His eyes are closed. A smile forms in the corner of his mouth as he lies there motionless in the summer sun; the warm air cascading gently across his face and rustling his hair in tender strokes. He is in his favourite place on earth, home.
It is the middle of summer and he is in his garden with his back against the oak tree that he has adored since he was a boy. He knows every bump and curve on the tree as he has climbed it almost daily over the past 18 years, often in a game where the tree gave him a lofty advantage over the hapless Indians below or a safe place to hide when Nanny was displeased with him for some misdemeanour or another.
Just recently he has taken to just lying at the base of the tree, with his back to the trunk, that cradles him like a nursing mother comforts a child against her bosom. He loves this tree, he always has. He cannot imagine a more perfect afternoon than this, lying in the garden, on his own in quiet serenity, the only sound being that of his sister’s children playing somewhere out the back. And when he gets hungry, after a few hours that would feel like an eternity, he would amble back to the house and enjoy a long and carefree lunch that would send him even deeper into a state of idle relaxation. Not a care in the world; he feels so at peace with the world and with himself. He breathes in deeply and fills his lungs with warm sweet smelling air. His mother’s orchard is heavily laden with fruit and is ripe for
He breathes in deeply and fills his lungs with warm sweet smelling air. His mother’s orchard is heavily laden with fruit and is ripe for picking. The fruit is casting abroad its aroma inviting everyone to come and take hold of the soft luscious harvest that waits. He can also make out the perfume of the lavender bushes that adorn the border. If he opened his eyes he would see the tall stalks of purple soldiers waving in the breeze like a tranquil sea, gently moving backwards and forward in uniformed harmony.
The children’s voices in the distance are becoming a little too animated for his liking and their childish screaming is enough to disturb his peace. Some voices are louder than others and he chuckles to himself as he pictures his younger brother George getting far too agitated as he bosses whatever game he is part of. Sometimes father would have to intervene and ask George to calm down as he became increasingly frustrated that the house servants were not playing the game in the way that he wanted. He stretches his legs and turns to get comfortable; he could lie here forever and is determined that nothing will make him get up. Not that he could anyway, tiredness has taken hold of his body and he is a dead-weight; nothing more than another piece of the landscape into which he is melting.
He wishes that George would pipe down now. His loud screeching is beginning to disrupt his slumber. If he has to get up and march over to the house he will be very angry and won’t be afraid to show it. Although he loves George to bits, he can be a most infuriating chap. Once, he ran off to tell a large group of travellers to get off of his father’s land or else he would beat them all severely – he was only eight years old and he was lucky to be found by our groundsman before they taught him some well-deserved manners. Also, the carefree way he skipped to the recruiting office when the Germans started to cause a nuisance in Belgium, even against the advice of our father… George was always ready to step in and say his piece without thinking through the consequences.
After a few more minutes, and another twist and turn to get comfortable against the tree, he realises that his peaceful slumber has indeed been interrupted. He tried to push it to the back of his mind, but the noise has now become intolerable and he is irked by the mindless shouting. Also, the refreshing cool breeze has disappeared and he is starting to suffocate in this oppressive heat. The air is no longer clean and fresh, and he coughs as he struggles to gulp down any air. This just won’t do…he needs to get up and head to the house. “Curse you George” he mutters under his breath, “will you stop that shouting! Enough is enough. “
Instantly the bright sunlight has turned into a thick choking smoke that obscures the natural light, and instead of soft grass, he is sitting waist-deep in mud and grease. He thrashes around completely disorientated, looking for the safety of his house but it is not there…where is he? Nothing looks familiar, he is not in his garden at all, he has no recollection of this place. Then he notices that the shouting is not coming from his brother George in the distance, it is himself. In fact, as he sits upright against the tree, he realises that he is screaming uncontrollably. Why? Why is he screaming? What is wrong?
Another explosion sends a cloud of earth and stone against his face and he flinches from it, trying to curl into the loving arms of the stump behind him for protection. The tree is rejecting him. There is no safety here; there is no reassurance, no love. He is frightened and alone as he shakes in terror at what is happening. His ears ring to the point that he cannot focus on anything around him, he shakes his head but his senses are totally disoriented and all he can hear is his own muffled screaming and the loud thud of explosions.
He looks around with glazed eyes unable to focus on anything until he looks down at his body. He realises that he is soaked to the skin and his strange torn and bloodied clothes are stuck to him. The material looks like wet paper that could easily be rubbed away if you touched it. He adjusts his gaze and continues to look down to his legs and realises that they are not there, instead, he sees two mangled stumps where his legs used to be. He screams again, this time, it is more fierce and chilling and he vomits onto the ground as the sight of his torn body registers in his brain. Where is he? What is going on? Where is his family?
Through the fear comes a strong resolution to take control, he needs answers. There…over there, look it’s George. He would recognise George’s blonde curly hair anywhere. It’s as golden as the sun and always looks so beautiful, even against the foul mud that clings to him. He finds he can form words in his throat and manages to shout to his brother…”George? George? What the hell is going on? George!” His brother is not answering. He is kneeling only a few feet away from him, with his back turned. “Blast him”, he thought, “what is he doing now?” He grasps the earth beneath him and shuffles nearer to his brother…”George, damn you”…he shuffles nearer and nearer, the thick choking air almost making him faint as he moves across the ground. He grabs his shoulder…”George, what the hell is …” The body of his younger brother falls backwards and sprawls on the earth. The screaming starts again. George’s face is not there. Half of his head is missing and his body is lifeless and limp… “George!!!!” he screams, but no one can hear him. Another explosion, another cloud of earth sprays against him and fills his eyes and mouth with rancid mud that smells of burning. He is immediately sick and slumps onto his side.
