew it meant something that they did, and those emotions and investments have fueled my activism and professional course. I am constantly reminding myself that the practice is love – As Cornel West says, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” The food we brought was sustaining in the barest sense, but it was the attention—the intention and love—that nourished. Through our service, we were saying “We care. We see you. We are here.” And in this gesture, and the countless others I have endeavored to make since, I am trying—I am fumbling—to create a world where “none is lonely, none hunted, alien” (Robert Hayden, “Frederick Douglass”). Where all people can belong and be known. Do belong and are known. Hand to hand, heart to heart—that is how we move. Together.
I graduated from New York University’s Gallatin School for Individualized Study in 1997 with a concentration in literature and social and political theory. My primary focus then, as now, was where and how the intersections of race, class, and gender unsettled “old histories” and birthed “new stories” of identity, community, access, and activism in this country. In my interdisciplinary senior thesis, I examined how individual, social, and political navigation of race, class, and gender is represented in literature and the visual and applied arts. In 2006 I earned a dual PhD in African American Studies and American Studies from Yale University. The program’s architecture enabled me to retain my focus on Black lives and spaces but to simultaneously learn and educate others about our nation’s multi-ethnic population and the systemic dispossession, violence, and displacement that has been visited upon people of varied ethnicities and races, alongside the indomitable force of their cultural expressions, political organizing, and spiritual integrity. I taught courses, gave presentations, and led discussions at numerous forums across the fields of American and African American history, multicultural feminisms, urban cultural expressions, liberation and social movements, “outsider” art and literature, and more. I still do. My dissertation explored the relationship between self and space, person and place—both physical and fictional. The study draws upon the fields of architecture, sociology, painting, literature, history, urban planning, community activism, and philosophy and focuses on the literature of Henry James and Gwendolyn Brooks in conversation with St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton’s classic work, Black Metropolis. My interest in critical inquiry and community service led to the completion of a Masters in Library and Information Science degree from San Jose State University in 2016, during which time I honed my research savvy, resource base, and knowledge of information ecosystems. This degree also speaks to my enduring passion for and engagement with public libraries, which entails a far longer narrative than I have time for here. You can learn more about this aspect of my life and self in the forthcoming “Landscape Mode” biographical section.
“Why Be a Liberal When You Can Be a Liberator?” ~ Peter Maurin, The Forgotten Radical
How can we bifurcate fields of human concern and endeavor? Moreover, why would we want to? How can one claim that scientific discoveries are not informed by history, that politics is not reflected in literature, that economics are divorced from geography and urban planning? I believe that the siloing of knowledge domains is inherently linked to the privatization of the information commons and the immense profits shored up from severing intersectional human concerns and knowledge sets into “industries”, “disciplines,” and “sectors.” I also believe that this severance has harmed rather than healed and has carved deep rifts into our shared humanity and aspirations toward liberation. For this siloing splices and cleaves: symptom from root, tangent from inspiration, present from precedent, and self from seed. And detachment and discontinuity jeopardizes and often forecloses the act of seeing “elsewhere” and the art of building bridges of understanding and belonging. The knowledge industry reproduces itself through promotion, publication, and prestige, all based on properly demarcating “one’s place” in the field and hitching your ambitions to that fixed point. In the sphere of human services, the many-headed hydra that is racial capitalism is so pervasive that it has become mystified through the very siloes it created. It is difficult to sit in spaces with antipoverty crusaders who cannot openly speak about poverty’s foundational imbrication with racial oppression, and to hear from those working in the governmental and nonprofit sectors that “someone else is working on that issue” or “that issue isn’t directly relevant to our funding stream or within our capacity.” It makes me itchy. And again, this is why I like working with young people—they have not yet been “disciplined” by the disciplines. They are still thinking big, far, wide, and deep. They impulsively challenge the segregation of knowledge, call out the gap between academic curricula and real life, and counter false and disingenuous claims of irrelevance. They are organic knowledge liberators. Like our libraries—For what else can we call their core mission to preserve, document, protect, exhibit, archive, and disseminate information and the multitudes of human experience than an act of knowledge liberation? If freedom is a practice and process, which I believe it is, then liberating information is one of its most critical pivots.
