I Contain Multitudes

JavaciaI am writer, teacher, feminist—and myself.

By Javacia Harris Bowser

Sometimes I feel as if I’m caught in a love triangle—writing and teaching both tugging at my heart. I was born to teach, but I didn’t realize this until after working in education for seven years. When I was a girl, I named all my dolls and other toys, arranged them in nice, neat rows in alphabetical order, and then launched into a lecture on whatever struck my fancy at the time. The classroom called me early in life, but I didn’t know it.

But I was also born to write. This I’ve known since the day I wrote my first poem. I was only 7 or 8 years old, so it was terrible, and I’m sure it included the line “Roses are red, violets are blue.” But it was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the written word. And it was this love that led me to study journalism. I had dreams of working for Essence magazine and one day starting a print magazine of my own.

But a career in education was still whispering in my ear, flirting with my future plans. In graduate school at UC Berkeley, I was a graduate student instructor, or GSI, and taught a communications class for undergraduate students. I was charged with breaking down the complicated concepts and theories the professor discussed in her lectures. I did such a good job that students assigned to other GSIs would ask to come to my class, willing to sit on the floor or stand in the back if there weren’t enough desks.

I applied for Teach for America. I was accepted by Teach for America. I turned down Teach for America. I had also been offered a job as a features reporter in a city that I loved with the man whom I love. Writing won my heart again.

It was during my job as a journalist that I made another important discovery about myself. I wasn’t content with simply being a writer. I wanted to be a “feminist writer.” I found feminism where most women do—in a college classroom. Her name was Katie. She was a women’s studies major and I often strained my eye-rolling muscles when she went off on rants about gender inequality. Until I didn’t. Until I started to actually listen to what she had to say and started to wonder if she was right. Then I went to grad school, started learning about the gender gap and the male gaze, and realized that she was right—about everything.

While working in journalism, I was assigned my very own bi-weekly column. I decided to use that platform to confess that I was a true believer in feminism and to work out my salvation. My email inbox was flooded with messages from women who proudly identified as feminists, too. The owner of a local boutique taped my articles to one of the walls of her store and wrote above them “We LOVE Javacia.”

But the call to teach lingered, telling me I was the one who got away. In 2009, I made the leap, leaving my job as a full-time reporter to become an English teacher at a performing arts high school that also happens to be my alma mater. Being a teacher at this school proved to be just as challenging as being a student there, and suddenly, I felt as if someone had hit the rewind button on my life. I was once again an insecure teenager walking the halls of her high school wondering what she should do with her life. At least this time I didn’t have acne.

But this time I didn’t have my squad (or my clique, as we called it in the ’90s). I missed being around other women writers. So five years ago this month, I started See Jane Write, an organization for women writers and bloggers, an organization that I eventually grew into an award-winning business, an organization that allows me to empower other women through workshops on writing, publishing, freelancing, blogging, brand building, and more.

Ironically, it was through this organization, not in my classroom, that I realized I was born to teach. I often say, “I teach like a girl and I teach grown-up girls, too.” I teach like a girl—meaning intersectionality will be at the core of my curriculum, meaning I will never stop learning, meaning I will become the woman and the educator I am meant to be by remembering the girl and the student I used to be. But I also teach grown-up girls because my teaching extends far beyond the classroom and into See Jane Write workshops and into freelance articles and into blog posts.

All the calls on my life are no longer cacophony but coexist in harmony. I am a writer; I am a teacher; I am a feminist. I can be all of these things, I can be them all at once, and when I am, it is then that I am completely myself.

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