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A few weeks ago, I came across the video of Ahmaud Abery being gunned down by two white men. I still haven’t watched the video. However, I’ve read enough about the viral clip to know the content of it.

Truth is, I am numb. The past few years have been an emotional rollercoaster. When we go up, things seem normal; but when we go down, we are reminded that Black lives hold little value in our country. It is not surprising to see a Black or brown body murdered on camera. And while I commend the many activists fighting the good fight, I expect justice to be denied.

I’m conflicted on whether or not people should share these gut-wrenching videos because they are overwhelming and traumatizing to watch. On the other hand, they create public outrage which creates awareness and challenges leaders to move with intention. I made a promise to myself that I would not watch another video after I watched Eric Garner being choked to death. It isn't good for my mental health. Just like his family, I was rewarded a meaningless settlement and the officers were never charged. It's unfortunate that I have to remind some people that financial compensation is not justice — money can be printed, lives can’t be purchased.

On November 11, 2012, I survived a police shooting and my life instantly became a political firestorm. I handled it with grace and became a symbol of hope for many. I soon realized that people were more focused on my hero and not my healing. I was excelling publicly while suffering in private.

I received numerous awards for my work, became a nationally recognized activist and even put my bid in as a candidate for Pittsburgh City Council. However, the emotional turmoil became unbearable and I made a decision to stop suppressing my pain. I started seeing a therapist and the experience completely changed my life. Therapy helped me recognize that although being an agent of change is important, self-care is necessary. We live in a society that rewards selflessness without having a true understanding of self-care. We need balance. We can't continue to be simply outraged while emotionally numb.

In the midst of my pain, it was easy for me to put an emphasis on building my platform while I was deteriorating emotionally. Therapy helped me to find comfort in removing my mask of perfection, and I began living my truth. It is important to have goals, however, we must identify what we want in life instead of allowing society to condition us to respond to circumstance.

Reading, meditating and journaling helped me build a healthy relationship with self. I realized that I didn’t have a true sense of self. People defined me as an activist, so I became an activist. In some ways this benefited me, but I still felt empty.

“Give up defining yourself — to yourself or to others. You won't die. You will come to life. And don't be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it's their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don't be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious Presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.”

— Eckhart Tolle

Now that I have a stronger sense of self, I am fully aware of what I need in my life to keep a healthy mind, body and spirit. I know that my mind is a garden, therefore I am very intentional about what I consume. Meditating helps strengthen my self-control and stay calm, reading helps me acquire knowledge that keeps my mind sharp and working out with my father keeps me physically fit and energized.

“A man's mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed seeds will fall therein, and will continue to produce their kind.”

— James Allen, As a Man Thinketh

A film team came out to capture my story last year while I was running for city council, but instead, they found me in the midst of taking a personal and mental leap. I hope seeing my story can help you unlock your truest self, too.


Watch the film, Leon, at the following link: https://www.breakout.today/leon


Follow Leon on Twitter and Instagram at @LeonFordSpeaks.

You can follow the director of the film, Jackson Tisi, on Twitter and Instagram at @JacksonTisi.