Agency is the Key, Love is the Answer

One of my favorite people on this planet is Halim Flowers. Halim is an artist, writer, fashion designer, father, husband, influencer, and a friend

He also spent nearly 20 years in prison, from the time he was 16 years old until just a few years ago. I met Halim in his studio in Washington, DC. At that time, we began talking about what inspired his work and the messages that are the hallmark of his career and life–love and agency.

Halim is a quiet person and one of the best communicators I know. He listens more than he speaks. His body language conveys attentiveness. He is gentle but not weak, assertive but not aggressive. When asked his opinion on any topic, it is clear that he has already done deep thinking about it and shares his point of view easily and convincingly. He is passionate about history, justice, business, and relationships. On any of these topics, his through threads are always love and agency.  

Love is

Often, Halim sends me texts of recent articles about threats on DEI. He never advocates for or against it. Like a seasoned mentor, he invites my opinion first before sharing his own. He drops a nugget of wisdom and gently nudges me to reflect. One of our recent exchanges resulted in me expressing frustration in the groundswell of recent attacks on DEI:

Halim Message

He could have easily gone down the proverbial rabbit hole with me. Hemming and hawing about a topic that is hyper-politicized and absent a practical solution. That would have certainly been in step with what is popular right now. Or, even more popular, he could have posted the DEI article on his social media and called me out–asking me to defend DEI in front of his audience for the purpose of “engagement.” 

But that’s not Halim’s kind of engagement. His engagement is not performative. It’s not for the inciting but instead inviting, one-on-one, in a forum that allows for the most safety, true listening, and sharing of honest ideas. 

How does this man, who could easily be bitter for so many years of imprisonment, could easily be paralyzed with hate and trauma, become my wise teacher? Because he spent those years doing incredibly important, deep, and difficult work on himself. He didn’t define himself by the labels others placed on him. He didn’t believe the story that was told about him and people like him. Somehow, his mind and heart were able to stay connected and aligned with a higher purpose, a vision of himself and what his life could be and could mean. Halim invokes his agency beautifully and has spent years practicing it regardless–in spite of–the confines of the world around him. 

This vision of himself is exactly what Halim is trying to teach me about agency. Each of us, not without regard to our identities, circumstances, or the presence or absence of fairness in our lives, possess agency. We have the ability to make decisions about HOW we experience our realities, which shapes our interpretation of it. And the way we interpret gives meaning, purpose, and perspective. It also gives us access to the fortitude, language, and strategic thinking needed to change things that are getting in the way of our ability to flourish. 

Sometimes, these things are our own self-limiting beliefs, sometimes they are limiting beliefs and behaviors of others, and of course, there are historic systems–like the criminal justice system–that require reform. Halim knows this well. He exerted his agency while still imprisoned to have laws that had changed since his sentencing applied to his situation. He would still be imprisoned if not for his ability to own his thoughts and let those thoughts drive his action, action that so many others (including myself, likely) would have considered beyond the boundaries of my influence. He is one of the freest people I know. 

halim and deettaEvery day I wake up thinking about what I have the ability to bring to the world and the people around me. How do I want to be perceived and feel I have impacted people and causes dear to me? These reflections fill me with gratitude and humility. When fear and self-doubt surface–and they do–I direct my heart to others who have walked the path I seek to emulate, people who have found and live in their truth, with love and agency centered, like my ancestors, my heroes and sheroes, and Halim. 

We haven’t stopped talking about love, and every exchange brings me more perspective on what it looks like in action. 



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DeEtta Jones & Associates (DJA) guides leaders and organizations on a journey that builds capacity, strengthens innovation, and increases organizational performance by creating a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive environment.

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