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Shaka Senghor

In 1991, Shaka Senghor pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and spent the next 19 years behind bars, seven of them in solitary confinement. Today, Senghor has become a vocal advocate[…]

SHAKA SENGHOR: The things I learned about resilience through my time in prison is that human beings, I believe, by nature, are very resilient, and often times we don't recognize our own resiliency until we're faced with obstacles and circumstances that challenge us and pushes us.

And it looks different for everybody. When I think about my journey in prison, I went through some very adverse experiences. I had some significant obstacles to overcome, including long-term solitary confinement, which they estimate is designed to drive a person crazy after 90 days. And what I found in that environment is that people figure out ways to cope and to survive and to get through when they're forced to do so. And, for me, I found that I was very resourceful when my back was against the wall and that resilience was also a choice. I had a choice in whether to give up. I had a choice in whether to fight for a second chance.

That type of resilience was inspired by other people. I read Nelson Mandela's autobiography, I read the poem "Invictus", I read Malcolm X's autobiography; I love autobiographies. But what I learned through reading is that, if you acknowledge what you're going through and you recognize that it is an obstacle, that it's that dark moment but you also realize there's light on the other side of that tunnel, then you can get through. And, to me, I think hope is probably the cornerstone of resilience. As long as you have hope you can come out on the other side of anything. Once you dim the light of hope there's no possibility of you coming out on the other side. And, to me, I think that's what resiliency is. I always looked at, if I focus on a purpose instead of the pain then I can get through to the other side. And that's how I live my life, and to me those things embodied what resilience really is.

Three of the ingredients toward being resilient is you have to be optimistic. Optimism is such an integral part of getting through adversity. I would say a second thing is really being resourceful and figuring out in your environment what are things, people or inspiring components that you can utilize to help you cope with whatever it is you're going through. And then, I think the third thing would be you have to have memory loss. Now that probably sounds crazy, right? But what I have found is that a lot of times we replay memories that no longer exist over and over in our head and what that does is it holds you hostage. And so once you begin to release those memories and recognize that you can never reclaim that space or that time or that experience then you can move forward in life. Because now you've taken the shackles off your feet and you're a lot more mobile, and I think in order to be resilient you have to not be thinking about what happened in the past and you really just have to be focused on what you need to do to move forward.