As I geared up to prepare for the NYC protests in solidarity with Ferguson, MO (one of the many), I began to think about how and when exactly I became an activist. See, I only recently started to refer to myself as that title. Before I would have described myself as concerned, aware, or my favorite conscious. But I understand now that my constant urge to both learn and teach motivate me and push me through the threshold into activism.
The ‘how’: I suppose I was raised to be one all along. Sort of like a sleeper cell, except I don’t want to kill anybody. My parents and grand parents made sure I knew about history through the Black person’s eyes. I read books on Mary McLeod Bethune, Nat Turner, Oprah (of course) and Madame CJ Walker. Out of my own interest I read Malcolm X’s autobiography, books by Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison which accounted to me the way things were, be it fiction or non fiction. They were reflections of society that often go untold. I read these before I even went to/graduated from high school. Speaking of which, I learned about tokenism there; being one of the 20 (leniently, it was more like 10-15) Black girls in my graduating class (I went to an all-girls school). Every now and then I spoke on why we don’t fully celebrate Black history month and how achieving the first Black president in this country went unrecognized, truly. I spotted the problem but lacked the words. We can fast-forward to college. I was almost an outcast. With few friends and relying on my white roommates to want to do things I wanted to do, I was forced to do things on my own. In those years I became more and more frustrated with white people particularly for the nuanced things they do and say; small displays of privilege that they took for granted. I cut my hair off. My father ragged on me about how I needed to ‘do something with it’ so I went natural. What better way to annoy him, I thought.
By my junior year of college I found myself detangling my natural hair in the shower while bumping some Lauryn Hill: Unplugged. That was conscious. But today—today I realized it is more than that. As I stood amongst people fed up with brutality, racism, cop-on-civilian violence and the militarization of local police, I was ushered into this knowingness that I had been an activist all along. You see, the more I began slowly cutting myself off from things that disinterested me the deeper I fell in love with my activism. Regular television was no longer interesting, I wanted to see people that looked like me. Reality TV was no longer interesting, I wanted to see people that looked like me making a change. Local news was never it, I want to know about EVERYTHING. CNN stopped being a thing when I finally accepted that they never were truly unbiased. I celebrated Black Solidarity day each November on campus. Went to my first protest, for Trayvon Martin, right there at SUNY Albany. I’ve been this blossoming activist all along.
Today I walked alongside others, with like minds, chanting, recalling and echoing my ancestors. We marched from 14th Street-Union Square to Nostrand Ave (Bedstuy). We took the Manhattan Bridge. We had a sit-in and a moment of silence for the lives lost to racism and police brutality at Barclays’ Center. People honked in solidarity. People cheered us on. I still hear them echoing in my mind. People of different shades and all walks of life chanting “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”, “No Justice, No Peace”, “NYPD, KKK how many kids did you kill today” and “Justice for Mike Brown”. Mike Brown, whose name could easily be substituted for Sean Bell, Makala Ross, Trayvon Martin, Kendra James, Amadou Diallo, Damesha Harris, John Crawford, Renisha McBride, the list continues…