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« Is Paul Quinn College Really Worth Saving? | Main | The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Americans »

In Tribute To Jana Mackey: One Year Later

By Tanner Willbanks
July 1, 2009

This week marks an anniversary for me that I would much rather not be celebrating. One year ago, the activist community, the feminist community, and, most importantly to me on a selfish level, my personal community lost one of their best and brightest. I've written before about the fact that my friend, Jana Mackey, was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in a horrific incident of domestic violence. That was one year ago this week.

As the anniversary of her death approaches, I've been wracking my brain in an effort to figure out a way that I can do justice to the memory of my friend. I want to give her a fitting tribute, as I have a venue in which to do that. Finally, today while reading a book that she had recommended to me about a week prior to her death, I finally figured out just how to do that.

For those of you who knew Jana, I hope you will take what follows as my meager attempt to honor our friend. For those of you who didn't, I just ask that you read what follows and attempt to glean from it whatever you can.

In a very real way, my life as an activist began when Jana's ended. That is not to say that I had not been involved in the activist community prior to that. I had been elected president of my college's chapter of Amnesty International a few months prior and was already tapped to serve as the Sexual Assault Awareness Coordinator and Male Outreach Coordinator for the Commission on the Status of Women here at the University of Kansas. However, I had not truly devoted myself to the cause.

Since I had dropped out of college in my first attempt back in 1998, I had wandered through life with no real focus. Sure, I was a politically progressive and outspoken rabble rouser, but I had not truly embraced any path that I could claim as my passion. I spoke out against the death penalty. I spoke out for reproductive rights. I taught sexual assault awareness seminars. Still, I felt aimless. I was rudderless. It took losing something huge for me to find my mission.

Jana, as I have said in previous posts, always served as an inspiration for me, since our very first meeting. So, I guess I should not be surprised that, even in her tragic death, she would find a way to be the inspiration that set me on a path that is quickly becoming my life's work. I made a promise on the day of Jana's funeral to myself and to her memory. I promised that I would spend every day of the rest of my life working to make sure that we would eventually live in a world where women did not have to live in fear of the men in their lives. I promised that I would spend the rest of my life pursuing the causes that Jana and I had shared an affinity for. I will work for reproductive rights, equal pay, and, most importantly, equality for all people, with no care for race, sexual orientation, age, or gender.

That promise has been very easy for me to keep. It turns out that, just as Jana would have known(and had told me on more than one occasion), these are the causes that inspire me to get up and fight the good fight every morning. Has everybody been accepting of my new found fervor for my causes? No. Many members of my own family have questioned me as to why I plan on attending graduate school in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. I have also been attacked, both in comments on this blog and through twitter as being less than a real man for believing that women and men are equal in all things.

Does any of this dissuade me from thinking that the promise I made was 100% the right thing to do? Hell no.

I had the good fortune to have a friend that served as a daily inspiration to me for the better part of 15 years. She was brutally ripped from the lives of those of us who loved her, and those who needed her to keep pursuing the causes that she fought for, but that doesn't mean that the effect she had on us was lost. I have been exceedingly that, in the year since her death, I have worked closely with Jana's family, especially her mother, Christie, and her step-father, Curt. They inspire me on a daily basis by the way that they have triumphed over the tragedy that befell them and soldiered on in Jana's name to serve as an inspiration to myself, all of Jana's friends, and many people who never were fortunate enough to meet her.

In the year since her death, I have had the great privilege of serving on the planning committee for the Jana Mackey Distinguished Lecture Series, along with Curt and Christie. We were able to bring Kim Gandy to speak at KU to a packed house. It was a very emotional night, but one that filled me with a level of pride that I did not know I was capable of. Pride in myself. Pride in the amazing strength of Curt and Christie. Most importantly, pride in Jana Mackey and the way that she inspires so many people, even now. We will not stop there, however. I am proud to say that we have already started planning the future of the lecture series, and have added fellow Everyday Citizen writer, George Dungan, to the committee. George is a good example of somebody who, though he never met Jana, has been inspired by her through the stories shared by her friends and family, and the actions taken by those same people.

With all of that said, I want to take a moment to say thank you to Jana. I miss you more than I can possibly say, and I wish you could be here celebrating each triumph that we accomplish along the way, but I can not thank you enough for the inspiration that you gave to me in life, nor the gift of drive and purpose that you have given me in your tragic death. I miss you and I love you.

Comments (2)

Elizabeth Hein Author Profile Page:

I wanted to let you know that your blog didn't go unanswered. I attended Jana's funeral at Liberty Hall. It took alot of courage for me to enter that building as I had never been in it before Jana's funeral. I myself am a bereaved parent of a child who died at age 6 back in 2005. I have one surviving child. I answered Jana's Call to Action and worked on the fundraising committee for the Save the T campaign and am now on the Save our Neighborhood Schools campaign. I marched recently in support of NOT closing more schools from 7th and Mass to Southpark. I met Jana's mother in person and have emailed her on facebook. A mother's love is endless and as far as your missing Jana--she knows. I hold a bachelors degree in American Indian Studies from Haskell Indian Nations University so I come from a 'different' pattern of thought but your kind words and memories do not come unappreciated.

Pamela Jean Author Profile Page:

Elizabeth, thanks for stopping by to comment on Tanner's post. Tanner is truly awesome, in his own right. We're so proud of him.

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