In 2019, the United States of America and Ghana commemorated 400 years since Africans were brought to the United States of America in bondage. The NAACP called their commemorative trip Jamestown to Jamestown, beginning with a trip to Jamestown, Virginia and flying over to Jamestown, Accra. Ghana created a whole year of programming named Year of Return which according to Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Mrs. Barbara Oteng-Gyasi boosted Ghana’s economy by $1.9 billion from 200,000 visitors[i] most of whom were members of the African Diaspora. Ghana is now creating an ongoing program, Beyond the Year of Return[ii] to further capitalize on the Diaspora’s tortured need to connect to the Homeland.
On August 19, 1619 a ship pulled into Jamestown, Virginia with twenty Africans. These men and women were sold in the first British human auction in North America. Because America has a very British-centric way of retelling its history, non-British colonial stories are marginalized and framed by tales of wars with Mexicans and Native Americans.
Spain began importing enslaved Africans from the Iberian Peninsula[iii], where they were taken after capture, in 1501. In August 1518, the king of Spain authorized direct shipment of captured Africans to the Americas[iv], putting an end to Spanish human trade holdovers in Europe. This drastically increased the enslaved populations throughout the Americas.
Black women of African descent are documented in Spanish settlements throughout the present-day states of Florida, New Mexico, and California. African men and women had long accompanied European travelers to the Americas on Spanish, Portuguese, and English expeditions[v]. The Spanish city of St. Augustine, Florida is viewed as the first permanent colonial city in what is now the United States of America. It was settled with African and Native slave labor in 1565. However, Santa Fe, New Mexico was established in what was formerly known as New Spain, in 1610. It is now the oldest state capital in the United States[vi].
In 1600, Isabel de Olvera, a free woman of African and Native descent living in Querétaro, Mexico[vii], joined a relief expedition to the recently colonized province of New Mexico. It is said she was traveling as a servant to Spanish woman. Before leaving, she spoke an affidavit to declare her free status to the mayor of Querétaro, New Spain, don Pedro Lorenzo de Castilla. She had three witnesses standing with her, a free black man, a mestiza woman (mixed race), and a black slave woman and insisted on having a copy to carry with her at all times. Isabel’s statement, intended actions, as well as her witnesses illustrate the broad presence of slavery in North America at that point in time. It also highlights the legal standing of women in Spanish colonies no matter their legal statuses and heritage – 365 years before Black Women got the federal right to vote in the United States. Spaniard’s were moving Africans and their descendants around the America’s more than one hundred years before the United States acknowledges commoditizing and trading human beings within its current borders[viii].
With the cross-cultural and competitive histories of the colonizers, it’s amazing that the expressed sentiments of a Black Woman survives to this day. Isabel’s affidavit, a legal document in the historical archives of two countries – Mexico and the United States, is the oldest recorded example found of a Black Woman speaking up for herself in North America. Though her journey began in Mexico, she deemed the document necessary for her travel to New Mexico. She demanded justice and respect for her existence, singleness, freedom and future. The confidence embedded in her statement remains empowering and inspirational centuries later. May her character and determination lift our voices and strengthen our resolve.
I am going on the expedition to New Mexico and have some reason to fear that I may be annoyed by some individual since I am a mulatta, and it is proper to protect my rights in such an eventuality by an affidavit showing that I am a free woman, unmarried and the legitimate daughter of Hernando, a Negro, and an Indian named Magdalena . . .. I therefore request your grace to accept this affidavit, which shows that I am free and not bound by marriage or slavery. I request that a properly certified and signed copy be given to me in order to protect my rights, and that it carry full legal authority. I demand justice.[ix]
This poem came from frustration with the passive language most media use to report state-sanctioned murder and police brutality. They say “the death of” this person or that person, as if the person died in an unremarkable way. They speak of people who “lost their life” as if the opportunity to reclaim lost life is available. A more accurate wording would be “life was taken.” Life was stolen. Life was destroyed by someone who had no right to take a life.
Death is passive. Killing is not.
On the lynchings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breyonna Taylor and George Floyd
Death is a passive word.
There is no story attached to death.
Killing is an active word.
Someone does something:
There’s always a story attached to a killing.
Who did the killer kill?
Why did the killer target the victim?
How was the victim killed?
Will the killer be prosecuted?
Is the killer still breathing?
Why do killers kill?
People who kill inherently believe
They are judge, jury and executioner.
They are the law,
Inhabiting space above, beyond
and around societal norms.
They enjoy an extrajudicial existence.
The law as we know it
needs to be eliminated.
We need to write new laws.
We need to establish new societal norms.
Killers need to know
Murder is not something else
Because of their badge
Skin color or family connections.
Murder is an intentional act.
It is purposeful destruction of an active life.
Murderers think they have the right
To take away life.
To steal another person’s breath.
To extinguish a human being’s light.
They do not have that right.
Witnesses need to name names.
Supervisors need to hold perpetrators
Accountable for their violence, brutality
And abuse of authority.
Administrative leave is not enough.
Job termination is not enough.
Payouts to injured families is not enough.
