Rest as Resistance

This blog post was the first in a series celebrating this year’s Black History Month theme: Black Resistance, written for Share My Lesson.

As we begin Black History Month, there will be a charge to share with your students stories about the prominent figures that shaped Black history. Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman and, my favorite Nat Turner, all resisted oppression. They put in so much work and sacrificed so much, too much, to pave the way for future generations to have the liberties we’re accustomed to today. But I don’t want to talk about their sacrifice in this post and I certainly don’t want to glorify martyrdom as a path for change. I want to talk about rest as a form of resistance.

For the entire year of 2022, I was afforded the opportunity to take a year-long sabbatical. This is not your typical sabbatical that most academics take to further research, advance their work or complete a book (while I did that, too). Instead, the sole purpose of my sabbatical was to rest.

At 38, I am still young; although Gen-Z makes me question this daily. But for about 10 years, I battled with professional burn out. I didn’t realize it was burnout initially. It first manifested in my body as pain at age 26. I was working at a high-powered, fast-paced agency as one of few people of color on staff. The adage that many Black children are told from their parents when they enter the working world, “You must work twice as hard to earn half as much (as your white counterparts),” rang loudly in my head as I allowed myself to be overworked, underpaid and unvalued. I was on teams where I did most of the grunt work alone but shared all the glory. So one day, when I bent down and was in excruciating pain, it simply registered that I pulled a muscle, not that I was stressed and worn thin. I would carry that workhorse mentality into other roles as well. It wasn’t until the pandemic, yes ten whole years later, that I was able to finally slow down. It was a time when we all prioritized what meant most to us and taking care of ourselves was a priority.

It was during a Zoom conversation, featuring Black women activists Nikki Giovanni and Angela Davis, that I learned the meaning of radical self-care. The takeaway: no matter what you’re fighting for, you are no good to the movement if you aren’t first good to yourself. On that Zoom, they shared photos of Rosa Parks practicing yoga and I was floored. And then it registered…Ms. Parks’ most notable form of protest was her choosing to rest by sitting on the first available seat on the bus. And it finally clicked, rest can be a powerful form of resistance, too!

Rosa Parks practices yoga
Rosa Parks practicing yoga. March 1973. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <;.

I chose to enjoy my sabbatical while living abroad in Ghana, where the people are friendly, the pace is slower and there’s an emphasis on family, culture and pride. When people asked me, “What will you do during your break?” I responded, “Whatever I want.” Living in a capitalistic country where your worth is tied to your work, my response was scary, but liberating. I couldn’t help but think all this time I’d been striving to be my ancestors’ wildest dream, through professional success, but most of them didn’t even have a chance to dream because they were always working, fighting, pressing on. My ancestors probably never dreamed their daughter would get to wake up every morning and choose, on her own terms, how to spend the day (and get paid while doing it)!

Now, I acknowledge that I was extremely privileged to have this opportunity, but I want to stress that everyone can take a personal sabbatical of their own. It may only be a day or even a few hours at a time, but you have the responsibility to care for yourself in the most fulfilling way possible and that can be as simple as getting some rest. 

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