A Renaissance of Our Own

A Memoir & Manifesto on Reimagining

About the Book

From a highly lauded modern voice in feminism and racial justice comes a deeply personal and insightful testament to the power of reimagining to dismantle the frameworks and systems that no longer serve us while building new ones that do.

“Powerful . . . You will leave these pages changed for the better.”—Gabrielle Union, New York Times bestselling author of We’re Going to Need More Wine

There are breaking points in all our lives when we realize that the way things have been done before just don’t work for us anymore, be it the way we approach our relationships, our belief systems, our work, our education, even our rest. For activist, philanthropist, and CEO Rachel E. Cargle, reimagining—the act of creating in our minds that which does not exist but that we believe can and should—has been a lifelong process. Reimagining served as the most powerful catalyst for Cargle’s personal transformation from a small-town Christian wife to an incisive queer feminist voice of a generation.

In A Renaissance of Our Own, we witness the sometimes painful but always inspiring breaking points in Cargle’s life that fostered a truer identity. These defining moments offer a blueprint for how we must all use our imagination—the space that sees beyond limits—to live in alignment with our highest values and to craft a world independent of oppressive structures, both personal and societal. Cargle now invites you to acknowledge ways of being that stem from societal expectations instead of your personal truth, and to embark on a renaissance of your own. She provides the very tools and prompts that she used to unearth her own truth, tools that opened her up to being a more authentic feminist and purpose-driven matriarchal leader. 

A Renaissance of Our Own
gives us the courage to look at the world and say “I want something different.” It serves as a reminder of the power and possibility of reimagining a life that feels right, all the way down to the marrow of your bones.
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Praise for A Renaissance of Our Own

“Dazzling—a loving, bold tale of imagination, bravery, and radical action in the face of injustice . . . Through an account of Cargle’s own complicated life journey, she provides a framework for our own acts of courage as brutality threatens to strip us of humanity.”Elle

“I loved and admired this book as much as I have always loved and admired its author. Rachel Cargle is that rare sort of phoenix who rises from the ashes of her life not only reborn on the personal level but also fully ready to change the world. A Renaissance of Our Own is an elegant, thoughtful, vulnerable, and inspiring memoir. May this book land in a million hands, all over the world.”—Elizabeth Gilbert, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Big Magic

“Magical. Shape-shifting. Cargle recounts how she spun silk out of the threadbare yarns of patriarchy and white supremacy while reminding readers that such alchemy is possible for them, too. Such wonder is inevitable if we give ourselves permission to reimagine our existence and re-create ourselves in our own divine image.”—Sonya Renee Taylor, New York Times bestselling author of The Body Is Not an Apology

“What a beautiful offering and gentle invitation Rachel Cargle has extended with A Renaissance of Our Own. I felt the pull to really slow down and sit with both her stories and my own. This book is not meant to be simply consumed but explored.”—Joy Harden Bradford, PhD, founder of the award-winning Therapy for Black Girls and author of Sisterhood Heals

“A profoundly moving and powerful story of how one woman transformed both herself and her community while giving us the tools to do the same . . . Rachel shows that the closer we get to our own true light, the brighter we may shine for the world. You will celebrate, you will mourn, but ultimately you will leave these pages changed for the better.”—Gabrielle Union, New York Times bestselling author of We’re Going to Need More Wine

“Rachel Cargle has given us the gift of an interactive memoir that allows readers to expand into our own renaissance while witnessing hers. She is visionary, revolutionary, unapologetic, and deeply self-loving, reclaiming herself from conditioning that tried to shrink her. In telling her story, Rachel Cargle makes more room for each of us.”—Adrienne Maree Brown, New York Times bestselling author of Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good

“Cargle’s self-help memoir is highly recommended for DEI and LGTBQ+ collections and women of all ages who want to renew and rethink their purpose in life.”Booklist (starred review)
“A vulnerable look at one activist’s long journey of deconstruction, healing, and reimagining of the toxic societal structure meant to oppress marginalized identities.”Kirkus Reviews
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A Renaissance of Our Own