Full accountability and prosecution
of killers is necessary.
No matter their uniform.
No matter their perceived goodness.
No matter their community.
A killer is a killer. Their victims
Don’t just die. They are killed.
Breathing is active.
Breath is sacred.
Air is life.
We are all created beings
with the same Right to Life
and unhindered breathing.
Access to air should not depend on
Assumptions, opinions, political views,
Occupation, wealth, social status,
Skin color, mood, hatred of fellow humans
or self-hatred. Access to air should
not require legislation.
Yet here we are.
There is a great lack of understanding in America,
An astonishing general ignorance across the continents,
Of an elemental natural truth:
The deeper you grind US into the ground,
The stronger OUR roots become.
One day, your tsunami of brutality
Will wash you and your generations
Out into the sea you brought US across,
While WE who are deeply rooted in the soil
Will not only still be standing,
But will be flourishing. Gloriously.
Listen to First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, July 25, 2016
[8 yrs ago, sending my girls to school from the White House, all I could think was:] “What have we done?”
“Our motto is: ‘When they go low; we go high.'”
“That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.
And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.
So, look, so don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on earth!”
Read Obama’s remarks as delivered below:
(CHEERS, APPLAUSE) Thank you all. Thank you so much. You know, it’s hard to believe that it has been eight years since I first came to this convention to talk with you about why I thought my husband should be president.
Remember how I told you about his character and convictions, his decency and his grace, the traits that we’ve seen every day that he’s served our country in the White House?
I also told you about our daughters, how they are the heart of our hearts, the center of our world. And during our time in the White House, we’ve had the joy of watching them grow from bubbly little girls into poised young women, a journey that started soon after we arrived in Washington.
OBAMA: When they set off for their first day at their new school, I will never forget that winter morning as I watched our girls, just 7 and 10 years old, pile into those black SUVs with all those big men with guns.
And I saw their little faces pressed up against the window, and the only thing I could think was, what have we done?
See, because at that moment I realized that our time in the White House would form the foundation for who they would become and how well we managed this experience could truly make or break them. That is what Barack and I think about every day as we try to guide and protect our girls through the challenges of this unusual life in the spotlight, how we urge them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith.
How we insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country.
How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.
With every word we utter, with every action we take, we know our kids are watching us. We as parents are their most important role models. And let me tell you, Barack and I take that same approach to our jobs as president and first lady because we know that our words and actions matter, not just to our girls, but the children across this country, kids who tell us I saw you on TV, I wrote a report on you for school.
Kids like the little black boy who looked up at my husband, his eyes wide with hope and he wondered, is my hair like yours?
And make no mistake about it, this November when we go to the polls that is what we’re deciding, not Democrat or Republican, not left or right. No, in this election and every election is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives.
And I am here tonight because in this election there is only one person who I trust with that responsibility, only one person who I believe is truly qualified to be president of the United States, and that is our friend Hillary Clinton.
See, I trust Hillary to lead this country because I’ve seen her lifelong devotion to our nation’s children, not just her own daughter, who she has raised to perfection…
…but every child who needs a champion, kids who take the long way to school to avoid the gangs, kids who wonder how they’ll ever afford college, kids whose parents don’t speak a word of English, but dream of a better life, kids who look to us to determine who and what they can be.
You see, Hillary has spent decades doing the relentless, thankless work to actually make a difference in their lives…
…advocating for kids with disabilities as a young lawyer, fighting for children’s health care as first lady, and for quality child care in the Senate.
And when she didn’t win the nomination eight years ago, she didn’t get angry or disillusioned.
Hillary did not pack up and go home, because as a true public servant Hillary knows that this is so much bigger than her own desires and disappointments.
So she proudly stepped up to serve our country once again as secretary of state, traveling the globe to keep our kids safe.
And look, there were plenty of moments when Hillary could have decided that this work was too hard, that the price of public service was too high, that she was tired of being picked apart for how she looks or how she talks or even how she laughs. But here’s the thing. What I admire most about Hillary is that she never buckles under pressure. She never takes the easy way out. And Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life.
And when I think about the kind of president that I want for my girls and all our children, that’s what I want.
OBAMA: I want someone with the proven strength to persevere, someone who knows this job and takes it seriously, someone who understands that the issues a president faces are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters.
Because when you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military in your command, you can’t make snap decisions. You can’t have a thin skin or a tendency to lash out. You need to be steady and measured and well-informed.
I want a president with a record of public service, someone whose life’s work shows our children that we don’t chase form and fortune for ourselves, we fight to give everyone a chance to succeed.
And we give back even when we’re struggling ourselves because we know that there is always someone worse off. And there but for the grace of God go I.
I want a president who will teach our children that everyone in this country matters, a president who truly believes in the vision that our Founders put forth all those years ago that we are all created equal, each a beloved part of the great American story.
And when crisis hits, we don’t turn against each other. No, we listen to each other, we lean on each other, because we are always stronger together.
And I am here tonight because I know that that is the kind of president that Hillary Clinton will be. And that’s why in this election I’m with her.
