“A year ago, today I witnessed a murder. The victim’s name was George Floyd. Although this wasn’t the first time, I’ve seen a black man get killed at the hands of the police, this is the first time I witnessed it happen in front of me. Right in front of my eyes, a few feet away. I didn’t know this man from a can of paint, but I knew his life mattered. I knew that he was in pain. I knew that he was another black man in danger with no power. I was only 17 at the time, just a normal day for me walking my 9-year-old cousin to the corner store, not even prepared for what I was about to see, not even knowing my life was going to change on this exact day in those exact moments… it did. It changed me. It changed how I viewed life. It made me realize how dangerous it is to be Black in America. We shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells around police officers, the same people that are supposed to protect and serve. We are looked at as thugs, animals, and criminals, all because of the color of our skin. Why are Black people the only ones viewed this way when every race has some type of wrongdoing? None of us are to judge. We are all human. I am 18 now and I still hold the weight and trauma of what I witnessed a year ago. It’s a little easier now, but I’m not who I used to be. A part of my childhood was taken from me. My 9-year-old cousin who witnessed the same thing I did got a part of her childhood taken from her. Having to up and leave because my home was no longer safe, waking up to reporters at my door, closing my eyes at night only to see a man who is brown like me, lifeless on the ground. I couldn’t sleep properly for weeks. I used to shake so bad at night my mom had to rock me to sleep. Hopping from hotel to hotel because we didn’t have a home and looking over our back every day in the process. Having panic and anxiety attacks every time I seen a police car, not knowing who to trust because a lot of people are evil with bad intentions. I hold that weight. A lot of people call me a hero even though I don’t see myself as one. I was just in the right place at the right time. Behind this smile, behind these awards, behind the publicity, I’m a girl trying to heal from something I am reminded of every day. Everyone talks about the girl who recorded George Floyd’s death, but to actually be her is a different story. Not only did this affect me, my family too. We all experienced change. My mom the most. I strive every day to be strong for her because she was strong for me when I couldn’t be strong for myself. Even though this was a traumatic life-changing experience for me, I’m proud of myself. If it weren’t for my video, the world wouldn’t have known the truth. I own that. My video didn’t save George Floyd, but it put his murderer away and off the streets. You can view George Floyd anyway you choose to view him, despite his past, because don’t we all have one? He was a loved one, someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s brother, and someone’s friend. We the people won’t take the blame, you won’t keep pointing fingers at us as if it’s our fault, as if we are criminals. I don’t think people understand how serious death is…that person is never coming back. These officers shouldn’t get to decide if someone gets to live or not. It’s time these officers start getting held accountable. Murdering people and abusing your power while doing it is not doing your job. It shouldn’t have to take people to actually go through something to understand it’s not ok. It’s called having a heart and understanding right from wrong. George Floyd, I can’t express enough how I wish things could have went different, but I want you to know you will always be in my heart. I’ll always remember this day because of you. May your soul rest in peace. May you rest in the most beautiful roses.”
I remember where I was a little over a year ago watching social media feeds of man lying on the ground saying words that have now become to familiar “I can’t breathe.” George Floyd may have left the world a year ago to day, but his legacy reverberates and will continue to remain long after my days on this earth are numbered. There is a healing necessary for all to have, critical if you are black or brown. George in uttering those familiar words meant that I even the air I breathe will be used for justice in his name. I woke up today looking at the labor of love that I have been engaged in the past 30 days. It’s an audacious task this desire in me to let people’s legacy live on and George is by far top of my list. For as long as I can breathe, my hope is for no black or brown boy or girl, woman or man, to ever say those words he uttered on that faithful day. And if they do, if we continue to fail the next generation of boys and girls, then as a group, as humanity, we are doomed. The work is fraught with difficulties, but I am committed to doing my part.
I learned about auto ethnography the other day. Partly because I have been searching for meaning, including understanding for what I have being doing with writing as I do, every single day on this blog. Auto-ethnography I learnt, is a methodology that seeks to connect personal experience to cultural process and understanding, particularly from the view of researcher and participant or me and myself. When you engage in this method, you are essentially highlighting as close as you can, a process or a journey that creates potential for greater depth and understanding about yourself. I learnt it also has great relevance for mental health. Privacy, even stigma, may mean that many of the thoughts or hurdles, or even successes that shape us, are often not shared with the world, often kept tightly tucked away in that little corner of ourselves that we call our mind. For some, these issues however they manifest in our lives, can move from tiny, to small, to big, and huge, all in a matter of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even months. For others, it may take years, or pandemics, for you to realize what truly matters for your mental health. I learnt that in engaging in auto ethnographic writing, I gave my mind the freedom to just be.
No need keeping it all neatly and tightly tucked away in that corner I labeled private. No need, forgetting some experiences that were actually teachable, learning moments. No need silencing the many adaptable voices that speak to my existence as a mother, a wife, and an academic researcher. No need wondering what the plan through life is after all, or who are the people that help me thrive, or why do they matter and what should I do to continuously nurture their presence in my life. In fact, no need keeping things that matter to me private. In reflecting about my life experiences the past 8 months, I have gained a deeper understanding of my own unique journey through life. I choose to make the personal overt, critically help myself and those trying to make sense of their own journey.
