Community Voices - Ayana Imann Morrison

Ayarna MorrisonAyana Morrison is going to be a senior at Oberlin High School in the fall. This summer she was a Ninde Summer Fellow. As a Fellow, she was a role model for the Aspiring Ninde Scholars during their summer program. She was especially helpful in matters of cooking, visual art, and writing, as these are some of her talents.

Q: Emily Clarke: Okay so can you say your name and something about yourself?

My name is Ayana Imann Morrison. I’ll be a senior at Oberlin High School next year. I’m still really not sure at all where my life is going, but honestly who does? I come from a large family, but the majority of us are all over the place, so in total there are eight of us counting my deceased brother, but we’re just all over America. I grew up with my mom; she was a single mother, she wasn’t together with anybody while raising me. My granddad is one of the most important people in my life, and I really don’t know what I’m going to do once I no longer have him. I’m a really big people person; I like meeting new people, I like making new friends. I’ve been told that I have a knack for it. I don’t have a lot of problems making new friends or meeting new people.

Q: How did you come to live in Oberlin or go to school here?

I was simply just born here; I’ve been here my entire life. Living in Oberlin is pretty cool just because I think that it’s a really good place to grow up. Because it helps a lot with identity and figuring out who you are and what you’re going to do and what you’re -- I don’t want to say “destined” for because it seems too great of a word -- but it’s good for that first part of your life where you really don’t understand anything. And I think that it’s really good for that, especially in growing up or being adolescent because it’s such an open-minded place that you’re not really shamed for the things that you enjoy or the things that you love. And that can be really really big as far as identity goes -- how you identify gender-wise; it’s pretty open here about sexuality like in my school, like, we know who is bisexual or gay or pansexual or blah blah blah but no one is really targeted for it. So it creates like a really open place where you can find out who you are. And I’m really glad that I’ve always had that. I will admit that there are times that I really wish that I had not lived and grew up in Oberlin my entire life, like I kind of wish that it was split sometimes where I could have went and gotten to see what somewhere else was like as well, because one of the only negative side effects that I can think of as always being in Oberlin is I view Oberlin as kind of like this nice bubble in the middle of everywhere else, where Oberlin is really open-minded and nice and has progressive thinking, and then you go outside of Oberlin and you don’t have those things. And so just being able to adjust to real life is going to be difficult once leaving Oberlin. But I think it was a great place to grow up and it was definitely somewhere I will always come back to. And I’m really grateful of having been in Oberlin schools because it’s a good school system and it has a nice small amount of people so you can have really good friendships and good relationships between your teachers and principals and that kind of stuff… It’s one of the best parts in that the community is so open and friendly, it’s pretty cool.

 

Q: Something that struck me when I came here was how big the sky was. Because I was always surrounded by mountains, so it must be a really different feeling to grow up, I think, with open fields and huge sky.

One of the best places ever is walking over downtown, one of the rooftops downtown you can go up the stairs and since you’re above the level of almost all the other buildings you just look up and it’s nothing but stars. It’s one of my favorite places and I hang out there a lot with my friends. And it’s always funny because we’re like you know what this is like? It’s exactly like a scene out of a young adult novel. It’s really cool, I like it there a lot.

Q: Yeah, one of those small town [novels]. What is it like growing up where you can see the stars all the time?

I would think that that’s what kind of started my introspection, because I’m one of those people where I like to just sit around and just think. It’s just as simple as that. Whether it be about myself, or where I’m going, or bigger questions -- like why are we all here, or what’s the purpose of all of this? Just that idea of just looking up at the sky and seeing nothing but stars in this vast unknown is really something that causes that deep thought because it gives me that feeling of there’s no possible way that we’re the only ones here. There’s so much more out there and I want to figure out why. 

Q: Yeah because when you’re looking up at the stars it’s almost as if you don’t have a body; it’s almost like you’re floating. So it does open up to bigger thought.

Yeah, and something else I get that vastness from and the unknown is… I have this like imagined space, whenever I get lost in thought I like to imagine just being before this large body of water, and the water is dark so you can’t really see what’s in it, and the stones are all black and the sky is grey and it looks like it was just raining. I don’t know why I think of it but it gives me that sense of I am so small. We are all so small. And that’s not to say that being small doesn’t mean you don’t have an impact. I think it’s quite the opposite: because we are so small it’s all that more important for us to be unified and united. And it gives me that free way into any other types of thinking… That sense of being small and realizing that you are just one person and all of this amazing stuff around you is something that I love to realize… And just growing up in Oberlin where you have that sense of openness, like I can go anywhere from here, is something that really helped along that kind of thinking.

Q: Okay you’ve talked a little bit about drawing on nature as a way of getting in touch with yourself. So thinking about ways to sustain that, yeah I guess that seems like a good transition into what sustainability means. And obviously we’ve talked about a bunch of things sustainability means.

When I think of sustainability I think, well one it’s important to explain to people what it is. But two why it really matters and how it does affect all of us. Because a lot of people kind of have an open view where it’s like “Yeah this is a problem, yeah it’s not great, but how is it really affecting me?” And I think that’s a really selfish way to think about it but it’s also not something people do consciously. I think it’s just a kind of mindset that people have when they haven’t gone through hardship or struggle. And so sustainability has to do with the environment, it has to do with the economy but it also has to do a lot with relationships and looking out for each other and not just the planet.