You see, Hillary understands that the president is about one thing and one thing only, it’s about leaving something better for our kids. That’s how we’ve always moved this country forward, by all of us coming together on behalf of our children, folks who volunteer to coach that team, to teach that Sunday school class, because they know it takes a village.
Heroes of every color and creed who wear the uniform and risk their lives to keep passing down those blessings of liberty, police officers and the protesters in Dallas who all desperately want to keep our children safe.
People who lined up in Orlando to donate blood because it could have been their son, their daughter in that club.
Leaders like Tim Kaine…
…who show our kids what decency and devotion look like.
Leaders like Hillary Clinton who has the guts and the grace to keep coming back and putting those cracks in that highest and hardest glass ceiling until she finally breaks through, lifting all of us along with her.
That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.
And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.
And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.
So, look, so don’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on earth!
(CHEERS, APPLAUSE) And as my daughters prepare to set out into the world, I want a leader who is worthy of that truth, a leader who is worthy of my girls’ promise and all our kids’ promise, a leader who will be guided every day by the love and hope and impossibly big dreams that we all have for our children.
So in this election, we cannot sit back and hope that everything works out for the best. We cannot afford to be tired or frustrated or cynical. No, hear me. Between now and November, we need to do what we did eight years ago and four years ago.
We need to knock on every door, we need to get out every vote, we need to pour every last ounce of our passion and our strength and our love for this country into electing Hillary Clinton as president of the United States of America!
So let’s get to work. Thank you all and God bless.
An attack on law enforcement is an attack on America…. I will restore law and order to our country. This administration has failed the inner city. It’s failed them on every level….To mske life safe for all our citizens we are going to defeat the barbarians of ISIS and we are going to defeat them fast…. Anyone who supports violence, hatred and oppression is not welcome in our country and never ever will be. We are going to have an immigtation system that works but works for American people…. My opponent wants sanctuary cities but where was the santuary for Kate Steinle? All this could be solved so so quickly! Our laws will finally receive the respect they deserve…. Listen very very closely: On January 20, 2017, the day I take oath of ofdice americans will fianlly wake up in a country where the laws of the us are enforced. We are going to be considetrate and compassionate for everyone but my focus wil be for our verynown citizens…. I am not going to let companies move to other countries without consequence – not any more. I receive the early and strong ndorsement of thenra and I stamd for the right of all Americans to protect their families. I am humbled by the support of the evangelical community. I learned from my dad to respsect the dignity of work and the dignity of people who work. I am asking for your support so I can be your champion. I want to be your champion.
~ Donald Trump
GOP Convention Acceptance Speech, July 21, 2016
“You get away with murder and I get murdered. That’s the difference.”
~ Akaila Wilson, 17, speaking at East Harlem Community Conversation on Race, New York, NY, July 21, 2016
Life. Witnessing the wanton destruction of life has deeply impacted me these last few years. Every life I’ve witnessed killed on a video…every life I’ve heard was destroyed… everyone who has their right to life taken from them by someone who believed their right to kill trumped another’s right to live…all of those lives have changed me.
People are people. No howevers, buts, if onlys can change that.
Popular culture would have us believe animals are people. Some people are animals. Dogs and lions have a right to life. Some people forfeit their right to life the moment they’re born. That’s popular culture.
Popular culture is wrong.
People are people. No matter how a person is described in media, they have a humanity that cannot be denied or explained away. It is unfortunate that we have to announce, chant, insist, scream and demonstrate that Black Lives Matter with the full knowledge that doing so lengthens the noose around our necks and enlarges the target on our backs.
Encountering the hidden biases and deep-seated hatred of people I know personally has changed me. I haven’t succumbed to internalizing their venom but I have come to understand how so many others have. I don’t want to understand hatred in any form. Yet here I am, understanding with a great deal of disgust, the fuel that runs this world.
I choose to focus on life. What about a black life has impacted me most? Life. Shared humanity. The sure knowledge that murderers are killing and eliminating themselves even as they think they are “cleansing and purifying and keeping others safe.”
The world will not remain in darkness forever. It’s impossible to do so. The capability of the public to share murder and information in real time is already changing how injustices are perceived, received and handled. Life will win. Simply because sooner rather than later, everyone will recognize themselves in the abused, downtrodden, uncounted and eliminated.
On Sunday, June 26, Jesse Williams won the 2016 BET Humanitarian Award. He gave a powerful acceptance speech that is an on-point statement highlighting racial inequality in America today. It’s ironic that is was given before a room full of entertainers, one of which was posturing with pointing to the brand on his shirt right before Jesse called out the culture of selling ourselves for brands when we prayed and worked for centuries to escape being branded.
“This award is not for me. This is for the real organizers across the country: the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. Right? It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.”
“There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There’s no job we haven’t done. There’s no tax they haven’t levied against us. And we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. You’re free – they keep telling us. But… she…she would have been alive had she not acted so… free. Freedom is always coming in the hereafter. But, you know what though? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.”
“The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job. Stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance… for our resistance, then you better have an establish record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for Black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.”
“The thing is though, just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”