Saturday, July 23, 2016

Love Letter to Reading/Writing

You were my first love. And I'm still hopelessly in love with you. Truly, madly, deeply.

I remember how you were there for me when I was young. When I couldn't always get the right words to form when I was speaking you helped me to express myself. When I didn't understand what others were saying you helped make it clear. And not just when I was young. You've done that throughout my life, and you do that now. 

We've had so many memorable moments, you and I. You entertained me innumerable hours with the tales of others' exploits and ideas. I was so captivated by you. When I supposed to be asleep at night I would sneak out of my bed and lay on the ground in my dark bedroom so that I could see you in the narrow strip of light that beamed through the crack under the door. I cherished those moments alone with you at night. It was much more valuable to me than sleep. 

You taught me so many things. Through you my creativity was piqued by the Italian Renaissance; my heart was grieved by the Middle Passage; my mind was stimulated by Shakespeare; my soul was inspired by Langston Hughes. I traveled to faraway lands; past and future times; was male and female, black and white and brown and yellow and red, human, alien, and animal. 

But while you helped me discover the world around me, but that isn't all. I evolved from being a passive receptor into an active participant in our relationship. Once, I merely followed you, and you were gracious enough to allow me. I guess I was more of an understudy than a parasite in our symbiotic, growing connection. I found myself in you and the courage to emulate you - and eventually forge my own thoughts and word, through you. I found my faith, something that had been not only foreign but also unappealing, through you. You have transformed my existence, my understanding, my entire world. 

People laughed at me in a good-natured way in middle and high school because I took advantage of the minutes in-between classes to spend a little bit of time with you. I'll admit to being so focused on you that I bumped into people - and lockers - once or twice. (Okay, more than once or twice...but let's get back on topic here!)

When I was in an unhealthy relationship I often cried out to you because I didn't know who else would understand and not judge me. You've been there with me in the lowest moments of my life - even when I no longer desired to continue my life. There is no one whom I could have poured out my heart to - the massive pain, the shame, the depths of my depression and fear and rage - who could have provided me a nonjudgemental platform for my hurt. 

We've shared so much joy too. We have made change together. We make a good team. I am grateful for how you allow me to be myself and share myself. You are not only there for me with big things, but even with the "little" things. I can't even count how many times you've saved me from being forced to converse with people seated near me on airplanes or from having to ward off the unwanted interests of a potential suitor. When my albatross, undesired social interaction, tries to rear its head, I pointedly turn to you and engross myself in you...and voila! Crisis averted. You're like "Kryptonite" to others at just the right moments, lol, and I am so freaking grateful!

I have learned to appreciate not just what you are to me, but what you represent in the lives of others too. When my daughter's spoken words were primarily absent with the exception of a few cute echolalic phrases, you introduced yourself to her too, and gave her a voice. She did NOT need to use her mouth to have a voice, and you helped illustrate that. Because of you, the brilliance that is Emma, Amy, Rhema, Carly, and so many other phenomenal non-speaking people is known to the world. Thank you. 

You've helped me join with others to advocate for so many important causes, including but not limited to opposing the elimination of women, youth, and family-centered HIV services (Ryan White Part D); racial justice; disability discrimination; giftedness/twice exceptionality; gender equality; adoption; HIV stigma; refugee youth; autistic empowerment; adoption, and so much more. You've helped me share my story and that of my family. You've helped me to fight for others as well as myself and my family in a far more effective way than I could have done without you.

Because of you I have met some of the most amazing people. Because of you I have traveled to numerous cities and states (not other countries yet, but a sister is hoping/praying for that!); because of you I have been blessed to be included in books, magazines, abstracts, and websites that I would have never dreamed was possible for this disabled black daughter of African immigrants who grew up below the poverty line. Heck, you helped to lead me to a speaking engagement in the White House; that's a huge accomplishment for someone who once lived six doors down from the "crack house!"

But even if you hadn't done all of this for me, I would still love you. You are mighty and beautiful and amazing and desirable and intriguing and strong and compelling all of your own accord. I don't love you for what you have done for me, though I am inexplicably grateful for what you have done for me, who you have been for me, what you mean to me. Those things certainly add to everything, but I loved you long before all of that. I love you because you are so easy to love and I felt your love first. I love you because of who you are. 

I know why Paul felt moved to draft Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, Galatians, and all the other "ians." (And the non-"ian" epistles too.) I understand how MLK and Nelson Mandela and so many others were able even in prison to create magnificent, life-changing work. You make the world come along, and your very existence has improved the world. 

People might try to twist you for selfish gain and to manipulate and/or harm others, but they can never taint the essence of who YOU are. I believe the Bible stated it best: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. And the Word WAS God." (That has significant meaning for me as a Christian, but there are numerous statements attesting to your value from non-Biblical and also non-theistic sources for those for whom that phrase isn't applicable; I just can't think of one offhead right now.)

We (the world) needs you. And I, Morénike - I need you. I need you. I thank you, and I need you. For in many ways, there is no me without you. 

