What does it mean to play with fire

By Ramatu Bangura

I am sure there is a Disney-produced film somewhere that involves a tiny flame
One that is playful
That dances on the air
Oblivious of its power
Sweet, Mischievous and Dangerous
Enraptured by its own light
Self-possessed, only slightly interested in you.

As I embark on this new role of directing a philanthropic fund for children’s rights
I reflect on how I could not be more far away from that playful flame 
Yet my work requires it — some connection to it at least
Where that flame once lived in my belly thriving on new learning and righteous indignation
It now burns more in my heart carefully tended to and dodging cynicism cloaked in realism. 

My activist life has been in many ways about my relationship to fire
As a young Black feminist trying to understand and get to know my own fire
As youth worker, creating pyres so that that fire might grow higher in the slightly younger ones
And then tending to that flame while being so under-resourced that the pressures of idealism, poverty, and neo-liberal power threatened to drown me — I burned out at 20.
As a mother sparking and stoking that flame in my own daughter
Cognizant of the same forces that would douse her flame before it fully finds itself
As a worker 
As a sister 
As an elder trying to keep mine alive — even now.

The institutions we create are often about diminishing and harnessing that fire that attracts us to support young people
I fear the institutions I build will share that fate
Not out of conceit
But for fear of that fire growing out of control
For its potential to indiscriminately consume
I must admit it’s scary: watching our little hearts dancing in front of police lines, strategizing against power that has sustained itself for millennia by consuming those of us that came before them.

My commitment and responsibility now is to play with that fire
To not give in to the adultist impulses to institutionalize it
To harness and capture it — for its own good, of course
To make it useful, to industrialize it.

I commit to not be led by that fear
Instead to seek it out
To be in right relationship to it, 
To dance with it
To allow it to warm all of those parts of my political spirit made cold by the practicalities of life
To be humbled by it, still mesmerized by its beauty.

Dr. Ramatu Bangura (@ramatuforgirls) is leading the design and inception of the Children’s Rights Innovation Fund (CRIF). Prior to CRIF, Ramatu previously served as a Program Officer for the NoVo Foundation’s Advancing Adolescent Girls’ Rights Initiative where she resourced work to advance the rights, leadership and safety of adolescent girls in the United States and in the Global South. Ramatu has spent the last 25 years engaging in organizing, advocacy and research on a host of issues impacting transnational girls, including early and forced marriage, sexual violence, trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, and educational access for English Language Learners; in the United States and Central America. Ramatu earned both a Masters of Education (EdM) and Doctorate of Education (EdD) from Teachers College, Columbia University. Read more of Ramatu’s writing by visiting:www.medium.com/@ramatu

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