To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.
Raymond Williams

Seven months ago I took a break from college and have since spent a fair bit of my time moving through organizing circles. I’ve met people who have chosen to dedicate their lives to the struggle for a more just world. I’ve met people for whom there was no choice, whose communities’ very existence is an act of resistance.

My work as a fellow in New York City this summer led me to the UPROSE Climate Justice Youth Summit where I listened to high school students discuss what climate change meant for their low-income communities of color. One student calmly articulated that there was very little, if anything, they could do about climate change. They recognized that they will continue to experience environmental injustice and climate change in ways that those with race and class privilege will not, and that they must organize to protect their communities.

In times like these, hope often feels naïve, if not simply wrong, possible to maintain only with one’s eyes firmly closed. How could one be hopeful, when teenagers must assume responsibility for their communities as we, as a people, continue to fail them? When we continue to fill our atmosphere with greenhouse gases and leave the most vulnerable to suffer?

Despair can be exceedingly convincing. The often quiet and very real despair that circles around our daily lives can easily settle among us. Sometimes we are able to sweep it into corners, but sometimes we have no broom. Sometimes we have no corners.

Yet I left the UPROSE conference feeling hopeful. These students did not allow the despair to settle in. They played music, they laughed, they made plans, and they collectively kicked the despair into the air, where the sun shone through it and made it look less like despair and more like dust.

I recognize that I experienced that summit, as I experience every day, wrapped in my race and class privilege. We each go home to different realities. Despair feels differently on different skin.

But what I was able to see at that summit, maybe for the first time, is that we can have hope without closing our eyes, without vacuuming up the reality of the challenges we each face.

And when we shuffle around a few chairs and gather, when we throw our despair into the sunlight and give it a good look, we might even find that it sparkles.


This writing was inspired by the lovely “Shake the Dust” by Anis Mojgani.

“Speak every time you stand, so you do not forget yourself. Do not let a moment go by that doesn’t remind you that your heart beats thousands of times every day and that there are enough gallons of blood to make every one of us oceans. Do not settle for letting these waves settle and for the dust to collect in your veins.”

Read the whole poem here: