I make no secrets of the hardships I’ve encountered over the past two and a half years. A mind numbing adversity that buried me into the abyss of homelessness and hopelessness led me on a path away from Virginia and took me on a trek across America. Though I always wanted to be a traveler, I never thought that dream would be fulfilled through the realities of indigence, shelters and missions.
South Carolina, Georgia, Iowa, Tennessee and Colorado—I traversed America as I alternated between concrete pillows and blue plastic mattresses. When I was in the throes of this distress, I never thought it possible that redemption would be found at the end of my journey. I was beset by sadness thinking that my life was over. I felt like Jonah swallowed by sorrow; I cursed God for handing me a tribulation that none would believe or relate to. Poverty is the 21st century leprosy, I sank into the deepest depression thinking that I was handed a life sentence of loneliness.
Where I gave up, others saw the light in me. I found home among strangers and saw love where I had given up on it. What I realized through my journeys is that hardship truly does have a purpose. The gratefulness I never found while I was making six figures in air conditioned offices, I finally discovered when I was making minimum wage and working in soup kitchens. What I realized is that God gave me a story that others could relate to as long as I make my purpose about our common humanity instead of trying to get vindication for what I went through.
I write this as a testimony and as a way to tie in the event that I’m hosting this evening at Busboys and Poets in Washington DC. This too is a part of my redemption; when I first moved back to Virginia to be with a love that restored my last name—life is poetic because my last name Fikre means My Love in Amharic—I was hesitant. I left the DC area intent on never returning. Not only was I bitter, I was ashamed to face people who knew me and run into people who took part in whisper campaigns that gashed my reputation.
I took a leap of faith and came back home to start a new life with Birabiro. The narratives we build in our minds and the anxieties we accumulate have a way of melting away once we jump into the unknown. I no longer curse God, I am thankful because my fall does not define me. I would not change a thing about the hardships I went through—I am eternally grateful. What I wanted above all was to give hope to others and to speak against injustice. It was hard to that while I was a defense consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. After calling broken souls neighbors and witnessing brokenness across our nation, I am convicted to speak truth without fear of repercussions. Click To Tweet
I don’t convey these experiences to illicit sympathy or to somehow present myself as a victim. Far from it, what I went through was nothing compared to the misfortunes that struck others and the pains that were visited upon countless people I met across multiple states and cities. I’ve had the honor of befriending homeless veterans, parents who lost their children and young adults who were made homeless before they could realize their potential. Yet even among these folks who are rendered invisible by society, there is a profound strength that is evident. Homeless does not mean worthless—we are judged by our hearts not by our pockets.
Live long enough and all of us will get walloped by the challenges of life. None of us can escape the clutches of sadness and the way ennui clutches at our souls. Yet where there is sadness and distress, there is resilience and hope. It’s hard to remember this when we are enveloped by the darkness of hopelessness. Yet we don’t have to be captive to our circumstances; in fact we can be made better through tribulation. During my time of penury, my chaplain Jason Bryan at Harvest Farm—featured in the “Give as We are Given section below—told me that a season of abundance will come after a season of nothingness. It was the kindness and care of strangers and friends alike that restored hope in a broken soul.
This is the message I hope to convey this evening at Busboys and Poets. No matter the circumstances and the injustices that come for us, we rise. Redemption is possible if we refuse to be bitter and find a purpose through our adversities. The video below titled “We Are Not Black”—trust me I’m defending culture not disavowing it—was recorded and edited by me while I was living in a mission in Wellington, Colorado. The book I wrote titled “Serendipity’s Trace” was likewise written while I was sleeping on plastic mattresses. Both the book and the video will be used as the foundation to discuss “Race and Identity” in America. Scroll all the way at the bottom to RSVP and get full details about the event this evening that starts at 5:30 PM with the video kicking off at 6:00.
If you are in the DC metro area, I would be honored to host you and your friends at Busboys and Poets this evening to take part in this much needed conversation. If you know people in the Washington DC area, forward this article to them and encourage them to attend as well. We have the power of social media in our hands, let us use Facebook, Twitter and the rest to own our stories instead of letting others own us through their false narratives. In that same spirit, later on this evening, make sure to watch “Behind the Movement”, the story about Rosa Parks and the people who stood up to Jim Crow injustice. There is a nexus to all that I write about, power is within us if we realize that we are not victims of our circumstances.
I wrote about how my journey of rediscovering love and purpose was poetic. Let me add one more poetic measure to this article. The event I’m hosting tonight is at Busboys and Poets. The bookstore/restaurant is named after Langston Hughes, one of the most profound writers of all time who was a poetic prince during the Harlem Renaissance. Long before Langston was discovered, he was a busboy at a restaurant where he would write poems on paper napkins. He was a poet working as a busboy before he was valued as a poet by the same customers who once saw him only as a busboy. There is always redemption in hardship and there is no shame in struggle; I follow in the footsteps of giants for I am currently tending bars while I write revolutions on paper napkins.
The revolution is in all of us. I don’t mean the type of bullets and guns but of hearts and the mind. My hope is to present our narratives in a way that is redemptive instead of joining the establishment demagogues who bitterly spreads fire and acrimony. I ask you to withhold watching the video if you plan on attending this evening as that video will be shown as part of the community discussion. However, if you are not in the DC area, please do watch the video and then use that as a launching point to have discussions in your homes and within your networks about the message contained in this video. Thank you and remain love in the struggle. #WeRiseTogether
The root of our struggle is the source of our strength::
Today’s “contribution campaign” will be earmarked to Harvest Farm, a community farm in Wellington Colorado that was home to Teodrose Fikre for more than a year. Find out more about them by clicking HERE and give as you are able so that they can give as they can. Thank you.
Watch this video and listen to the message with open hearts and minds, I thank hardship for giving me the wisdom to spread this message. #Temesgen
Busboys and Poets Hosts Author Teodrose Fikre
Busboys and Poets will be hosting the founder/editor of the Ghion Journal as a featured author on February 11th at their 5th and K Street NW location. Busboys and Poets is an iconic bookstore and cafe named in the honor of legendary poet and visionary writer Langston Hughes. The event will be a community discussion about “race and identity in America”, a timely topic given that February is “Black History Month’.
This is a community event that is free and open to all, we highly encourage an advance RSVP to ensure seating. You can see the event link at Busboys and Poets website by clicking HERE. RSVP by clicking on the picture below.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.