I recently came across a picture of you. I’m not quite sure how old you are but by the looks of it, you might be five or six. You are at a park-- leaning on a picnic bench with Becky, your favorite childhood cousin, beside you. You and Becky are three years apart and while you will go on to grow up in different parts of the state; because you are both only children, you will consider her more of a sister than a cousin.
In fact, a few years from now, you will find yourself and Becky playing in her neighborhood in Montgomery County with a group older kids trying to bully the two of you. Instead of being intimidated by them, you will stand up to them and forcefully insist that they leave you both alone. You tell them that you are from Baltimore (after all, they are suburban DC kids who likely grew up afraid of anyone and anything from Baltimore City) and that you will kick the ass of anyone who bothers your cousin.
This incident says a lot about you- both who you are now and who you will become.
Though you do not know it now and you will often forget it as an adult, you should know that even at a young age you have always been strong and always stood up for what and whom you believe in.
It is one of your best qualities.
Remember it--even when others try to silence you or when they tell you that your voice is too loud. There will be plenty of people in the future who do not understand your strength and power. They will try to make you feel that something is wrong with you and will tell you that you are too much, too opinionated, too “aggressive.”
Pay no attention to them.
People also said the same thing about Dr. Anna Julia Cooper, Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisolm, Assata Shakur, Leymah Gbowee and all the other brilliant female descendants of Africa in whose image you are created and on whose shoulders you stand.
What people do not understand, they fear. And there is little scarier to systems of oppression than a Black woman who thinks independently and speaks her mind.
I am struck by the twinkle in your eye in this photo. You have big, round brown eyes. Eyes with which you will take in the world and experience all the beauty, sadness, pain and triumph your experiences will offer you.
In your teens, you will wish to go far away from home. You will wish to travel and meet new people, experience new languages and cultures. You will get your wish. You will have the good fortune to study overseas twice. You will end up having a job (one of many jobs you will hold) where you get to work with international development professionals and people trying to make their own countries better in different parts of the world. You will find something special about everyplace that you go. But you will find a special connection to Latin America. More importantly, no matter where you go, Baltimore- the place you wanted to leave so badly, will always feel like home.
You will fall in love.
You will have your heart broken. More than once.
You will give of yourself completely and fully to friends, family, romantic partners and colleagues until you get hurt enough to learn to be more cautious of whom to give your heart to.
You will stay close to your grandmother. She will always be a special part of your childhood. In your adulthood, she will become a close friend and ally.
On November 4th, 2008, she will be the first person you call when Barack Obama is elected the first Black President of the United States. You will both cry together and say that neither of you ever imagined you would live to see this day.
You will feel deliriously hopeful at the prospect of his presidency.
Years later, you will simultaneously hold the feelings of being incredibly proud of him and a sense of disappointment about what he did not do.
You will realize that he, like all people you love and admire, is not bigger than life but is an actual, flawed human being.
This will turn you into a pragmatist who is cautious about what she expects from others.
You will develop a political consciousness that later helps you to understand that politics are lived outside of the voting booth and outside of the Capitol and White House. You will do the work of campaigning for candidates and organizing voters but your heart will always remind you that the real work you need to be doing is in the service of your people.
You will become passionate about and work fiercely for the emotional emancipation of yourself and other Black people.
You will find solidarity in movements that are about the liberation of immigrants, LGBTQ+ persons, reproductive justice and the rights of working people to unionize and make a decent living wage.
After twenty plus years of a hair relaxer, which you did not actually choose for yourself, you will go back to your natural hair. On certain days, you will love it and think it is perfect. On other days, you will contemplate perming it again so that it can finally be tamed and lay straight. Do not worry- this is all part of the journey of accepting and loving yourself as you are.
