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JV EnCorps Member’s Appreciation of bell hooks

Sharon Johnson, a member of the Portland JV EnCorps community, shares her appreciation for the late bell hooks.

“Feminism does not ground me. It is the discipline that comes from spiritual practice that is the foundation of my life. If we talk about what a disciplined writer I have been and hope to continue to be, that discipline starts with a spiritual practice. It’s just every day, every day, every day.” 

bell hooks in a New York Times interview, December 10, 2015.

“The skin I’m in is just a covering.  It cannot tell my story.  If you want to know who I am, you have got to come inside and open your heart way wide.”

bell hooks from her children’s book, The Skin I am In, 2017.

When I was living in New York City’s Upper West Side in the 1970s, a neighbor invited me to a poetry workshop at Quincy Troupe’s apartment, a couple blocks away. Quincy Troupe is a poet, teacher, writer, and author of Miles Davis’ biography at Davis’ request. At the time, I felt like an awestruck interloper, as the only white attendee in a workshop grounded in the authority of Black voices. Now, I would ask Mr. Troupe if I could/should come back. Then, I chose not to return.

I feel somewhat like that interloper in writing about bell hooks, who died in December 2021. Ms. hooks is key in the development of Black feminist identity. She wrote about what we now call intersectionality – that we are not just our gender, or race, or economic class, but we are simultaneously all of our identities. She was an early critic of feminism’s predominantly white, middle-class roots – and cheered what she saw as feminism’s movement to embrace varying identities. She understood that feminism could free men and women, gay and straight, and all of us in our diversity. She saw race, class, and gender as the culture’s bedrock issues.

bell hooks wrote about a wide variety of subjects. She understood herself to be a writer – but described writing as her activism. Action came from contemplation (now, does that sound like a Jesuit understanding?). She described herself as a Buddhist Christian. She wrote a series of books about love.  She wrote about teaching critical thinking, and about teaching community.

I confess I do not like her poetry as well as her books on theory. I thought I would get some books out from the library – but to no surprise, since her death, the waiting list for library holds has grown and Amazon lists many of her books as current best sellers. Like others, I have come late to appreciate how many of her ideas have become integrated into our aspirational culture. Thank you, bell hooks.

JV EnCorps is a JVC Northwest program for adults 50+ who volunteer within the communities in which they live. We currently have JV EnCorps communities in six locations throughout Oregon and Washington. Learn more about joining JV EnCorps.

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Zayna Abusada (Ashland, MT ’17-18, Anchorage, AK ’18-19) was most recently a JV in south-central Alaska serving with immigrant and refugee English-Language learners as the Academy for Citizenship and Civics Support Specialist with the Alaska Literacy Program (ALP) in Anchorage. Zayna first served with Indigenous students on the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Reservations. Originally from Iowa City, Iowa, Zayna went on to earn her undergraduate degree in History and Theological Studies with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies at Saint Louis University.

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