March 1, 2014

By Kalamu ya Salaam

During the tumult of the seventies, in publications such as The Black Scholar and black World, I engaged with and eventually championed the work of Audre Lorde, who was and remains one of the most progressive of our warrior intellectuals.

Audre Lorde copyright: Dagmar Schultz

Audre Lorde
copyright: Dagmar Schultz

Being a successful activist is no easy task, no preordained journey. Our sojourn through this world is often frustrating, certainly at its core, our travel has long stretches of lonely, and we are too often misunderstood in our various survival zigs and zags. Audre Lorde gifted us with a magnificent, albeit humane, example of carrying the lamb of love on her shoulders while kicking the wolf of oppression in the teeth.

We were taught: be stern with your enemies, flexible with your friends, uncompromising with yourself. And it is that last admonition that is so hard for most of us to follow. We do not fail at confronting the oppressor, the exploiter. We are on the frontlines of comforting comrades. But oh, our own demons, our personal contradictions, conundrums and assemblage of eccentricities; too often our blackness blanches when we stare into the mirror of our personal behavior.

cancer journalsAudre Lorde wrote the damn Cancer Journals. Reading hers was difficult, writing our own almost impossible. She set such a high standard.

She could have luxuriated in our admiration when she debated the eloquent Baldwin into silence; but her greatest debate was with herself. When she shattered self silence, Audre Lorde spoke with a mighty thunder that acknowledged the terrible truth: we’ve got to go through today’s storms to get to tomorrow’s sunshine.

When identity politics led so many others to abandon building cross-boundary friendships and alliances, Ms. Lorde would print shout outs, engage in correspondence and conversations with an array of others. She secured her hinterlands by opening her borders. She taught us that border crossings  and frequent exchanges were not a betrayal of our interiors but rather free flowing back and forth was the only way to ensure that our essence was able to remain both sweet and tender, rather than curdle over time and become sour and inflexible beneath the mundane bludgeoning of daily struggles.

All of us who knew Audre Lorde have valued memories. Her generous spirit fed us all. Her bright example help light the path forward for each of us. Her passionate transition from this life to whatever exists beyond death’s veil mocks us when we balk, when we fail to be the cliché of all that we can be. Audre Lorde was an example of our all.

Her living did not end with a period or even an exclamation mark. For all of her friends, and certainly for those of us who would follow her example, Audre Lorde’s life was and remains a bold question mark: will each of us speak and act on whatever are the truths of our lives?


Kalamu ya Salaam photo credit: Alex Lear

Kalamu ya Salaam
photo credit: Alex Lear

New Orleans writer, filmmaker and educator, Kalamu ya Salaam is co-director of Students at the Center, a writing program in the New Orleans public schools ( Kalamu blogs at neo•griot ( You can follow him on twitter @neogriot. Salaam can be reached at



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