A Journey to Reimagining

There are points in time that can divide our lives into a “before” and an “after.” A moment when a line of demarcation is drawn, after which the lens through which you look at the world permanently shifts. Usually, these mo­ments come unbidden, when you least expect them. For me, it arrived during a bicycle ride in Phoenix, Arizona, in the spring of 2017.
Biking through the Phoenix Arts District one afternoon while heading back to the color-washed hostel I’d been stay­ing in on Ninth Street, I found myself deep in thought. Bal­ancing my iced coffee in one hand and steering with the other, I let my mind wander. I was a bit awestruck by the afternoon I’d spent at a museum, a visit I’d expected to be insightful but that had also turned out to be deeply moving. For the last several weeks, I’d been indulging in all the good­ness Phoenix offered, witnessing how the desert moon rises high, long before sunset. The city was one of many stops on a backpacking trip I’d decided to take the leap on, and I’d just toured the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archeological Park. The park is home to a replication of a thousand-year-old indigenous village of adobe homes arranged communally in compounds that allowed people to hunt, fish, cook, eat, gather, build, work, play, and celebrate together. The Ho­hokam people had figured out a way to exist—communally and simply, with intention and innovation—that mirrored what I was craving: a way of life I hadn’t yet witnessed but that I deeply longed for. The museum made clear this way of existing had been possible all along and had been achieved with great efficiency in societies past.
As I considered how many other undiscovered ways there must be to live and how many existences I might learn about, honor, and borrow from, I heard my phone ping. Still dream­ing of the sloping, sand-colored arches of the Hohokam vil­lage that married function and form so beautifully, I pulled over to read a text from a friend. She informed me that a photo of me from the 2017 Washington, D.C., Women’s March that had gone viral months before had been posted to the Instagram account of Afropunk, a Black-centered news and cultural commentary outlet.
Several months before, like so many women horrified at the election of Donald Trump, I had made my way to the nation’s capital to protest. Along with friend and fellow fem­inist Dana Suchow, I had organized a busload of women to travel to D.C. and join the voices opposing the misogyny, racism, and xenophobia the Trump administration repre­sented.

