The Oberlin Stories Project

On an unforgettable moment

Rachel Parnell ’16

“Although Kim Katrin Milan did not teach me the politics of radical love, I cannot help but acknowledge that she illuminated what was already so present in my life and the work that I wish to do. ”

Rachel looks at a garden of tall, yellow flowers.

I will always remember the day in which I was reminded what radical love could look like.

Radical love can be found in the patience you share with your mother as your explain your pronouns. It can be found in the corners that we whisper our secrets to our friends. Radical love can be found when we admit our wrongdoings to our lovers. And they listen.

Although Kim Katrin Milan did not teach me the politics of radical love, I cannot help but acknowledge that she illuminated what was already so present in my life and the work that I wish to do. Her posters around Oberlin’s campus completely captivated me; her pose did not ask me to see her but demanded it. They were an invitation to discuss community building, love, and fierceness. When I finally arrived to the event, Kim wore bright lipstick and had her hair in cornrows. In seeing her, I was struck by the power of her confidence and femininity.

Kim Milan is a queer femme activist hailing from Canada. She has done work around survivors of sexual assault, self determination of low income queer youth, community building, and most importantly, accessibility of knowledge. She combines art, self expression, and activism into all work that she does. She has participated in retreats in which she and other women simply sit and love on their bodies. She leads “Brown Girls Yoga,” where she leads yoga practices for brown women of all body types to learn about their bodies in a space that affirms them. And she has put together multiple art shows that allow for marginalized communities to represent themselves in the ways that they would like to be seen.

Seeing Kim gave me an opportunity to see activism holistically. Often times when I leave my classes, I can feel weighed down by the sadness of it all. Sometimes we are only shown the ways in which communities, and often times our communities, are oppressed, manipulated, or abandoned. But what I’ve realized is that in these moments, it is vital to remember the ways that we not only resist, but thrive. Despite living in a world that forgets the value of our lives and our expressions, we still create, love, and grow with each other. And this is a radical act. In world that encourages us to be such individuals that we forget where we come from, how radical is it to take time to love and support one another?

Kim reminded me that the root of creation and production can often times be found deep within the community. Collaboration is fundamental to all work that she does. Before she began her presentation, she thanked all of the people who had come before her. She acknowledges that she cannot exist without those before her, and is eternally grateful for all that they’ve produced.

Kim reminded me of the intimacy that must come with activism. She used the example of a community conversation that she participated in, in which the Black community came together to discuss homosexuality. Both members of the church and queer community members were able to come to a space created for community healing. It recognized the pain came to discuss what each needed to feel safe with each other. And by the end of the conversation, the two groups finally heard each other, and the community was strengthened.

Kim helped me to understand the true importance of listening. When we move outside of the classroom, how must we treat each other? She posed a question to us: what would the world look like if we stopped treating people the way that we wanted to be treated, and treated them like they want to be treated. This not only encouraged me to listen to others, but listen to myself and my needs. How can we make space for each other’s needs?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Kim Milan has reminded me of the humbleness that must come with activism. Sometimes, when I think of the ways I have been politicized, I cannot help but also remember the intoxication of ego, and how it continues to follow me. I find myself annoyed with my peers for their off-putting feminist analysis, or annoyed with my parents for their critiques of direct action. And each time ego seems to take hold, Kim’s words comes to mind. She reminds all of us that community building cannot only be passing around political pamphlets. It also lives in the difficult conversations we have with our partners, our pastors, our classmates. Activism is nothing without the sometimes harder work of radical love.