This blog will be insufficient. I just want to give fair warning.
Last Wednesday, after a full day at work I got on a flight down to Atlanta and then drove two hours to Montgomery Alabama arriving after 2am in the morning at my hotel.
I made this journey to Montgomery to bear witness to the opening of Bryan Stevenson’s and The Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum and Memorial dedicated to unearthing the lives of Black people who had been lynched.
Last July, Stevenson spoke at the Brooklyn Museum and had shared with us a small representation of what I would see at the end of last week.
Fortunately and unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures in the museum, which meant that all you could do was be absolutely present. All I could do was ‘read the word and read the world’ in pictures like Freire asked of us.
I did tell y’all this post would be insufficient right?
I wasn’t born in America but I’ve lived here for the vast majority of my life.
I am American.
That felt weird to write. I really want(ed) to replace it with I am Black or at least write I’m Caribbean-American.
Because my Blackness surpasses any American identity I could possibly subscribe to and I never want to deny my Antiguanness.
In the most uncomfortable of ways, being at the museum and memorial I felt very disconnected to my Americanness.
In the museum and at the memorial I allowed myself to listen to other people point out the counties were their great great grandparents lived, or identify the county where their family member had been run out of or murdered…I felt disconnected.
I felt like an imposter, unfairly peeking into the lives of people mourning.
My connection to America is New York City, the 5 boroughs. I have no county to lay claim to, for real. I don’t know anything about my great great great grand anything. I only know my Grandpa Peter Blair and Grandma Francis Abel on my Mom’s side and My Grandpa Samuel Brann on my Dad’s side.
I found myself wondering, were any of the enslaved in the Caribbean–lynched? What terror did they experience? I thought these things as a way to give myself a break from experiencing the stories of lynching that were in front of me.
I needed a psychological break. I needed to not know. To be unsure. To question.
Because being in the museum and at the memorial, I could not run from the truth.
I cried so much on Thursday and Friday.
I was so angry.
At one point during the opening ceremony as I looked across the sea of white faces, because there were by far more white bodies at this event than Black bodies I wanted to just get up out of my seat and scream.
(That was the longest sentence ever.)
I just wanted to know if they felt the gravity of what we were all experiencing. I wanted to scream out for all the lives lost, families torn apart, all the emotional and physical trauma that we all live with and that has been passed down for generations on top of generations.
So many times over my 3 days in Alabama, I wanted to SCREAM.
I needed to get out all of this emotion.
But I controlled myself.
I took deep breaths.
I prayed. A lot. Silently.
But, I constantly felt like I was on the verge of screaming and tearing things down.
I was so emotionally drained Thursday night. I knew a big part of feeling so drained was because I had to work so hard to control my emotions.
I didn’t think I would make it through another day on Friday.
But I did.
Friday, we went to the memorial. On the shuttle ride over, I kept on wondering when would this pain I was feeling end? When would this distance I was feeling evaporate?
When will this injustice against Black people be over?
And because my teacher brain is never turned off, I wondered, how would I share this experience with students? How would I prepare them to visit these sites? How could I ensure that they felt safe and full of self agency after their visit?
It is HARD to stand in the midst of so much pain and injustice and not feel hate.
I just kept on wondering, why and how could as Coates said, people who consider themselves to be White do such evil, for so long, so consistently?
And I kept wondering, how did Black people make it through this? How are we surviving, and even thriving? How after 527 years of violence, death, the tearing apart of our families, the separation from our identities, and the on purpose destruction of our bodies, heart and minds, how the hell are we still here.
And how are we able to love?
I did tell y’all this post would be insufficient, right?
I have more questions and thoughts than I do any answers.
I have not been able to …
neatly frame this experience…
to unpack it, here for you…
I haven’t been able to unpack it for myself.
I can’t fully describe the amount of anger and fear I felt. Yes, fear, because, history tends to repeat itself and the era of Trump and state sanctioned violence against Black bodies…
I came home Sunday night to a message letting me know the interview I did a few weeks back would be airing on a local cable station. I shared the news with my circle, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to see it.
After the 30 minute show I started receiving emails. 99% of the emails were supremely positive and full of love and affection and encouragement.
But that 1%, that started as just one simple email that called me racist, scared the hell out of me. It gave me great pause because it had never crossed my mind that I would get hate mail. I spiraled quickly because hate mail can turn into death threats and death threats can turn into physical confrontations and physical confrontations can turn into death.
Yeah, I spiraled.
I thought back to the over 100 stories I read of how just being Black got you lynched, raped, murdered.
And here I am declaring my unapologetic love of Black people and doing my little part to tear down White Supremacy.
The distance I felt, from the legacy of lynching, because my life story began on an island in the Caribbean Sea.
Yeah, It finally evaporated.
And instead of feeling full of hate. I feel full of love.
And my resolve is strong.
My life is dedicated to ensuring that every child of the Diaspora gets the education, love, and opportunity they deserve. No matter the cost, the challenge, or the opposition.
“We declare our right on this earth…to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”
Plan your visit to Montgomery.