When I started this journey, two egg crayons, one yellow, one green, where my guide. My son on the spectrum was my muse, and watching him roll his eggs, was my path. We have been rolling since and I would not change this experience for anything else. In fact, it has saved me. All I knew when the journey started was that I was desperate. Tired and desperate. There was a pandemic. I was a new mom. Three kids were homeschooling and yes, I was teaching a course to graduate students. In the middle of all that chaos, family members and colleagues died, and I was wondering, what then is life after all. There seemed to be nowhere to go, but to that neat, tucked away corner I call my mind. I was either going to stay there, and suffer in silence, or open up so the pain and fears, or even the chaos, all of them, become my story, my experience. I choose to open up and since then, I have been writing. Autoethnography saved me.
My overt inclusion of myself, into this investigation of what it means to be a parent in academia has been profound to me. Every thing I wrote in one form or the other helped shape my understanding of my place in the wider world. Rather than hiding from these matters or assuming they don’t exist, I delved deeply with a back and forth gaze to scrutinize and publicized myself ultimately for me. Every outward focus on the social, environmental or cultural aspects of my personal experience with an inward exposure of my vulnerable self, helped to tell my story, helped to showcase the healing potential of writing for the mind.
In the end, but from the beginning, it has always been about intentionally making an effort to roll through life, to roll with the punches, to roll with the triumphs, to roll with the tears, to roll with the sighs, to roll even when nothing makes sense. Writing as I do, is now the very medicine I never knew I needed to make sense of my life, my plans for life, the people that matter, all the lessons life has to teach so I learn, the changes or adaptions that I constantly have to make, but ultimately the things worth keep, worth fighting for no matter what. Auto ethnographic writing as I do, and continue to do, helped me heal. Even when looking back was difficult, or looking forward was uncertain, this form of writing helped me find my place, helped do the work necessary to keep what matters. As I sit here, reflecting on the past 8 months, what I know for sure is that I know my story. I know my purpose. I know what I am called to do, even on days when nothing makes sense. I finally know my plan. For me, this blog is and will always remain a place of healing, a space that allowed me to remain well, a gift that keeps on giving. By placing myself at the heart of the intersection between parenting and academic productivity, autoethnography, allowed me to heal. My positionally in this world is clear. Keep auto-ethnography in mind, especially for it’s healing power.
How do we heal when lives are cut too soon?Remain calm when lives seem forever doomed? When do we start to usher healing, insist on its presence, demand its existence? Is it when we plead for our lives? Is it when we say we are afraid or when you remind us that we should be? Is it when we wear uniforms or drive cars with visible forms? Is it when we serve our countries or expect our countries to serve us? Will that ever happen? To hear the tears in his voice, the fears through the noise. To hear another mother plead for a son gone to soon is becoming insane in a country where guns are used too soon. So when will all this end so healing can begin.
I yearn for the days, we mend. Days our ways bend towards justice and our dignity towards freedom. Humanity demands that we stay hopeful for such a day when you and I do not have to be hyper vigilant as we gather once more for yet another vigil for a life gone to soon. When will healing arise in this place, in this space, for a people committed to ways that are more than just what is. I ask because I’m tired. Drained, emotionally, worn out. All this never ending pain, always seems to end in vain. If it’s not the needless deaths from a pandemic that we could have controlled, then it’s the endless deaths from a violent pandemic we fail to control. What about our children? How do we protect them from all this and at the same time remind them that they are our better days, our brighter future, even though we expect them to keep their guard up and remain vigilant.
I don’t have any answers but I want healing so deep that it can only be love. Love for you, love for me, love for humanity that sees a human in things, like when a child holds a toy, or some teens blast their music or like when our hands are held up or we cry and say that we can’t breathe. This love is the necessary air we all need from the weight of this continuous racial violence which continues to suffocate though we breathe. There is a Black ant crawling on my floor. It’s see the shadow from my hand and darts away as fast as it can to the nearest space for safety. I imagine lives like this ant. Nothing can protect you when hands are raised up high to destroy you. You who belong to a people, a place, a space, a community.
You are also worth fighting for, no matter what they say or do to diminish your worth. You are more than deserving of every breath that is in service of your humanity. You are a life force worth celebrating whether they see it or not and every encounter does not deserve to end in a count that should never be. No encounter should include another life gone too soon. No gaze of us, whether when we seem aimless, should end as if we are nameless. We are not. Is this healing possible? They may think we chant aimlessly. But even their aim is lessened when we chant even louder that Black Lives Matter. It’s a simple three letter word that reverberates this need for healing. Something that we demand for today, tomorrow and so long as we have breathe. Healing is the justice we seek to keep for a world that refuses to just see. This one is for Daunte. Give him justice.