(This letter is in response to What Does It Mean to be a “Survivor”?, an article by Laura Johnston Kohl. Yulanda D. A. Williams also wrote a letter, and Laura Johnston Kohl wrote a reply to both.)
Laura Johnston Kohl does not represent me. How would anyone believe that the label of victim applies to me? It is offensive.
Just in case there is any doubt, I want to make it perfectly clear: Here I stand, my spirit demonstrating resiliency, blessings, purpose, gratitude, and by all accounts a victor. My son dedicated a beautiful article, My Mother, My Super Hero to me. Do you think my son considers me a victim? No, my son considers me his Warrior.
The dynamics of Jonestown are many – with different experiences, beliefs and opinions – and that is the very reason this it is important to be responsible in the words we use. Every survivor and ex-Temple member has their own voice, and should always be stated as such. With the array of stories and experiences, we can speak to our own truth with our understanding, not attempting to interpret anyone else’s. We is not me.
Beyond that, Laura has no knowledge of my relationship with Don and Thelma. Don, a tall black man was a sober presence, did not ever share with me that he felt unloved or sought pity. If he shared this with Laura, she should state that. However, this statement did not lift him up, or honor his memory. So I will.
Don – a tall black man, attractive and compelling – and I would set up a table in the mornings at San Francisco City College and sell cream cheese, bagels and coffee to the students. One of the sisters in the church cooked chicken dinners, and we traveled to the Muni Bay Area Transit hub and sold them to the drivers and staff. We would also hit nightclubs – Don said we had permission from Thelma for this as well, but maybe…? – where he and I sold roses and persuaded people to capture their night out with a photo. Don would use his Polaroid and produce great pictures that we put in frames and sold for five dollars each. We turned over the money we made from these little ventures to the Temple. Even after his accident, I did not see a man who was seeking pity. I did not see a victim. He stood strong.
Not one person should address any topic or belief with “we.” It is not anyone else’s right to speak for anyone but themselves. We each have enough to say without assuming an all-encompassing “we.”
Peace, Blessings and Always Universal Love,
– Leslie Wagner-Wilson