What I've Learned From Chicago Activists, Part Three: The Memorial

I've been sitting on this post for some time now. I didn't know if I should post it, but some conversations these last few days are pushing me to do it, so I guess this is the time to post it.  If you are reading these, I thank you for hearing me out. We have to keep doing what we are doing, saying what we are saying, because it's working. The BLM movement is louder and getting heard and that is what needs to happen. Even if you don't feel like it is, if you think these conversations with your loved ones are pointless, they are not at all and keep them up.  We can't move forward until we are all on the same friggin' page, so let's keep working at it.

In July, the week after Nabra Hassanen and Charneelna Lyles were killed, a last minute memorial was put together on the Southside of Chicago in Assata's Gardens, so I decided to attend. It was put together by a few female and Muslim (and in some cases both) activists. The response to a week of violence against women of color, of really heavy violence, was this peaceful gathering at the garden run and maintained by a group named Assata's Daughters. They are named for Assata Shakur, Tupac's mom and an outspoken activist and Black Panther. The gardens themselves were beautiful and so were the memorials. Several people spoke and most spoke about the vulnerablity of being a woman of color, being Muslim, or both, in this country. They disscussed how scary and vulnerable it feels to ride the train alone, especially wearing a hijab. They discussed the every day aggressions they face in the big city known as Chicago. They discussed how it feels to have to fight to exist every day. When your mayor ignores you for years and years and always, how can anyone ever feel safe in a city that treats its citizens, YOU, as disposable? There is no feeling safe in that space. None.

I am going to discuss some truths now.  My aim here is not to sensationalize what I experienced, but rather to paint an honest picture of the reality of the situation. While a group of about 40 people stood in gardens built and maintained by women of color who are actively fighting to make Chicago livable, gun shots happened. It was in an alley about 100 feet away. And the shots happened for about 10-15 minutes as the activists spoke over the sound to share their fears and to provide hope to a group of people gathered for peace. And as the gun shots rang out in the background, police drove around the open field we were in more than once, in both marked and unmarked cop cars. A police helicopter flew overhead. These are the facts. These are the truths.  This is what I experienced. These human beings are targeted by a system who's sole aim is to tear them down. This is fact, this is truth, this is reality.

The memorial lasted about an hour. Towards the end, they opened it up for anyone to speak. An older gentleman discussed how awful the availability of mental healthcare has become in Chicago. He said there only a handful of mental health clinics left, and a few are not clearly marked making them impossible to find, and they are also not wheelchair accessible. What I find at events planned by Chicago activists is that they provide a safe place of non judgement so that someone, anyone who needs to, has the chance to make their voice and fears heard. If you've ever been not believed, not heard, or ignored or blamed for something you have no control over, having a safe space to share your fears, well, I can only describe it as feeling like you can breathe again, even if it's just for that moment in time. 

Black Lives Matter is not a terrorist organization. Someone said that to me recently, and I am calling bullshit on that one pretty hardcore. Their group only exists as a response to the perils people of color face in this country every day. If not for violence brought against them by their own government, by their own mayor, by the police who are supposed to protect and serve them, there would be no need for people of color to remind their fellow humans (specifically white ones) why they matter. No one should have to plead their humanity to survive. Not in the richest country in the world, not in the poorest country in the world. We are designed to elevate each other. We are designed to work in tandem for a greater good. It's time to wake up, now. It's the time in our history where we right the wrongs done to our fellow humans of color. This is that time, now. Thanks for reading.