On Getting Free…

3 min readAug 31, 2021

by Nikki Devonee Alston, Chief Program Officer at oneTILT

Anyone who has had any meaningful contact with me over the past few years knows that I’m a devout student and evangelist of liberatory consciousness. A practice developed by Dr. Barbara J. Love, liberatory consciousness, in a nutshell, supposes that we have the ability to transcend the roles we were socialized into and live “free” in oppressive systems; with the ultimate goal of transforming these systems. The work is simultaneously personal and collective: I must do the work of freeing myself while being accountable to and supporting others in doing the same.

I was first introduced to the concept at a diversity conference in Indianapolis more than seven years ago, and have sought to embody its principles ever since. In fact, I have built a career out of applying the framework to talent systems and policies within schools and other organizations. Lately, however, I’ve been reflecting more on the impact of liberatory consciousness on my own personal journey as I seek to realize total freedom in my beautiful, audacious, Black body. My personal work has taught me that living in a transcendent state of liberatory consciousness is possible but:

  • It’s hard as hell and;
  • Totally worth it.

For me, the hardest part of getting free has been liberating my thinking; the renewing of my mind. The unlearning of it all. The stripping away of 30 years of conditioning that has tried to socialize me into “knowing my place” as a Black woman and replacing that with new, loving, and expansive thought. Thought patterns that allow me to be the “me” I was created to be, without shrinking or holding back. It’s a discipline, and I have to work at it. Everyday. Like an athlete in the gym, sans rest days. Mind renewal is a 24/7 gig.

I must make a daily practice of rebuking messages delivered by our current systems that dehumanize Blackness and tell me that I’m not deserving of, well, anything. Systems that equate my worth to my productivity and nothing else. And when confronted with those messages, I must resist and remind myself that:

  • I am human.
  • I belong.
  • I am loved and deserving of great love.
  • I deserve to take up space in the full embodiment of my being.

As I affirm myself, I am reminded that “getting free” isn’t just for me. It’s in honor of my enslaved and indigenous ancestors, who didn’t have much choice. It’s for my nieces and nephews, my little cousins, and my future children, who I pray will realize more opportunity and expansiveness than even I can comprehend. It’s for the collective consciousness. It’s for the community. It’s for us all.

I leave you today with one of my absolute favorite songs, Zoom, by the incomparable Commodores. I get teased from time to time for my undying love of funk bands from the 70’s. Mostly by younger Millennial friends and Gen Z’ers who have yet to comprehend what great music truly is (Side note: mark this moment in time as the one where I officially became my parents. Ha!), but this song holds a very special place in my heart. It explores liberation consciousness and the hope for everyone to embody personal freedom. In it, Lionel Richie sings:

“I may be just a foolish dreamer, but I don’t care,

’Cause I know my happiness is waiting out there somewhere…”

He continues:


I’d like to fly far away from here

Where my mind is fresh and clear

And I’d find the love that I long to see

Where everybody can be what they wanna be…”

Turns out the Commodores were liberation workers too…

Liberation work is not without challenges, and for those of you embarking on a personal liberation journey of your own, know that I am cheering you on, and if you remember nothing else, remember this: keep going.

In Love & Solidarity,