What is going on? Why is he not home? He sees a man running towards him! “help” he whimpers…”help me”. He reaches out his arms to be picked up like a young baby desperately in need of love and comforting. He doesn’t know if it is sweat or tears in his eyes, but he knows that he needs to get out of here. The man stops in front of him, kneels down, and unfastens something from his belt. ”A drink! Oh yes please,” he mumbles to himself, barely above a whisper. He reaches out to the man in front of him grasping at the buttons on his coat, tenderly entreating him to save him from the unnatural and godless scene that he finds himself part of. But no drink is offered, no warm voice meets his ears, no reassuring hand comforts his own cold and bloodied.
And then he sees it. Not the soft rounded edges of a flask, but the cold gleam of a blade. Slowly he looks up with fear raging through his body, and for the first time, he is able to make out the face of his ‘rescuer’. The man towering over him is young and rugged but stares back expressionlessly with cold empty eyes that betray no human emotion. Their faces are inches apart. The stranger has not stopped to offer salvation, he is not reaching out to help him, but with brutal gentleness, he slips the blade deep into his chest and twists it as it pierces his heart. His body spasms and immediately his eyes begin to mist over.
All around him becomes calm and the only sound he can hear is the soft speech of his companion who is now whispering something in an unfamiliar tongue. Although slipping towards unconsciousness, he feels that he recognises the pattern of words being uttered; confused and afraid, to his disbelief it sounds like the Lord’s Prayer although it has never sounded as empty as it does now. The stranger’s voice quietens to an echo and all else turns silent. With the knife still protruding from his tunic, he falls back and his eyes finally blacken and he comes to rest with his head touching the golden locks of his brother.
Together they gaze heavenwards with unseeing eyes as the mud continues to swallow their bodies and entomb them in a land that is far from home. Two brothers lost forever in Northern France.
When I was younger, the things I disliked about myself the most was my ethnicity, my legs, and my constant thinking. It took me many years to realize that these differences were my strengths.
The first time someone asked me “what I was” (See Explaining Your Ethnic Situation), I was five or six and confidently stated, “White.” I thought that was the correct answer to any and all situations, or I didn’t know what they were talking about.
Up until then—growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta—I had a suspicion I was something other than white. We spoke in a different language at home; cooked with a lot of spices and ate fermented foods; and, most obviously, I looked different. Yes, these were differences, but could they possibly amount to something important like identity? It marked the introduction of an identity crisis.
Not much time passed after that initial encounter before I realized I was Korean. It was only hours later my brother informed me of the truth over a fit of laughter, realizing his little sister thought she was white. Being that young, I remember thinking, “So what does this mean?”
I could have non-Asian friends, I could choose Britney or Ludacris over Korean music, and I was free to layer myself in Hollister (Hello 2000’s).
I was as enthusiastic about being Korean as I was when my mom bought me a congratulatory cake for getting my period. It’s true… No ethnic background could have saved me from pressing myself into the mold I perceived as southern suburbia.
I have always had large, muscular legs—or what kids would call tree trunks—something I inherited from my dad. At age twelve, I started training harder for tennis and my legs grew wider and all the more muscular, making it impossible to find good jeans (still a problem).
There’s the age preschoolers hit when they become walking and wailing broken records stuck on “Why?” They ask, or rather, demand whys regardless of the explanation. Despite a little less wailing, I never quite grew out of that phase; I posed questions to myself and turned the answers over and over until I thought of more questions.
People like to say to me, “Don’t overthink it.” If there was a penny for every time someone offered me that piece of advice, the world would be drowned in a flood of pennies. I believe I do have a “rich inner life,” as the great Amy Schumer puts it.
I’ve fallen mercy to it in situations where being present and interaction with others is expected. Socializing, I think is what they call it. It often felt debilitating; I’d think out my responses, weighing them against the replies I’d thought I’d get.
And so, my inner monologue was also one of self-criticism. Sure, children can be cruel, but none are worse than your own demons that feed on your insecurities.
The commonality among all of these qualities was that they each made me different; they made me feel different because I didn’t match up to the people around me. The essence of what I craved was acceptance. Our default setting is to slap judging labels on qualities that threaten our shot at it.
It’s only later, through broader experiences, that I realized differences aren’t dangerous, they’re what makes us who we are. In accepting them in myself, I could love them in others.
It took a long time to come to terms with my heritage, my body, and the way I’m wired. And it’s still taking time. But having experienced Korean culture firsthand during time spent with my relatives in Seoul; after winning matches thanks to the power and speed of my legs; and after meaningful conversations that arose from asking too many questions, the things I disliked about myself are now the ones I celebrate these days.
I hear their voices.
Voices of the people who want the world to stay as it is—the people who have too much to lose
if things change.
They say to stay quiet.
They say to keep my mouth shut.
They say to silence my voice.
They say to push down my emotions so I can stay level-headed.
They say not to rock the boat.
They say not to say anything that will cause disagreement.
They want me to conform.
They want us to conform.
I hear other voices.
Voices of the people who are losing their lives.
They say they are terrified to make one wrong movement.
They say that “freedom” doesn’t feel so free.
They say they are trapped in a system that isn’t fair.
They say they just want equality.
They say they want the same opportunities I have.
They say people are scared of them.
They say they are misunderstood.
They say they are tired of people walking on the other side of the street at night because of their
They say they are tired of not getting a fair trial in court.
They say they are tired of dying.
They say they are tired of crying themselves to sleep at night when they mourn for their brothers
They say they are tired of being punished for doing the only thing they know how to do in order
to put food on the table for their family.
They say they can’t help it.
So they say they want me to help.
They want us to help.
I hear another voice.
It’s the voice coming from deep within my soul.
He says to love people.
He says to care about other people before I care about myself.
He says to encourage my black brothers and sisters.
He says I should make sure they know I love them.
He says I should do what I can to help.
He says I should mourn with them.
He says I should comfort them.
He says I should listen to them.
He says I should pray for them.
He says I should pray with them.
He says I have a lot to learn from them.
He says to see the world in through their eyes before making any judgments.
He says to make friends with people who have different situations than I do.
He says that I should do more than rock the boat—he says I should sink it.
He wants me to move. He wants us to move.
