For a very long time, I thought I had nothing to say. I was intimidated by people with degrees and high positions, experts. Early in my career, I specialized in being quietly creative as a TV morning show producer, a presidential “advanceman,” and an event planner. The emphasis should be on “quietly.”
By the late 1980s I’d found a way to express myself through art. But my art didn’t make a sound. It wasn’t a voice.
Ultimately, I found my voice in a collaboration. I was able to express my thoughts and feelings, and my collaborator would suggest words that turned my silence into sound. I learned in scores of speeches, keynotes, interviews, and sermons that I did have a voice others could hear.
The power of voice reverberates through everything written by Joy Harjo, the first (and current) Native American US Poet Laureate. Joy once said she felt a responsibility to represent “all voices, all women, all of my tribe, all people, all earth.” Writing, she said, “frees me to believe in myself, to be able to speak, to have voice, because I have to; it is my survival.”
I’ve wished, lately, that I’d be invited to speak in public more often. I don’t need to be seen or recognized; it isn’t about fame. It’s about using my voice to speak for the voiceless, especially women and those who are powerless and mute. Joy’s reason for speaking out in poetry and song is the same as my reason for taking the podium or the pulpit: “I have to; it is my survival.”
In one of Joy’s anthologies of Native writing she quotes the Apache poet Margo Tamez, now a professor in Indigenous Studies at the University of British Columbia, who understood what it means to have voice. Read this slowly, out-loud:
I come in many forms
Because of me people think differently
Because of me people pray differently
Because of me people sing differently
Because of me people speak differently
Because of me people plan differently
Because of me people live differently
Voice I am
Sacred voice I am
Sacred voice this I am
I’ve never met Dr. Tamez but I know her voice. I recognize it in my own.