Pearls of Equality

The Language of Beauty in African Art, Art Institute, Chicago

“The source of all wakefulness, the source of all kindness and compassion, the source of all wisdom, is in each second of time. Anything that has us looking ahead is missing the point.” This poignant reminder to live in the present moment was offered by bell hooks.

This poet’s pen name included ditching capital letters; it was the name of her maternal great-grandmother who was cherished as a woman “with a snappy and bold tongue.” Born as Gloria Jean Watkins (1952-2021), bell hooks began writing poetry in childhood. She held nature as sacred, referring to her beloved Kentucky hills as a territory of “magic and possibility.”

While hooks suffered through segregation/desegregation wounding, she sized up women: “…American women, without exception, are socialized to be racist, classist and sexist, in varying degrees, and that labeling ourselves feminists does not change the fact that we must consciously work to rid ourselves of the legacy of negative socialization.” Her first major work, Ain’t I a Woman? Black Women and Feminism, was written while she was an undergraduate at Stanford. She was the only black student from Kentucky; the white students from Kentucky did not socialize with her. While her manifesto was not published until 1981, it was later named as one of the 20 most influential women’s books in the previous 20 years.

Many individuals, including women, misinterpret feminism. The word simply means “a belief and advocacy of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” (Merriam-Webster definition). Feminism considers that ALL individuals have equal rights — which is the unalienable-rights promise of the U.S., by the way. But feminism raises the hackles of some; perhaps we need a substitute word. Equality is the obvious choice, but our present culture keeps sidestepping equality. How about two words — human rights?

In her book, Belonging: A Culture of Place, hooks writes this soulful preface: “We want to know whether it is possible to live on the earth peacefully. Is it possible to sustain life…[when today’s world] creates a wilderness of spirit?” She finally returned to live in her Kentucky hills, considering that it was a fitting place for her legacy work and eventually, her ashes spread as seeds.           

As a capstone to her many writings, hooks founded the bell hooks center at Berea College in Kentucky as a place to provide sanctuary and support for underrepresented students (including black and brown, femme, queer, and Appalachian individuals). While hooks told an interviewer in 2017 that she had been celibate for 17 years, I’m guessing that she would have been pleased with the equality involved when Congress recently passed the Respect for Marriage Act.

Another equality possibility that hooks might have endorsed is Braven, an organization to empower young students to find economic mobility and stability. Join me in becoming a Braven mentor in 2023. Check out   

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

141. What is your definition of feminism?

142. When do you endorse equality for ALL in your daily life?   

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.

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