I quit my job after just one month there in order to fully focus my efforts on fighting social injustice, with absolutely zero prospects for another job, and I have never felt more empowered in my life. Impulsive, maybe, but let me backtrack and talk about the process of coming to this decision.
It was my dream to live in New York for pretty much my entire life. I remember coming to New York with my parents when I was 11 and just being dazzled by the commotion, and the lights, and the chaos; I loved it. As an adult, I visited again with friends and made a decision inside my mind, that someday, I would live here. I spent the bulk of my 20’s, like most people, figuring out what the hell I wanted to do with my life. I felt lost and largely compelled to choose a career path that offered stability in spite of the fact that sometimes means sacrificing happiness and creativity. But I decided that I wanted to focus on cooking, something I had loved doing even in childhood, and figure a way to make that a career. I worked 3 jobs, lived with my friends in their extra bedroom to save money on rent (thanks Jim and Alyssia!), saved every penny I had and went to culinary school, on the weekends via bus to New York, for over a year. I applied to grad school, got in, and launched my adventure into making my dreams come true.
I went to graduate school at NYU and studied Food as a mechanism for social justice. It was an unusual way to trace out social justice issues, but when you look at food as a tool of power, it makes quite a lot of sense because it is essential for all people. I had spent my earlier career working for the YWCA in Baltimore working to fight racism and help empower women through positive and accessible social programs. During my time in graduate school I continued my focus was on helping others and creating positive social change but redirected my efforts to people with developmental disabilities.
My older brother was largely the inspiration for my using food as a therapeutic tools for people with developmental disabilities. I wanted to find an accessible way to help people with disabilities that would cut across differences in race, income, age, gender, geographic location, and any other categorical disparity. I did research both in New York as well as Africa to understand how the United States in order to examine what was being done well here and abroad. I did my culminating graduate thesis about this same topic and used food as a prospective tool to help adults with Autism and other developmental disabilities. I ultimately ended up working as a chef and community organizer for an organization that uses non-traditional therapeutic services to help adults with severe mental illness which married well with the work and research I had done for my Masters degree and was a wonderful experience that connected me with so many incredible individuals working to improve their lives and overcome the challenges in their lives because of their mental illness. But, like most community-focused work and non-profit work, you often sacrifice your own self-care and become burned out.
I realized my capacity to make a meaningful difference was becoming limited because I was exhausted. And after the election, I became disillusioned about how to my skills and education to make a difference everything seemed so pointless and futile. I made the extremely difficult decision to step away from my career path and take a low-stress job working as a chef in a small upscale grocery in Brooklyn. My thought was that I could focus on where my career was headed and take time to work on a business plan that I had been tinkering with for some months. None of that happened. I was incredibly unhappy and in an environment where no one seemed connected to the world around them or any of the major issues that were impacting vulnerable communities. I worked odd hours, didn’t have any time for myself or to spend with my husband and was overall, totally miserable. I realized this was absolutely the wrong direction for me, and I quit.
This may seem like a strange act of resistance–how is eliminating a steady source of income an act of resistance you ask? To me, spending some of the best years of my life doing something that I dislike, that does not help anyone, is a total waste. Quitting my job to focus on writing, activism, and supporting the needs of my community has been AWESOME. I am reconnecting with people who I haven’t seen or talked to in many months or years, I’m learning how my local political system works and figuring out ways to infiltrate it so I can be a part of the change, and I’m on the front line of a social movement, the only place I could ever imagine myself. This is something that not many people have the luxury of doing. But, actually, this isn’t really true. Yes, I have zero income and I literally have no idea how I’m going to pay my bills, which is fucking terrifying, but my hope is that by focusing on doing the things that I love and serving others, I will find the right path.