The Sistah Vegan Project

The Fork in the Road: Ruminations on My Birthday

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Updated: May 30, 2014 10:25 AM PST

Today, May 30, is my birthday. What a wonderful year it has been! I gave birth to my third child, Kira Satya, on November 5, 2013. Another successful vegan pregnancy, she came into the world at nearly nine pounds. My birthday wish for this year is simple: Can you help me continue doing my work by funding the project or pointing me to people you think would benefit from hearing me give lectures or act as a consultant? Thank you to everyone who helped me reach 4.5% of my goal over the last 12 months.  Thank you to those who donated in other ways, such as editing my new book as well as creating a brilliant cover for (wahoo to Sarah Dorsey who shares the same birthday) the new manuscript, guiding me through difficult times, or watching my children while I was writing a new talk.

Recap of my year

During summer 2013, and under the mentorship of stellar food systems scholar, Dr Ryan Galt, I started my new Sistah Vegan project research: gathering the perspectives of Black vegan men who use hip hop pedagogies for their food, health, and animal rights activism. (Thank you Dr. Ryan Galt for offering me the opportunity to do this work at UC Davis!)  In 2014, I presented my new research at Dickinson College, Oberlin College, and Pacific Lutheran University. I am appreciative that all three institutions provided childcare for my newborn so I could bring her with me to nurse on demand. I am also very grateful for the plethora of people who have inspired me to continue with the Sistah Vegan project, despite me wanting to give up; particularly because I felt so hopeless and questioned my purpose in Academia. Such hopelessness came after I received nothing but rejection letters from all academic positions I had applied to.

The hardest time for me came during the fall of 2013, when I received an email from someone who I had asked to write me letters of recommendations in the past. This person was one of my main professor mentors and someone I really trusted. They had emailed that they would no longer write me letters of recommendations because they had always found me to be “unprofessional” and not “intellectually rigorous” when it came to my pursuit of an Academic career. I had received that email the morning I was in labor with Kira Satya. There was really no way of telling if the letters that person wrote was the main reason I wasn’t even afforded a phone interview anywhere. Interestingly, the letter created a fork in the road for me: I could give up and give in to anger and self-pity…or, I could see the letter as an opportunity to test my commitment to the Sistah Vegan Project and try to find other ways to keep it alive…which would probably mean having to say goodbye to Academe.

After weeks of emotional and mental anguish that I allowed that letter to cause me, I decided that my 25 year goal of becoming a professor wasn’t the only way to keep my critical race, critical food, and critical vegan studies research, writing, and activism alive.  I had to remind myself that I had successfully put together the first Sistah Vegan Conference in fall 2013 and received a lot of emails from people who said the event really shifted their consciousness; the event was not affiliated with any university at all.  In addition, even though one of my main mentors had decided that they didn’t want to support me, I also had to remind myself of the many mentors who have supported me and found my way of engaging in research and activism, beneficial. I nearly let that email from this one mentor make me forget about all the other mentors who have supported me, including Carol J Adams, Psyche Williams Forson, Bryant Terry, DJ Cavem, Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Kwanda and James Ford, Riche Richardson,  David Leonard, Martin Rowe , Lauren Ornelas, Katherine McKitrrick and Carolyn Finney to name a few.

So, what was the lesson learned? Not everyone will experience my way of doing things as professional or intellectually rigorous. And sometimes even those that we thought were our mentors and that we trusted may also no longer want to support our vision or our way of doing things. And you know what? That is okay.   Over the past eight months, I have tried to transition into making the Sistah Vegan Project my full time work while keeping these things in mind.

This morning, I also received word that my new novel, Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New Englandis now ready for production through Sense Publishers. They are an awesome academic press. It was timely to receive the message from senior editor Patricia Leavy, a professor and a vanguard in the field of social fiction. Patricia Leavy read Scars within a week of receiving it last year. After years of me trying to find a place for my book, it was Patricia enthusiastically who offered me a contract. My work fit Sense Publisher’s new social fiction series which seeks social fiction, in the form of novels, to address societal problems. The key to the series is the use of real qualitative social science research that is translated into novel form.

Overall, I just wanted to let you know that when I receive emails of support from you all, it reminds me why it is important to do what I believe in and to not let obstacles deter me. Every single email I receive from my fans, really fuels me and re-centers me! Much love to all of you for your generosity and belief in my work.

Below is the organic and Vegan cake my husband and kids made for me. Yum!
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14 thoughts on “The Fork in the Road: Ruminations on My Birthday

  1. Caridad Souza on said:

    Dear Breeze,

    Happy Birthday! I hope you live many more spreading your wisdom and work to the far reaches of our planet.

    I am glad you were born. I am glad you are here. I am glad to have met you in the page of your book, on this blog, on your conference. You are a valuable person and your work is needed and important.

