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5 lessons to learn from writer and activist Darnell Moore

Author and activist Darnell Moore visited TCNJ for Community Learning Day on September 4 to discuss his memoir, No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America

The book was chosen as the summer reading for TCNJ’s class of 2023 and reflects the college’s intellectual theme for the academic year: “#ClimateMatters: Listening, Reflecting, and Acting.”

Moore apologized for the bags under his eyes and admitted he was suffering from a serious case of jet lag. “But when I got here, I was invigorated by the campus community,” he said. He thanked the audience for being “audacious, bold, fly” individuals willing to discuss the real issues.

In case you missed it, here are five things we learned from Moore’s talk:

1. The context in which you grow up determines your perspective on the world.

Born and raised in Camden, New Jersey, Moore recalls reading the newspaper as a child and trying to reconcile the city described in those pages with the city he knew as home. 

“Camden was described as a place you should run from, not to,” he says. This is the first memory Moore has of realizing his perspective differed from others’ because of where he lived.

2. Radical love is a practice, not a poetic idea.

For Moore, practicing radical love means de-centering your own needs and considering what others need. When you’re being fed, consider who doesn’t have a place at the table. Consider what you can do to help. This kind of selfless love can move mountains, says Moore.

3. Not everything we are taught is right or just or true.

Both implicit and explicit lessons we learn in youth can be false. Moore challenged students and faculty members to examine their assumptions and purge their prejudices.

4. To love is to not lie.

According to Moore, truth brings progress and it is only by finding our voices and communicating our experiences that we can bring change. He asserts that rewriting history only ensures it will repeat itself.

5. It’s easy to empathize with the victim, but harder to see ourselves as perpetrators.

The title of his memoir, No Ashes in the Fire, refers to a story he shares about a teenage boy who attempted to light Moore on fire. The title represents his survival — there were no ashes in the fire because he lived. Moore says we’re quick to identify with the victim of the story but less willing to see ourselves as part of the problem. Ask yourself: How many people have you tried to hurt? There is a self-reckoning we must face in order to defeat our own monsters, he says.

Darnell Moore is co-managing editor at The Feminist Wire and a writer-in-residence at the Center on African American Religion, Sexual Politics and Social Justice at Columbia University. He has been published in The Guardian, Huffington Post, MSNBC, and more.


Sarah Voorhees ’20

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