When I woke up a few days after social chaos hit the U.S., I sat on my bed, in my single bedroom Brooklyn apartment (that's pretty much empty), and thought about the recent killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I put on the playlist #blacklivesmatter on Spotify and let Sam Cooke's "A Change Gonna Come" fill my room. As I figure out where I belong in this world, I've appreciated the spirit in New York. I have recently been protesting, reading and gaining more knowledge about the past in this urban jungle.
That morning, as I thought about the most recent chapter I read from Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the U.S" titled "As Long as Grass Grows or Water Runs" – which documents the atrocities committed to a number of Native American tribes, such as the Cherokee's, Creeks, Choctaw and Chickasaw during the 19th century by Andrew Jackson's administration and the European settlers, I began to tear up. This chapter retold the story about the broken promises that were made to Native Americans that was officially agreed upon by Congress in 1802 under the Indian Tribe and Intercourse Act that stated that the U.S would "protect" the tribes and not encroach upon their land (won't get into details, but highly recommend reading!). This chapter hit me that morning, as I recalled a part where a Native American GI veteran publicly testified in 1970 about the horrors of the Vietnam War and the maltreatment he faced as an Indian and wept quoting the line "as long as Grass grows or water runs," symbolizing the empty promise made by men of power (specifically quoting Andrew Jackson) who believe it's their right to take lands, and expand the nation for their interest.
This hit home that morning because as someone who takes the word of my fellow brothers and sisters seriously, I could feel the pain coming from this veteran. His tears began to flow through me early that morning as I thought about what it means to give my word to my fellow brother, and after fighting, terror and anguish take a step toward finding peace and have that little piece of peace broken.
When Columbus came to the Central America, the Native American tribe the Arawak's took care of his men. They feed them, for they believed in the philosophy that all men are truly brothers and sisters and that the land given to us was meant to be shared. They believed that this land that feeds us was meant to be cared, loved, and respected. And with these open arms, the Arawak took this ideology to heart, which was sadly repaid with the deep red flow of blood, war, and capitalism. This transition of Old World to New World set the stage for our present state, and with it gave us the lesson, that man can truly be wicked and pull all corners of the earth into its reigns for the selfish gains of capital. All these thoughts ran through my head yesterday morning and painted the imagery of individuals from all walks of life in pain, crying in anguish. I saw the Native American veteran's tears, an Asian girl image from Nanking crying, an Indian man shouting during imperial Britain's reign, a naked black slave woman being pulled to a Middle Passage ship, and as all these images filled my mind and I couldn't stop crying. I thought about how all these people are me. I could feel that these different versions of me had been through so much pain, as they transitioned throughout periods of our shared history.
As the song "A Change Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke, came to an end as I cried on my bed, I saw a smile from the African slave woman as she closed her eyes, which was telling something deep in me that it shall be well. That change will come, and that I should not be sad but remember to stay strong during this transition in my present time. I wiped my tears and got up from my bed. I went about my day, working, scheduling and finally ending my night with a phone call from my beloved friend Gabby Cohen (who's working on an amazing non-profit Earth Child Project). This phone call was about her role with working with my side project MADAFO, and how she's appreciated and learned a lot from MADAFO but knows that it's time for her to follow her other passions. This was tough for me, but I knew this was right. Inside me, I knew that it would be a change, but one that she and I both needed, for both of us to grow. I won't lie, though, my heart was heavy, and as head of a project, that has transitioned between several different core members over the years, it still is difficult to let a partner and friend go.
But I know, inside me as I try and navigate this world, change like this and much harder will always come, but Gabby gave me something precious that night. She gave me the wisdom that she learned from teaching yoga in South Africa. She told me how during yoga many people try and rush the transition between poses, but that the transition is the most important part. The transition, she said, is what gets us from point A to B, and sets the tone for how we understand our being (in this case the yoga pose) as a whole. She gave me this nugget of wisdom, that the way in which we handle our transition is what sets the stage for our future reality. This advice settled deep in my mind and rested its way into my bank of knowledge. As I thought about me crying earlier, I understood (or at least think) why I saw a smile in the eyes of the slave women as I cried. It was a reminder that what is going on now is a transition, and that this transition and how we all handle it will be the prescript for how we write our next story. I truly believe that each transition provides the opportunity for hope. And these moments of unrest are the transition periods, that yes are difficult, but will shape the future lives of many to come.
So I hope we set it right and keep our promises for as long as grass grows, or the water runs, change will always come.
Black Lives Matter Playlist Below:
Reach Staff Reporter Michael Kyei Boateng here.