We might do better to dispense with the facade of rehabilitation. Perhaps we should start with habilitation, with opportunity and education. With chances. With laughter and well-fed bodies. With giggles and time to play and the ability to feel the sun on your face, but not because you are walking in a park because the homeless shelters are too dangerous. But because you want to and you can. And you can because you have choices. You walk from your home, your safe affordable home. You can walk in any park, but you walk in the park two blocks away. Because that park is safe and lovely. And you can walk because some bullshit petty ass illness didn’t turn into a debilitating, chronic condition that keeps you from enjoying your body---and having control of it. And you breathe in healthy air, toxins gone---air like you’d find in privileged neighborhoods right now. And even if you’re not happy, the absence of structural impediments means you have choices. And you can walk to the library because there is a great one in your neighborhood, and you don’t have to travel to another part of the city. And you can mosey into your wonderful, local supermarket with fresh vegetables and large vegetarian and gluten free sections because there are no food deserts. And not that you should, but rather you could….you could pick up some weed without crazy consequences, just like affluent white folks. And agency is unencumbered so your heart has a chance to soar, and your life has potential. Your actions moving toward your goals, your life a work of art, a unique vision and energy enough to implement it. You are art.
But not in Philadelphia in 2017. Should be, could be, but it’s not.
2. The Gates of Hell, detail
I’m not an optimist, and I seldom fantasize. My tendency is to think about the present becoming worse, our aspirations cruelly crushed by our collective indifference. A descent into a hell we’ve yet to imagine. The Gates of Hell all over and Rodin’s work an understatement, his bleak vision better than our being. Our lives worse than anything that could ever be beyond the Gates.
The news from Southwest and North Philly seldom seems good. I’m aware of media spin and the economics which drive stories and mainstream news. And yet, I still cringe when a young Black man’s death is prefaced with a description of his having been an honor student, or not. Murder is murder is murder. I’ve yet to fully prepare myself for the onslaught of descriptions which mean nothing when the victim, the victim is Black or Puerto Rican or Mexican or Muslim or transgender or illegal. My understanding is that white, Christian, and straight is our default standard, unless I’m looking at a story about a heroin epidemic or terrorism. We all know the default standards for those narratives, and they’re not white folks.
3. Gates of Hell
So where does ameliorative change begin? When do separate existences mesh into something, if not harmonious, then at least less discordant with room to create, to live together in a more just society?
Today, I’m brave enough to dream. Strike that. Today, I’m getting off my ass and looking for more opportunities where I can help organize for good. Strike that. Today, I’m safe and comfortable enough to imagine better and kinder. Strike that. Today, I’m alive.
4. The Thinker
Mona R. Washington is a graduate of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and Harvard Law School. She is a proud member of Voices of Our Nations Arts (VONA). Her plays have been performed in New York, Philadelphia, Rome, and Paris. She's been awarded fellowships at The Djerassi Foundation, The Dora Maar House (Provence, France), The Ucross Foundation, and The Jack Kerouac House, amongst others. Queries regarding performance rights for plays may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org