Last month, The Lupton Center hosted author and activist Julie Dinsmore for a local event. It was an incredible time, and we're delighted to share this reflection written attendee Abby Norman.
I first saw Julia speak in an intimate setting, after the other twelve writers and I read her book in preparation for a week long conference: “Writing to Change the World.” I didn’t have the book on me for her to sign because I had already given it away to my mother for her to consider teaching at the local community college.
The faster I hand off a book, the more you know I like it. Julia's lasted in my home less than 24 hours after I finished it.
Her work is unique in that she is the only voice I have read about poverty from someone currently experiencing poverty. Usually we hear from those who work with people in poverty or those who were once in poverty but have since gained middle class status. I knew my mother’s students would resonate with the frankness from which Julia Dinsmore discusses her situation and the forces at work to keep her there.
Here is the thing you have to brace yourself for, if you are going to meet Julia Dinsmore in the flesh: There isn’t an ounce of shame on her. She tells you this in her book, but it is something you really have to experience. I don’t know that I have ever met someone so fully at peace with themselves. She laughs and cries and sings and tells stories with abandon. That first time I met her, the person who arranged the meeting asked me what I thought of it. I responded from the gut, “it is just so rare for me to be in a room with a person who has feelings as big as mine.”
Julia is fully present in a way not very many people you have interacted with are. When she is there to speak, she is there, in the room, with you. Here is the thing you have to brace yourself for if you are going to meet Julia Dinsmore: You will have to reckon with the ways that you are not fully alive.
Julia told us the story that night, of how her poem, My Name Is Not Those People, came to be. She told us of the laws that make sure that people remain in poverty. She told us of the ways the middle class does not understand the hoops that need to be jumped in order to make ends meet. She told us of the times she was made to feel inferior, the times she was blamed for gaming the system when she was making sure every kid in the neighborhood ate, the times generosity was criminalized. Throughout every story she was there, fully present, and not experiencing an ounce of shame.
Here is the thing, about being a self labeled social justice worker in the presence of Julia Dinsmore: You are used to having to tell people experiencing poverty that this isn’t their fault, that they should not be ashamed. Julia doesn’t need that help. She already knows, she is already unashamed.
Instead, you have to face yourself. You have to face the crazy notion that she doesn’t actually need your help, not in the ways you are used giving it. You have to face the reality that her being unashamed of experiencing poverty freaks you out a little, even as you were just telling some of your middle class friends the week before that people in poverty shouldn’t be ashamed. You have to realize that there is a part of you, you enlightened, downwardly mobile, public school using self, that doesn’t much like not being needed.
An evening with Julia Dinsmore, if you are ready for it (and some times even if you aren’t) is an evening where you face yourself, you face the system you benefit from, you attempt to get out of the way just a little so you can learn something from someone who has learned every single lesson the hard way.
She cries, and you cry. Or you jiggle your feet uncomfortably because you have been taught it's inappropriate for a person like you to have this many feelings in public somehow. You think about the things she said and the ways she described her reality, your reality. You let it shape your world days and weeks after that evening.
Here’s the thing about an evening with Julia Dinsmore: You need to be ready to walk away changed.
We were so glad to listen and learn from Julia Dinsmore as she shared her life and stories with us last month. You can find her book here. And keep up with upcoming events and trainings on our Traning page.