by Valencia Clement
I hate ultimatums
but this decision is black and white:
It's between the Ivory Tower or the Collie block
& I can’t go back to the murders and suicides
of people, I never got to say good bye to
I won’t go back to driving
Through Queens streets at 25 mph seeing
Pictures on every other street corner
memorializing those who didn’t make it
I don’t miss the hour-long bus rides from my home,
Through the hood, to my high school neighborhood
Where there are gyms, grocery stores and clean sidewalks
My anxiety is correlated to the pressure placed on me
It’s clear the relationship is strong
And I just can’t go back.
At this point I'm so unstable
The movements in the dark shadows have me looking over my shoulder only to find nothing,
The ache in my back never stops throbbing,
My heart beats hard and fast in my head
& this migraine hasn't gone away for 4 days
I’ve been here before
You know, that feeling when you can still speak
but it hurts to form words and ideas…
I just need silence before I break.
I don't want to end every semester
One split end away from a nervous breakdown.
As if on cue, my life is sent into chaos
When the same "model police department,"
who walked besides Vandy students
during protests in Midtown
found themselves on the Eastside, scared shitless.
Even if they don’t have hate in their hearts,
they’ve been taught brown skin signals guilt.
They can't even tell the difference
between stopping crime and destroying our community.
They relentlessly rain down bullets on black and brown bodies
Because they don't see a human being,
they just see skin
When the news story broke
& I saw his name all over my timeline in the articles
I broke into fear
Could this be a typo?
Or Are they be talking about my father,
Or my uncle, Jacques-Mary,
Or my grandfather, Jacques Auguste,
Being murdered in his own neighborhood?
I was shaking as I walked into class
With Jocques on my mind…
Flashbacks of statistics popped in my head,
Of my damning urban studies readings,
Of my teacher ignoring me when I’m the only one raising my hand
& I wonder who’s next
I try to explain to my teacher
Why “predictable outcomes for Black students”
Makes me feel invisible in this elite sea of white
Bur she calls me an “outlier” and moves on
Today the Nashville council meeting
Was rightfully decolonized by protestors.
Brown people mobilized in the name of Jocques
& for the community to know:
they are not suffering alone
As I see a sea of brown hues protesting, I wonder:
Where were the women’s march protestors today?
If we’re lucky: writing hashtags and wearing safety pins.
How is it that the great equalizer doesn’t accommodate for difference?
Can’t pull myself up by bootstraps if I don’t have shoes.
No matter who is President, or what law gets passed
my skin will be a glaring signal
Therefore, my existence is an act of defiance
& Black lives matter.
Because even if you thought
he was just a thug or a statistic,
He had a life, a family, a daily struggle,
A favorite snack, dreams, fears, and memories.
& all the world cares about is if he was
a statistic or an outlier.
Valencia is a Haitian-American poetess/writer from Jamaica, New York. She graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2016, and is currently pursing her Masters in higher education policy. She believes art is the intermediary to finding truth. She hopes to empower other people to express their collective histories through creative expression.