OUT ON THE HILL is the official blog of the Victory Congressional Interns. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of LGBTQ Victory Institute. Learn more about the internship at victoryinstitute.org/vci.
“That’s the kind of pressure that doesn’t ground you – it buries you.”
- Ashley C. Ford
Ashley C. Ford is an American author, podcaster, and educator from Fort Wayne, Indiana. She identifies as a queer woman of color. On Wednesday, July 6, 2022 I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at the first Summer session of Free the Facts with many of my fellow Victory Congressional Interns.
When you think of dinner at the International Spy Museum, what do you think of? I honestly couldn’t tell you what I was expecting, but I can tell you what I definitely didn’t expect: a beautiful three-course meal with separate forks for your salad and entree. And get this—it was free.
I sat at my table to greet a few kind strangers as others filed in and slowly found seats to sink into. Names were exchanged and LinkedIn connections were made as we reviewed dinner etiquette like what fork to start with or where to set down your utensils on your plate to signify that you are done eating.
The calming white noise of hundreds of interns name-dropping their universities decrescendoed to a halt as the moderator stepped up to the microphone to introduce Mrs. Ford—a strong and powerful queer woman of color. I long for the day that it won’t feel so special when someone like me is given a stage to speak on.
The way she spoke was mesmerizing, my focus only broken by the exchanging of my empty plate for a dessert tray of cupcakes or an arm crossing my line of sight to refill my glass of water. She explained her struggles in life and how they led her to the stage in front of us. When she spoke, she did so with intent and ease, making disclaimers that she was about to drop little nuggets of wisdom that she and I both knew were worth listening to. She took the time to collect her thoughts, organize them, and then speak. She was inspiring.
I jotted down one quote in particular during the panel: “That’s the kind of pressure that doesn’t ground you – it buries you.” This stood out to me because I had never really noticed the difference. I had never really known that there was a difference to notice. Pressure just always felt like pressure. And then I noticed it.
There are pressures that feel like a weighted blanket and there are pressures that feel like the boot pressed on your face, keeping your cheek flush against the ground. You can find either kind of pressure anywhere, you just have to know the difference.
I constantly feel the bad pressure. Ever since elementary school, I have had this ongoing fear instilled in me that if I came home with anything below an A on a test or report card, I had failed. I had failed my parents and rendered the work they put in to immigrate to the U.S. from Iran and make a name for themselves here that would allow me and my brother to grow up with food on our table and a roof over our heads every night to waste. This was bad pressure. The kind of pressure that made me feel like fear of failure was more pressing and threatening than the reward and fulfillment of success. The kind of pressure that made succeeding feel like I was barely scraping by. The kind of pressure that kept clipping my wings as soon as I learned what cruising felt like.
I also (thankfully) constantly feel the good pressure. The kind of pressure that made me want to study hard and immerse myself in everything I was passionate about so that when college application season came around, I had things on my resumé I could write about that actually made me feel something. The kind of pressure that wanted me to reach my full potential so that every door I wanted to go through would be unlocked when I approached it. The kind of pressure that makes me want to get better and better at my craft, whether it be music and songwriting or coming up with a bulletproof bill proposal about security requirements at concert venues to make sure Christina Grimmie’s story never becomes someone else’s.
There is pressure that grounds you. There is pressure that buries you. There might even be pressure that lifts you up. Search for it. Grab onto it. And don’t let go.