1972 was a turbulent time. I was a junior in high school, a class officer, a member of the Honor Society and someone who seemed to get along with everyone. But in the bigger world there was Vietnam, Watergate, and the simmering remnants from the race riots of 1967. That simmering spilled over into a riot that flowed into the hallways and classrooms of my high school, causing fear, chaos and a renewed effort to rebuild and strengthen race relations within both our community and the schools. A commission was put in place to address concerns and I was tapped as one of the student representatives.

It was an honor to serve on such an important committee and I took it seriously. In fact, I found what everyone had to say fascinating, and took copious notes. I may have even nodded my head in agreement a couple of times.

But I never uttered a word.

I didn’t think I had anything to say.  Besides, these were community leaders who had done so much more than me, who were older and wiser, and probably smarter. Who was I?

Exactly. Who was I?

This scene, of me furiously taking notes and never making eye contact, lest someone actually ask my opinion on something, came to me as I found myself in a similar space, emotionally, of late. I have worked so hard for so long on what I believe to be true and right, and now was wondering if I was on the right path. And what did I have to offer anyway? There are so many others out there now doing and saying the same things. What difference do I make?

And then I thought of my 16-year-old self. Who was I to say something back then? As Marianne Williamson so eloquently states, who was I NOT to?

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

When I look around and hear others espousing the same beliefs as me, when I see offerings that look similar to mine, I have a choice: I can either give up and walk away or I can rejoice that the seeds I have been sowing for years are starting to take root and grow. And maybe I am not the one who gets the spotlight or glory, or has the most eloquent and quotable statements. But maybe because I go forward, firm in who I am and what I believe, I inspire another who will find that spotlight and make a difference for many more to come.

I have a voice and my voice matters. It did then and it really does now.

And so do you. Use it.