Our perspectives shift depending on what we are looking at and what angle we are looking at it from. I thrive on listening to new voices, locating the connective threads between disparate modes of thought, and blurring the boundaries to produce provocative questions and new understandings. This broad and mutable frame of reference enhances my ability to address multiple audiences and to assist others in doing so as well. I have a talent for moving seamlessly between the micro-environment of the written word and the larger context of its production and reception without losing sight of either’s distinctiveness. I bring this inquisitiveness and acute focus to explore the relationship between content and form, the alignment of authorial intent and audience, and other key questions that move writing toward precision and potency.
I take very seriously my name’s derivation from the root “to heal.” And I regard as doubly significant that the person I am named for, my father’s father, was himself a physician, known for making house calls long after his office hours had ended. (He was also an artist/writer and among the team of doctors who traveled to and cared for concentration camp survivors after World War II. He died shortly before I was born.) While critical distance and illumination is a “precondition” for my work, as a diagnosis is for a doctor’s, performing this role means nothing if I cannot apply analysis toward prescription. When I move through a manuscript or work one-on-one with a client or student, it is always with an eye toward respectful remedy. We collaborate to “get at the roots,” lift up the vital essence, and attend to areas of dis-ease or disharmony. We move together toward healing and wholeness.
I have taught Writing, African American literature, and Cultural Studies at Yale University and Wesleyan University and English at independent and public schools in the Bay Area and New England. I have worked as a grantwriter for a large urban school district and secured funding for a variety of initiatives to update facilities and equipment, create professional development opportunities for teachers, provide after-school enrichment, and enhance opportunities for English Language Learners. I have also written grants and been the lead organizer/liaison for a free international literary conference celebrating the life and legacy of Langston Hughes, featuring theatrical, dance, literary, and musical performances on Yale’s campus with parallel programming and book giveaways at under-resourced local public schools.
Trouble in mind, I’m blue
But I won’t be blue always
‘Cause the sun’s gonna shine
In my back door some day
~ Nina Simone, “Trouble In Mind”
I believe that individual fulfillment and fortitude is inherently bound to community engagement and accountability. That economies of sharing are our truest economies of scale and sustainability. Mutual aid networks, both within and outside of institutional settings, build and preserve communities from the ground up and fulfill our innate needs for spiritual connection and life purpose. I am an ardent activist for the causes that matter to me: abolitionist democracy; deeply and sustainably affordable housing/land equity/landback; eliminating poverty and disrupting narratives of entitlement, dignity, and deservedness; decarceration and an end to the culture of punishment; democratization of the workplace and worker co-ops; direct democracy, civic inclusion, and participatory budgeting; agricultural equity, labor dignity, soil regeneration, and food justice; public libraries as civic leaders, community builders, and equity agents; preservation of public knowledge and the information commons; arts access and community integration; youth activism, justice, and empowerment; bodily sovereignty and reproductive rights; restorative justice and rooted repair; educational transformation; radical wealth redistribution and equitable human resource allocation; reparations for Black Americans; guaranteed income for targeted populations; and more. To push these agendas forward, I am an engaged and consistently humbled community servant in varied guises and capacities.
What has become clear to me as I’ve aged and continued on this path is that by positioning myself very early on in multiracial spaces—in the neighborhoods I lived in, the communities I worked in, and the institutional and organizing spaces I sought out—I was immeasurably fortunate to be brought up under the tutelage of passionate, bold visionaries who were both pushing from the inside out and bringing those “outside” in. I felt truly held in all of the spaces I was privileged to find community and solidarity in, and their blaze lights my way. There are many reasons I chose/choose to place myself outside of a singular institutional structure, and having worked in several, I have both benefited from and been constrained by organizational cultures and containers. One motivation for my departure is the desire to ensure that my integrity and input are not compromised by or beholden to organizational allegiance or professional advancement. The other is to engage with a far broader cross-section of individuals and communities than I would be / have been able to serve from a single point of contact. This intention is driven by the “everyday activism” championed by visionaries like Vincent Harding and Grace Lee Boggs, who argued that we are all part of a river of struggle and that individuals—not organizations—uplift communities and drive social change. I spend most of my time in public spaces with low barriers to access that gather diverse groups, like libraries, farmers markets, and parks, and over the years, I have met many people on buses, subways, park benches, and sidewalks who I have helped apply to college; muscle through a GED; acquire jobs, raises, and referrals; make art and get published; and find the resources they need to thrive and get by. I also travel across the country for three months of every year, taking byways around the big cities and visiting towns over tourist destinations, continuously exposing me to people, histories, contexts, stories, and settings that I might otherwise never had occasion to encounter. The rich and nuanced conversations that I have had with people in these spaces deeply informs my work and community engagement, here and elsewhere.