There’s one voice I haven’t heard, though.
In the past, I didn’t understand all the hype around the Black Lives Matter movement. So, I chose to stay silent on it. I would think things like: Yes, I want everyone to be equal, but we have equality already. They need to realize that none of these things would be happening if they would just obey the laws (the list could go on and on).
As I became friends with some incredible people who are affected daily by fear, hatred, and stereotyping, however, my eyes were opened to the inequality we are still battling today.
They led me to believe that something has to be changed so people don’t have to break the law just to get by.
One time, I was driving through Atlanta with my friend a few weeks back. We were on the way to our church to play basketball. My friend has a heart of gold, but he is a teenaged, black male with an athletic build. The clothes he wears represent the culture he grew up in. Honestly, people look at his neighborhood—which he didn’t get to choose to live in—he doesn’t get a chance to show his heart before he is judged.
Anyways, he told me that he had recently spent a night in jail because he was having an altercation with his brother outside of their house. I listened to him tell me about this altercation and I couldn’t help but notice that it didn’t sound any different than fights I had with my brother when I was in high school. Nevertheless, somebody driving by saw the brotherly wrestling match taking place and called the police. When the police arrived, my friend and his brother were done fighting.
I don’t think there any many officers who do have ill-intentions. This is not an attack on them. However, there is a deeper problem in our society: We have a scale that measures how violent, harmful, or dangerous someone is…and we use skin color as the main variable. So, they assumed that my friend was dangerous. When they approached him to talk about the altercation, he tried to explain the story and say that it was resolved. But, the police took his explanation as some sort of resistance. They then violently threw him on the ground as they arrested him. He was arrested on the charges of domestic violence and resisting arrest.
Then, he had to get bail bonds to be able to get out of jail. Basically, he was thrown, arrested, charged, and forced into debt for something I would have got a slap on the wrist for. That dude looked at me that day with tears in his eyes and said, “Man, I swear it felt like they were trying to bring back slavery or something.” At that moment I realized that I couldn’t possibly understand what that was like. If I had a tussle with my brother like that, my parents would have handled the situation after things died down. I speak up now. Something has to change.
I work with a black girl who has become one of the most influential voices in my life lately. In a few short months, she has taught me more about loving people and praying for them than I could have ever known. As we were sitting in the office last week, she read an article about the KKK being allowed to adopt a highway in south Georgia. The article goes on to talk about the organization’s plans to make a comeback after 150 years from the time it was founded.
I want to know what in the world those people are thinking; and then I put it down and don’t think about it anymore. That is not the case for people who are directly affected by that, though. I will never be able to forget the moment when my heart fell to the floor as I watched my friend cry.
I will never be able to forget the loss of words I had as I attempted to pray over her. I will never be able to forget the realization I had in that moment—the realization that I would never be able to understand the pain and the heartache that the inequality we still have today brings into the lives of my black brothers and sisters.
So I speak up now: something has to change.
I could provide story after story and example after example. I could tell you about the kids I work with who are absolutely incredible, but will never have the same experience and opportunities as white kids unless something changes. I could tell you about the high school students I work with who are affected every single day by all of the stuff going on.
They feel like they are trying to be seen, but are invisible because people who don’t understand are too busy looking at themselves.
They feel like they are trying to be heard, but their voices are being dismissed because of the very thing they are speaking up against. People tell them that their opinions are irrelevant. It’s like a soccer player who knows nothing about baseball trying to tell a baseball player that his opinions about the unfair umpire are irrelevant or stupid—it just doesn’t make sense.
If you have ever played monopoly, you know that it can be fun for some people. For others, monopoly
can be one of the longest and most frustrating games ever. One time, I decided to join my
friends in a monopoly game they had already started. Places were already bought and occupied,
and there was only a little bit of money the bank could afford to dish out to me. So, I started playing
without much of a chance. I could basically land on someone else’s spot and have to pay or
the “Go to Jail” spot. Now, nobody would say that I ever had a fair shot.
I think our environment is a lot like that.
We played the game for over 150 years, then, people wanted to join. So, after
we tried to be the playground bully who won’t let anyone else into his clique, we reluctantly
allowed black people to play. We told them that they have the same rules as us and are allowed
to do the same things we are allowed to do and we called that equality. Unfortunately, the only
places they had left to land on were places where they had to pay, take the back seat, or go to
jail. That doesn’t sound very equal to me.
If you want another illustration as you wrestle through what it may feel like for someone else,
Here is a video that illustrates this point in a slightly different way. It is incredible.
So What Can I Do?
Listen. Learn. Love. No matter what you do in life, if you can do these three things before anything
else, you are much more likely to understand, make rational judgement, and make a difference
with what you say.
Speak up. If you are a silent supporter, know that we need your voice. We need the voice of people
who are not personally affected by these things. For example, I could physically go on living
comfortably no matter what happens with this issue in our world, but I speak up because I am
willing to give up my privilege if that is what it takes. I realize that there are people who wouldn’t
claim to be followers of Jesus reading this article, but I do want to point out that Jesus told us that
life is found when we consider others more highly than ourselves. So let’s do that! Instead of
fighting for what we personally want, let’s be willing to fight for the things others need—even if it
means we have something to lose.
Speak up. The world needs to hear that you
care for justice and mercy. The people who are being hurt need to hear that you are with them
and see that you are willing to stand with them no matter what other people think.
I would like to say that I would have spoken up in the 1800’s when slavery was being abolished.
I would like to say that I would have stood with my black brothers and sisters in the 1950’s during
the Civil Rights Movement.
I fail to realize that it wasn’t the popular thing to do as a white person.
People who had something to lose would have called me crazy for doing those things in that
Nothing has changed.
History is being written as we speak, and I refuse to look back in 50
years and tell my children that I didn’t do something to help move the world forward.
I refuse to have to tell my children that I was silent while my friends were living in fear, grief, and pain. So I
speak up—and you should too.