You gave me my first language and you will capture my last words. You represent the screenplay of my life. I wish I had fancier terminology to address you by. "Reading"
and "writing" don't have the cool factor you very much deserve. But these will do; it's what we have. You are not any less amazing because you don't have a fancy name. 

You are loved, and you are appreciated.

Image is of an open book with a few of its center pages curved inward to form the shape of a heart to indicate love. Photo credit: Odyssey Online

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Falcon Height shooting tonight? How many more?

What can I possibly say?

An hour ago I read about - and wrote about - one black man, mere hours away from me, who was killed by police officers. Moments ago I learn of another, in the state where I was born: a black man shot and left to bleed to death in front of his four year old daughter? (RIP Philando Castile.) Both incidents captured by cell phone video footage. Both incidents tragedies that should have never happened. A dizzying sea of blood, emotions, loss, injustice, devastation...all unfolding on social media. The numbness is creeping in, warding off the psychological shutdown that is near. My mind struggles to make sense of what does not make sense as my black children sleep beside me, unaware of the lethality posed by their very skin. As they slumber, I pray that I too could escape into dreamland. But I cannot. This nightmare persists during my waking hours. There is no escape, and there is no way out.

I once likened this brown skin to an adornment. A vibrant covering full of history; full of the stories, hopes, experiences, and dreams of our brave, strong ancestors...I know it's cheesy.

Maybe it IS a covering...

Like a shroud.

Like a smooth, polished wooden coffin.

Like the dirt shoveled atop one's grave,

Like scattered dreams and faded memories,

Like eyes that are closed, never to reopen,

Like the layer of injustice that coats our existence.

The injustice is heavy in Falcon Heights tonight, as a little girl cries for a father who will never come home

Her sobs drowned out as the people who matter solemnly declare that "All Lives Matter" followed by"What about black-on-black crime?"

Image of a portion of the face of a black female presenting person, tears collecting around one eye. Photo credit: edequity dot org

I'm tired of writing about this, but I know I'll have to write about it again. And again.

All my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they're here to stay
I believe
In yesterday
I believe
In yesterday
Oh, so suddenly
I'm not half the girl I used to be
No, no, no
There's a shadow hanging over me
Now I long
For yesterday."

A holiday weekend at home.
A road trip, followed by a work training, followed by a movie.

Caught up with stuff. Work stuff. Family stuff. Life stuff. 

Busy and blissfully unaware. 

And then tonight I had a free moment and popped onto Twitter. I saw a hashtag trending. It was a name. A man's name. Possibly a black man's name. 

And I knew. 

I knew. 

It took me all of five seconds to confirm what my rapidly beating heart had already figured out. Dead? Check. Skin like mine? Check. Police involved? Check. Excessive force? Check. Character defamation/victim blaming? Check. Racist trolls on social media having fun at the expense of the death of a human being? Check. Whitesplaining and "not all cops" rhetoric galore? Check. 

I have not yet had the opportunity to learn much about Alton Sterling, the man. Only quick snippets. But I know enough about #AltonSterling the hashtag to know that America has not listened. America has not learned. America has not changed. 

Don't tell me a d@mn thing about how I should be grateful to have a black man (that y'all DIDN'T want) in the White House if I can't have assurance that my black sons will make it home alive to MY house.

Serve and protect. I'm autistic; those are very stimmy words. They sound very - I don't know, authentic? rolling around in my head. Maybe that's why the term is so frequently used? Serve and protect. Serve and protect. Serveandprotectserveandprotectserveandprotect?

Who served and protected Jordan Baker?

Who served and protected Dontrae Hamilton?

Who served and protected David Levi Denham?

Who served and protected Sandra Bland?

Who served and protected Tamir Rice?

Who served and protected Mya Hall?

Who served and protected Aiyanna Jones?

Ethan Saylor?
Freddie Gray?
Pearlie Baker?
Tanisha Anderson?
Eric Gardner?

Who served and protected #AltonSterling?

I'm angry at myself for being lulled into this. "This" being the false sense of security caused by being caught up. By everyday things. Like ice cream and hugs; earplugs and fireworks; movies and mommy time. Not that it wasn't real. But it's only partial reality. The other part, the hashtags and death reality - is always there too. Lingering. Waiting. It might fade into the background, but it will never really go away. 

Just when you feel like you've scrubbed its stench off of your body; just when you think you've bathed yourself in enough  hard-fought, hard-earned almost middle class-ness; just when you've kicked and screamed and  pushed and pulled to grasp a sliver of dignity, of control, of respectability-ness and white people and abled people almost see you as a person.

You get reminded. 
Put back in your place.
Woken up. 

And you realize

That it very well might be
That the only, only thing 
That differentiates you
Or differentiates your son, your daughter, etc
From the list of people above
Is simply time.

Image (found on Twitter) is a handmade poster with text that states: "Justice For_______! I left it blank because I'll probably need this next year." Original source unknown.