By Anu Sharma, MD High School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Anu Sharma and AALEAD Staff
In a response to the question “What keeps you going?”, Angela Davis, a Black political activist, author, and scholar, explains:
“Optimism is an absolute necessity… What has kept me going has been the development of new modes of community. I don’t know whether I would have survived had not movements survived, had not communities of resistance, communities of struggle… It is in collectivities that we find reservoirs of hope and optimism.”
(Freedom is a Constant Struggle, p. 49)
Moving into a new chapter of my life, I find myself reflecting on the ways people have answered to both personal and global crises. When we are faced with hardships around us, particularly those we are unable to control, it is not uncommon to find ourselves in a state of grief, loss, rage, disbelief or even emotions we struggle to identify. Angela Davis reminds us that struggle is shared, and in turn, hope and optimism can be too.
To this day, there is no other place I find more illuminating with hope, life and promise than in building community with young people.
My name is Anu Sharma and my journey begins across the world in a small country called Nepal, nestled somewhere along the Himalayas. My memories of Kathmandu — a dense, bustling city — are feelings of joy and delight in my grandparents’ cozy house and garden. It was my safe place, a true home. As youth workers, we know that creating a safe and welcoming environment is not just about the physical area; it is also the feeling of warm invitation, affirmation and a sense of belonging. I was fortunate that I was able to receive that with care from my grandparents, my aunties
It wasn’t until college that I began forming my understanding of identity, recognizing the ways in which society shapes our view of the world and the choices we make. I started out studying electrical and computer engineering but realized that my heart was in the few electives that I had chosen for myself during that time. Soon enough, I changed my major to sociology with a minor in women’s and gender studies. I felt drawn to the thoughtful analysis of intersectionality shaped by Black feminists, indigenous theories of decolonization, and personal stories of immigrant and queer Asians and Latina women. Their words spoke truth, opened my eyes and allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief: I wasn’t alone. Moreover, it was in college where I understood that societal problems must be challenged at the root, through organizing and collective people’s power. I felt compelled to help carry on the legacies of those before me.
AALEAD became another turning point. Where I had learned theory in college, youth work became a way for me to transform it into real and concrete practice. I knew I always wanted to work with young people, but I had not yet taken into account how the work itself is a true reflection of re-distributing power: uplifting and making youth voice a priority, giving sustained support, and encouraging youth to find meaning and take ownership of their own lives. In the two years I spent with AALEAD’s elementary school program, I learned from the youth that it is through community and relationship-building that we bring to life a new way of being, creating and relating to one another. Prior to AALEAD, I had understood resistance to be through mass mobilization only — and now, in the spirit of our late Asian American movement leader Grace Lee Boggs — I know and have seen that when there are “critical connections,” possibilities emerge.
With this in mind, I am excited to continue those connections as I support high school youth in Maryland. I look forward to bring avenues for empathy, play and humor, and creativity into our space this year. It’s my hope that what I offer can provide youth with the means to believe in themselves and in their capacity to grow, develop consciousness, practice agency, and uncover their spirit.