Last night at Espacio 1839 in Boyle Heights, literature converged with social justice. It was a night to honor the worth, strength and humanness of women. Especially society’s most vulnerable women, who grow up without a stable family or are lost to the system. All this coincided with the release of Jesse Bliss’s book I Love Myself Golden, a book specifically to cultivate self-love and respect in the young women she’s encountered in Juvenile Hall working with the Inside OUT Writers Program.
Across the street from Mariachi Plaza, powerful poems were read by women who have gone through the system, but have now made something of their lives, a monologue performed by about how it feel to be locked up, and a poem performed by Mike “The Poet” Sonksen that kicked off the night. His was a new poem written for the event, a poem contextualizing the evening’s subject in human history: gender equity. More than anything, the release party for I Love Myself Golden (a book made to size to fit in the young Women’s bras and without staples so as not to be considered contraband) brought together people with like minds for the passions of art (the book has pictures by artist Alfie Numeric) and literature and their power to help affect social change, and for the personal empowerment they bring to the people who write about them.
As each reader read–Laura Caustic, Gloria Basulto, Romi Dias among others, including Jesse Bliss–the deep personal experiences their words conveyed resonated. From the fear that stems from being alone, when no one loves you and there is no guidance, that often leads them to being locked up in the prison industrial complex; to Laura Caustic’s words about how people treat her as broken because she is blind; to how they turn these negatives around and gain power and self-respect from their situations. All this allowed anyone who has never experienced anything close to these women’s experiences to feel what they have felt, to step into their shoes for a minute, to empathize.
As studies have proven, to get people, us, to empathize with others different from us, we know that storytelling can break through our indifference to foster empathy. Once we understand what motivates people we can usually find a way to empathize with them.
Jesse Bliss’s words, the words that illuminate the light and love in the hearts of each young woman underneath their very difficult life-circumstances, remind us how needed her commonsense words are for these young women who have gaps in their psychological development.
On L.A.’s Eastside yesterday, a section of the city’s literary, social justice and even arts community, came together at the intersection of art and social justice to share in the power of and to breed a further understanding in the necessity of Jesse Bliss’s book I Love Myself Golden.