Writing for Social Justice: At Your Mother’s Knee

The idea of instituting Governments is to secure people’s rights to life, liberty, and property. When John Locke stole this nugget of ancient Egyptian wisdom from the goddess Maat, I wonder if he had any idea folks like Thomas Jefferson would bastardize the wisdom and completely change the language, replacing property with pursuit of happiness.

Today, we see the consequences of this theft in American society. The colonialist mindset of manifest destiny was created without the contextual principles of truth, balance, order, harmony, law, morality, and justice that Maat represented thousands and thousands of years before this country’s inception.

If America had been built on these principles, the humans, the animals, the oceans, and the airs would yield better results for all life forms. But alas, Maat’s bastard child, the United States, was birthed without a legitimate connection to its mother. Stealing from her while trying to mimic her at the same time.

No respect for the true mother of American principles has been shown. This is evidenced as women who built this country were shamed, granted no property rights, and barred from the pursuit of happiness. And of course, out of pure hate, the founders captured Black women, and not only denied them property or a pursuit of happiness, but also inflicted inexplicable atrocities on them.

This sordid, inequitable history has left many Black women behind their peers when it comes to ownership in this country. And by ownership, I really mean guardianship, because as Maat will tell you, no one “owns owns” this land.

So how do we begin to reckon with this wretched history and restore the order? Well, look around and see that I, like so many Black women business owners in Philadelphia, are running businesses out of buildings and off of land that we have very little rights to or ownership over.

This modern form of sharecropping, working the land that someone else benefits from, limits our ability to leave the legitimate legacy of our businesses to our lineage and poses a serious impediment to our lives, our liberties, and our pursuits of happiness/property.

For the new year, I wish more folks, especially Black women in Philadelphia, and around the world, owned (not leased or borrowed) our own land and maintained complete and total autonomy over the direction of our futures on this land. This is the only way to begin to rectify the bastardization of Maat’s ancient wisdom. This is the only way to begin to repair the damage inflicted on us through forced labor in a measurable, sustainable way—because simply posting Black Lives Matter on Twitter or kneeling at a protest or reading antiracist literature is not enough.

Speaking of reading antiracist literature, my job as the shopkeeper at Harriett’s Bookshop is to curate and recommend books. This month I am recommending Ida B. The Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells which will be released on January 21st. It examines the life of Ida B. Wells—the mother, the writer, the advocate, the activist. Ida B. Wells exemplifies a crusader intent on restoring order and enlisting the principles of Maat even in the face of the lynching of her friends, the destruction of her newspaper, and the insults on her name. In her day, Ida B. Wells galvanized small civic groups across the globe to work in tiny cells on measurable community actions. Think big tree, small axe.

Consider, not only reading Ida B. The Queen, but also using her great granddaughter Michelle Duster’s text as a catalyst for starting your own small civic group that moves into action on the topic of life, liberty, and property. Because only the people can restore the order. It is also time to start partnering with like-minded folks and securing guardianship over land in ways that align with principle over profit. And while I am asserting large institutions should listen to this conversation and take action by offering land and resources to the people, I assure you this is going to happen either way. Because as the Great Mother Maat reminds us, balance is necessary and life, liberty, and property are a birthright. Ase.

For the last 10 years, Jeannine Cook has worked as a trusted writer for several startups, corporations, non-profits, and influencers. In addition to a holding a master’s degree from The University of the Arts, Jeannine is a Leeway Art & Transformation Grantee and a winner of the South Philly Review Difference Maker Award. Jeannine’s work has been recognized by several news outlets including Vogue Magazine, INC, MSNBC, The Strategist, and the Washington Post. She recently returned from Nairobi, Kenya facilitating social justice creative writing with youth from 15 countries around the world. She writes about the complex intersections of motherhood, activism, and community. Her pieces are featured in several publications including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Root Quarterly, Printworks, and midnight & indigo. She is the proud new owner of Harriett’s Bookshop in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia.