Leading Through My "Imposter Syndrome"
The first call came from msnbc in June and I was hesitant to respond. Innately an introvert, I voiced my concern to someone about losing my fiercely guarded privacy in “the movement”. Taking on the Dominican government for its blatant human rights abuses was no small task. Perhaps I also suffered from a mild case of “imposter syndrome” as I wondered if I’d earned the permission to lead on this. My friend asked me to reflect on one simple question: was my privacy more important than my purpose?
When put in such stark terms, the lives of the people being persecuted- and worse- in the DR took precedent. I stepped out of my comfort zone. And so began the long nights reviewing the most minute details with lawyers, the weekends spent strategizing, the push to move beyond protest to policy change, the hours spent on outreach to build a coalition under #Rights4ALLinDR, and the obstacles that made it necessary to move through these worlds with the single-minded determination an ease of a hostess at a dinner gala.
With any cause, with every movement, vanguards fiercely guards the seats at the table. I had to build a relationship with many well-established human rights organizations and gain their respect so that they would willingly share information and include me in decision-making. The seat at the table- the opportunity to be influential- was hard-earned. With my first invitation to the Department of State, I knew that I was beginning to make an impact.
The backlash, however, has been swift and nasty as my profile’s been raised. This is the side that no one prepares you for. There are no briefings on navigating an onslaught of Twitter trolls. There are few people whom you can relate to the experience of becoming the target of a foreign government’s PR machine. The few other people I can compare battle scars with have won MacArthur Genuis Grants and Pulitzers, briefed world leaders, and quietly changed history- yet we all still marvel at the creativity of the attacks from our detractors/attackers.
“They’re accusing me of being imperialist,” reflected Edwidge Danticat.
“They’ve called me anti-Dominican and elitist,” I pointed out.
“Don't forget that they called me anti-Dominican and stripped me of my award,” boasts Junot Diaz.
Junot won that round.
It’s the quiet strength of those people that I have admired all my life that reminded me that I can lead, but would others willingly follow?
It wasn't until Advocacy Day that I got the answer I needed. That day, a small army answered our call and showed up to Capitol Hill to bring the fight directly to the seat of power. It was not until we marched into the territory of the Dominican Republic’s high-priced lobbyists and reclaimed the people’s place at the table that I knew. When one Congressional staffer greeted us and asked who was the leader amongst us, all eyes fell on me. I’d been given the tacit permission to lead; they would follow.
That week ended with an invitation to take a seat at a very different table. Edwidge invited me to be her guest as she accepted the North Star Award from the Hurston/Young Foundation. Afterwards, we went out for some late night grub with some of the greatest literary minds of our generation. Free from the constraints of social media, fans (theirs, not mine), and people with questionable motives, we spoke honestly about this experience: Most people never see the anxiety of your leaders. They can’t sympathize with the sting of the careless comments left on social media. They don’t quite understand the need to create a safe space for yourself while still giving to others. They have no insight into the long days and even longer nights of planning that go into achieving the semblance of effortless execution.
They, however, understood me. Like me, they hide pens in every crevice to strike precisely in the same way that others conceal guns. They jotted down snippets and phrases during conversations. They broke out in wide grins or nodded reflectively when repeating aloud words so mesmerizingly strung together that they needed to dance on several more lips before being relegated to memory. When they emerged from their well-guarded solitude, it was to give voice to the cause. Like me, they were inevitably surprised by praise- or criticisms- for doing what they felt they were meant to do. They, too, approached mics warily, confounded by applause. They understood the imposter syndrome.
Nonetheless, they reminded me that this is what keeps us honest and connected- we were chosen for this. Be unafraid of being an activist writer. Be a leader that can let the movement move you, not define you. And write it all down.
I rise to that call.