award-winning activist lateefah simon has dedicated her life to serving others who can not rise up

From fighting patriarchy to honouring the memory of her late husband, Lateefah Simon offers her notes on being a woman.

by Tish Weinstock
25 May 2018, 11:43am

Lateefah Simon grew up in the Fillmore District of San Francisco during the 80s, when the war on drugs and mass incarceration of people of colour was at its height. “It forever moved me to want to change the conditions and policies that keep people poor and powerless,” she tells i-D. By age 19 she’d been evicted from her home and was a single mum. Since then, Lateefah has dedicated her life to fighting against racial and social injustice. A much loved activist and community leader, in 2003 she became the youngest ever female recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship -- for her leadership of the Center for Young Women's Development. In 2016, she was named President of the Akonadi Foundation, which gives grants to organisations in Oakland working to defeat structural racism in schools, in law enforcement and throughout the halls of power. “We support movements and organisations that seek true equality,” she says. “My aim is to work for the people who cannot rise up. To work with others to envision the world that we all seek to live in. To act on that vision and challenge policies and practices that lay in contrast to that vision. I want to be of service. I want to be in rooms where resources are allocated and where decisions are made. I owe my time to the communities that raised me.” Her story is currently being told in a new documentary, Common Thread, by filmmaker Ivan Cash, to mark the annual gala of San Francisco’s community foundation Tipping Point, on whose board Lateefah sits. Here she shares her notes on being a woman.

The best thing about being a woman is my body and my mind are capable of birthing magic.

The hardest thing about being a woman is that black women have to hold up the sky. I can’t afford to put it down.

My grandma once told me that to love myself is to embrace the things that I can’t change -- to love them and nurture the imperfections. I have. I do -- and the impections in my eyes, of my body, are indeed God’s special mark for me -- and only me.

Love looks like my daughter Lelah’s eyes. Her eyes are deep and give without expectation. Love smells like lavender.

My proudest moment so far has been to stand at the bedside of my dying husband. Knowing that I loved him, showed him dignity and grace. Cancer didn’t defeat us. We fell further into love and into our conviction to be better people because of it. I’m proud that I never let him down. May Kevin Weston rest in paradise.

When I was 16 I had totally the wrong idea about love. I thought I wasn’t worthy of it.

The book which taught me the most about being a woman is Sisters of the Yam by bell Hooks.

My favourite song about being a woman is Do Right Woman by Aretha Franklin.

The most unexpected I’ve discovered about being a woman is that fighting patriarchy is a full-time goddamn job.

I’m happiest when snuggling with my kids Lelah and Aminah in bed on Sunday mornings.

I admire women who travel miles for water, for reproductive freedom, for peace, for restful sleep. I admire women who were not born in the bodies of their choice -- who blossom into who they were meant to be. I honour and admire transwomen. I admire women who do not take no for an answer. I look up to women who fight for their survival. I look up to women who laugh louder than I do.

The best thing about getting older is understanding grace, knowing that being right is not important, seeing my kids grow up and knowing that my mother is human and has the right to be imperfect, just as I am.

The biggest lie about getting older is that your spirit doesn’t feel young.

I feel most like a grown up when paying bills.

Nessah Muthy asks: What does feminism mean to you? Feminism to me, in real time, is more than theoretical -- feminism is the active pursuit of political, economic, social and racial justice for women, with the inclusion of trans and genderqueer folks.

My question for the next woman doing this column is: How do you get closest to the Divine?

notes on being a woman
lateefah simon
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