That photo of Dana and me—a white woman and a Black woman side by side in front of the Capitol Building, each with a protest sign in one hand and a fist held up to the sky in homage to the iconic photo of Gloria Steinem and Doro­thy Pitman Hughes—had made the rounds on social media, thrusting me into a national conversation on feminism. Our signs were the crux of most conversations. Dana’s read, PRO­TECT: BLACK, ASIAN, MUSLIM, LATINX, DISABLED, TRANS, FAT, POOR WOMEN. Mine read, IF YOU DON’T FIGHT FOR ALL WOMEN, YOU FIGHT FOR NO WOMEN. For weeks following the march, that photo had been brandished as a shining ex­ample of intersectional feminism and solidarity, with re­sponses to it being quite positive and affirming—but the communities and sites where it had been circulating were frequented mostly by white women.
Afropunk, however, had an almost exclusively Black readership. 
I began reading the comments posted there. The re­sponses were starkly different from the celebratory reactions given to us on predominately white platforms. One after an­other, Afropunk’s commenters called out the fallacy of white feminism, questioning why I, a Black woman, was so dedi­cated to a movement that had never truly been for me. Some of the comments practically shouted for me to open my eyes to the whitewashing and racism of the feminist movement. I felt blindsided and utterly embarrassed at the thought of how much I hadn’t known back when I organized the march, along with a deep sense of responsibility to better under­stand, to unearth what I hadn’t yet discovered. 
I will forever be grateful that I happened to be traveling when I got this wake-up call. While I had always known there were flaws in the feminist movement, this moment of realization would send me crashing into a reckoning with the depths of hypocrisy and betrayal in the movement as well as a reckoning with myself. Having only a small suitcase and a backpack to my name, and stripped of familiar sur­roundings, I was open to what I didn’t already know about the world, to different ways of thinking and being. The edu­cation I’d just received about the Hohokam people at the Pueblo Grande Museum—completely unknown to me until that day—prepared me for an exploration of what I did and didn’t understand about white supremacy and the feminist movement. It began a reimagining of a more honest, more critical worldview.
Over the next several months, I dove into reading, re­searching, and considering my place in the world more criti­cally, as I’d never really taken the time to do. I dug into the feminist movement, all the way down to its roots, so I could examine what lay beneath. I had to shapeshift my under­standing, replacing the whitewashed version of the move­ment I had once believed accurate with an ugly truth that dismissed both the pain and powerful activism of Black women and other women of color.
Once I learned the truth about the contributions of Black women activists in the fight for women’s rights and freedoms—trailblazers like Anna Julia Cooper, Mary Church Terrell, and Ida B. Wells—I studied their blueprints for dis­rupting the status quo. I realized I had so much to learn from my intellectual ancestors. The truths of the past were opening up a new, more authentic path for me to forge in my own burgeoning activist career. 
Inevitably, the process of reexamining myself unfolded. I began excavating the depths of who I thought I was and al­lowing a new version of myself to step forward. I didn’t yet have the language or tools for it, but what I was doing was reimagining both myself and the lens through which I viewed the world and its possibilities. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d done so, but it was the first time it happened with so much intention and so publicly.
My gut instinct during the whirlwind of these discover­ies was to share what I was learning. My social media posts became tools for unlearning what many of us had always taken as truth. As I shared my own personal evolution and the facts I was learning on feminism and racism, my audi­ence grew by tens of thousands, drawing in folks of all stripes who were invested in learning, unlearning, and reimagining alongside me. I became someone people looked to as they explored this intersection of race, womanhood, and identity and considered the possibilities of how we might reimagine it all as we moved forward together. And in 2018 this virtual community expanded to include real-life camaraderie when I kicked off my first public lecture, which I eventually pre­sented all over the country, from North Carolina and Ore­gon to New England and Los Angeles.
Along the way, I recognized that a critical element of reimagining our totality, within and beyond movement work, is to identify and question the values handed to us by society, our parents, the media, and our educational and economic systems. I began to make room to ask myself: Is this some­thing I really want to claim? Is there a better way? What can I wield with my hands to exist within my values?

To answer these questions, I began paying attention to my thoughts and daydreams and noting the experiences that brought me joy or that made me yearn for more. What made me feel grounded, satisfied, energized, and true? With ongo­ing self-reflection, I discovered and defined my own set of values—values that would supplant those I had inherited from a world shaped by whiteness, capitalism, misogyny, and scarcity. I landed on a trio of guideposts, or what I call my “highest values”—ease, abundance, and opportunity—that became integral to every decision I made thereafter, whether tiny or towering. (You’ll spend some time later identifying your own highest values.)
Aligning how I moved through the world with these highest values—and with knowledge, empathy, and action—completely changed how I showed up in my relationships, at work, and for myself. It made space for me to live based not on expectation, routine, or the traditional markers of “suc­cess,” but on what I value most. Encouraged by this clarity, I experimented with new and inspired ways of existing, work­ing, playing, resting, and loving that didn’t always line up with what was expected of me.

About the Author

Rachel E. Cargle
Rachel E. Cargle is an activist, entrepreneur, and philanthropic innovator. She is the founder of The Loveland Group, a family of companies including Elizabeth’s Bookshop & Writing Centre, a literary space that celebrates marginalized voices, and The Great Unlearn, an adult learning platform that centers the teaching of BIPOC thinkers. In 2018, she founded The Loveland Foundation, offering free access to mental health care for Black women and girls. Cargle is a regular contributor to Cultured magazine, Atmos, and The Cut, and her work has been featured in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The New Yorker. More by Rachel E. Cargle
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