This one may seem a little weird, but people tend to become who they
hear they are. If someone hears constantly that they were born to lead, they will be leaders. If
someone is told they were a mistake, they will most likely live like they are a mistake.
Peoples’ identity often get bound up in the things others say to them or about them. Let’s stop telling people
that they are uneducated and ignorant so we can start telling people that they are smart,
loved, wonderful, beautiful, and Children of the Creator of the Universe.
All the people who have helped move our world forward have done something that
disrupts the status quo. All the people we celebrate as heroes today, were revolutionaries yesterday.
Think about it.
MLK was shot.
Lincoln was assassinated.
Jesus Christ was hung on
a roman death trap.
Each of these people were considered revolutionaries back then, but are heroes
today. So, let’s rebel. Let’s rebel peacefully and joyfully. Let’s speak up for justice, mercy,
equality, and love. Then, lets commit to loving the haters so much that they can hardly disagree
with us any longer.
Let’s commit to going out of our way to help the haters so they can’t bring any
real evidence against our case for justice, mercy, equality, and love.
So let’s rebel. Let’s speak up.
Let’s stand up. But, let’s remember why we are fighting and rebelling in the first place:
Make one difference. Just bring joy into someone’s life by investing in them and helping them out
of a possible situation. It is not our job to change it all, but it is our job to change what we can
and inspire others to do the same thing.
I hear their voices.
They say not to speak up.
It’s not that they are bad people.
They just don’t want life to change for them.
Change is scary.
So, they don’t try to understand.
They say to keep quiet.
I hear their voices.
They are longing for justice, equality, peace, and love.
They can’t help their situation.
They say they don’t have it like I have it.
They say that nobody understands.
They say to speak up
He is hurting for others.
He is causing me to weep when I watch a video of a real, human life being taken.
He is telling me to be willing to give up some of my privileges so that other people can have
He is telling me that the only real love in the world happens when we are willing to lay down
our lives for our brothers and sisters.
And now…now I can finally hear my own voice.
I am shouting to the world that I am not going to be silent any more.
I am shouting to my black brothers and sisters that I am with them!
I am shouting that they are worth dying for.
I am shouting that I love them—that I am willing to lay down my pride, the opinions of my
friends and family, and even my life if it will make their lives better.
I am Silent No More.
Just Mercy all at once is a riveting personal narrative gifted young lawyer brimming with idealism, places you directly in the shoes of his defendants, and is an inspirational perspective on the fight and the pursuit of, not “justice”, but true justice
As a young lawyer, Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, which placed defending those most desperate in need its utmost priority, from the poor to the wrongly condemned.
It unfortunately shows how our current system ends up leading towards the impoverished people receiving the majority of punishment in our country, which passionately supports the argument on the need for change in our criminal justice system.
An argument so very fitting in our current societal state of affairs
*True author of the post chooses to remain anonymous*
As a child, I was always fascinated by the world around me. The way people interacted with one another. The way leaves crunched on the street under my rain boots. The way people’s eyes got red and puffy when they laughed so hard they cried. My knowledge was the culmination of my observations.
Growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta was amazing. I was exposed to a diverse array of cultural, religious, and socioeconomic lifestyles from a young age, and those things also molded my perspective of the world. I grew up with Indian, African-American, Chinese, Korean, Mexican, and plain old American friends by my side. I didn’t even put any brain power into thinking about this because I thought it was how everyone grew up.
I attended a big SEC school full of totally new cultures. I was exposed to something I had never seen or experienced before: racism. Coming of age right beside the historic center of the civil rights movement, I’d of course heard stories of racial discrimination, but I never really saw or understood what that really meant.
I joined AIESEC at my university in order to feel like I could be surrounded by globally-minded individuals, rather than the right wing conservatives I had been meeting, but in fact I wasn’t so sure that I was even globally-minded myself. The organization I was in seemed culturally inclusive and great, but who was I to even talk about the world if I only knew my own backyard? I decided then that the solution to these issues I was encountering at my university was to leave and learn in a new environment instead.
Last semester, I made the decision to travel abroad, and I picked just about the most comfort-zone destination I could have chosen: London, England. Now before you judge me, let me explain. I grew up on Harry Potter. This decision was just ingrained in my blood. I had to go.
I spent a wonderful five months in England, and I had the opportunity to travel to a few other countries in Western Europe. I made some of the best friends of my life and had so many incredible adventures.
But beautiful, clean, safe, London wasn’t so heavenly after all. While there, I had the chance to experience an election season. During this time, I learned a decent amount about the UK’s political history of systemic racism. There wasn’t a black MP until very recent history.
The melting pot of cultures present in London can be at times subject to racist scrutiny from those with native English blood. The Syrian refugee crisis tested the cultural acceptance of Great Britain.
For this reason, coming home to the USA was a turning point for me. I realized that there was no way that I could solve the world’s problems before solving those in my own community. I decided to run for the national staff of AIESEC in the United States to do a marketing role, and here I am. The reason why I’m here is because I believe that leadership is the solution. The skills and understanding that I developed in AIESEC before and during the time I spent abroad are directly correlated to my desire and ability to make a difference as a young person.
Recently, an alumni of AIESEC in the United States, Jonathan Butler, started a youth movement at The University of Missouri. He peacefully protested the systemic racism of his schools’ administration and he succeeded in removing two of the main instigators of the issues. The university’s environment is by no means fixed, but what he has done is channeled his anger and passion into change. He stood with his peers to change things on his campus, and he caused real, tangible decisions to be made.
I saw a racist community back home so I fled. When I arrived, I found the same issues in my so-called safe haven. Young people need to realize that the issues they face here are the same issues that young people face all across the world. Facilitating those spaces and channels of communication may seem easy via social media, but the power of young people standing together is unquestionable. If I can play a part in facilitating that global connection and turning it into action, I’ll feel like I did something worthwhile.
And that’s why I do what I do.
