Panthers – Gypsies – Anarchists
What is your life story in 6 words?
I grew up in San Francisco, finding community in the former Black Panthers of Oakland, and the powerful women of the Burning Man subculture who rejected societal norms to live as artists.
School didn’t make sense. It wasn’t meaningful to me, not like the narratives of the Panthers who enacted change, who fed hungry children in their influential breakfast programs, and set up community gardens and networks of support. What was the point of algebra? Why were essays required of me to communicate ideas?
After high school I went on an international tour as a dancer for a rock band. But that world was thick with contradictions as well, one built on the concept of VIPs – a hierarchy of who matters more, and who less so.
So I went on a journey to follow the Romany Trail – the theoretical route of migration that Gypsies took over 1000 years ago from North India, across Persia, through Europe. Not only was I drawn aesthetically to the music, dance, and textiles of this particular group, but on a deeper level, I wanted to know the life of a despised people. Labeled as the worst of humanity – thieves, criminals, baby-stealers – I strove to get beyond the stereotypes and understand their daily life.
I found Roma Gypsy clans to live with and learn from in India, Egypt, Romania, and Turkey. They were my best teachers. I danced every night with the clans, slept in the desert with them, ate freshly-caught rabbit stew. And that was the deepest learning – one that every day contends with why you are there, how much you don’t know, how you can connect across differences of power, privilege, and life experience. I had to prove myself time and again to create a relationship based on mutual respect, not one of fleeting tourism. What did it take to be seen as human by a historically persecuted group whose survival tactic has been inward-looking, protecting one’s own by lying to outsiders?
I have since taught for numerous study abroad organizations, directed a traveling high school, and lived in 46 countries. All this to say that I recognize your courage in placing yourself in the unknown. That is how we grow. I am excited to learn your quirks, to see you, laugh with you, and explore together. Funnily enough, after never wanting to step foot in an institution of higher education, I am currently in my 5th college, earning a doctorate. That’s what is so beautiful about being alive – our stories continue to surprise us. And I am beyond thrilled that our stories will soon connect.
I look forward to meeting you with an open mind, a willingness to release any preconceived ideas, a willingness to encounter anything, become ever more humble, and the ability to laugh at the ridiculousness of whatever scenario we find ourselves in.