The church has always been a huge part of my life. Before I joined the junior choir, I would sit in the choir stand with my mom, not even tall enough for my little head to be above the pew. I would sing along to the classic Gospel songs that I knew by heart. I always made a point to remember the scripture of the week for our youth pastor and to know all the books of the Bible for our Bible study teacher. I was the youth superintendent of Sunday school and was a junior usher. The church gave me a platform to grow into a role of leadership, which is so rare for little Black girls. Church is where I discovered my love of music. Church is the place where I found some of the most solace while going through depression in my adolescent years. Growing up in the church shaped the way I navigate the world and understand myself.
When I got the news of the Charleston massacre, it shook me to my core. Even though it wasn’t my former church or my family, it felt like it was, because the possibility of being my church and family seemed so real and close to home. And with all of the invalid excuses that people use to try to justify the racist genocidal traumas that Black folks face, I couldn’t fathom how folks could excuse this. And my heart grew even heavier with the news of eight Black churches burning down in the following days. I kept asking myself, “”How could someone violate these safe places and commit such violent acts?”
I know and understand church is not a safe place for many of us, but historically for Black folks, church has been a sanctuary, free of the white gaze. It has been a place for Black folks to be free and be in community with each other. I think of the elders in my family and how churches served as their first schools because of the racist history of the education system in this nation. I think of the history of the church I grew up in which spans almost 200 years. I think of how I partially grew into myself inside the walls of my church and how much of a safe and sacred place I found it to be.
And as I try to navigate my own grief and trauma, I wonder how we as a community can come together for healing when our physical spaces are constantly violated and are no longer safe. Our neighborhoods, schools, churches, and homes cannot protect us from the violence of white supremacy. And as we try to heal from one trauma, we are updated on another attack, all while navigating the microaggressions and blatant oppression in our everyday lives.
As I write this, I come off of the heels of attending the Movement for Black Lives Convening. And while it was a short trip, it was so powerful in all of its glory. And all of the beauty of that experience was tarnished by the violent attack of Cleveland RTA police, another example of Black people building safe spaces for ourselves and having racist institutions work to tear them down.
It’s hard not to feel hopeless when thinking about the countless others around the world who are experiencing deep and murderous oppression while also living in our own oppression at the same time. In order to keep moving forward I must remind myself not only of the fragility, but also the resiliency of my people and I must remember not to further isolate myself when I’m hurting. I have to turn to community. We must take care of each other.
Checking in with people has been a tool that I use to engage in community healing. I try my best to send emails and/or texts to family and friends just to see how they are doing. And even if I’m contacting someone for a specific reason I still try to check in on how they are doing both mentally and physically. Sometimes it becomes routine for me to ask the people I talk to often, “what’s up?” or “what are you doing?” when initiating a conversation with them. But lately, I challenge myself to ask folks how they are doing instead. I want to provide folks an opportunity to let me know how they are truly feeling. Whether they want to let me know things are tough and they need support in feeling better or they just got some really awesome news and want to share it. It’s my duty to check in with community because we aren’t robots that just do things, we have feelings and emotions.
But checking in isn’t just about seeing how others are doing. It’s also about me checking in with people and letting them know how I’m doing. Let’s be honest. Society teaches marginalized folks that the trauma and hurt we experience isn’t valid and we have to continue everyday like nothing has happened to us. And for me that looks like saying “I’m fine” or “good” when in reality I’m severely hurting. To shift that I have to be committed to letting the people who care about me know when I need help. I received the news of Charleston massacre as I was landing in Detroit for the Allied Media Conference, where I was expected to attend the conference as though a massacre hadn’t just taken place. Black folks attending the conference and facilitating workshops provided space for each other, which helped me work through some of my own feelings.
Many of the experiences of Black people, whether they be personal or community based, cause us actual grief. We are constantly grieving the lives of people we do or do not know and the possibility of it being us. We have to provide space for ourselves and other Black folks to express that grief, no matter how it takes form. We have to remind ourselves that folks can be angry, afraid, and/or sad. These feelings and others are not mutually exclusive. We have every right to be angry and we shouldn’t police others who are angry. Black rage is real and should be validated in the ways that emotions that mirror sadness and/or fear would be.
I also try to remember to honor our happiness and joy. It’s not uncommon on the internet and in real life for folks to shame people who are partaking in things simply for entertainment versus being serious about “real” issues. We shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling happiness or joy in the midst of tragedy. Watching folks dance and sing at the Allied Media Conference and the Movement for Black Lives Convening brought me a joy that helped heal some of my own trauma. Being able to laugh, smile, dance, and connect with other Black people brings a deep happiness in my core; the kind of happiness that helps me make it another day. It is not only important to feel these thing but to document them with photos and videos. We must be reminded of the joy that is still possible.
I also try to hold myself and others accountable, especially when it comes to the lives and experiences of Black women, Black queer folks, Black trans folks, Black gender non-conforming folks, Black people who are incarcerated, Black working class folks, and other Black people who are further marginalized. How can they heal if they are not only experiencing trauma from larger society, but also at the hands of those within their community? It’s my duty to ensure that as a community, we are centering the folks who are most marginalized.
This quote by Assata Shakur can often be heard by Black folks organizing around this nation:
“It is our duty to fight for freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
In my opinion, sometimes we get so focused on fighting to win our freedom and lose our chains that we forget to take care of each other along the way. We must remember to love and care for each other as Black folks, because there is no winning without it.
[Headline Image: Two dark skinned people are hugging in a church. One person has very short dark hair and their face is visible. The other person has dreadlocks pulled up in a ponytail. Their back is the camera.]