A lot of perks come with understanding and being one with your family heritage. Those perks include a solid sense of self, a feeling of uniqueness in this huge sea of American pride, and even pressure. I was blessed with the opportunity to have lived with my family in Jamaica from ages four to seven after leaving my American birthplace, Miami.
In Jamaica, I remember learning Patois very quickly after being teased by classmates for my American accent. Everyone understood English, but I stood out for speaking it in a foreign way. I remember my great grandfather making kites completely by hand for my cousins and me every year for Festival. I remember on my first day at St. Ann’s Bay Primary School, my aunt knelt in front of me to say goodbye before she left to catch a plane to America where she would create a better life for us.
The time prior to that was in 2007 for my great grandfather’s funeral. This time, I explored my old stomping grounds a lot more than during the time of Grandpa’s funeral. For the first time, I got to see the very home where my late great grandmother resided on Garden Tennant Rd.
I was also able to visit my old home, where I grew up before my aunt left for America, which was my grandmother’s house. She built it before she left for America. Life in that house was great. I lived there with my aunt and my late great grandfather.
When I think about the ultimate carefree time in my life, I think about life in this house. Mentally, this is my happy place. From getting a codfish bone stuck in my throat one Sunday morning and eating as many boiled dumplings as I could to get it to pass (and failing), to throwing my teeth on the roof when they fell out (that’s our tradition, no toothfairy), I learned how to be Jamaican while living in this house.
Then, I visited the house I lived in with my cousins when my aunt left for America.
Looking at it from the street, it was amazing to realize it housed four whole families. We shared the bathroom with one family and the kitchen with another. My new school where my aunt kissed me goodbye, St. Ann’s Bay Primary, was right down the street within sight.
I remember having my foot outlined so my big cousin could go find me new shoes in the market with the tracing. I remember picking almost ripe mangoes off the tree just outside this frame to the right and eating them with salt. In this house, I learned that it really “takes a village.” The whole community looked out for each other’s children. Constantly being offered food and treats from neighbors, I was never ever hungry and I had plenty of friends.
In Atlanta, we started out in Longwood Apartments on North Druid Hills Rd. My aunt and I lived with one other woman, Marcia, who is still a big influence in my life today. We lived with her for my second grade year and then she moved out.
A proud moment in that apartment was when I was 8, I cooked my aunt breakfast in bed all on my own. I’m not sure what the whole meal was, but I definitely scrambled some eggs. This was also a carefree time of my life, but looking back on it, I recognize that my aunt did a lot to provide for me like her own child so that I could have a great childhood.
Because I moved before third grade ended, my homeroom teacher would pick me up from home in the mornings and take me with her to class so that I didn’t have to switch schools so close to the year ending. It was in this house that I got my first real room. In the apartments, my room was the sunroom so I didn’t have a door.
In this house, I had a bedroom door, my own bathroom that I had to keep clean, and my own TV that I couldn’t watch until my homework and chores were complete. In that house, I really started to develop my character traits of being responsible and respectful as I approached my teenage years.
Just in time for high school, we moved again to where we live now, near College Park in an even bigger house. In this house is where I experienced most of my growing pains as the coming-of-age phase of my life transpired.
I had the usual teenage angst: struggling to fit in with a new set of people at a new high school, trying to get boys to notice me without seeming like I’m trying too hard, suffering with depression, and learning how to meditate it away. Best of all, I remember running into my aunt’s room the morning I read I’d been accepted into my alma mater, The University of Georgia!
It’s also very easy to feel immense pressure to own a home that’s even bigger and symbolizes my contribution to the progress we have made as a family, especially being part of the first American-born generation of my lineage. These homes are all monuments of who I am today.
They provide evidence of love and support as well as motivation. I want to live a prosperous life striving to take care of the people who took care of me and to leave my mark on the people that I support: my existing and future family, my friends, and those I meet and influence on my career path to becoming a User Experience Researcher. Remember the name: Shanice S. Stewart.
Fair skinned (or so society tells me).
I can stroll down the street or into a restaurant and be quite certain others will respond kindly toward me. I never fear or worry in the slightest about law enforcement. Magazines, movies, and newspapers are plastered with images of people who look like I do. I have never been asked to speak on behalf of my entire race. I can walk around unaware of my color and reap the undeserved benefits and entitlements that come along with my white privilege.
I could also choose to fight against systemic racism one day and completely ignore it the next because I am not disadvantaged by it personally. It doesn’t affect my daily life. But I affect it. Daily. The white privilege woven into my everyday life allows me to collect unearned advantages and opportunities at the expense of others.
Is my white skin really fair skin?
We’ve gotten to a point where in certain situations the color of our skin speaks louder than the words that come out of our mouth. It’s awful. It’s frustrating. It’s downright sickening. It’s the system we have been born into. Our society is saturated in white privilege. Oppression comes based upon skin color. Before a word is spoken, minds are made up about who people are based on appearance alone. Culture screams that the color of your skin determines your place.
My white skin is not fair skin. It gives me an unfair advantage that grants me unearned freedoms, unearned benefits, and unearned exemptions in our society.
I’ve heard a number of people say that they “don’t see color” or are “colorblind” when it comes to discussions about race and privilege. It’s always white people who are making these claims. Go figure. What they mean to say is they don’t consider themselves racist and don’t see themselves as prejudiced against people of color. However, it’s statements like “I don’t see color” that reek of white privilege.
Ignoring color just further promotes ignorance. As James Baldwin said, “To be white in America means not having to think about it.” Whites are in denial about their participation in the perpetuation of racism. Myself included. While I try to be aware, I know there are still hidden ways that I am contributing to this system of oppression without realizing it. Blindly going about our lives silently, and often unknowingly, oppressing other races is what has to change.
Not seeing color also strips people of their identity. Our differences are there to be seen and celebrated. I believe there is significant purpose in each of our ethnicity backgrounds for the glory of God and the expansion of His kingdom. *Surprise side note: Jesus wasn’t a white American, contrary to popular westernized “Christianity” belief*. Every human is created equal in worth, value, and dignity. I believe God has made us all uniquely in His image and it is the diversity of humanity that makes it so beautiful.
