We all speak in numerous ways every day. Whether by expressing ourselves in the clothes we wear, the company we keep, or the professions we pursue, we speak. Having a voice, though, having your own perspective that shapes who you are and how the world fits around you... well, that is entirely something else.
Only recently have I found my voice. It is a strong voice, albeit a tenuous one still getting its sea legs. But it is entirely my own.
As the proverbial middle child in a family filled with strong voices, I learned that the best way to be heard was to co-opt the voice of others. We all have
coping strategies that we learn as kids that implant themselves firmly
into our daily lives as adults. One of my single greatest strategies was
to adopt others' perspectives as my own. For if I was the lone person
speaking in favor of a particular position, at least I could justify it
to myself as being gleaned from the voice of another, someone in whom I placed
greater confidence than I did in myself.
More recently, a good friend remarked that I actively listened, looking into her
eyes as she spoke, but that the moment I shared my own perspective my
eyes diverted, physically severing the connection that I had been so
intent on creating when listening to her thoughts and ideas. Having and expressing my voice
does not come naturally to me, which is a touch ironic. For all my years alighting the stage to
tell the story of others, to entertain an audience through theater and singing,
rarely have I brought my self - my own voice - to bear.
That changed when I moved to Los Angeles.
For as many years as I have been in the political arena, serving elected
officials - even running for office myself - and organizing campaigns, it wasn't until I gave up on politics altogether that I found my own voice. Moving
to LA was a profoundly difficult decision because it tore me away from the community
that I'd created and grown to love over a decade in San Francisco. Moving forced me to
accept a new city, new friends, new communities, and a new paradigm. It also was the result of a
decision motivated by love - for another and for myself - that remains
to this day the best decision that I have ever made.
Having burnt out on the political process in San Francisco, at first I adamantly
refused to engage in Los Angeles' equivalent, whatever it was. But over time, it turned out that I not only began
to find my voice, I began to empower it. Having left behind the comforts of a world I knew and at least thought I understood in San Francisco, being open to an array of new experiences in LA enabled me to find my voice.
It is only when you let go of what you have that you discover why you held on to it in the first place.
So it was that I was activated. Not by an interest in the
political process. Not by some grand policy aspirations. Not by the
pressure of others to fight their battles with them. No, I was activated by my own
passion for my community. By the street that could be transformed from a
liability into an asset with just a little TLC. By the intersection
that could become a place people went to rather than through. By the
recognition and support of the amenities that make our community not
just any other place but that make it our home. By the understanding that social justice, economic empowerment, and sustainable development weren't just catchphrases, but necessities of our time.
This activation wasn't immediate, but it was pivotal. I began sharing
and expressing my voice on issues through social media. And I stumbled (and
still do) but did not stop. It may have lost me a few friends too, but
where I had previously been more concerned about co-opting the opinions
in order to remain in their good graces, I now stood my ground- willing
to learn but unwilling to acquiesce. I began to accept the isolation that can come with leadership as something to be embraced rather than feared, as the even more compelling possibility of creating community and progress is worth the risk.
After some time, a friend who does marketing suggested that a brand was
in order. He suggested that I brand my perspective in order both to empower and to establish
my voice, and to give others the ability to see my voice more clearly in my words and deeds.
This is how #lukespeaks was born. As an idea - as a tool - to support my voice, and in so doing to support a diverse community of like-minded people working to create change in LA.
And through all this, listening to others is the most important tool of all that I bring to bear on my voice. While my eyes may
still sometimes struggle to meet yours when I speak from my voice, and my vocal
chords may sometimes strain to convey the veracity behind my perspective, I have taken the lesson of my middle child-ness and now apply it actively, seeking out and including the voices of others. Because, above all else, I remain convinced that it is only when
an array of perspectives are brought to the table and we are all participating, that we can
accomplish great things. It is when we
are all empowered to speak, to have our voice, and to act toward a vision for our future, only then - and especially then - can we accomplish great things that are the the result of us reaching toward and supporting our best selves and our better natures.
This is the spirit in which I speak. This is the spirit from which #lukespeaks is born.