Dreaming my way free...
When I was 19 years old I got the word “dream” tattooed on my wrist in Arabic. I grew up obsessed with the idea of dreams. They were pictures and stories that existed in your head and your head alone. If you were awake, you could manipulate them to look how you needed them to. You could create a world, a circumstance, a moment that looked absolutely perfect… something no one has any control of in the real world. If you were asleep, dreams could show you the depths and reaches of your own mind when you weren’t even in control of it. You could be so emotionally moved that tears traveled from the dream realm down your actual cheeks while you slept. Dreams are magical. They always have been. And as a fan of magic, I wanted that reminder on my body always. So at 19, I wandered down the pier in Santa Monica till I found a tattoo artist that looked reliable (no idea how my teenager ass judged this) and I had the word spliced into my skin so that I would always know: “No matter how bad shit gets, Andrea, you can always dream.”
As I prepared for life beyond college, I got the not-so-subtle hint that the 20s were no place for dreams... Instead, capitalism encouraged all of us recent college grads to make it a decade of action.
Over the years my fascination with dreams, and the discreet tat now printed across my wrist, waned. As I prepared for life beyond college, I got the not-so-subtle hint that the 20s were no place for dreams. Instead, capitalism encouraged all of us recent college grads to make it a decade of action. It seemed to me that we all had 30-under-30 lists to guide our aspirations, bootstraps stories of folks who had used college networking to advance quickly, and nightmares of failure at the forefront of our every decision. And so we set out to show the world that we wouldn’t let the enormity of the debt crisis hold us back. Or the housing crisis that left us priced out of the very cities we’d grown up in. We wouldn't be discouraged by a non-existent middle class, or our paycheck to paycheck realities that mirrored our parents’ situations. We’d make something of ourselves by planning strategically & accordingly. Seemingly overnight, dreaming became wasted time.
But as the years passed and my journey progressed, I found unlearning that obsession with success to be as important as unlearning racist stereotypes, heteronormativity, or constructed gender norms. It took an entire pandemic, time studying the isolating and oppressive natures of capitalism, and the brilliant words of @thenapministry for me to lean into dreaming again. And what I found this time around is that dreaming isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. As one friend reminded, dreaming is how we know we are alive. It’s how we access hope when everything around us looks bleak. Dreams connect you back to yourself which, in turn, allows you to connect with other human beings. And if there were ever a year for me to commit to actively dreaming, 2020 was it.
And what I found this time around is that dreaming isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. As one friend reminded, dreaming is how we know we are alive. It’s how we access hope when everything around us looks bleak.
I started this year by ending a 6 and a half year relationship. After the better half of a decade together it was important for me to acknowledge both that I wasn’t happy and that I had no roadmap on how to be. When a relationship of that length ends, you aren’t just saying goodbye to a person. You have to come to grips with the romanticized version of your future vanishing before your eyes. And the only way to feel good about the shiny, new blank slate you’ve been given is to allow yourself space to dream up a new future.
There was a profound sense of anxiety in the shift from a “we” to an “I.” And I found that the most effective medicine for those concerns was conjuring up radically honest visions of what I wanted for myself, my future, and my legacy. I came to see daydreaming as a healing modality as I worked to embrace my newfound singledom. Dreaming gave me permission to change the narrative in my head and my heart. I realized I was actually brave as fuck for stepping into the unknown. I wasn’t the victim of a failed relationship or wasted time. I was an architect of possibility.
Dreaming gave me permission to change the narrative in my head and my heart.
Dreaming up a new life for myself may have proven to be beneficial to my mental health, but dreaming down oppressive systems took a rougher toll on me. When I finally acknowledged the positive impact that dreaming was having on my personal life, I figured that I should try employing the same tactics to my career. For years, I have resigned myself to simply surviving the education system in New Orleans. Managing to stay in the classroom in and of itself is a tremendous feat in this city, one that is emotionally and mentally taxing. To preserve my sanity, I had long stopped imagining any possibility of working in a space that I truly believed in. My focus shifted to surviving the trauma of the spaces, minimizing their negative impact on myself and others, and creating spaces for Black educators like myself to support one another. I bore Black Teacher Griot from this desire.
But being on this dream kick had me curious. If I removed all the obstacles, what would a healthy working space look like? What kind of school could nurture Black students, teachers, and parents alike? What would it mean to be striving towards liberation in community with the folks in your school? Like a true Virgo, I found myself caught up in the logistics at first. But my heart quickly veered me away from the “hows” and the “whys” and just told me to focus on the picture itself. I found myself having visions of a school based out of a large Victorian style home, an absence of grade levels and grades, an edible garden, a cooking program, drama productions staged in a large backyard. We studied global liberation movements, argued about generational shifts in hip hop, and designed projects that strengthened and bettered our community. Elders from the community taught classes on our local histories and we had internships with Black owned businesses throughout the city. We celebrated trans ancestors, openly discussed toxic masculinity, and challenged cisheteronormativity. Even in the dream realm, it was a space of joy that challenged me in all the best ways.
Some dreams are not simply about creating new realms, some are connecting us to the past, showing what is already inside our communities and ourselves
It seemed like a lovely vision but nowhere near what was possible given the education system this country ascribes to. So you can imagine my surprise when I attended a Black Teacher Project Liberation Lab with students and educators from the Oakland Community School, the school run by the Black panthers from 1973 To 1982, and heard the former school director, Erica Huggins, describing my dream as a place that already existed. She and other attendees of the school described a curriculum focused on liberation, young Black teachers who questioned students instead of the other way around, and a push for excellence that had nothing to do with standardized tests or admittance into traumatizing PWIs. I was amazed, during the entire conversation, that what I thought were unrealistic dreams had already been made possible by our ancestors and elders. I shook with the realization that I was already living in a world where my people had done this. I knew in that moment that some dreams are not simply about creating new realms, some are connecting us to the past, showing what is already inside our communities and ourselves.
I can’t wrap up this ode to the significance of dreams without mentioning an epiphany that hit me a few years back. Years ago I was driving across the bridge in New Orleans. I was staring at the buildings and a huge ad featuring local legend Big Freedia when a flashback stormed my brain. I was 10 years old. I had a journal and was writing a bucket list and third down from the top was “Move to New Orleans.” I remember having grand dreams of a bayou and fireflies, southern accents on Black elders. Nevermind that the only actual reference to Nola I had at the time was Anne Rice’s "Interview with the Vampire, a book and movie that my young ass had no business looking at. But I was convinced! When I became a fully independent adult, I was going to live in the Big Easy. Coming across that bridge and having that memory hit me full force was so revealing. I had moved here without even remembering that I wrote that down almost 20 years prior! The lesson was clear: we can realize dreams that we don't even recall conjuring up. *That* is how powerful they are. And *that* is why we must commit to them fully. When we allow ourselves space to dream we make new possibilities, new realities that are ours to grasp. But we have to have the courage to say fuck the reality in front of our eyes and go inward. Be brave, friends. Please be brave. After a year like this one, you deserve all your heart, your mind, your spirit can imagine.