Rather than whites searching for the reflection of themselves in other people, shouldn’t we be looking for the reflection of Christ?
Until people of privilege feel compelled to make this problem of privilege their own problem and do something to change it, systemic racism won’t end. We need to consciously have the eyes to see how our white privilege is affecting the lives around us. Until the issue is acknowledged and faced head on, no change will be made.
We have to become listeners and learners.
We have to become mindful of the ways we are contributing to the system of oppression and disrupt these social norms when we see them. Even if you don’t think you are contributing, you are. I’m not accusing you of being racist; I’m saying the problem of racism is much bigger than you and me. It has become institutionalized and ingrained so deeply into every aspect of our society. We have been trained to not see and simply overlook the ways we whites participate in systemic racism. So we actively have to learn to recognize the effects. By interrupting cultural norms we make the invisible visible. We shake the system.
A dialogue has to start. It is long overdue. The time was decades ago for the conversation to begin between whites and people of color. Rather than assuming we know all the answers, we listen. We listen to the voices of the minorities who have been kicked around because of our privilege.
We listen to the experiences of those who have received unearned disadvantages because of white privilege. We educate ourselves. We remain learners, admitting we will never know all the answers. Instead of turning away or stepping back, we lean into the conversation as we humbly ask, tell me more.
I want to get some things clear: A rapist does not have to drive a white van. A rapist does not have to be a bum. A rapist does not have to be strung out. A rapist does not have to be Hispanic, or Latino, or Black. A rapist does not have to wear a wife beater or have any gang paraphernalia.
Hell, a rapist does not have to be a guy…
A rapist can have a 401 K.
A rapist can have a trust fund.
A rapist can have a kid, who is cute as a button, and can have pictures of this kid framed all over his house.
A rapist can wear Vineyard Vines (or in my case, a blue button down), be from the suburbs, and look like the complete package.
Looks can be deceiving.
I learned that the hard way.
And now that our nation is finally willing to have that “hard conversation,” as they referred to it, in countless post-rape talk and group therapy support sessions, there are still some things that still need to be cleared up.
No, you did not rape him on the court.
You did not get raped by that test.
Your best friend did not “rape you” when you shriek, in jest, as he or she hugged or touched you in a way that you wholeheartedly welcomed and appreciated.
Rape is not funny. Even if you don’t intend to poke fun, you need to choose your words wisely, because so many people in our country, like myself, are secret survivors in a silent sisterhood (or gender-inclusive community). We are just struggling to get through each day without a reminder of what was taken from us.
The word “rape” is a trigger.
We do not want to be reminded of what we endured more than already necessary; on a near-daily basis (depending on the person), our brains provide us with waves of flashback to those heart-wrenching moments.
Being pulled into those flashbacks by inappropriate, ill-fitting comments, regardless of the intention, can be trying to any survivor, who already withstands uncontrollable memory-stimulated flashbacks as a means of coping and purging.
When I hear people use the word “rape” in an inappropriate, joking manner, I can’t help but flash back.
I see myself trusting a “friend” to sleep on his couch for the night due to roommate issues.
I see the texts I sent him, making him promise that he would respect me if I stayed over. That he would respect our friendship and just let me couch surf as he would any dude. Preventative measures, because as a girl in this patriarchal world, I knew I had to protect myself.
I see myself accepting a glass of some sort of alcohol from him, because I was too sober to deal with his drunkenness and just wanted to sleep.
I see the pixels of those texts, engorging then retracting, now fuzzy and obsolete, meaningless promises spinning down the drain with my dignity as I immediately black out.
I see myself from an out of body POV, hanging above, waking up, on his couch…my pants are on the ground, I am in his boxers. I have no recollection of the previous night, but I am in extreme pain.
I see the bruises running up my sides.
I see the tears streaming down my face.
I see his goddamn blue button down…one of my triggers, a fixation, as I come to.
I see a loss of dignity, an onslaught of probes, prods, things being taken from me, to ensure that I’m all right because HE took something FROM me.
Not a stranger…a white, preppy trust fund kid from the suburbs with a good job and a 401K.
One of my close guy friends said it was my fault…that I “asked for it” by sleeping at a guy’s place.
Do guys “ask for it” when they spend the night at each other’s places?
Did I ask to be stripped of my ability to trust?
We, as a society, need to be more sensitive to the plight of survivors.
We are not victims. We are coping, adjusting to a new normal, riding the waves of traumatic recall, and ultimately, surviving to thrive.
We are not untouchables.
The word “rape” cannot just be thrown around in jest. Similar to “retard” and “gay,” it must be used with consideration…people are and have been constantly affected by such words. These words are our lives (or they have been), and it is not acceptable to use them inappropriately. Think before you speak.
People fear judgment, and that is why they remain silent. Rape is a serious experience, and just because we choose to remain silent, does not entail cowardice. Self-healing is a priority, and nobody should take it upon his or herself to judge those who have survived rape until they walk a mile in their moccasins.
Do not throw around the term…it can cause unthinkable amounts of hurt.
For those who are survivors of rape or sexual assault: it is not your fault. I know that isn’t always reassuring to hear, but after having a few assholes try to weigh you down by saying otherwise, you need to know that nobody has a right to you, your voice, or your body except you.
We need to reevaluate our perspectives on rape culture. We need to realize that not all rapes are the “stereotypical strangers” but that they can hit closer to home then we might think. The best way to prevent is to inform, and I think we can start by sharing our stories, anonymous or not. But remember, you are never alone.
The following accounts are true, and there is no fiction or hyperbole present. It may be hard to believe. It may be hard to understand. But, even though it’s been almost two years, I still remember everything as clear as if it were just yesterday.
Before I begin my story, let me provide some context. The Aghori are a very specific sub-sect of Hindu priests. They worship Shiva, the god who plays the role of “the destroyer” in Hindu mythology.
