A few years ago, I was introduced to a woman with these simple sentences: “T, this is Michaela. I feel like you should know each other. You might get along.”
Judging purely by the golden halo of an afro she sported, in tandem with some of the brightest kicks I had ever seen, I couldn’t help but smile and agree. Soon, Michaela and I were meeting up for tea and talking about art and the state of the world, taking little walks around the hood, once we learned we were neighbors, and giving happy hugs at rallies and festivals.
I loved the way Michaela’s mind worked, the way she dissected everything, felt no fear around speaking her truth, and how she managed to see the brightness of the world, often in spite of itself. It wasn’t until a full-fledged friendship was formed that I learned this new light in my life was in fact civil rights and image activist Michaela Angela Davis.
Michaela is as complex as she is bold. A longtime fashion editor and stylist, for the likes of Essence, Vibe, and Honey magazines, Michaela turned into an image activist and social justice champion following a transformative experience while speaking at Spelman College, when she realized that what was important to her was “to be in action particularly around our image and expand the narrow narratives of what it is to be woman, what it is to be black, what it is to be young.”
Since then, Michaela has consistently sought ways to use her platforms to call out and lift up, and can be seen everywhere from the studios of CNN to protests in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., to her living room, surrounded by the young women that she mentors. She can often be found celebrating, sometimes dancing to soul music in various parks around the city, or at Afropunk, talking to another woman about their hair, smiling all the while. And let me tell you, Michaela may be known for that afro, but you’ll never forget her smile.
I always walk away from talks with Michaela feeling enlightened and inspired; I truly respect and value the insight of those who have come up before me, both in the movement and in life. So after a series of the conversations we had in the wake of so many recent tragedies, I asked if I could sit down with her and take note of some of her thoughts on the civil rights movement, specifically as it pertains to Black Lives Matter; how she got involved in her work; and how she navigates all that she does without burning out.
Click through the gallery below to read what Michaela has to say.
What are some of the challenges, especially as an activist, that you face?
The biggest struggle I have now is to maintain myself and my sense of humanity; to not get bitter, or broken, or angry, or overly resentful, or too tired. That's the challenge not just in activism, but in aging and in being a woman—being a grown-ass woman. I find myself in a constant battle to maintain my identity, to be who I say that I am, and continue to expand what that is. And dodging boxes that declare, "If you're middle age, you do this. Or if you're black, you do this; if you're a woman, you do this." I feel like there's often a pressure, somewhere around the mid-40s, for women to disappear. I feel, especially as I get older, I have to continually say, "No, that's not who I am." I am agile, and strong, and sexy, and interested in shit.