I’m going through an existential crisis. You see, my parents never taught me that I couldn’t be anything I wanted to be. I mean I’ve always known to be wary of the police. But, I was never taught to think of myself as a target. I always knew that slaves, black bodies built America. But, I was never taught to deny this history. I always knew that white people held the power in this country, in this world. But, I was never taught to question whether or not I would be able to stake my claim in that space as well. I was never taught to view my blackness as a problem. I was never taught that my blackness was threatening. I was never taught that being black might stop me. But yet, for as long as I can remember, the whole of society has been trying to drill that concept into me.
I say I’m going through a crisis because at this point, I genuinely do not know who to believe. Emmett Till was just a kid. Michael Brown was on his way to college. Trayvon Martin was walking home from the store. Renisha McBride was asking for help after being in a car accident. Marissa Alexander was standing her ground. Jordan Davis was playing music. Amadou Diallo was just outside his house. Oscar Grant was just trying to catch the train home. Tamir Rice was playing outside. Rekia Boyd was what just an innocent bystander?
Say what you wish about police trainings and “fearing for one’s life.” You can tell me these people reached for a gun, seemed threatening, or lunged at the officer/their killer. Did that mean that they deserved to die? (And honestly, no black person is lunging at someone trying to kill them – especially not a police offer. That’s just not how we’re socialized.) Since when did ‘shoot to disarm’ become ‘shoot to kill’? Why has being black in America always meant being in a constant state of trama? From slavery, to Jim Crow, to the War on Drugs, to the prison-industrial complex, to today’s extrajudicial killings, black bodies have never been allowed to simply be. Our existence has always been a problem.
And so I simply do not know what to do anymore. I was always taught that I could be the change I wanted to see. But, I’m sure that MLK’s mother told him the same thing. I’m sure that Michael Brown’s mother told him the same thing. I’m sure that Renisha McBride’s mother told her the same thing. But, they’re dead. They’re dead. They’ll never get the chance to marry or go to college or tell their kids that they too can be whatever they want to be.
I’ve always wanted to work towards social justice. I’ve always wanted to leave the world better than how I found it. I want to know why things are so unfair. I’ve dedicated my time at Cornell to public service and social activism. But, for what? A degree isn’t going to save me. I’m just one vigilante away from being a hashtag too. So, I guess I’m wondering, why should I bother doing what it is I aspire to?
My parents always told me I could be whatever I wanted to be. They drilled into me that it was my job to be the change that I wanted to see. Well, hello. My name is Gabrielle Hickmon. I’m a junior at Cornell University. I am Black. And I am not sure, anymore, if the change I want to see is possible.
Rest in Peace to all of my brothers and sisters who were taken away from us before it should have been your time. I promise that no matter how lost society seems right now, your life and death, will not have been in vain. I promise to fight for reform and justice, no matter how jaded or cynical I get. Because, I’ve decided that I’m willing to give my life, if it means that my little cousins and every other black person- child, adult, senior citizen, can keep theirs. We love you. Gone, but never forgotten.