They look absolutely terrifying, smoke massive amounts of pot, live far away from cities, ritually consume human flesh, and bathe in human ashes. As a result, they are feared by the rest of society for their cannibalistic activity, and are considered extremely dangerous due to their constant state of being stoned.
Many people also believe them to be practitioners of black magic, which only adds to the terrifying air of mystery and unknown that shrouds the Aghori. Nobody dares try to interrupt their (sometimes very illegal) practices – neither the people they offend nor the police.
He had heard about an interesting structure, a large, ancient gateway running along the top of a cliff almost 500 meters high. In ancient times, this used to be the gateway to the plateau we were situated on. My friend (who will now be referred to as V) loved to go explore abandoned monuments scattered all over the state, and I was more than ready to go photograph buildings in disrepair.
We left the city in central India early the next morning, since we only had a vague idea of where it was located. We figured we’d have to do some driving around to find it. Around three hours later, after driving for miles on tiny dirt paths along the cliff with absolutely no cell reception, we got to the gateway. We were sorely disappointed.
It had been ‘restored’ poorly. They had clearly cut corners and basically just slapped ugly, graffitied plaster and cement on top of the beautiful old stone that was originally the surface. Sadly enough, this kind of ‘restoration’ is getting more and more common with Indian monuments.
We could see what looked like the ruins of a small, long-abandoned fort. We couldn’t figure out the actual route to drive up to the fort. Luckily, we saw a man walking along the street who probably lived around there.
V pulled down his window and asked the local for directions to the fort. Before he answered, the local hesitated for a minute, and then finally asked us why we would want to visit such a godforsaken place. We were very puzzled. We chalked it up to “superstitious rural bullshit,” laughed it off, and coerced him into pointing us to the right path.
We drove up closer, parked the car about half a mile from the fort where the dirt path ended, and walked over. The doorway to the fort was pretty imposing. It was a massive brass-lined behemoth with nasty looking spikes protruding from it. Since the door looked too heavy and tall for us to move it, we opted to climb over one of the corners that was now just a pile of rubble.
The inside of the fort was almost completely bare, save a few patches of shrubbery and one solitary, tiny free-standing room right in the center. The room had a closed door on it that looked recently installed, which prompted me and V to exchange a look of slight discomfort.
We wordlessly decided to steer clear of the room, and distracted ourselves by walking to the other end of the fort to give it a look. All of a sudden, we caught a whiff of a scent that is all too familiar to anyone who has spent the night in a college dorm – it absolutely reeked of weed.
We looked around, and stumbled upon a rather large crop of weed hidden between the shrubbery. This discovery along with the local’s earlier warning and the lack of cell reception had me and V understandably panicked. We decided to head back to the car and get as far away from this spooky fort as possible.
As we were heading back, we crossed the closed door again. To our surprise, it was now open. From the darkness of the room, a menacingly tall, lean man ambled out and looked towards us, confused.
At this point in time, we didn’t know that he was an Aghori, we just saw a man in a loincloth with matted hair and a huge beard glaring at us. He broke the tension by smiling, and told us not to be scared. He told us he was a “holy man,” and that we had no reason to worry. This did nothing to ease our fear. We managed to mumble a vague greeting. He responded by inviting us into his hovel for a cup of tea. We tried to refuse, but he was having none of it.
Culturally, hospitality is a big deal in India; it would be offensive to refuse someone’s hospitality. He got slightly angry, and asked us if we were really planning on refusing a holy man’s hospitality.
Since the car was at least half a mile away and we seemed to have run out of options, we had no choice but to follow him in. A strange sight greeted us inside. There was an altar with a trident sticking out of it. We were terrified, and we didn’t know what fate awaited us.
Once inside, he took his spot on a pile of rags on one side of the altar, and gestured towards another pile of rags on the other side for us to sit on. There was no further mention of tea. Instead, he procured a chillum (pipe) that looked like it was made from bone, and started filling it up with from two neat little piles. One looked like pot and the other is still a mystery to me.
It was then that we finally understood that this man was an Aghori. Considering the horrible rumors prevalent about them in India, we were even more terrified. He took a deep draw from the chillum, and wordlessly handed it to V.
V looked uncertain, so the Aghori told us that it wasn’t an option to refuse an offering to his god. He looked at V with a stern glint in his eye, so V gulped and slowly took the chillum from him. He lit a match, took a small draw, and then started coughing violently. The Aghori seemed to find this funny, and laughed.
He gestured to V to hand the chillum to me. With shaking hands, I pretended to take a draw and faked a cough. He seemed to believe my ruse, and took the chillum from me. At this point, me and V were so far past petrified that we were instilled with a false sense of calm, and we decided to make the most of the situation.
What we heard was very surprising – one would assume that a person wouldn’t just choose to become an Aghori. It would be the result of being born into it, or having a very hard childhood and being left with no other options.
What the Aghori told us as he sipped on a glass of water was that he was born into a perfectly normal family. He was in school through middle school like a normal child, but in his teen years, he realized that this was his true calling in life.
He thought he had come into contact with a higher power, albeit through no real critical spiritual experience. He rejected his family and his old way of life to become an Aghori. He ran away from home, searched far and wide for an Aghori, and followed him around until the Aghori accepted him as his apprentice and trained him.
As he was taking his next draw from the chillum, he heard my camera’s soft click. He took a purposefully long, slow draw, all the while glaring straight at me accusingly. Once he finished, he paused for a second, and vehemently asked me whether I had been secretly photographing him.
As I stuttered, he slowly started laughing, told me he was just joking, and it was perfectly alright. He even posed for me while twirling his mustache. A few minutes later, he seemed to have been overcome with whatever he was smoking, and he lay down seemingly in a trance. V and I took this chance to quietly slip out, and hurry back to our car.
Neither of us said a word to each other during the three hour drive back home.
I understand that this story might seem pointless. But this was my first real experience with such deep religious spirituality that it converted me from an atheist to agnostic. As a photographer, this is the story behind some of my favorite shots, a story that I have never before shared with anyone in its entirety.