    It is unfortunate to hear that academe has rejected you but not surprising. As a long time resident but not an insider to academe I can see how it might construe you as “not intellectually rigorous” (when what determines “intellectual rigor” is that dry, disconnected, and nonhuman way of being all mental) and it is unfortunate that the academy insists on those narrow definitions, thereby boxing itself in to a conundrum of forever staying not relevant to people’s lives. You would think that the fact that you are one of the few Black women combining theoretical and critical inquiry with an on-the-ground praxis exciting and totally relevant to the academy. Alas! They remain medieval in so many ways.

    I see you doing something beyond “intellectual rigor” although, as a scholar activist I do find that your critical formulations ARE quite rigorous. Your work connects theory and praxis thereby making that false dichotomy more transparent. Perhaps that is threatening to those who would sit in the Ivy Tower playing at relevancy.

    Keep doing your incredibly important work. Keep following your intuition and heart. Keep critical. Keep us all accountable. And keep sharing that wisdom. I am happy you have come to understand the nature of your work differently, and you are pursuing that path. It is beyond inspiring. Be well, stay focused, and share yourself more.

    Un abrazo companera,
    Caridad Souza

  2. Happy Birthday Breeze! You are doing wonderful work in the community. I’m sad to read that you received that letter the morning you gave birth. Your goal of turning SVP into a full-time job is positive and I wish you much success!

  3. Mary Spears on said:

    Happy Birthday Breeze! Please remember that there are people who value what you do, and your work is very beneficial to others. If you weren’t meant to do this work, it would be a passion in your heart.
    Congratulations on all your beautiful children. They are lucky to have you as a mother.

  4. Breeze, my dear Twin Gemini – This is my birthday as well! I feel in my bones that you will succeed in doing whatever you really want to do. I support you 100% as do
    so many of us who know and appreciate your amazing contributions to “the work.” Sending big hugs to you (and your sweet family).

  5. Jenny on said:

    Happy birthday!
    You’re so not alone in the academic job market. This article’s about someone in a field that requires labs but includes stuff about doing research outside academia: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/03/inquiring-minds-ethan-perlstein-postdocalypse
    “…So what do the more than 80 percent of postdocs who leave academia do? Some get jobs in industry, with large pharmaceutical companies or engineering firms. Some get MBAs or law degrees and use their scientific training to carve out a niche in a different industry. Some teach. Some write. Some few remain unemployed.
    “Perlstein did something radically different—something gutsy and surprising that has garnered him recent profiles in the Wall Street Journal and Science Careers. He decided to break from tradition and forge a new path: build, fund, and run his own independent science lab. To become an “indie scientist.” To in effect hack the scientific system, work within it yet outside of it, and support himself through crowdfunding, a compelling social-media presence, and, of course, good ideas.
    “He’s not just building a biotech startup or monetizing some scientific finding. He is using alternative revenue sources to fund basic research, hearkening back to the 19th century, when citizen-scientists usually had family money, a rich patron or a day job…”

  6. Dear Breeze,

    It’s been a pleasure to be associated with your work, and happy birthday from a fellow Geminian! I, too, am sorry that your pursuit of a career in the academy met with so many obstacles. About 15 years ago, I read a surprising and fun novel called THE TICKING TENURE CLOCK (from SUNY Press!) about how difficult academic life is for an adjunct professor and a woman. It’s also got an animal rights theme! You might find it a welcome relief. Here’s a link: http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Ticking_Tenure_Clock.html?id=NF7ApEMHArgC.

  7. Paula on said:

    Happy BDay!!! You, Ms. Breeze, just rock. Awesome in so many ways, inspiring in countless others. You are among a group of breathtakingly sharp, thoughtful, creative and trailblazing PhD’ers who carve out a new, 21st century model as public intellectuals, researcher activists, mentors and role models. You certainly ARE a role model for me.

    You took the best of what a PhD offers…and wisely opted out of the stultifying, white dominated university system. I get the frustration, anger and disbelief and sorrow about it all–you know I do.

    Oh, and this article makes me think of the mentor who no longer wanted to write your letter (shocking how white folks are so surprised–for women of color it’s the daily bread in the academy. We all have multiple versions of the same story to tell). Pretty sure you saw it, but just in case:

    http://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2014/05/28/essay-realities-race-academic-jobs#sthash.8bavqteM.dpbs

    I would NEVER have stumbled across your work had you been an “industry academic”–I never would have drawn in holistically to your work, to your candid persona if you had had a conservative, traditional research trajectory.

    Here is to a very “Happy Birthday!” (And you look lovely, healthy…and that dress is just charming!). Enjoy! (what flavor is the bday cake???).

  8. Paula on said:

    And BTW–I’m not assuming that the mentor who disavowed their support is white–or black.

  9. A belated !!!!!HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! also from us.

  10. La RoVing ReV on said:

    Dear Breeze Harper,
    I, too, share your birthday, and I was so pleased with your post that I put it on a friend’s facebook timeline for inspiration, cuz she is one of us 30 may-ers as well! Seems like a great day on which to have been born a woman determined to change her world, if no one else’s!
    Your friend in freedom,
    Susan/a

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