Q: Yeah, I think a lot of people separate each other and the planet, as if that’s something you can do. But like looking out for each other and making sure that you are sustaining your community is definitely...

Yeah, and not just sustaining your community for now but sustaining future generations. That’s one of the areas of politics that I get really heated about; that’s one of the reasons why I don’t like this huge diversity gap in our politics and in so many aspects of life is because it’s really hard to know exactly what other people need when you don’t fit into that demographic. Not enough are thinking about what’s going to happen three generations from now. Because they’re so focused on making sure that the people here are okay. And it’s so important to make sure that the people here are okay because they’re the ones living and struggling right now. But you also want to think about what kind of life are you gonna leave behind for your great great grandchildren. What kind of stuff are you experiencing that you love that they’re never gonna have that opportunity because we used up most of the fossil fuel? Or because it’s so bad outside in certain locations that it’s not recommended for people to visit anymore. And so that’s the kind of stuff you have to think about when you’re thinking about sustainability. Not only what’s happening right now or for yourself or for other people, but what’s going to happen down the road.

Q: So what would sustainable politics look like to you?

Well that’s really funny because I think those two words should never go together. Because “sustain” is to keep something the same, or balanced, or working. But politics is something that has to always be changing. Because there’s always going to be different needs and different wants. And so if you’re going to talk about “sustainable politics” -- getting to a point where politics can work efficiently and constantly be changing, but have little changes. I think a large part of the problems with politics is that so many people -- even people who like to say that they’re liberal -- get attached to certain ideas. And so by having a system of politics or a system of government where it’s always changing but it’s doing so in little ways, there’s not going to be as much resistance and it’s not going to take as long to make these changes that are so needed. But I think “sustainable politics” is a funny way of putting it -- I think there’d be a better term. Again I feel very strongly about diversity. I think diversity is one of the key factors in fixing [politics]. Because I think so many people like the government officials make it seem so difficult and I understand that it is very difficult especially in working with so many people. I think it would really help if there were more perspectives and more angles to look at it from than just the older white male. Because like the older white male isn’t going to know exactly what I’m going to need, because I am a younger black female. And so having more diversity in politics would really help. Because then you’ll know exactly what more of POC people need. Because you’re not trying to look at it through a foggy glass and other people’s explanations.

Q: So what actions are you engaged in in your day-to-day that are related to sustainability? In all of the meanings that you’ve talked about?

A lot of people are attacked for being ignorant about a subject and I never think that’s the way to go about it. Whether you’re talking about sustainability or anything when someone doesn’t know about something, your job is not to make them feel horrible about not knowing, your job is to make sure that everybody knows, to make sure that they understand. And so with sustainability, doing my own part for the planet like with recycling, but getting the word out is one of the biggest things I can do for the planet or do for the economy or do for anything else, because that way it’s not just me who is doing all those little things but it’s going to be a community who is doing all those little things. And then sustainability in the other ways I’ve talked about -- I think just personal sustainability, which is just keeping yourself balanced and kind of cool…. Our purpose is to have sustainability, or it is to make sure that other people are okay. The purpose of life is to make sure that life can continue, whatever its greater meaning may be. Think about how you can make other people happy, or about how you can help your community or help your future generations. And in return that’s going to end up helping you. And eventually that kind of stuff is going to build up and you are going to be more grateful, you’re going to be more happy, and so self-sustainability isn’t only about thinking about “me”. It’s about thinking about others and focusing on others and in return it’s going to help you.

Q: Okay, so, what inspires you to take those daily actions that we talked about?

What inspires me is thinking about other people. But in particular one of my biggest inspirations is my grandfather, because he’s always just been a good guy. Whether it be like helping the planet, he’s always been very conscious of that. Even when I was really little -- now it’s nice, because it’s required by Oberlin that you have two separate things for recycling and just for regular garbage. But when I was little there wasn’t. Like you could just throw everything in one garbage and it was just taken off to some landfill. But even back then when it wasn’t required and there weren’t even people thinking about it, he was always that stickler for like, “No you’re gonna put the paper in here, the plastic in here, the trash is gonna go in there.” And so from a really young age, at least for the environmental factor, I understood and I got this big concept of what sustainability is and why it’s important. And I feel like that’s one of the reasons why I continue to do those daily actions of recycling or telling other people, “Hey don’t throw that in there when you can recycle it” -- it’s because like that’s something that my granddad would do and that would make him happy and proud. And I think that goes along with my definition of sustainability as well. Because he was always the one who was kind of telling me, “Hey don’t just focus on yourself, there are other people to think about too.” ...Helping other people, thinking about your community, thinking about what you can do to try to help the economy or the environment and all these other social important factors. And so my biggest inspiration would be my grandfather.

Q: He sounds wonderful.

Yeah he’s a great guy.

Q: Okay, so any last thoughts? Things you want to share with your community about caring for the environment?

Always always focus on the bigger picture. Never get into this mindset that I’ve done my part, or that I’ve done all that I needed to do. Because there’s always so much more to be done… Keeping the mindset of there’s always more I can be doing, I am never done playing my part, is the biggest thing you can be doing for yourself and for everybody else… It’s important to think there’s always more I can be doing.

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