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Few people know that my sister and I were named after the iconic singer, songwriter and activist Nina Simone. My mother grew up listening to her music and had a lifelong obsession that started as a small girl, playing with dolls’ names accordingly, and often said if she ever had two children, she would name one Nina and one Simone. When I was born, as the oldest, my mother said I didn’t look like a Nina, so she named me Simone. And so began a lifelong journey into studying the biography, lyrics, and journey of Ms. Nina Simone. I recently read a powerful quote from her that is apropos to this moment. An unapologetic civil rights activist, who often wrote, what was considered controversial lyrics, including the iconic “Young, Gifted and Black.” When asked what freedom looks like, she simply replied “No Fear.’ When I first read this twenty years ago, it didn’t quite resonate with me the way it does today. Two simple words. Nonetheless powerful. What must it look like to live without fear? What must it feel like to walk through life with fear? What an incredible privilege and at the same time a foreign concept to so many. To lack fear of retribution because of the tenor of your voice. To lack fear for the color of your skin. To lack fear that your child or future children not only face the unknown elements every parent face, but exponentially increase because American society devalues your Black child as a threat and therefore less than a human being. How incredible to not worry if you show emotion or passion that you will be labeled as uncooperative and angry. Well guess what, I am angry. And I have a right to be. The continued senseless deaths; no, murders — of unarmed black people, the disproportionate number of black citizens who are dying from COVID-19, should make ALL OF US ANGRY.
I am also in mourning. The grief is palpable. No one can or should tell you how to mourn. And trust me that is what we are in a state of, mourning. For our society, for our community, for our people, and for this country we built. For the loss potential — and crying for the generations of pain that we can’t seem to move past. I am in mourning for the guilt I feel for my economic privilege. My educational privileges. The fact that I can choose to stay safe at home. Last night, I chose to protest, amidst a peaceful crowd where the police turned violent with tear gas and flash bangs.
I can choose to go to work today, and that I even have a job to go to, when 40 million are unemployed. The privilege that I work with white colleagues who make choices everyday about how and if they will mourn too; And what they will do with that grief; but yet call themselves allies; I mourn the fact that so many do not have that privilege. I mourn the fact that Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd and countless others did not have a choice. The question is what are you mourning? How can you make space for — No Fear — at all? And what are you willing to do with your choice?
Does that make you uncomfortable? It should. Welcome to being black in America. Are you worried about the danger from peaceful protests turned violent? Are you worried about exposure during a pandemic where crowds make it impossible to social distance? You should. You should be FEARFUL. Lest we forget those that were willing to be whipped, jailed, beaten, hosed and tear gassed; and yet we are still having the same fight for our humanity 400 years later. And believe me this fight is a fight for humanity. It is a fight for my value. It is a fight for survival. It is a question of living the core values we claim on social media, we write about in policy papers, and hold conferences and tele townhalls about. And ultimately, whether you are willing to sacrifice and shift to fight for that action? It is time to put words into action. Don’t ask what you should do. Just do something. This is the information age. There is no excuse for inaction. Suggestions and resources abound. Be unapologetic. Be bold. Be relentless. Be uncomfortable. Be the promise and live into the potential of this country. Be fearless.