I couldn’t sleep. Reimagining innovative spaces for engagement for minority youth kept me up. The past week, we hit a different space with my daughter. It’s that space every parent dreads but know it’s inevitable. The friendship zone. I remember being in this space when I first moved to the US and kids can be tough to themselves and each other for no reason other than coming from a place of hurt. And when hurt meets light, I tell her all the time, it cannot be hidden. They will try, but you are light. And for her and other black children, my thoughts kept me up. Future orientation matters according to research, alongside religiosity and of course parental support. But if we are to truly bring change, then children like my daughter need to live out this quote often attributed to Chinua Achebe: ‘Until the lions write their own history, the tale of the hunt will only glorify the hunter.’ For my daughter, and other black children, I am prepared to carve out spaces for lions.
The thought of doing something provocative, innovative, for black youth, minority youth, kept me up. And reading too. What if all children, black ones in particular knew they were light, not some days but all the time? What if I created something that could mirror my love for this light, maybe as storytelling or even poetry into positive health outcomes for young people’s lives. I want to keep this here so my brain can start imagining. We don’t do enough dreaming, enough understanding of ways kids themselves can be light? So what if we don’t speak about the problems, but about solutions. What if we give lions the opportunity to begin to claim their rightful place in history and tell their stories their way? What if we let black youth rise up and live up to their highest potentials? Rise up and be the light they were destined to be. The odds against black lives are enormous. The research on the negative effects too are overwhelming. Reading through existing literature yesterday kept me up. And enough is enough. I’m hungry and ready for a new generation of research that speaks to children’s light, speaks to their voice, speaks to their bravery and resilience despite all the hurdles they face. If we are going to intervene, so that my children and your children live in Martin Luther King’s dream, not a perfect utopia, but one full of light, then I’m all in. So I ask what will it take for us to create a platform for brave voices. One laced in the past, but for the future. One standing on the shoulders of the greatest giants, Morrison, Achebe, Lorde, and Angelou or my dear friend Ritamae. One that builds on Amanda Gorman’s light, if only we are brave enough to see it. I am. And for black youth, I am prepared to climb these hills so you know that you are light, you are loved, you are blessed and we are rooting for you. Keep being light. Be brave too and don’t stay hidden.
She loved to bake. I imagine her cake would have been moist and fluffy or her cookies, golden brown and warm, all of them as delicious as her smile. Her baking business would be crowded too, maybe decorated with hints of purple, with lavender flowers all over like her eyeglasses. None of this would ever happen. Though she helped others as an employee for the American Red Cross, Jazmond Dixon, a St. Louis city woman who loved to bake, became the first known deaths due to COVID-19. She was only 31 years old.
No prexisting condition was known by her family who suggested that she may have contracted the virus between work and family functions. Though her family was dealing with her loss, they too, like many other families grappling with death and loss from the virus, felt the need to share her story so others would take the virus seriously. One family member stated the following, “our family is advocating for people to humble themselves and make decisions for the greater good. We don’t live on a large planet… this is on our doorstep. This is serious.”
As we approach the one year anniversary of Ms. Dixon’s death, I can’t help but wonder what if any lessons those of us still living may have learnt. For starters, is the virus gone? No. Far from it. Yet, driving around town yesterday, restaurants with out door spaces were crowded and almost everyone was maskless. It’s as if the death of Ms. Dixon remains in vain and we wonder why the virus remains. Perhaps maybe too that public health officials fail and continue to fail with telling the stories of the dead. Our reliance on statistics, as accurate or sophisticated they maybe, probably helps to also make people feel far removed from the pandemic. So I’ll try storytelling. Do I expect everyone to change? No. But maybe I can convince you, whoever reads this, to take the virus seriously. Lives are being lost everyday. Survivors still have a long way to go. Do not let Jazmond Dixon’s death be in vain and wear a mask, or practice social distancing or avoid large crowds. Do your part too. It matters to end the pandemic. Keep all this in mind. That and the memories of Jazmond and all the dead of COVID-19.
I have been reading lately about stories. About the story of stories. About the importance of telling stories. Those you pass on and those you don’t. Those told about you, and those you tell. Those that provide opportunities to be and become the Other. Those that are our guide, those that direct us, for without them, we are blind. Storytelling is a ‘serious matter…far more important that anything else…as it conveys all our gains, all our failures, all we hold dear, and all we condemn,’ the Late Chinua Achebe once shared. Stories indeed are us.
Over the past couple of days, I have experienced a great deal of turmoil. I have watched as cold and snow from a frigid weather bust open my pipes. I have watched water gush down my ceiling. All while participating in an annual meeting at work and homeschooling my son. The full story of what we have been through these past few days have not been an easy one to tell. But I took a small stab at it, putting it on record, to illustrate the plight of motherhood and work, in instructive reality-based terms. The unchanging plight of women, those who work and those who tend, during this pandemic, remains my preoccupation. I contemplated writing an email to describe in detail my experience at home, but I where would I begin. What would I even say. To whom it may concern, there is water all over my house and I cannot attend your annual meeting going on right now. Ooh by the way, the meeting is also happening while my son is homeschooling too. Of course I didn’t send any email or even tell this story to anyone except on this blog. I suspect this is what many women experience on a daily basis. The conflicting roles of work and life. Often with no guide, we stumble through both, hoping for the best in the end.
My intent here, with this keeplist that has become a thing of joy for me, is to brilliantly capture these crucial moments. To speak with as much power as I can, about the many invisible lives of motherhood along the margins. The graphic depictions of my turmoil, the reconstruction of every event, even those as dire as broken pipes or water leaks, are my attempts at storytelling, with stories that I hope will guide us to better understand how women do this thing called motherhood and work. Every keep is a commitment to focusing on what matters. Each one is my attempt at expressing my reality with language that is as simple as it is as gentle for the conditions of women today. Each keep is my approach with sharing what lies beneath the surface. If stories are meant to be our guide, if they are supposed to speak directly to the underlying issues women face and continue to face on a daily basis, then I will continue to work to remind you to keep telling your stories. Keep finding your voice and speak from your reality, as eloquently as you can, about why your stories matter.