Editor’s Note:

Ayodele Lewis was our 2019 scholarship winner. Her poem I Am… Not What You Imagine: Revelations of a Black Student was a challenging and beautiful expression of her experiences in high school, and if you have not yet read the poem, you definitely need to. She reached out to me soon after George Floyd’s murder asking if she could contribute more and below I am thrilled to present both a letter and another poem in this Black Lives Matter collection.
– Calvin Ryerse

The Black Family is Hurting

Ayodele Theard-Lewis, 18, she/her/hers

The Black family is hurting
From a legacy
Of torture
And senselessness

From a heritage
Rooted in brutal
viciousness

The Black family is tired
Of re-teaching their children
History.
The right way;

Of resocializing them
To love themselves.
Not the white way

The Black Family is terrified
That their
Sibling
Aunt
Uncle
Parent
Cousin
Grandparent
Will be the next victim

Of a people that’ve become
Moral monsters
Deluding themselves
Of their “heightened” humanity

The Black Family is traumatized
By systems
Festering with Racism
Underneath a liberal Facade

By patriotism
Where citizenship is selective,
Applying to some
Not all

The Black family is angry
With a nation
That assigns evil a color
That gives Black lives up
For slaughter

With a culture
That encourages a police state
An ugly institution
Feeding on hate

The Black Family pities
Those that
Dehumanize,
Believing stereotypes
And blatant lies

Those that give in
To savage impulses
Of cruelty
And injustices

The Black Family that tries making a difference
Needing support
From white friends
And colleagues
And allies

Instead
Is met with
Ignorant
Resistance

The Black family is hurting
For Themselves
For their Future
And for their Legacy
Let them heal…

A Letter to My Peers

06/03/2020

A Letter to my Peers,

The “Struggle”

When we, as people living in the United States, hear the phrase “The Struggle”, we are assaulted with images of poor Black people living in the projects who are just trying to make it out. But what really is The Struggle? What does it mean? We as Black people are often defined by a blanket definition. One that paints us all as one poor community that is perpetually haunted by the horrors of “the hood”. As if the economic class label of “underclass” or “working poor” is synonymous with “Black”. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that many members of my community are plagued by poverty, gang violence, food insecurity, and a plethora of other systemic issues on a daily basis. However, this does not define the Black experience. 

In our present-day society we make the mistake of accepting Black people’s tales of their Struggle only if it includes a broken home or selling drugs. Even worse, oftentimes in white-dominated spaces that I have been in, people tend to only welcome those that have had experiences with drugs, gangs, or living in ghettos. This is the narrative they are comfortable with. While this trope is more palatable to many white people, I find the taste to be disagreeable.

I am writing this to share my own experience. The one of an upper-middle-class Black student. I have been itching to express a dichotomy that is never discussed because of the constant push for a single Black narrative in the media.

 As a result of my economic privilege and growing up in Portland, Oregon, I have been the token Black person in white-dominated environments (classrooms, camps, sports teams, and the like) for most of my life. While being “the only one” takes its toll, it has also provided me with the opportunity to be the voice that brings up issues of race and class that would otherwise be ignored. I use the stories I hear from my family to give them a voice in a community that never listens to them.

This is where I started to contend with my own Struggle. While I grew up hearing stories of The Struggle of growing up in the hood and a portion of my family still lives in the hood, I myself have never experienced that kind of life. I am a generation removed from it. 

As a Black woman living in America, I have experienced oppression in the form of racist remarks and microaggressions, demeaning stereotypes, and a threatening letter. Yet because I didn’t go through the “textbook Black experience”–the only one that is valid, the one that proves my “blackness”–I am at odds with my own identity. So for some time now, I have pondered the question: Who am I to speak for those that have?

I would much rather have them tell their own stories to the white people that I am surrounded by, using their own voice. My solution to this: To use my economic privilege to be successful in a professional environment, to become an administrator, to get into that boardroom, and bring others up into those positions with me. I have to use what I have to elevate and amplify their voices.

In the meantime, I have come to the conclusion that I will continue to tell the stories of “the hood” because I refuse to let my peers ignore the issues that plague many in the Black community.

So to those that are in my same situation, I would like to reassure you. We all have our own Struggles that cannot be determined by the media’s unilateral approach to the Black experience. One Struggle is no less valid than another.

And to those that do not have the same economic privilege as me and who have faced the horrors of living in America as an African American human being, I pledge to use my voice and position in these white spaces to amplify yours. Because what kind of movement do we have if we do not uplift one another?

 

Your Friend,

Ayo

Photography by: Andrew Harris, 17

“We Are All Human”

I shot creative portraits because I’m a believer in nurture over nature. I believe that the people around me have fairly influenced the decisions I’ve made and, therefore, the person I’m becoming.
I hope as you view these pictures you can understand even a small part of my self-exploration journey. I hope you can understand that while, religion, race, class, culture, and age may affect the people we are, they do not isolate us. We are all human. We’ve all experienced emotions displayed in these pictures. We are all going through an existential crisis. We are all looking for meaning in this meaningless world. We are trying to find ourself,