YDS Remembers Leah Terry

Leah Terry, left, pictured at a protest against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, 2015.

Adam Cardo, Metro Atlanta DSA

Leah Christine Terry, born on the 7th of March in 1993 in San Jose, California. sadly passed on May 29 in Atlanta, Georgia. A passionate socialist activist, Leah's dedication to social justice was borne out of her own struggle with disability and her family's struggle against corporate America.

Leah, was born with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, a condition characterized by obsessive thoughts, habits or rituals. Leah's father, Alton Terry, a poultry farmer, sued Tyson Farms for canceling his contract after he helped to organize his fellow farmers. Her experiences with both of these struggles propelled Leah on a path of organizing, with a focus on the intersection between capitalism and ableism. While attending Sewanee: The University of the South, she was an active member of Sewanee Young Democratic Socialists. During this time, she also served on the 2014-2015 YDS-Coordinating Committee. After leaving Sewanee, she moved to Atlanta where she was involved with the Metro Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America.

She will be missed greatly, and her generous and caring spirit marches on.

Below, we have collected the fond memories from Leah's comrades around the country:

Lily Davenport, Sewanee YDS:

Near the end of our time as suitemates, Leah sent me a story she’d written for workshop the year before, called “Acting Good.” The narrator was a sham superhero, funded (by a corporate group, if I remember rightly) for PR purposes, who begins to question the role he plays in society.  He wonders, too, how much choice he’s ever really had in the way he lives.  I wish I could recall what happens to him; instead, what comes back to me is a conversation we had some months before that, in which Leah told me that she didn’t believe in free will.

Or, rather, that she couldn’t successfully construct an argument for its existence.  She said that this terrified her, that humans were wired to behave as if free will were real and so she couldn’t reconcile herself emotionally to living without it.  But that she also couldn’t look away from the nature of the universe, or stop questioning how it functioned.  I didn’t know what to say, beyond agreeing that contemplating life without free will was horrible, and that usually there is a price to be paid for knowledge and clarity of vision.

About a week later, Leah called me into her room.  She had a YouTube video pulled up: “We Are All Connected,” by Symphony of Science.  

“I found this,” she said.  “It helped me not be afraid, and I thought it might help you, too.”  We sat on the bed to watch it.  “There,” she continued after a moment.  “What Carl Sagan says.  ‘We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.’  Even if we don’t have a choice, we’re still doing something that matters.”

I am so sorry that the cosmos no longer knows itself through Leah.  That she will not again write a story, comfort a friend, or gaze at the universe with a philosopher’s eye.  I hunted through my computer today, looking for a copy of “Acting Good,” but couldn’t find it; instead, I ran across something else, a short exercise that Leah wrote for the same class.  At risk of being insensitive or macabre, I would like to end with her words rather than my own: “We were writers, we thought, but writing is not an occupation for the living. It is a speaker from the grave.”

Kevin Wilson, Sewanee Professor:

When we created Dakin Scholarships to honor students who showed promise in creative writing, in that inaugural year, I immediately thought of Leah, a fierce, open-hearted writer with real talent. The university wanted to hold a public reading for the six students who had received the scholarships, and I remember that Leah was very nervous about the prospect of sharing her work and being vulnerable with strangers and friends alike. I told her that she didn't have to do it, but she ultimately decided that she wanted to try. Her reading of a short story called "We Were Writers" was one of the highlights of the event and I remember seeing Leah on that night, as people came up to her during the reception to tell her how much they enjoyed her reading. She was so happy and so proud of herself and I don't think many people understood how difficult it had been and how she had opened herself up to the world in order to share something important. That's how I remember Leah, as a uniquely-gifted writer and a wonderful person who had so much courage. I miss her terribly.

Kelly Ann Graff, Sewanee YDS:

The most vivid memories I have of Leah took place in transit. Because of the various political actions and conferences we attended together, we spent a decent amount of time on planes, trains, and automobiles. Of course I'll remember the times she lead workshops or did public readings, but the memories I'll cherish most are the ones leading up to these events. Her nervous excitement practicing her Sewanee Monologue on the New York metro. Her renewed conviction as we took a shortcut through the woods so she could finally deliver the essay at The Blue Chair's spoken word night after a 2-day delay in LaGuardia. The way she lit up with pride while talking about her sisters on jaunts to Monteagle. And how she would laugh as she'd recount stories from high school when we went to a rally in Tullahoma. So much of who I am as a leader and an activist today I owe not only to the example that Leah set, but also the time, energy, and love she put into making me a better person.


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