Imagine a country that is not only holy to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but is also in the middle of a war zone.
Israel is at the crossroads of religion, culture, customs, war, and tradition. When I arrived in Israel in December 2014, it was only months after the country’s most recent conflict in the summer before, instilling a stirring of anxiety within me.
The fear for my safety suddenly melted into a less rational and more pleasant fear that my 10-day trip wouldn’t be enough for me to see and experience everything that I had been excitedly waiting for. On my trip, I found a desire to explore not only more of my Jewish culture and heritage, but also a love of travel and experiences outside of my comfort zone.
We spent 10 days traveling up and down this country that is smaller than New Jersey, coming in close contact at times with countries such as Syria and Jordan, whose borders were only miles away. Hours were spent in outdoor markets, eating our way through cities, walking the same paths that prophets and world leaders had taken before, and seeing Israel through different eyes.
From 5am hikes up huge mountains that once stood as forts, to swimming in the lowest place on Earth, the Dead Sea, Israel offered a variety of different experiences all wrapped up in one country. More than anything though, going to Israel taught me to be proud of my heritage.
Going from a community with a large Jewish population to a large university of 35,000 incredibly diverse people, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of college life and lose sight of how important you really are.
For me, I was able to understand the concept of “world citizen” in this trip because going to Israel and seeing the culture that I love so much in person really changed my perspective on how I choose to live my life.
We had seven Israeli soldiers join our trip halfway through. Service in the army is mandatory for 18 year olds with men serving three years and women serving two at least. That was a turning point for me in the trip because it really showed me the distinctions of the ways that 18 year olds in Israel lived vs. my life as an 18 year old in the state.
The stark contrasts in our lives didn’t take away from how similar we realized we all were. They listened to the same music, watched the same shows, and wanted the same things for their future as I did. I had never thought about these soldiers as more than just people who were thousands of miles away, fighting for a country that I loved.
Even months later we were able to reconnect with some of these people when they came and visited Athens. This time, we were able to show them our side of being college students. Keeping those connections really brought this trip full circle. Those 10 days brought me much closer with my religion, my community, and who I want to become.
Deep down, I truly believe it’s the cross cultural exchanges that have the most amazing impact on changing a person no matter where they go.
Maital is also part of a phenomenal organization all AIESEC. In conjunction with our partnership with their organization, please see their blog here:
“What do you want to do this summer?”
This was a question Brandon’s dad asked him every summer since he could walk.
At age 12 his dad and his uncle traversed all across Europe, from the Notre Dame Cathedral to the breathtaking Berlin Wall. His father’s adventurous spirit inspired their atypical itineraries of adventures that ranged from zip-lining through the mile long canyons of Costa Rica to relaxing in the natural warm springs of Thermopolis, Wyoming. It was a typical Tuesday night and they were congregating around the dinner table.
Brandon’s eyes shot at his father with a confused stare and waited for further explanation. He explained that he wanted to go to Washington and do some hiking in the mountains. Over the years his dad had taken him to Seattle several times and Brandon was infatuated with all the natural beauty he saw.
He was enamored, the countless evergreen trees fertilized by the reposeful rain; so as you can imagine, he was all for his dad’s suggestion. Little did he know what he was getting into.
At last it was summer.
His dad, his brother, and Brandon himself flew out to Seattle to begin their journey. The night they arrived, they conversed with the mountain guides that were taking them up the ten-thousand seven-hundred and eighty-one foot summit of Mt. Baker. They informed them of what they would need and supplied them with some food and gear. Imagine your food supply for five days only being encompassed in two gallon sized zip-bloc bags. This was made possible by dehydrated foods.
As Brandon’s bag began to fill with food, his stomach began to fill with butterflies.
After a good night’s sleep, they were off to climb. It’s not that he thought that climbing a mountain would be easy. However, after the first day of hiking, he quickly realized that he had underestimated the task at hand. Hiking was not a foreign activity to him, but never had he hiked as he did on the first day of the Mt. Baker ascension. He was required to carry his sixty pound backpack consisting of all of his food, clothing, and supplies for four and a half miles at a stifling incline the whole way. This was only to reach base camp.
He was enjoying himself, learning, and having fun in the snow, but still there was the underlying thought in the back of his head that he would not be able to complete his journey after the draining difficulties he faced on the first day.
They were sitting around the campfire the evening before the summit day. Their mountain guides were clarifying any last minute questions and were getting them ready for an early wake up call. Brandon was worried about the climb, but when they asked who was ready to go, he masked my fear with a yell as everybody cheered in unison.
Next thing he knew it was two-thirty in the morning, the moment of truth; they were waking up to start their ascent. They opted to wake up before the sun rose to avoid as much of the day’s heat as possible. At the beginning of the hike he was so groggy that he couldn’t even feel the intensity of the slope in front of him. All Brandon could think of was putting one foot in front of the other.
Hours passed like minutes and then all of the sudden, the sun began to peak up over the mountains and highlight the various jagged peaks around them.
It was the most riveting sunrises he had ever seen.
The ravishing colors, the burning orange, and the crisp yellows put him in a trance. The entire day Brandon was captivated by the beauty of the nature surrounding him.
It completely took Brandon’s mind off of the pain of his aching legs and the mental agony that never ceased to burden him. It motivated him in my climbing and drove him all the way to the top.
Once Brandon had reached the summit, it felt like he had arrived to a surreal, tranquilizing place. Although it was not his home, it felt like he had fulfilled a destiny.
Parallel with the clouds, adjacent with the once intangible peak, Brandon had reached ten-thousand feet, the vertex of heaven and earth. He knew that climbing a mountain would be a huge risk, but in doing so he became a stronger person, grasping the concept of mental endurance. Through the miles of intense hiking, he also re-defined my idea of physical endurance. This was one of the most miraculous experiences in Brandon’s life. What was once merely a fantasy had become a reality.