I saw Kiana Ledé perform “Dear Mr. President” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert earlier this week, which led me to the song’s original video and it brought a tear to my eye. I said to myself, “Am I crying?”. The specific part was when a beautiful Black couple was getting married at a protest, fists proudly in the air. Portraying love in the middle of a peaceful protest. It got me good. I have been involved in these issues since college. From the injustices of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many more; I never really decompressed from this recent uprising of protests, rallies, and marches. I do not think I ever will. I have sat with my feelings bottled up, and that was not healthy. So here is my attempt to share my experience. I understand I have lived with certain privileges, so I know I am not going through the same experiences as my fellow Black, Indigenous, and people of color. But, I want to let folks know that I stand with you. With that said, let me narrate my inner dialogue during some key events from these last several months.
Protesting in Social Media
I was quarantined in my house, like everyone else. Witnessing my friends, who I have shared deep conversations with these issues, take to the streets. Letting their voices be heard. Even seeing some of my past minority mentees from the UW standing up for what they believe, damn near 4 blocks from where I live. They were loud and non-stop, just like they should be. You could not ignore the cries for justice throughout the streets and social media. I was inspired and guilty at the same time. There was despair in me. I wanted to join them in the street, but I did not want to risk possibly infecting family if I happened to catch COVID-19. So, I found other ways and ended up donating to causes, signing a bunch of petitions, and shared content. I stayed home.
Though, once upon a time, I used to create a lot of content for social media. As I continued to watch the protests from Twitch hearing the sounds and roaring chants, I wanted to capture that in some way. Using the images from the protests happening in my neighborhood matched with those persistent chants, I created these images. Simple and straight to the point. I churned out as many of these as I could and shared them in all of the social media outlets I could. It was a small action, but action nonetheless.
“We Want To Live” March
I decided to go on my first march during this pandemic. I woke up that morning and I apologized to my brother, who I have been quarantining with. He looked at me and gave me the nod like any Kuya would. He understood. I still had a concern sitting in the back of my head that I would bring something back. And if I contributed to infecting my family, that would have stuck with me forever. But, I walked out of the house. Mask in hand. Hand sanitizers in my pocket. Conscious to not interact with anyone. I was on a mission.
As I drove down to South Seattle, I found it fitting this was going to start where I grew up most of my life. I did not know how many people were going to be there, but I know I wanted to be there. I wanted to support the community where I grew up. Born and raised in Seattle, this was a special march for me. Back home, back in the neighborhood where I played basketball at the park. I parked my car in a neighborhood I knew that would have parking and I walked. Not seeing many people at first, but that changed when I hit Othello Street and Martin Luther King Jr Way. People were coming out of their cars, coming down the hill, jumping out of the trains, they were all coming out. The closer I got to Othello Park, that is when I saw the people came out. Masked up and socially distancing. It was in the back of their minds too. I was not alone.
We heard the roaring crowds chant, “Black Lives Matter”, with speakers grounding the march to what matters. Led by the young Black community, we started to march and that is when you see the crowd when we got to Rainier Avenue. Sun blazing, people were out chanting in unison, playing their music, marching with a purpose. I even saw spectators out of their houses cheering us all along while recording the moment themselves. I remember spotting a Black elderly woman crying with her hands above her head clapping. There was a joy to see the community come out. We ended the march at the Rainier Beach Safeway, where the community restaurants fed us and a group of speakers solidified the message through speeches and songs. I was hopeful. I was proud to march with my friends and my community. No police were present at this march.
I was standing on the corner where I witnessed the Seattle Police Department threw flash bombs, tear gas, and pepper spray into a crowd of peaceful protestors. I stood in horror with my phone in the air recording what I was seeing. Eyes wide open looking into the eyes of other protestors, I still have that image in my mind. I could not believe it. People trying to avoid violence and chaos. I captured what I could before the fear came over me and then I started to run the route I said I would when things went bad. As I walked home, I was still in disbelief about what just happened.
Days later, I stood in the same corner after the Seattle Police Department abandoned the East Precinct. The area had much more of a joyous vibe. The sounds were replaced by people playing music, painting art, and teach-in discussions. They even had a “No Cop Co-op” where folks could grab snacks and drinks while you enjoyed the festivities. It felt different, it felt peaceful. I know it did not last, but I enjoyed that brief moment. Even if it was only for a couple of fleeting days in the beginning.
March in Silence for Black Lives
Amid COVID-19, a silent march made a lot of sense. Both in the practicality of not actively spreading anything through chants and the power of a crowd not speaking a word. My brother joined me this time around. It was raining that morning. Raining hard. I thought no one would be there, but I was wrong. From the 8:46 minutes of silence to the speeches from the organizers, it was a moving experience. I saw a huge crowd of people standing 6-feet apart practicing social distancing and they all had masks. And if you did not have one, they were handing them out. Along with water, snacks, and even coffee from Boona Boona Coffee we were taken care of.
As we marched out of Judkins Park towards Jefferson Park, the walking was slower than expected and we did not know why. So we circled the park and jumped back into the march on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Then we realized why it was taking so long. There were thousands of people on the streets, all coming in from the side streets. You could not see where the people started and where it ended. Marching down the hill, you did not hear a thing except for marching footsteps and raindrops falling. It was surreal. And when we reached the peak of the hill towards the park, we looked back and you could not imagine the neverending sea of people coming towards us. That night I found out it was close to over 60,000 people who participated that day. In the rain. For justice. This is the movement.
Several days after, we both got free COVID-19 tests to check whether we caught anything. We pulled into the defunct drive-thru for emissions testing that was outfitted now with coronavirus testing by the Seattle Fire Department. Within minutes, we were at the front in our car having someone stick something up both my nostrils farther than I ever expected. And that was it. Less than 10 minutes. Thankfully, after a day we received our notification we tested negative.
Now I sit here today, still participating in my way through candid discussions with friends, family, strangers, and community members alike. Trying to find ways I can help with my time, money, and conversations. Am I going as hard as I was before? I know I am not. There was a time I was thinking about this nonstop and I feel it was a mix of the 24/7 life of quarantine, social media, and the news. But my BIPOC friends think about this all the time. They do not have the privilege to shut it off and I truly sympathize with that. They live this every single day. So here I am, focusing back on things to keep my mind at ease. Family. Friends. Work. Cooking. Running. Art. Though, I still hear the hear and see the struggle being fought. This is not just their struggle to fight alone, this is our struggle too. So I will continue to do the work on being an ally. ✊🏽 🖤