Staffer Takiyah Franklin on striving to live a liberated life, leading with love

portrait of Takiyah Franklin

Takiyah Franklin is the faculty research coordinator at UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute and serves as the current chair of the Black Staff and Faculty Organization. (Photo courtesy of the Othering and Belonging Institute)

“I was raised in the Black church — I had a conservative Baptist church upbringing. I experienced and bore witness to women who believed in the Holy Spirit and being possessed by the Holy Spirit of God. I didn’t know anything about what that meant. And so, I think part of my cultural experience was knowing that there is a realm of space that you just don’t have the capacity to understand. You might be able to witness it, but you don’t have the capacity to understand it unless it decides to come upon you.

I don’t profess to know any answers, but I do know that I can exercise a choice to lead with love.

In the church, we would say, ‘You catch the Holy Spirit and shout.’ My grandmother and my mother were two people who would frequently catch the Holy Spirit and shout. As a kid, I remember witnessing my mother shout. When I was really young, like 5 or 6, sometimes I would start crying uncontrollably, too. When I was a preteen, my brother, sister and I would be embarrassed and tease each other, like, ‘Oh, my God, Mom is about to start doing that hollerin’ thing.’ We would brace ourselves for this outcry, like, ‘Here we go.’ Eventually, we learned to show respect by sitting quietly.

First aiders sitting together wearing white uniforms

Takiyah (front left) sits with other youth first aiders, including her sister, Tsahai (back, second from right), at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland. Their grandmother, Pearline (back center), was the president of the first aid board and still attends the church today. (Photo courtesy of Takiyah Franklin)

When someone would catch the Holy Spirit, they were supported and surrounded by first aiders. My grandmother was the president of the first aid board, and I was a youth first aider. We wore white uniforms and supported people, mostly women, in experiencing that energy without being disrupted. We were mainly there to keep their skirts from flying up or to give them water and tissues. Then, when they began to kind of come back to themselves, we would guide them into another room in the back of the church to calm down.

As an adult, I have learned to appreciate how beautiful it is to have a space where you can be completely, absolutely vulnerable and be safe in that space to express yourself.

The tradition of shouting has long roots in slavery. The ring shout is a particular form of expression, of collective worship, where people hold hands, or sometimes clap, while moving in a circle as a way of releasing pain that was burdening them. It was a practice of worship that allowed slaves to support each other and endure. Those are Black traditions that survived in the church.

I went to undergrad at Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana. It’s a historically Black university. I loved it. Dillard was essential to my developing an intellectual consciousness about the U.S. Black experience, and in finding my place in the world.

group shot of students in south africa

As a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow at Dillard University, Franklin (back right) traveled with a group of students to South Africa, where they learned about the system of apartheid and how it related to Black struggles and Black liberation movements in the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Takiyah Franklin)

I majored in English. The first book I read as a first-year student was The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson. Our professors immediately set us up to think about what service our education was providing. The central thesis of that book is that the education system of his time imposed a Black inferiority complex on people, and that inferiority is essential in sustaining the progress of a capitalist system. My professors challenged me and my peers to pursue a critical education, and we were pushed to interrogate ourselves, to self-examine as a process of learning. It’s an ongoing project for me, in terms of recognizing what it means to be a liberated being with the reality of the social structure we live in.

I started working at Berkeley in 2014 as a graduate adviser in the sociology department. When I first came here, I was struggling for a variety of reasons. The Black Staff and Faculty Organization gave me the kind of support that I didn’t know I needed — it has been the artery of my experience here. It really gave me the lifeblood of the community that I needed to feel like I could work at Berkeley, thrive at Berkeley, have a community at Berkeley.

When I first came here, I was struggling for a variety of reasons. The Black Staff and Faculty Organization … gave me the lifeblood of the community that I needed to feel like I could work at Berkeley, thrive at Berkeley, have a community at Berkeley.

Now, I serve as the current chair of the BSFO. The organization was founded in 1979 as a professional development network for Black people to collectively advocate for full access to the resources and opportunities available on campus. Most people do not leave the building they work in on campus, and, to me, that is so unfortunate, because there is so much to see and to explore and to experience at Cal. The campus and the surrounding area is gorgeous! There are so many opportunities to learn every day. If people are given some guidance on how to manage their time, and to exercise an agency of exploration, I think it just creates a much more vibrant campus community experience.

Read more stories about UC Berkeley’s observance of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans to the English colonies.

As the faculty research coordinator at the Othering and Belonging Institute, I have played an instrumental role in working with the associate director, Denise Herd, to implement cross-campus programming for the institute’s 400 Years of Resistance to Slavery and Injustice yearlong initiative. On campus, there has been an amazing response from people who are using this opportunity to program around the initiative. And the chancellor’s sponsorship of this effort is an important demonstration of steps we can take to bring people together around critical issues like the ongoing legacy of slavery and its impact on our society.

The scholars that the Othering and Belonging Institute faculty have identified as leading experts on slavery, social justice and racial equity have made tremendous strides to place African American history in its proper place in American history. The 400 Years website is designed to live on as an ongoing resource for the campus and community. Many of the talks have been recorded. There are also book recommendations. There are all kinds of opportunities for people to engage in and learn about this American history that’s often just left out, neglected.

Takiyah Franklin singing at new student convocation

Franklin performs “My New Song” at Berkeley’s 2019 new student convocation. Franklin, who grew up singing in church choirs and went on to sing in college, is now working on recording a live album. “We all have a choice,” says Franklin. “The choice that I’m making is to hold a vibration of love … and that’s the choice that the song supports.” Watch a video of her performance, starting at 37:30. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser)

It’s February, and it’s Black History Month. But I recognize Black history every day. Black history is American history. And until we really start to understand that, I don’t know how much progress we’re going to make.

We all have a choice.

The choice that I have made is to hold a vibration of love, and it’s a choice that offers endless learning opportunities. I’m not talking about love in a romantic sense, but rather a practice that invites the exercise of the golden rule, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ That’s the choice that I’m making.

I’m grateful because, in many ways, my personal life practice is aligned with the Othering and Belonging Institute’s vision — to advance research and concepts of what it means to be in the practice of belonging, and what it really takes for this to happen. Because it’s going to take a lot of hard work, and it’s going to take a lot of courage, and it’s going to take a willingness for people to learn from history and the ongoing issues that we’re facing today.

I don’t profess to know any answers, but I do know that I can exercise a choice to lead with love.”