Get Uncomfortable!

I was at work, during a very slow hour, scrolling on Facebook. I saw this event for protesting Atlas (group) that same day at 5pm. Lucky me, I was off at 5pm. My bf came to scoop me and we headed straight there. It didn’t matter how tired I was, who we knew going or how many people would be there. Our support was needed, so we showed up. At the protest, we walked through the streets of Harbor East to Choptank, Ouzo Bay, and one other restaurant that belongs to the Atlas Group. There were people enjoying meals as if nothing ever happened. Black couples who may or may not have been informed were also in attendance. We shouted “Black Lives Matter, all the time,” “Don’t pay another cent, Atlas must repent,” “Boycott Atlas” and other phrases that conveyed the overall message. As the organizers of the protest gathered to the front center of the crowd, they gave a list of demands. I won’t list them all, but they included dropping the dress code across the restaurants and recognizing their acts of discrimination.

During the protest, it was business as usual, customers were ordering food and drinks, but then they had a crowd around the patio seating informing them of the behavior of the restaurant. They saw signs that said “Black Lives Matter.” They saw signs that said “White Silence = White Violence.” Some people thought it was a joke, laughing while we demanded justice, fairness and equality. Others decided to leave and some quietly moved their plates to more comfortable seating inside. While we protested outside of Choptank, they continued to increase the volume of the music. Another way for them to silence our voices – it was cool tho, we just got louder. Get uncomfortable!

I wasn’t shocked to see people patronizing the businesses still, but I was shocked at the fact that even with the information presented, it seemed that they couldn’t wait for us to move on. No one wants to face these injustices. They just want to live their daily lives as normal and carefree as possible. You don’t think that’s what we all want? Everyone does not have to be on the front lines or protesting but damn, don’t contradict our movements. We need to unify in order to be the force for change in this unjust ass world.

Personally, I know that I don’t have all the answers and I still have loads of information to educate myself on. I have come to a place in my life where I can’t be comfortable with just going to school, getting my degree and living the “American Dream.” I can’t be comfortable with staying under the radar just to avoid conflict while I’m watching so many Black people being discriminated against in a White world. I can’t be comfortable knowing that not only was Breonna Taylor shot in the comfort of her own home, but none of the known parties involved were arrested and sentenced for their crimes. I can’t be comfortable seeing videos of the beautiful soul that was Elijah McClain and feeling that pain of him no longer being with us. I don’t need to know these people personally to take this shit personal. Going forward, my goal is to create an environment where people can be Black and be surrounded by Black to build unity and trust within us so that we may thrive in our own communities. My goal is not to swap places with our counterparts or oppress others the way we have been for generations.

We need to be prepared and we need to take action. I am a Black woman who does not wish to live in fear for the future that lies ahead. I am a Black woman who wants to be a part of the change. I have started with educating myself, finding ways that I can support and showing up when it counts. We all have our day to day battles and struggles, jobs, and grievances and that is absolutely okay. Unfortunately, we weren’t dealt the hand that allows us to decompress and analyze on an individual basis. We have to play an active role every single day in fighting these battles. It may be a single post, signing a petition or simply patronizing Black owned businesses specifically. I have never seen a better time than now to be more active in this fight.

Dear World,

Black women deserve happiness and to live as much as anyone else. Recently, Breonna Taylor was murdered by police and Oluwatoyin Salau was sexually assaulted and murdered. She was know as Toyin and protested passionately for Black lives. Breonna was an award winning EMT- a highly physical job. There was another woman put in a dumpster. Another women was killed by her partner. Another woman stalked by an old partner. Another woman physically assaulted because she denied advances in the street. Another women tone “checked.” Another woman cat called. Another woman called a bitch. Another woman called a hoe. Another woman fat shamed. The list is infinite if the transgressions against Black women. We exist in world where racism is steadily chasing behind us while sexism is waiting at the sanctuary.

What is the value of a Black woman’s life aside from being a man’s peace? Where is the justice and passions for Black women who put themselves last and the world first? Where is the warmth and cuddle for a tired, head hung low Black woman? Who will protect me from the dangers of the works without trying to censor me in some way? How can I live my life freely? Am I not valuable unless I’m doing something that is valued by another person?

Existing in this body, in this space, in this time is not easy for a woman like me. For Black women, existence is not easy or valued. Our existence is expected because we have to be “strong.” We have to be a pillar. But my dear world, we are tired. We are weary and quite frankly, sometimes we get scared. My existence shouldn’t come at a price, loophole or conditions defined by patriarchy (which Black people have adopted and use against certain members of our community).

