“Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come”
Today, and as a part of the continuation of the series of “people who inspire me,” I will attempt to explore the precious mind of Tonya Noel; a young activist, organizer, and community gardener from Rochester New York.
Additionally, what I am hoping for—-this kind of intellectual probing, if you will, of her mental-evolution and homosocial trajectory, is a glimpse at what inspires her, what are some of the anxieties surrounding her activism, and has she ever considered transcending from activism to politics?
I reached Tonya Noel, via phone, while she was at home….and her two boys were downstairs playing. “I apologize if you hear some noise in the background” she said, ” my two boys might come upstairs to see who I’m talking to”
After I reassured her that that was not going to be a problem, I asked her my first question, “what inspires you to do what you do?”
She told me that because her mother was an activist in the apogees of the civil rights movement, during the 60’s, and that seeing the maladjusted breakdowns of her community, all sort of pointed to a calling that was both obvious and inevitable.
My second question was, “What are you hoping to get out of the kind of work that your doing?”
She responded, saying, that, by expanding on community gardens….can have a binary effect of “waking people up” and creating “immediate change.” Then, she went on to talk about how disheartening it was to see the local businesses in her community that were not offering—if hardly any—fresh foods or vegetables. This was really upsetting to Tonya. And as she continued, with a kind of astute verbosity bestowed only by a constellation of lived-experiences, I could hear the frustrations in her voice and the exigency to “educate, organize, and change the community” for the better.
In fact, Tonya believes heavily on the notion that community gardens has the ability to not only “feed the people” but to connect them to larger struggles, that, she became the sole-proprietor of “CausiNFX GreenSpace,” a collective of people who get together to educate, organize, and ultimately, plant gardens around her community.
By all means, Tonya’s determinism to make immediate change reminds me of Noam Chomsky—when he was paraphrasing his late friend, the historian Howard Zinn: “What really matters are the countless small deeds of unknown people who lay the basis for the events of human history. These are the people who have made change in the past; they are responsible for making change in the future, too.”
Some time after, and as she had predicted, I started to hear noise in the background of what sounded like two children tousling and trying to get their mother’s attention. “mom” one of them called out, “mom!” Tonya, trying not to detract from our interview, while, yet trying to maintain contact with her two small boys, calmly, told them to”hold on.”
The third question that I posed to Tonya was, “What scares you the most about activism?”
“I believe in getting free or die trying,” she said, “but, honestly, fear of leading people in the wrong direction.”
Then, finally, my last question was, “What do you think about the political process as a means to galvanize and sustain change?”
“I don’t currently believe in the political process.” she lamented, “I believe a paradigm shift is required to accomplish the goals that I am looking to accomplish.”
After our interview was over, and while I was playing back the audio tape to edify my notes, I thought about Tonya’s two young boys and her desire(s) to better her community not just for them but for everyone else. And what struck me was how archetypal she was to the millions of other Americans who all want the same thing; safer, productive communities, and a society where their children can have the same social mobility and access to capital.
Moreover, what makes Tonya so different than most Americans is, that she is not waiting around for someone else to take care of her community….and that her ideals reflects her actions. She is out in the streets protesting. She travels to conferences to speak to other community gardeners—exchanging ideas and building coalitions. Tonya, in my humble opinion, is the living embodiment of what Victor Hugo said, “nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.”
Click link to read about Last Week’s inspiring person; Carolyn Miller, a young activist and college graduate from Rochester, New York