January 29, 2020

I spent last week in Atlanta. I am truly in love with that city. Change is all around. Good people, awesome food and a core of social activists that rock my world. I am incredibly excited to partner with these amazing individuals and change the world a little with them.

I ride shared from place to place. One ride pulled up at my hotel. I opened the door. The seat was really dirty. The car stunk from cigarettes and pot.

I’m usually not a picky person. I let things slide, but this, well, this was a lot.

The young woman apologized for not finding me.

She wasn’t from Atlanta.

We started talking. 

I asked her, “Can I tell you something?”

“What?” she responds.

“I really think you need to cover the seat with something, like material or a seat cover.”

It got quiet in the car.

Given that I don’t know the city, she could take me anywhere whether I wanted to go there or not. 

I was thinking, okay she didn’t like what I said. Who knows where she will take me now? I should shut my big mouth and not say anything.

“What else?” she asked. “You got anything else?”

“Well,” I said. “You might not want to smoke pot right before a customer gets in the car. Not everyone likes that.” Again silence.

Okay. She also could kill me. Considering she is high and I have no idea where we are.

“Thank you, Lady,” she says. “I’m happy you said something.”

“Really?” I asked her. “Cause I wasn’t sure,” I tell her.

“Truth can be hard, Ma’am, but it is really is good to hear it. 

You know my mom passed last year. I moved here from Missouri trying to make ends meet. I’m taking care of my 4 siblings.”

“Wow,” I say. “That’s amazing!”

“Amazing?” she says, surprised.

“Ain’t nothing amazing ‘bout that.” 

She looks in the rear-view mirror and says,

“I think I got you high.”

We both laugh.

“I think your mom would be proud of you,” I say. 

She was quiet and she said,

“I am proud of me. That’s what counts. Just me.

I am proud of me.”

She repeated it a few times.

“Well,” I said. 

“I don’t know you and I am proud of you, too.

It’s cool to have a stranger be proud of you,” I add. 

“That same stranger also told me my car is dirty and I shouldn’t smoke in my car.”

“That’s not fair,” I tell her. “I wanted to tell you what most folks are thinking and not saying. I really want you to be able to make more money. So, I told you the truth.”

“Yeah,” she says. “Some of the snooty people don’t like me and my car. I see it on their face when they get in or cancel when they see me.”

“I don’t think they don’t like you,” I say. 

“They don’t like the smell and they don’t like that the car is not clean.”

“I got you,” she said.

“Can I tell you the truth?” she asks me. 

Oh no! Now she is going to say something bad about me, I think. 

“Of course,” I say.

She tells me she was incarcerated and that it was taken off her record. That’s how she can drive.

She tells me that life is hard, and she feels that everyone is judging her. 

She is 21 and she feels like she is 50. 

“Nothing bad about the 50s,” I say quietly.

She tells me how scary it is to let strangers into her car.

She tells me she is lonely cause most people don’t talk to her.

The truth: I think she was happy just to have someone listen.

Aren’t we all happy when someone listens??

“Honestly,” she says to me. “This is the first time I am happy there is traffic.”

I laugh again.

“I am happy you came in my car,” she says. “And you know what? I am happy you were honest and told me what you thought.

It actually opened my heart.”

“The truth can do that,” I say. 

“Yeah,” she says. 

We arrive at the destination.

They say that the truth will set you free. 

I say freedom comes from the truth.

She stops the car and gets out to open my door. 

She looks at me. 

“You know what’s cool? You told me the truth about the little things and I could tell you the truth about the big things.

The little things are what mattered to you, the car and the pot. But the big things you didn’t care about. You didn’t even look away when I told you my story.”

She leaned in and gave me a hug.

“You have a good story,” I told her.

“Yeah,” she said.  “Honestly, I do.”

I walked into my appointment, knowing that this is where I was meant to be today.

Be bold. Tell the truth, even when you don’t have to. It’s important and will open so much more than you can imagine.

Naomi Ackerman is a Mom, activist, writer, performer, and the founder and Executive Director of The Advot (ripple) Project a registered 501(c)3 that uses theatre and the arts to empower youth at risk to live their best life.

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