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The Audacity to Imagine

When I was a small child, I remember adults always asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. The answer - fire truck! I wanted to be a fire truck! Not a firefighter, the truck. It was big and red and made the best noises. No one could ignore a fire truck in all of its importance. No one would tell a fire truck to be more quiet or take up less space. It could have a big, loud life and no one could stop it; in fact, everything stopped for it! This was amazing to me. No child ever grabbed their mother’s hand and pointed and said, “Oh look, an accountant,” it was always “Oooo, look, a fire truck!” THAT is what I wanted (no shade to accountants).

Anyways, there were enough well-meaning adults around to make sure that I knew “fire truck” would not be an option. The future I imaged was impossible. The future I wanted fell outside of the accepted norms and paths of society. I could NEVER be what I desired, so I should just be more realistic and pick something else. What a terribly cruel way to crush a child’s dreams. Now before you say, “But Brandi, you can’t actually BE a fire truck,” I know. But I also want you to know that I am working with a group of researchers examining ways virtual reality technology can be used to assist people in work beyond their physical capacity so that we can make workplaces more inclusive and accessible. Now obviously this technology won’t turn me into a Transformer,

but it could change the way we interact with our physical space, vehicles, and work tools in a way that is truly revolutionary. Careers that use to be impossible are now emerging and thriving. Someone dared to imagine a future that never previously existed, and innumerable futures will blossom out of this audacity. I, too, wanted audacity.

But I was a little Black girl, and the world was so big and seemed to already be set in its ways. I wanted to see things that didn’t exist and it wanted me to exist without being seen. This wasn’t good enough for me. I had questions; I have questions. How do we cultivate our ability to view the world through visionary eyes? Eyes that don’t see limits, only possibilities? Especially in a society that tells us to be more realistic and put practicality above dreams. A society that shoves down our throats their limited ways of thinking, feeling and being that smother imagination and choke creativity. A society that values progress toward its own self-interest at the expensive of ours. A society that would rather colonize our dreams than set them free; that doesn’t see our future as being worthy of revision. As Black women, how can we create a better future when we aren’t even allowed to envision it? Such an act would be truly radical.

A while back I switched careers, again. Actually, I returned to a career I started and left, but always missed. At the time I was in a role where I was making good money, but regularly winced at the sight of my soul slowly leaking out of my body little by little, day after day. An opportunity was presented to come back to higher education, but I’d be making less money. Why was this such a difficult decision? I was miserable and this was a chance to work in my field of study. And then I asked myself a radical question. What would I do with my life if money weren’t an object? This was a thought exercise in which I’d never previously engaged. At least not as an adult. My imagination went wild. I dreamed of creating education systems and social spaces that were inclusive and giving. Spaces where people who looked like me were welcomed and cared for. Spaces that honored the contributions of those who were previously only allowed to exist at the margins. My body surged with passion and I was certain that the income lost would quickly be made up with my skills and talent. I had faith in my vision for this beautiful future that I would co-design with other visionaries in my field. I had faith in myself. Only a few short years later and this has become my life. This has become my work. This option was here all along, but first I had to dare to imagine something different, and better, than what existed before. This future had to be birthed out of my audacity.

As a community, radically reimagining our future is an act of resistance, a process by which we actively engage in rejecting a prescribed set of potential outcomes and create our own vision of a world that embraces our humanity and nurtures our dreams. It is not enough to simply disagree with what is, we must conjure what can be without preconceived restrictions or limitations. We must imagine what a community that is cared for looks like. How would we nurture our children, how would we nurture our elders? How would we nurture our souls?

What stories do we wish our great grandchildren to tell of our audacity?

We must move beyond the lies of capitalism and imagine a future that brings into focus Black innovation, Black creativity, and Black excellence. The world thrives off our heart and soul but never values the bodies that hold them. What would a society look like that values all things and all people, ranking nothing and no one above the other? We must map out this future in vibrant color, adding the richness of melanin to every pallet. We must write about it, sing about it, and tell stories about it with prophetic certainty. This new future is only as vague as our imaginations. So we must regularly exercise our imagining and our reimagining.

As I’ve made my way through this interesting journey called life, I’ve come to the powerful realization that my radical imagination and love are the greatest gifts I can give to our future. So as I carry the seeds of this revolutionary potential, I will remember to dream as wide as the ends of the sky. I will live a big, loud life. I will take up space, refusing to be ignored. I will be the fire truck, sirens roaring, calling the others to attend to the fires in our souls burning for a future of our own design. I will have audacity. And I will hold the door open for whoever dares to join me.

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