Even the most conscientious teenagers aren’t apt to look around them, to crawl deep into another person’s skin, to stay awhile. When I first met Jaye Elizabeth Johnson, when she was in middle school, she was one black girl in a circle of white girls, and maybe she didn’t say that at first, and maybe no one gave her the space to do that. Somewhere in the next few years, while we were all doing the work of growing up, our paths drew closer and Jaye and I stepped into a group of young women, determined to figure out who we were as feminists, and who we were as women. Jaye picked up that thread, that deeply unspoken thread of her life, of being the only so often.

p01_article_jej_candidFor the culminating project, she chose to represent her time spent by digging into her feminism, into her selves: Jaye collected her words. Always a writer, she told stories about her mother, her father, her sisters, her cousins, her hair, the things the boys at school said, the things her friends said when they thought they were joking. These transgressions, these slights against her being were everywhere, and so she began the work of growing up: of creating for herself a shelter out of the words of women. It was these words, this loving example that she carried with her each day. Eve Ensler inspired her; Ntozake Shange inspired her; Inga Muscio inspired her. Jaye wrote and performed her own monologues.

p01_article_jej_fenceWhat I remember most clearly: she was radiant. She was glowing with the sort of confidence that comes from doing exactly what your soul needs you to do. Maybe it sounds bad to not remember a line or a phrase, but they were already etched in me from reading and re-reading. What was brand new was the shining confidence of Jaye discovering herself, proudly, as a capital-W Writer. I vision her floating on that confidence in her best moments, drawing on its quiet spring in her own private dark. This moment of publishing aloud, of speaking her truth into the world, is how I will always remember Jaye becoming herself. She continues that becoming.

She continues as she participates in a poetry reading in her vibrant city. She continues each time she visits a new college campus, asks intelligent questions, visions her self further into being. She continues it here with you, reader, as willing participant. May you see her radiance; may it strengthen your own building-up of self, as it has mine.




by Jaye Elizabeth Johnson
Never mind the loneliness of home
This right here      This right now is home
These women are family
It is not lonely in this place
so Never mind the rain outside, how the thunder shakes
the beams of this old building
The rolling drum of sound waves is a chant of the sky
Whisper with it
Hold hands because you need to
Kiss cheeks because you love to
Old flame crackling
Like new      Like rekindling,

turn out the lights and lay in the glow
Bodies cross-legged
in a church of circles
Brown-pink lips speaking beautiful truths
so Never mind that your mother is always sad
and your father is always gone
Love the love you have
and Forge the love you don’t
in fires of thousands of degrees and heartbeats

Paint your arms in clay from the river
and gather there for fellowship
Tell the lives of your ancestors and your mothers
They are human too

Be scared for your daughters and for your sons
but Be scared for your daughters
Let them go and keep them close
Caring is cloudy,
there is No handbook      No Rosetta Stone
Caring is cloudy,
like night when you can’t see the moon
—But you can feel the tides so you know its gravity still exists—
Never mind that it is hidden
behind starry water vapor breezes
Hold its enormity in your gut
Don’t stop holding until you’re ready to let go
and even when you’re ready, Wait one more second
for your heart to be

Kiss your sisters
Never mind that they lock themselves in brightly-painted bedrooms
only to hide under the darkness of their bedspreads,
Hold your sisters.