We deserve to be happy, joyous, carefree, and most of all, we deserve to live too. We are tired of being defined by stereotypes or tropes or pain. Let us define ourselves. Let us live the best way we see fit. Black women don’t have to fit your criteria for womanhood or Blackness to be deemed valuable enough to live.

This is an open letter to the many people who see through us or past us. I am the “ratchet Black women.” I am the Black women with long nails and lace fronts. I am the Black women who love anime. I am the women who love to create. I am the Black women who listen to Erykah Badu. I am the Black women who listen to Beyoncé. I am the Black women who studied tirelessly to graduate college. I am the Black women who come home from work with aching feet. I am the Black women who love thee Stallion and proudly stick their tongues out while they dance. They are me and I am them.

Black girl magic doesn’t just mean letters from the divine nine or a graduation cap. Black girl magic encompasses the girls from around the way, the girls with flowers in their Afros, girls in college, girls who love other girls, trans girls. Please let us live and see us for who we are and not what we can do for you.

Sincerely,

A tired Black girl who became a woman.

A Dream or a Nightmare ?

By Donovan Peterson

The local governments of New York and Rhode Island competed to be the capital of the North American slave trade and by the early 1800’s, Newport and Rhode Island outpaced New York to be the top slave suppliers

That is just to say; racism was never purely a Southern issue. And I say this because I know that it makes white liberals feel a bit better if they can pawn slavery on rednecks in the Appalachia with character defects. While they aren’t necessarily wrong, this characterization is a misrepresentation at worst and a deflection at best. If a racist threatens to hang me, I will know my enemy; confirm him. Act accordingly. But silence among friends in the face of tyranny is both deafening and complicit. And confusing.

Racism in fact permeates just about every facet of society. I don’t understand what else anyone would expect after a society is built on slave labor and native land. It doesn’t go away magically after 400 years with a stroke of a feather pen and it doesn’t just stay in the South like mullets and hot chicken. Human minds and values were corrupted. A 250 year machine was constructed that stole lives from birth to death and decimated generations. That’s not 90 second rice.

I believe this why W.E.B Dubois coined a term “double consciousness”.

If you’d like an explanation, you probably have one of those supercomputer things in your fucking pocket that could help. But seriously, the knowledge of my history combined with seeing what feels tantamount to black murder porn several times over the past few years…it makes sense to say that being black in America has caused me irreversible mental anguish and sadness. It’s become an impossible task to compartmentalize it all, but at the same time I’m grateful and proud to be black and to be a small part of the mad man sort of resilience it takes to have some respect for yourself in a country that recently figured out that your people were indeed human beings not too long ago.

Black people have always expressed pain through music or art.

As a gesture of both this sadness and love that I feel; I asked my friends to come and say what they felt on a mic. One of my friends lost his freedom the day after he laid down his verse and I knew this was urgent. For us; there is no refuge. There is no choice. There is no South, East, West or North. There is no taking a uniform off. There is no silence. There is only continued struggle. There is only total liberation.

Click here to hear the contribution.

Donovan is a guest writer who currently resides from Baltimore. Although his beginnings are not in the city, he embodies the Baltimore spirit and drive. He is an artist, cat enthusiast, and writer for medium. He

Depression Has Been Kicking My Ass for Over a Decade …

I don’t know about y’all but I was a timid kid. I was agreeable and I didn’t cause much trouble in school. I was labeled as a “good kid.” I got great remarks on my report card and praise from teachers. At home, I was either quiet or had spurts of talking too much. For as long as I can remember, maybe around age 7, I had spurts of sadness that lasted days or fits of irritability that lasted for days. Of course, growing up in my household, “there was no reason to be sad.” I was a child and children were supposed to have one emotion- happiness. I did my best to keep up with that, although I had my first thought of suicide when I was 8 years old. I thought about shoving a knife into my stomach- childish, I know but I didn’t tell anyone. I learned pretty quickly to not speak of those things; I learned to mask what I was feeling. I used to play with Barbie dolls, and oddly enough every time I played with them, I ended up mentioning something related to sadness or suicide. That was unintentional.

In school, I was labeled “weird” and “smart.” I was also accused of having an attitude problem because needless to say at times I was moody. Something was always wrong but I didn’t know what and I wasn’t sincerely being asked either. I just thought I was weird, like everyone said. As I grew into being a preteen and teen, my “weirdness” grew with me. In middle school, I was rather shy and hid myself. In high school, my 10th grade year in particular, I noticed something was way off. There were days when I felt extremely upset. I didn’t want to get out of bed and I just felt like I just couldn’t that day, whatever that was. I had teachers who were obnoxious, peers who were annoying, friends who I didn’t want to bogged down, and I’m sure there was some boy that was on my kind. My school work made me incredibly tense. I stressed everyday about something. I was asked, “how and why could someone your age could be stressed?” But by this time, I thought I as just going through teenage girl mood swings. I was pushing my “weirdness” and “sadness” to the back of my mind to pursue other things that made me feel happy for the moment. I graduated. I started college. The beginning of college was one of the hardest times in my life. I felt so miserable. I felt so drained before my classes even started. I was not enthused or anticipating this newfound journey. I watched as the girls bounced happily around the campus and there I was, watching them bounce around me. This was the second phase in my life when I started to randomly cry. The first time I ever cried randomly was when I was 6 years old.

