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Doing more than just “getting by” in 2019

It’s the end of January and the beginning of the semester. This is a month late in writing, but I feel like the vibe of it still rings true as classes start up and hopes for learning and growth gain root for students and teachers.


These days, I’m thinking about the way in which people ring in the new year with the hope of doing better, doing more than “just getting by.” The song “Get By” by rapper and activist Talib Kweli crossed my Spotify Recommended for You playlist and rang just as powerful and fresh as it was ten years ago. Kweli’s video is shot in New York, mostly in Brooklyn, where he was raised by a mother who was a professor at Medgar Evers College of CUNY (point of pride here; the video also has shots of subway stop for City College, where I teach). It is a tribute to the amazing neighborhoods, families, community of New York. It made me think about where we all are today, where we’ll find ourselves in the coming year together. Will we be…

…just “getting by” economically? As a grad student who has spent seven of the last eight years being broke and hoping for gold, it can feel like there’s no end in sight.

…just “getting by” politically? We’re doing much more than this, but there are no signs of stopping the Trump bus as it careens around knocking down protections for and connections between us, both of which we need to keep fighting for to stay alive and stay strong. This line from the song:

I let them know we missin’ you, the love is unconditional
Even when the condition is critical, when the livin is miserable
Your position is pivotal, I ain’t bullshittin’ you
Now, why would I lie? Just to get by?

And will we be just “getting by” socially? We crave each other, yet these little screens—like the one I’m writing this on—and so many other distractions entrance us and pull us away from looking at each other curiously and being open to what might be possible for others and for us. How do we resist the script that sets us up to consume, to collaborate in our own lack of focus, our own limitations and isolation and exhaustion?

We commute to computers
Spirits stay mute while you eagles spread rumors
We survivalists, turned to consumers
To get by…just to get by

And are we just “getting by” spiritually? What are we counting on? What are we praying for? What gods can we count on?

Some people get breast enhancements and penis enlargers
Saturday sinners Sunday morning at the feet of the Father
They need somethin’ to rely on, we get high on all types of drug
When, all you really need is love
To get by…just to get by
Just to get by, just to get by

More fighting left to do. More stories to tell, more songs to sing.

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