What January 20th Means to Me

It’s midnight on January 20, 2017, and I should be elated because today is my birthday. Instead, I am actively fighting feelings of devastation and loss. I feel like I’ve been robbed of my hope and my identity. You see, I’ve come of age as a young Black American during the election and leadership of the first Black President of the United States. Like so many others, I feel as if he and I have a deep friendship, and I remember our best moments like they were yesterday: casting my ballot for him in the first election in which I was old enough to vote; witnessing Joe Biden come to my university for the Vice Presidential debates; and jumping for joy when I realized Barack Obama would be inaugurated on my 19th birthday…



That day, January 20, 2009 was the best day of my life. I had traveled to Washington D.C. without my family (a big milestone for a teenager) in order to witness history being made. I huddled with complete strangers in frigid temperatures on the National Mall, sang Negro spirituals, and waited for the sun to rise and the inauguration of our first Black President to begin. When daylight finally came, and the ceremony started, my heart was filled with joy. My ancestors had not suffered in vain. America was our country, too. We were included in the American dream… these emotions combined with the fresh hope of turning a year older were pure magic.


This magic of President Obama has continued every day for me since. How lucky I have felt. How hopeful I have felt. How included I have felt. How American I have felt. Now it feels as if the incoming president is taking the magic away… I turn 27 today… I mourn today… but we persevere. I choose to remember the strength of my people and my life-changing experience during the inauguration of President Barack Obama instead.


I Do Not Weep at the World

My militant mother and immigrant father taught me I am a citizen of the world above any other affiliation. My concept of love and my sense of unity has never known the arbitrary bounds of man-made borders, and I was never raised to depend on our political or legal institutions neither here nor abroad to derive a sense of freedom or self-worth.


The happenings of November 8th, 2016 change nothing about my identity and to those whose voices cry out in fear and pain today, this is what I know to be true: our freedom comes from within. Politics are not what make us free. Belief in our inalienable civil rights, our love for ourselves, and our love for all others in the face of hate and injustice is our source of freedom.


My father who grew up poor in a war-torn nation always says to me, “People can take things from you. But they cannot take away what is in your mind.” My mind found comfort in the voice of Zora Neale Hurston today — Black Feminist writer from the Harlem Renaissance who lived in an era of overt sexism and racism — an era that feels all too familiar in 2016. She wrote:


  • “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It is beyond me.”

As mentioned in a previous post, Hurston also said:

  • “I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to that sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world — I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”


To all my Female, Black, Brown, LGBTQ, and Immigrant brothers and sisters, and to all our countless allies: no one can kill your heart, your spirit, or your mind. It is my hope that this message brings you comfort. At the same time I recognize I am saying this while enjoying inordinate amounts of privilege: I look to the future without fear of my basic needs of food, shelter, and security not being met; my family members are not at risk of deportation under a new leader; my access to health care and birth control are not in danger. The pain, suffering, and fear our community is feeling is beyond valid and real. It is my (perhaps arrogant) desire that a message of internal freedom can bring a bit of peace. Meanwhile, I’m getting up. No depression or immobilization for me. I must wield my privilege in service of building a more inclusive and safer planet for all.


Oyster knife up.

Photo by Ashley Soong