Bouts of tears has become normal by the time I was in college and it was here that I became addicted to working. It was here that I realized something was off and it was here that I discovered therapy. After that moment, my spiral into therapy started but so did the spiral of my life. I learned after 2 therapists and 2.5 years that I was depressed. I have major depressive disorder and of course, it invited its friends: anxiety and a form of PTSD. I was surprised slightly. I had small glimpse of my life leading up to that moment, starting with childhood. That was in 2014-2015. Here I am now, on the brink of 25, still battling and still hoping. Hoping that when I have my highs, they last forever. A high is when I don’t have to nestle the sheets and cocoon myself in the morning. A high is making plans with my friends and following through with them. It’s making jokes, waking up on time, being somewhere in time. It’s going to the gym. It’s looking the mirror and smiling. It’s planning my outfits. It’s planning effective lessons- yes, I’m a teacher. It’s saying, “hey, my days wasn’t so bad after all.” It’s not feeling life the world and life is just happening around me. It’s a lot of things that don’t always happen.

So what does depression look like for me? It’s:

  • Forgetting
  • Being irritable
  • Not writing
  • Not reading anything
  • Wanting to stay in, all the time
  • Not doing my usual things
  • Extremely upset
  • Extremely sad
  • Waking up late
  • Waking up but not getting out of bed
  • Getting to work 15-20 minutes late
  • Feeling inadequate
  • Wanting to sleep all day
  • Crying
  • Not meal prepping
  • Not putting effort into my work or assignments
  • Not seeing my friends
  • Over eating
  • Not eating
  • Not talking
  • Crying after almost every conversation

Depression and the lows I have look like a lot for me. They can last for days, up to a week. Then comes the high. I envision myself as a scale. I’m trying to find balance but it’s very delicate. A lot of things throw off the balance. A lot of things are triggering.

I think about my battle with depression because a new decade is starting soon and I’m turning 25 next month. Depression has been kicking my ass for over a decade and I am tired. I don’t want to see myself as the confused, sad 7 year old I was. I want to move forward optimistically but also realistically. Living with depression is not easy. Living with anxiety or PTSD is not easy. It is not something that you can ignore- I did that all my life and it got worse. (I have stories about that. I’ll tell y’all that later. Whew). It’s not something that you can just “pray” away. (I am a Christian and understand the complexities of being a Black Christian. However, I am a realistic Christian.) It’s not something that you can smoke away- didn’t try that and I really don’t want to. You can’t drink it away- fell down that rabbit hole. And you can definitely not sex it away- no comment here.

So the question becomes, what’s am I going to go after being beat up for over a decade?

I have to remember to ground myself. But I also have to remember that in a way, I just started confronting these things. 2013 until now seems like a long time but it really isn’t when you’ve ignored the issues and the root causes for so many years.

Yes, depression and it’s friends have acted like lunch money bullies for most of my entire life. Yes, I have been stifled and made regretful but there are some lessons that came from this. So, I’ll be a work in progress for some time but that’s okay too. I’d like to apologize to my friends everyday, but I’m sure they would get tired of hearing , “I’m sorry for…”.

With a couple months left in the year and a birthday on the way, I am going to make strides try to alleviate stresses, triggers, and whatever else I can. I am going to work hard to focus on what make me happy and what makes me smile. It’ll be hard work but not as hard as living with depression for about 18 years.

Elementary, my Woe

If I were to take an honest look at my early-childhood education, I would have to admit I was more blessed than I’d previously believed. Despite going to a public zone school in one of the many hoods of west Baltimore, I had teachers who showed me genuine care, support and love. For the most part, I felt respected, safe and guided.  I went to school close to my home in Easterwood with many of the other children from this low-income, African-American neighborhood. My classrooms were usually led by Black women who looked like me and the women in my family. They spoke to us in the language we spoke. They identified with our struggles, and did not judge us for going through them. Even with all the awkwardness that a young child feels as they adjust to an environment outside the comforts of home, I felt at home.

