Use Your Outside Voice

NEWSFLASH: Whitney Houston died last week.

OK so that’s not the news flash. That’s actually old news. The real news is the “voice” died. It’s gone. Seems like the coverage was more concerned about the death of her musical legacy than it was about Whitney as an individual. We’ve seen this plenty of times before—the death of the voice of an entire generation. It happened with Kurt Cobain and Tupac, Marvin Gaye and Huey Newton, John Lennon and John Kennedy. Now Whitney.

And we do this often; the world does this. We find someone who speaks our language and we consume them, eating every morsel of them alive until death is the only escape and we are left in the silent wake of their absence. In the void of someone’s passing. We needed that voice. It filled something within us. Now we miss it.

I know it sounds morbid so let me tell you a story. When I was in college, I was the president of the students of color organization on campus. I also worked in the multicultural affairs office for Work-Study. We had this newsletter project to do for the office and my role was two-fold: layout the newsletter (I’d taught myself PageMaker and got pretty good at it) and to write the closing article as the organization’s president.

I told you before that I was a little bit of a rabble rouser when I was younger. I took the opportunity to speak my mind to the administration and the entire student body with a little article called Multiculturalism Is Bullshit. Seriously. That was the title. In the back of the Multicultural Affairs newsletter. It went over fantastically. I was on academic probation until I graduated.

But it did make an impact. While ill-advised, it did something. It was read; it resonated with people. My article warned of going so far in ignoring the differences between us that we diminish the value of those differences, that we negate the variety of perspective and culture and experience in the name of political correctness. I got some discussion going, became a columnist for the college newspaper, and received a sternly worded letter from the Dean of Students.

But I found a voice.

We’re all speaking these days: everybody’s Facebooking and Twittering and Pinterested. Social media has given us a voice to speak to tens, hundreds, thousands of people. It builds friendships, businesses, revolutions. Voices, average, ordinary voices, are building nations and toppling dictators. They build the apps that power our smartphones, redefine our news, put presidents into office. Voices have power.

I’ve been thinking about writing about voice for sometime now, so much so it was intended to be the theme for this month. Voice. What you say and how you say it. Whether you are a writer or a public speaker or an activist or a parent, your voice has power and magnitude and impact. Impact is a force—it is tangible and palpable. It is something we can feel. That is what we lost when Whitney left. A voice.

You’re “listening” to my voice. You can subscribe to this blog for my life in writing, follow my random thoughts on Twitter, or purchase my novel (yes, yes, shameless plug). Whether it’s written, status updates, or phone calls, you have your own voice. Use it.

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