My Own Purpose Driven Life - The Jose Vilson

My Own Purpose Driven Life

December 7, 2008

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk

Last night, I saw Milk, starring Sean Penn and Josh Brolin.

As I’m typing this, I’m having difficulty using the proper word to describe how that movie made me feel. “Moved” may be appropriate, but it needs some sort of adverb. I found myself in tears in some scenes, and not even during the assassinations. What had me pulling my collar close to my eyes was when Harvey Milk was able to rally his people to The Castro (in San Francisco) and protest together. That simple act of defiance caused a reaction in me that made me want to organize against any and every form of oppression. It also made me think about if / when we’ll get the cojones to pull those sort of moves again. The times are certainly different, but the motivation certainly isn’t.

A scene they particularly highlighted was between Milk, played by Penn, and Scott Smith, Milk‘s lover and eventual boyfriend played by James Franco. As with many activist heroes’ biopics, Smith tries to warn Milk against becoming anything more than a local businessman. Milk’s inner turmoil is no more apparent than in his lovers’ reactions to Milk’s rise to power, as his voice became more prominent in his community and around the country. Yet, every time his voice becamse louder against the establishment, the more purpose he found in his life.

It’s almost as if the more he saw the faces of his constituency, the more he was able to answer for himself the meaning of his life, something I’m also going through in my own right. Before I went to the movies with my lady, I found myself in the middle of a TV interview for Latination (coming out next year), listing some of my accomplishments to people who’ve already known me for some time. It was my first scheduled TV interview, and it felt so natural that it almost felt like I’d be doing this more than once.

With this, the books I’m working on, the first SU Latino alumni holiday mixer, and my teaching, I wonder what the ultimate purpose in my life is. In my lifetime, I’ve discovered that nothing is as black and white as humans try to make it, that the matrices by which all life exists makes it hardly probable that we can replicate some of these experiences (though very easy to make similarities), and that the broad definition we have for life in the dictionary makes it all the more complicated to actually find purpose within our own lives.

But if people like Harvey Milk are any example, it’s that if we do seek for that purpose, we eventually find it, even with our own flaws, we can still find ways to make it purposeful with each major action we take. I definitely don’t consider myself on par with Harvey Milk’s accomplishments, the movie made me wonder for a split second what my successes all mean in the grand scheme of things. Am I destined to write books for the rest of my life? School chancellor? Doctor / luminary? Web designer?

While I love most of what I’m doing, I also know none of this is by coincidence. There has to be a purpose to all of this …

Jose, who thinks it’s gonna be a long, long time ’til touch down brings me round again …

This post was written by...

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

For more about me, read here.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

mzvirgo December 7, 2008 at 7:57 pm

Congrats on the interview! I will be checking for you.

And as always, great post. You have a way with words and that is definitely a gift.


The Jaded NYer December 7, 2008 at 8:10 pm

You are correct, there are no coincidences, and I always like to see what path people take on their journey. I am certain, from what I’ve read on this site so far, yours will be great.

Now I must go and see Milk…


Harmony December 7, 2008 at 8:52 pm



Angie December 8, 2008 at 12:17 am

This post reminds me how importance it is to stay focused, to stay on the purpose driven journey that will lead us to our destiny.
Stay up!


Jonathan December 8, 2008 at 7:11 am

Back to the movie. You’ve seen the documentary that’s been around for a long time? (if not, I guess this doesn’t make sense). Does the Hollywood treatment do a better job? A more engaging job?


Jose December 8, 2008 at 6:07 pm

Thanks everyone!

mzvirgo, appreciate you droppin’ by and congratulating.

Jaded, you must, and please let me know how it goes.

Angie, it really is important to stay focused. Here’s to stayin’ up!

Jonathan, now I’m interesting in finding out about this documentary as I mentioned to you by e-mail. I do want to see the doc, really.


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