words and photos by Bronlynn Thurman

How do you begin to write about the injustices of your people? What sort of sentence do you construct that encapsulates the 400+ years of trauma that has poured into your people until the only escape is death? How does one express the rage, the fear, the pain, the all-consuming sadness that you feel when you watch another Black man be senselessly murdered in the streets by people who are said to “serve and protect” when you know they were never designed to support those who look like you? 

Needless to say, I’ve spent much of this week writing, revising, editing, and deleting my words to come up with some compelling narrative that people reading this can empathize with. I’ve oscillated between needing to express the rage I feel and the worry of unnecessarily adding to the cacophony of voices already ringing out about the injustice of it all. At the end of the day, I decided that writing was my only choice because at this point it’s cathartic for me and I need any sort of release I can find. 

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So, this week I realized that I was not OK. I don’t mean not OK in the sad sort of way. I’m not OK in the way that I can feel generations of pain lodged deep in the marrow of my bones. I’m not OK in the way that exhaustion coats my soul like a weighted blanket woven with thorns and hopelessness presses the air from my already asthmatic lungs. I think I knew this in a subconscious way, in the way that a dull ache becomes a familiar friend until you are crippled by its deception.

After years of seeing the death of Black men, women, nonbinary people, and children circulating online, their character standing on trial long after their bodies are laid to rest. After seeing the effects of systemic racism in my own community through my work. After years of twisting myself into a mold that made me less “threatening” and more “articulate,” less “angry” and more “charming.” After years of unlearning the insidious things racism tried to make me believe about myself and the lies respectability politics whispered in my ear. After the years of microaggressions, questions about my presence in a space, being followed around stores, being afraid to hike new trails alone, noticing when people lock their doors when I walk by, having to be the representative of my people because I’m often the only Black person in a classroom, board room, etc. After all of this, I realized I am not OK. 

Grieving while Black

Something has got to give. 

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Nina Pop are more names added to the long list of Black people who were slain due to a racist society that was built upon our backs. Angela Davis, activist, academic, and author, once responded to an interview question about Ferguson as an isolated incident in her book The Struggle for Freedom: “These kinds of confrontations and assaults and killings happen all of the time, all over the country in large as well as small cities. This is why it is a mistake to assume these issues can be resolved on an individual level.” 

She’s right. It would be foolish to believe that this brutalization by an institution that’s history is directly linked to slave patrollers can be solved at an individual level, or even with reform. We need an entire rethinking of what law enforcement looks like in our communities. 

As many have posited before, more often than not, funding to police departments is a significant chunk of a city’s budget while social service organizations that are far better trained and more equipped to deal with many of the challenges police are often called to handle are struggling to cobble together funding. But I don’t want to solely focus on police because the issue is larger than that.

Decisions were made time and time again to continuously put Black Americans in their “place.” From Jim Crow Laws to redlining. From the integration of schools (but not of teachers) to the war on drugs. From the health disparities to inequitable employment practices. America’s hands are bloody with the lives of Black Americans it felt were worth less than property.

“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.” 

– John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s aide for Domestic Affairs (Introduced to this quote through When They Call you a Terrorist by Patrissa Khan-Cullors and asha bandele.)

And the one brief moment in our nation’s history where an opportunity to repair some of the damage presented itself, the Reconstruction Era, it was swiftly undone. And every time Black people clawed their way back out of the hole to make some semblance of a better life, you get the Tulsa Massacre. Despite all of this, I have to feel hopeful. I have to cling on to any semblance of hope that I can. Maybe it’s my naïveté or my youth, but despite our tragic history, this feels different. 

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Social media

We are at a tipping point and I don’t believe that we would’ve gotten to it without social media. As much as social media has been a detriment and Black death has circulated around the world inflicting more trauma onto Black bodies, it has aided this movement. It has enabled us to see injustices in real time. It has become a tool to amass support from all around the world. But with this very visible support, I’ve noticed a swelling of brands both big and small speaking out in a way that I had never seen before. I have such mixed feelings about it all because we are tired. We are dying. We don’t want platitudes. We want to see your hiring and HR practices. We want to see if your investments are tied to the prison industrial complex or the gun industry. We want to see how you propose to make your organization, your community more equitable. 

So what next? Defunding the police is just the start of what could be greater policy and institutional changes. 

Grieving while Black

Resources

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t share some resources. I wasn’t always aware and I acknowledge that I’m still learning in this space. The lists below are not exhaustive but I believe that they’re a good place to get started. (For my fellow Akronites, The Devil Strip has a robust resource page that you should give a visit.)

Read

I’m a book lover at heart and I firmly believe that much can be learned through reading. Our history is long and there are a plethora of thought leaders in this space. You may not agree with everyone, but I think it is vital to be exposed to a range of perspectives. 

Here’s my list of books that are a mix of the black experience and the racist history of this country:

  • The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
  • The Struggle for Freedom by Dr. Angela Davis
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • Women, Race, & Class by Angela Davis
  • When They Call you a Terrorist by Patrissa Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
  • The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison
  • Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

If you’re so inclined, try supporting a black-owned indie bookstore when you go to purchase.

Racism is a public health crisis.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic, but racism has long been a public health crisis. Right this moment, many representatives in my state are pushing to classify it as such and there’s a wealth of research to back this up. Linked below is a Google Doc with links to research on the topic. (I do not take credit for compiling this list of resources. The American Public Health Association’s Twitter account (@AMJPublicHealth) shared this list in a thread and I thought it would be helpful to put it in an easily accessible place for those who may not use Twitter.)

Public Health Research Google Doc

Listen

I’m a big podcast nerd. Here is a mix of podcasts that cover America’s history of race, life and media through the Black lens, and news. 

  • 1619 – A podcast from the New York Times that “examines the long shadow of American slavery.” Listen
  • Call Your Girlfriend – A podcast for long-distance girlfriends everywhere. There is a particular Police Abolition episode that I just listened to that I found particularly informative. Listen
  • CodeSwitch – Another of my favorites podcasts that I listen to regularly from NPR. One of their most recent episodes is called ‘A Decade of Watching Black People Die.’ Listen
  • Post Reports – What it means to ‘defund the police.’ Listen
  • Reveal – From the Center of Investigative Journalism, this podcast does some incredible reporting. Their most recent episode, titled ‘The Uprising,’ does a great job of covering the protests. Listen
  • Still Processing – A podcast about media analyzed through the Black lens. Listen
  • The Daily – The Daily is one of my favorite podcasts that I listen to every morning. They have an episode that was released June 7th, 2020 and is called ‘The Sunday Read: The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning.’ Listen // There’s also an episode called ‘The System That Protect the Police’ that dives into the challenges of holding police officers accountable. Listen
  • While Black – A new addition to my favorite podcasts list, While Black discusses Black Excellence as well as the sometimes raw experience of being Black in America. They have an episode that was released June 7th, 2020 called ‘Diversity on the Bench and Order in the Court with Sharmela Williams.’ Listen

Watch

Here is a short list of films and a mini-series that showcase pieces of the Black experience:

  • The 13th
  • I Am Not Your Negro
  • If Beale Street Could Talk
  • Just Mercy
  • Malcolm X
  • Moonlight
  • The Black Power Mixtape
  • When They See Us

Donate

Financial support for the movement is just as important as being on the ground. Here are a few places that you may want to consider donating to:

Akron/Ohio-specific:

As I wrap up this article, I want to return to the great Angela Davis. She once said, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” 

Black Lives Matter.

Bronlynn Thurman is an Akron-area creative with an interest in public space, city development, education, and food systems. This essay was first published on Bronlynn’s personal website.

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