“The learning process is something you can incite, literally incite, like a riot.” -Audre Lorde
The 1990s represented a dubious time of unrest, doubt, and exploration for me. As I questioned my sexuality, I was in search of a “new me” that I didn’t even know existed at that point in time. I felt extremely alone, not having anyone to turn to. So, I did the next logical thing: I began to conduct research online and made numerous visits to the library.
Having been an egghead all my life, my intellectual thirst to learn about the herstory ran much deeper than my thirst for sexual exploration. Thus, in my quest to learn as much as I could about this “lesbian thing,” I sought out tons of information. My dogged research led me to the warrior, poet, mother, author, and educator, Audre Lorde. I recall the first time laying my eyes on Zami: A New Spelling of My Name a monarch with warrior-like features, so powerful and strong in her unyielding stance, graced the orange and black cover. I could not wait to devour every single word inside the biomythography.
I encountered roadblock after roadblock…I began to question myself and my Creator.
Fast-forward some two decades later: Among LGBTQ pioneers, Lorde took center stage in helping me discover who I was then and the woman I am today. I am eternally grateful for her beautiful soul, unflinching dedication to her people, and, especially to education.
After spending many years working in the developmental disabilities field, I stepped out on faith to pursue a graduate degree in library science. The fellowship was designed to help bring a more diverse representation of professional librarians across the state of Indiana upon completion of the project.
Well, things didn’t go as planned. I, along with some of my fellow cohorts, were unable to secure positions in our field, leaving us to seek employment elsewhere. I was at a crossroads; unsure of what to do next. I knew I was interested in working in some capacity in academia, but wasn’t sure exactly what. Ultimately, I decided to enroll in a second graduate program for higher education, specializing in leadership for student success.
As someone who is passionate about education, writing, and research, I also embrace being an adult learner. Hence, my goal was to position myself so I could help guide others on their academic journey. I completed the program in 2013, but still encountered roadblock after roadblock trying to kick open the door to higher education. I began to question myself and my Creator. Did I make the right decision in resigning from my full-time position? Should I have pursued a more sensible occupation, one that doesn’t reek of so much competition? Did God make a mistake in leading me in this direction? For months, I endured countless nights of trepidation, insomnia, and ambivalence, feeling lost in the wilderness.
My journey has been filled with all kinds of left turns, winding roads, and pitfalls.
Then, in the summer of 2013, I began working as an adjunct writing instructor for a Michigan-based university, where I was living at the time. But, even this “victory” was hard won as I had to fight for it, meaning that the director wasn’t so sure I could handle teaching an advanced writing course, but, I knew I could do it, as long as I was given the proper training. Since then, I have also begun instructing students in an introductory research class.
This year marked another turning point for me. My mother suffered a stroke about three months ago and was already having difficulty caring for my 10-year-old niece who has autism. So, I made the faithful decision to return to my hometown for family.
Upon arriving back in Indianapolis, I began searching for full-time work. A few weeks ago, I received a call about interviewing for an instructor position with Job Corps, teaching young ladies the fundamentals of reading, writing, and research — all of my favorite topics, but a far cry from being the most popular school subjects.
Last week, I led them in two lessons, a crossword puzzle based on Black history and age-appropriate terminology and a reading comprehension assignment based on Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”
“Oh, no! I hate reading!” “Ugh, I don’t like to write.” “Oh, God, this is boring!”
These comments were hurled at me as I passed out the papers to the students. Now, the manager had already informed me on their distaste for “all things” involving reading and writing, but to actually witness the rolling of the eyes, noses turning up towards the ceiling, and the complete and utter I-don’t-want-nothing-to-do-with-this attitude, I was a little taken aback, but we got through it together.
I was offered the academic instructor position and agreed to take on this pivotal role, which will begin in the next few weeks. I believe nothing is by happenstance. I have been led to this teaching role for a reason and will do everything I can to make my students fall in love with reading and writing, for it is these two skills that will aid in propelling them in school and far beyond anything they thought possible.
My journey has been filled with all kinds of left turns, winding roads, and pitfalls. However, as Deuteronomy 31:8 states, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” These passages, right along with Lorde’s words of “inciting the learning process,” are the guiding light that give me life.
A native of Indianapolis, Indiana, Michelle Dartis is an adjunct college instructor and freelance writer who also serves as an independent historian for BlackPast.org. She recently accepted an Academic Instructor position with the Job Corps’ IndyPendence, a non-residential education and job training center. Educated at Walden University and Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, Michelle aspires to finish her first novel, This Ain’t That and establish her own publishing company in 2017.