From the teachers, to the administrators to the volunteers, I was surrounded by Black women and men who cared at least a little bit. I never fully appreciated the diversity of the staff and parents at this school.  We had people from an array of cultures, family structures, age groups, gender identities and personal styles. The teachers and parents sported various hairstyles and colorful clothing. I particularly recall one administrator named Ms. Bullock, about mid-50s, who rocked this glorious, curly gray high-top fade. The fade stayed clean, okay? I think she even had hard curls at the top. The haircut was very much reminiscent of the Living Single and Martin-esque styles of the time. Thinking about this definitely reminds me that I started school in the ‘90s. A different time.

There was a queer, masculine woman named Ms. Florence who volunteered at our school almost every day. She was very kind and funny, but also delivered the necessary stern approach that teachers could not. She would remind whatever unruly student like “Hey, I’m not your teacher, I’ll beat your butt and tell your muva I did it!” Despite the opposing opinions of people who never have to deal with children, you do in fact have to be firm with them sometimes. And they will live if you roast them back a little. Anyway, Ms. Florence was probably around from grades K-4th, and made every lunch time, recess and movie time a fun, yet structured environment. For those of you who use the “my children will be confused” excuse in attempt to keep the existence of queer or same-gender-loving people away from children, I’ll tell you some of us were confused. I wondered why we called her “Ms.” even though her clothing and persona were more masculine than I had been taught to associate with women. Perhaps a better word would be curious, because that’s how I would describe my thoughts at the time.  I certainly wasn’t afraid to ask questions, and one day during movie time, I did. It went like this:

Me: “Ms. Florence, are you a boy or a girl?”

Ms. Florence: “What are you?”

Me: “A girl.”

Ms. Florence: “Well, okay then.”

That answered my damn question! No more confusion and I went on about my third-grade life. It was that simple. Talk to your kids!

There was also the very colorful, young, gay Mr. Ellis. He was the best art teacher I ever had. I loved his bold, sarcastic sense of humor and how his pastel crayons matched his many pastel sweaters.  He somehow planted a seed of confidence in me that snuck up on me later in life. He taught for a couple years then left after being struck by a car for the second time in two years. From what I heard, he was fine but no one really answered our questions about this situation. I certainly never forgot Mr. Ellis.

We had a classmate’s mother volunteer with us as well. This woman was the poster child for Lexington market in the early 2000’s. If you know, you know. She was a very kind, gentle, and funny woman. Every time I saw her, she was sporting a long, greasy dark brown ponytail, a black bubble coat and a big Styrofoam cup full of half-and-half (iced tea and lemonade). She was an either white or biracial woman who stood close to six feet tall with a very slim figure. Her teeth were somewhat crooked and discolored, but she still had one of the brightest smiles in the whole school. She, like many other parents, often brought her daughter a fresh chicken box for lunch a few times a week. She may not have been an official volunteer, but rather a parent who showed up often and shared her warmth with the other students. Her daughter was one of my earliest friends, and stayed my friend despite the fact that I threw up on her a little when I had the flu in kindergarten. She was as kind and gentle as her mother. Of all my memories of loving parent-child relationships, they will always stand out to me. I hope they are doing well.

I could go on through the entirety of my elementary school experience and the impact of each teacher because it was just that important to me.  So many kids in this city grow up ahead of the average child in traumatic experience, yet behind in all the resources deemed necessary for success. Somehow these teachers, administrators, and parents managed to provide me with a hilariously unconventional education that has kept me grounded two decades later. This is where I fell in love with the passion that would never leave me: writing. I saw my friends fall in love with drawing, dance, and music. I had no idea how fortunate we really were.

To many people (likely including my classmates) this school would be dismissed and condemned for both its location in central west Baltimore and the backgrounds of the students and parents who attended. It would be deemed unworthy of mention and assumed to offer nothing of value to its students. Just another ghetto Baltimore school. To be real, the school did have its fair share of issues, and maybe some things happened there that should not have. I’m pretty sure we shouldn’t have watched Scary Movie 3 AND Set it Off in the same week, but we didn’t die. I understand that many of us have been hurt at our schools in ways we believe others cannot understand. I understand that many of us feel that we have been cheated and abandoned because being born Black and poor disqualified us from a quality education early in life. I also understand that we look to our wealthier and whiter counterparts for what a good school environment should look like, and see that we didn’t have that. No, we did not have horseback riding and state-of-the art computer labs. We did not have organic chicken nuggets in the cafeteria and luxury hypo-allergenic reading rugs in the classrooms, but we had people like us who cared. We had the benefit of being under the care of people who were reflections of us. They effortlessly related to us and never had to be reminded of our humanity.  We were educated within our own culture, and never had to question our identities in the process. We were enough for ourselves.  This is an important difference between knowing and being proud of who you are, and having to spend your adult life trying to discover it. Two and two makes four no matter where you learn it. It’s everything else that counts.