Identity: An Open Letter to Bioneers (2016)

Following is a open letter written to the Bioneers community.  I read this open letter during my Live Poetic Scribe session on Sunday, October 25th to conclude conference proceedings at CU Boulder. 

This was initially inspired by a keynote lecture by Lisa Calderon of the Denver Community Reentry Project, who spoke on the prison industrial complex and over-incarceration of people of color and poor people.  She later sat on a panel in which she challenged us all to envision a world in which there are no prisons. 

[Bioneers is a fertile hub of social and scientific innovators with practical and visionary solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges. ]

***

Dear Bioneers,

It is has been six years since I first found myself contributing to a Bioneers workshop.  It has taken six years for me to come to an understanding of what the word “bioneer” means.  In true academic fashion, I turned the word over in my mind, both ways and in new ways, peeling back invisible structures.  I set my lens set to deconstruction, contemplating the historical connection to the word “pioneers.”  This was refreshing for me, to work towards a root understanding of what I am doing, or what I am supposed to be doing, in relation to this conference and our collective mission.

We are pioneers of the bio spheres.  Does that encompass the biosphere itself?  Are we supposed to be bioneers of biology, a science?  Is that why matters of science were the environmental focal point of “environmentalism” for so long (as opposed to issues of racism, classism, sexism, and injustice as they relate to planet, environment, and human systems)?   Yet when I consider the word “bio” as a prefix, or as a root, I also think of the word “biography.”  In thinking about biography I contemplate my identity. 

Do I want to be a pioneer?  Do I want pioneering to be part of my biography?  My legacy? The history of pioneers in America is strongly tied to colonization, slavery, genocide, and ethnocentrism.  This is one story of pioneerism, a story with which we are all intimately familiar—a story that my own biology, and more importantly my humanity, my spirit, and my morality, requires me to reject.

There are other stories of pioneers.  Activists, artists, writers, educators, healers, social entrepreneurs, futurists, intuitive thinkers—working at the margins, the edges, who creatively respond to and use change for the benefit of the masses and the planet.  In this alternative sense, I can perhaps see myself as a pioneer, or for our purposes, a bioneer.

I feel somewhat foolish publicly admitting to this scene of bioneers that it took me six years to understand and thus be able to explain what a “bioneer” is.  Now that I have made sense of this myself, I can explain what a Bioneers conference is to people outside this circle.  As with many scenes, I put about a half toe into the sphere, always conscious of alternative realms, other possibilities, and worldviews that exist outside… or on the perimeters of a particular scene. 

I wonder if this epiphany of bioneerism means that I can claim a greater stake in Bioneers spaces?  Am I a bioneer?  Am I genuinely a part of this community?

To use our favorite academic word, I find it “interesting” that my arrival of an understanding of what Bioneers is… coincides with my observation and acknowledgement that Bioneers appears to be arriving at a place that is genuinely more inclusive of people of color, indigenous peoples, spiritual communities, social justice activists, and other voices who permeate the margins of not only mainstream corporate society, but liberal academic and changemaking spaces as well.

Six years ago I was an anomaly.  Four years ago I was an anomaly.  Two years ago I was still an anomaly.  “Anomaly” is a strange word.  Given the many intersections of my identity as an “Other” in this society, I have been a strange occurrence on college campus, in environmental circles, and at this particular conference.  I have only been involved with this community of scholars and activists for six years; yet in this time I have watched People of Color struggle to see ourselves as legitimate contributors and stakeholders in the world of Bioneers.  I still feel like this is your space, and that I am a guest.  With that said, I feel more comfortable as a guest as time goes on.  I can almost say I have a seat at the table.  I will continue to create this space for myself and my community.  I appreciate your allyship.

Beyond these sentiments…. beyond what any well-spoken or eloquent scribe could properly describe in mere words… I believe there is a general feeling among us all… that we healers… of all realms, disciplines, and backgrounds… are getting closer to getting to where we need to be… this happening as humanity-at-large is simultaneously falling further away from a place of sustainability and balance.

We collectively recognize that there are still mountains of work to be done, among each one of us individually, in all of our communities.  It is the work in-between these annual alternative-thanks-givings that really matters.  It is our courage to speak and authentically act upon our disgust…at the insane injustice… done to the people and planet in our names… which makes us say “fuck that”… Saying it is not enough, we must face our friends, families, and communities and act upon our convictions.  It is our collective forward movement and follow-through on a daily basis… influenced by sparks of brilliance and passion… that make us say “fuck yes” in these keynotes, panels, workshops, and presentations… It is what we do in our own communities between now and next October… against the odds… that gives us each the right to come back to these privileged conference spaces each year.

It is my understanding that there is already another family gathering in the works next fall.  I would be honored to be your guest again, as we continue to construct a bigger table and make more space for the issues that truly matter most in our times.

Sincerely,

Molina Speaks

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About Molina Speaks

Molina Speaks is a writer, poet, hip-hop artist, and event producer. Molina is the Performance Director and a Lead Instructor for Youth On Record. He is a TedX fellow and has been an Artist In Residence with the National Hispanic Heritage Center, Mizel Museum, Journey Through Our Heritage and Noel Community Arts School. He has worked on National Endowment for the Arts projects and has accepted invitations to speak and perform and dozens of universities, including Columbia University, University of California at Davis, UT Austin, CU Boulder, and the University of New Mexico. Molina Speaks has taught master artist classes at Boston Arts Academy and Colorado Academy. He has collaborated with the Denver Spirituals Project and was recognized as a keynote poet for Denver's Lalo Delgado Poetry Festival. Molina is the music supervisor for the documentary film Papers. He is a member of the Cafe Cultura artist collective. Molina has released over a dozen poetic and musical works, which have been recognized and critically acclaimed by the Denver Post, 5280 Magazine, Westword, Colorado Music Buzz and other publications.

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