I write you this letter on the eve of a historic event in this country. It is the first time that a female candidate is nominated by a major party for the position of President of the United States. While others around you will extol this as a victory for all women in the country (and even around the world), you will experience this event with a mix of contrasting emotions. After all, in 1996, you will cast your very first vote in any election for her husband, Bill. And in 2007, when Hillary runs for POTUS for the first time, you will be thrilled. You will believe that you are “Team Hillary” until you realize the kind of deep longing for hope and goodness and change that Barack Obama stirs up inside of you. It will be the first time you really remember having to choose between being Black and being a woman.
Get used to it. It will become a common occurrence later in life.
Because at that time you will have many friendships with white women, you will often find yourself lying about whom you are voting for or risk a barrage of questions and judgment about how you can betray the sisterhood of all women.
In 2016, you will have very different friends. You will also feel differently about the so-called “sisterhood” of all women.
On this historic occasion, you will realize that when white women make strides, you will also know that it is a hard truth that those advancements do not always yield improved conditions for Black women and other women of color. You will know that white women’s progress often comes at the expense of Black women and other women of color. It comes without them reaching a hand back to help other women who look like you.
You will not see yourself in Hillary. And though you will feel proud of him, you won’t really see yourself in Barack Obama. But such is the life of a Black woman- navigating between the lenses of race and gender; never really being seen by white women or Black men.
It will cause you much pain. But it will also instill a value in you to gravitate toward spaces where you can be seen. If they aren’t there, you will create them. You won’t give others the choice not to see you. You will show up fully and demand to be yourself- all the time. In whatever space you are in.
So, on this night, I am still hopeful. I am hopeful, not for Hillary, but for you.
Since women all over the country are celebrating this night and telling their sons and daughters that girls can do or be anything, I want to pass on the same to you.
You need to hear it and this is a good time to share it with you. You will also need to hear it when you are 8. You will need to hear it again at age 18. You will definitely need to hear it again at 28. You will likely need to hear it off and on for the rest of your life.
There are quite a few times in your life that you will experience heartbreak. It will not only come in the form of romantic relationships but also in the context of your social location as a Black woman. There will be real, tangible consequences for you as you work, live and love in a racist society and world.
You will not be prepared for these things the first few times they happen to you. Your heart will make you want to see them as isolated incidents rather than a larger pattern of supremacy that thrives on lies about who you are and who people of color and Black people are.
Often these incidents will make you feel terribly lonely. They will make you question the meaning of life and humanity. They will make you want to curl up into a little ball in your bed and not come out from under the covers.
You should know that, despite how others may deny it, racial trauma and stress are real.
You should also know that the pain will not last forever.
Despite the loneliness you will feel at various points in life, you will also find a loving, quilted fabric of community of your own making and solace in some deep, meaningful relationships. Relationships with people who will see your full humanity and who honor your heart, soul, spirit and all the quirky contradictions that make you who you are.
At this age, you don’t quite know what you want to be when you grow up. You will discover and want to do many things- like writing, anthropology and politics.
You will go on to do all of those things in very non-traditional ways. Like the person that you are and are meant to be, they will defy expectations. They will be complicated. They will be nuanced.
You will write some words that get published and that make people think. You will one day sit on a tree stump in a forest in Oyacachi, Ecuador with an Indigenous man who makes hats from materials in the forest where he tells you about how decisions are made in his community. In Cuba and in West Africa, you will discover the spirits that your ancestors once worshipped. You will call voters and knock on doors in several elections. You will speak at a political event. You will go to the White House where your husband will talk to the first Black president. You will make a career out of working for social and racial justice. You will pride yourself on that work, work in which you help to create a world where people like you can be their full selves.
You will realize the significance of this moment in time, but you will also realize that you don’t need Hillary’s nomination to prove that you can break barriers. Everyday you will break barriers when you live into your passion and purpose as a Black woman in a world that doesn’t want you to survive.
You will not just survive, you will be determined to thrive.
You will take on the world with grit, determination and total badassness with an authenticity that is reflective of who you are in this moment and who you will grow to become.
You are resilient.
You are loved.
You are, and always will be, magical.
With so much love,