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"Say Her Name"

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

I walk outside and my smile falters. My heart races. I look over my shoulder; there’s no sun today. I needed the warmth of the sun. It’s the energizing force that my dark skin craves. I imagine it to be an invisible shield that protects me. Oh well. I’m armored as best as I can be. My hair is just right. It’s a wig. It protects my natural hair and me in more ways than one. It’s straight with lightly colored beach waves. It’s not too “unnatural” as to seem “ghetto” but it shows that I’ve put effort into socially acceptable. My coworkers like my hair like this. I know because they’ve told me so many times. Just that thought makes me contemplate a braid-out instead. But, not today. Today, I want to be as nondescript as possible. My jumpsuit is freshly pressed. The sash at my waist is tied into a meticulous bow. I smile as I tie that bow. I remember my mother tying similar bows countless times throughout my childhood. Today, it’s there to add just a hint of something. Another layer. It says, “See, I’m well put together.”

I woke up early today to spend a little time just basking in the solitude that a new day brings. It’s a chance to commune with myself. To just be. A time to laugh at my plaits that refuse to stay beneath my night bonnet and now waywardly point in every direction. I contemplate that braid-out again but I’m on a schedule. Time to put them away. With one last look in the mirror, I gather my purse, step into my shoes and take one more deep breath before heading for the door. I walk with a purposeful stride, head held high and say a little prayer of gratitude. I’m alive to see another day. The names of so many who aren’t here weigh heavily on my mind. So many who were hopeful, who had dreams, who loved and were loved.

My stride falters as that rush of names become faces in my mind’s eye. Today is Sandra Bland’s birthday. She’d woken up a few years ago also filled with hope. A new job meant any number of new possibilities for her and her family. Breonna Taylor had gone to bed possibly to dream of her future. Atatiana Jefferson hadn’t even made it to bed. The names come faster: Aura Rosser, Michelle Cusseaux, Janisha Fonville, Gabriella Nevarez, Tanisha Anderson... “Get it together, girl!” I unfurrow my brows, unclench my jaw and relax my shoulders. I smooth my hand over my clothes and fiddle with my bow. I know that nothing about the way I am dressed will protect me from the threats that lurk at every corner in a world that views my black body as disposable. I approach the entrance of work and instinctively turn up the volume on my head phones. It’s Talib Kweli asking to be delivered. Oh, the irony. I walk into the building I’ve walked into for several years and take out my identification badge. At the front desk is the guard who asked me a few months ago if I belonged here. I don’t make eye contact. I won’t dignify his presence with even that bit. I enter the elevator and look at my watch. It’s 8:53 AM. I’m already exhausted. I square my shoulders and step out of the elevator knowing that I go with those who have gone before me. So many whose names that I don’t know but who’s dreams I am the culmination of. There’s that stride again. It’s purposeful, it’s strong, and it’s bold.

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