Reflecting on My First PPF-PA Membership Assembly

By Farrah Samuels

10/5/16

I’m still riding high off the buzz I got from being at the 4th Annual PPF Membership Assembly (MA) — my first! I had no idea what to expect, but I’m incredibly grateful to and in awe of the organizers and members who made this an amazing and unforgettable experience.

Throughout the weekend, we talked in various discussion groups and through collective open forum about a concern many of us share: that we have a medical community, big pharma and legislators who are in it to make a profit, not to care for the people. I felt every word I heard of PPF members’ stories — many that were much like mine — made visible finally from their dark shadows via the unique, welcoming, and nurturing family atmosphere that PPF-PA provides. Over this weekend, I found a forum of like-minded individuals from all walks of life with a shared vision. And I was recharged, inspired, and invigorated to finally have found my tribe.

As I walked in, registered with Ben from Pittsburgh, and paid my dues, I heard the sound of some fierce music coming from another room at the Grace Methodist Church, luring me in. It was “Glory,” the poignant, Oscar-winning song from the Selma movie soundtrack. It was followed by some other liberation type tracks like those of my Marvin Gaye (yes, MY Marvin). PPFers were busy putting up signs, distributing supplies, and posing for my pics (thanks Maddie and Sheila), as other newer members from different organizing committees got to know each other and filled the seats. It felt like a really cool family reunion!

I met heroes, sheroes, and theyroes, who turned test after test into testimonies through guided group discussions led by volunteer group moderators. Collectively, we reviewed PPF-PA’s timeline of historical accomplishments and actions.  I’m grateful to those who shared stories with me and listened to mine. One in particular sticks out of one of our members who was a young teenager with sixteen siblings during the 1960s, when Johnnie Tillmon wrote her quintessential narrative on welfare, a guaranteed minimum wage for all, self-determination, gender equality and roles, etc. We read the piece aloud in groups reflecting on gender, identity, leadership, what has changed since the piece was written and what similarities exist today. And for a second, I felt a kindred spirit in Johnnie Tillmon just in reading the first paragraph and thinking of my current “situation.”

Through my conversations with others, I learned much that I will carry with me and spread to others. One example is the need to stop thinking of gender as simply binary or this or that. I don’t actually think that way, but I speak that way out of habit. And frankly, it can be insensitive and trivialize the lived experience of another person I care for. So I decided to pinch myself every time I forgot to use the pronoun, “they,” when referring to our family and friends who do not conform to binary gender norms. I also learned from the group I moderated and by observing the many roles members stepped up to fill, that leadership comes in many different forms and is not just the loudest lion that roars. I heard the rhythm of Carla’s drum during what I can only describe as an activist’s ideal revival moment put into a song in a musical intermission. Carla organized us as if we were a harmonious three-part gospel choir, with one group calling for freedom, another responding that it’s coming, and the beat of a collective human heartbeat going on in the background with every bang of that drum. It’s as if our own voices were pushing us forward with renewed strength and energy towards this freedom in its various forms.

During my assigned childcare shift in the playroom upstairs. We danced, played and I’m still picking traces of gold glitter off my face and out of my afro. I saw the future in the faces of our children, who will be ready to grab the baton when it’s time for us to pass it on!

I learned a couple really good dirty jokes from Bella and the feisty Mrs. Fletcher, who should definitely open a haberdashery and epitomizes who I wanna be like when I grow up. I made lifelong friends that feel closer to me than some I’ve had for years!

We were treated to a talent showcase and awards ceremony emceed by Terrence and Carla, while sharing a wonderful dinner together on Saturday evening. I was deeply moved and inspired by the great poets of our group, musicians, and sage voices of wisdom from award honorees like Danelle, Kim, and Anna and leaders like Phil, Willie and Gary. And I am grateful for the feeling of solidarity and the outpouring of love so readily given by everyone there. I particularly remember the warm, heartfelt, long hug I received from Munroe that still snuggles me in my dreams like a warm blanket these past few nights.

The greatest lesson of all from this weekend, is that when we work together for the greater good and lift each other up, we all win!

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My eyes light up now when I see one of your posts on Facebook, or see an incoming call or text from a close friend who was a stranger to me just a short time ago! I know I am now part of a collective consciousness and family that truly has my back 100% no matter what!

The PPF-PA 4th MA was rejuvenating, life-transformative, and fueled with much needed hope, and inspiration to keep fighting on many fronts. We are not just numbers or names on a page. We are a diverse, unique, strong, compassionate, loving, intelligent, energetic walking, rolling, and crawling (baby Elijah) force to be reckoned with. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for; and in the words of the great Sam Cooke, “I know a change gon’ come. Oh yes it will.” For me, it already has just by showing up and participating in the 4th Annual Membership Assembly. Thank you all for sharing yourselves with me. Hope to see or hear from you soon.

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