As a teacher and mentor, I facilitate my students’ and clients’ learning process in tandem with my own through conversations that challenge our respective interpretive and experiential horizons. I advocate for the importance of multiple perspectives and heterogeneous knowledge platforms by encouraging people to reflect upon and express their unique stories and attune with sensitivity and patience to those of others. Young people push me to ask questions that are unique to their way of looking at the world and to look for answers in places that are part of their cultural and educational landscape rather than the one native to me. They buoy me to keep asking why, to keep pushing the limits of what is tolerated and imagined, to keep expanding vision and hope. They innately call and move us toward Justice. Elders bring the wisdom and wideness of experience to bear, conjuring futureworlds from bifocal lenses that connect across generational horizons. They are anchors and pathways, rivers and streams.
Experience and error have been my most powerful teachers, intellectually and ethically. We learn from doing, and invariably we succeed and fail in the process. We refine as we go—making adjustments when our methods or mediums have outworn their usefulness—and we reflect on experiences as they transform the ways we view ourselves and the world around us. This practice of consideration, both intuitive and learned, is catalyzed and sharpened when we are confronted with newness, with what is foreign to us, and when we face our own prejudices, errors, and inconsistencies. I have learned the most when I have been shown how much I still have to learn.
“Sometimes we drug ourselves with dreams of new ideas. The head will save us. The brain alone will set us free, But there are no new ideas waiting in the wings to save us as women, as human. There are only old and forgotten ones, new combinations, extrapolations and recognitions from within ourselves—along with the renewed courage to try them out.” ~ Audre Lorde, “Poetry is Not a Luxury”
We are all intersections, interventions, and interjections: We enter collective spaces from different places and points in time. Many of the conversations we engage in are not new—certainly the ones that have animated me most aren’t: emancipatory aspirations and resource redistribution, the role of the state in articulating individual freedoms and governing communal affairs, the politics of us v. the polarities of them—none of this is “novel” in its appearance. What is novel is its manifestation in discrete contexts and channeling through local voices. WE are the novel—when and where we enter, to borrow from Paula Giddings. When we allow that we are all interjecting, intervening, and intersecting— that no one of us is omniscient, omnipresent, or omnipotent—we can speak and act with humility and grace, both of which underlie personal growth, community development, and human liberation.
In all of my work, I strive to formulate the right questions, locate the pathways to their investigation, and distill meaning from the stimulation of curiosity, the disruption of complicity, the cultivation of empathy, and the journey of discovery.
I have expanded the margins of my sensibilities, expertise, and experiences by pursuing varied forms of creative writing for many years. I devote as much time as I can to honing my craft and pursue projects generated by diverse and spontaneous streams of inquiry and inspiration. I am currently inching forward on five manuscripts-in-progress:
Fierce Illumination: Elemental Ravelings and Revelations
Flight of the Beautiful Days: A Chronicle of the Radical Women Who Transformed Bay Area Cultural and Social Movements
“Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong with the Way She Moves”: The Experience and Influence of Women in the Grateful Dead
Ivy Grows in the Garden of Eden: A Branch Leaves a Family Tree
An Apprentice to Words: Why I Write, Why I Teach
I seek to advance equity agendas and expand the multiplicity of voices in institutional spaces, civic forums, and individual consciousness. Please reach out if you see opportunities where I can be impactful in these domains.
Last and most: I spend as many waking and sleeping hours as possible in the outdoors and as few as possible touching sole to pavement.
“but I think that the past is all that makes the present coherent, and further, that the past will remain horrible for exactly as long as we refuse to assess it honestly.” ~ James Baldwin, “Autobiographical Notes,” Notes of a Native Son
“The job of the writer/artist/organizer is to make the movement irresistible” ~ Toni Cade Bambara
“Rage for the world as it is / but for what it may be / more love now than last year.” ~ Muriel Rukeyser, “This Place in the Ways”
“Early on, I learned to disguise myself in words, which really were clouds” ~ Walter Benjamin
© Rachel Rosekind, PhD, MLIS