By Amelia Allen Sherwood
Amelia Allen Sherwood is an Embracing Equity graduate of both the workshop and the online cohort, living in New Haven, Ct. She is the Dean of Social Emotional Learning at Elm City Montessori School and is a racial justice organizer. This is a reflection about the cohort and her action project.
When I registered to participate in an Embracing Equity cohort this spring, I was in a place of deepening my understanding of my own identity. I have been working to dismantle racism in and outside myself ever since I realized that my skin can be used as a tool to oppress and dehumanize me and folx that look like me. See, Black children don’t grow up wanting to end racism. Something racist happens and that experience alters incredible dreams of becoming a marine biologist or a singer. My dream of continual inner and community liberation has always been rooted in uncovering truths about Black people from the diaspora. At an early age, my mother did the best she could to expose me to Africaness, my rich history, and our struggle for freedom. Embracing Equity pushed those memories to the forefront of my mind to assist the spiritual preparation that was about to happen.
As we went deeper into the sessions, there was a life altering halt or rather call to action. On April 16, 2019 a Black couple, Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon received multiple rounds of bullets into their car from Hamden and Yale Police. The incident was 7 minutes away from my house. Notice that both police departments are not New Haven where the incident happened. There is a triple occupation in our city where surrounding police departments have come to over surveillance one specific predominantly Black neighborhood, Newhallville.
With video evidence of his hands in the air, police officer Devin Eaton still shot at Paul and shot Stephanie. Two days later Anthony “Chulo” Vegas was murdered by the Wethersfield police department. Did you hear about these incidents? Did you hear that there is a pandemic of police brutality in Connecticut? There is an incredible erasure of police terror in our community. In 2017, Jayson Negron was murdered by Bridgeport police. He was 15 years old. I wanted to organize two years ago, but it was too real. I turned off the news and ignored all of the Facebook invites to protest because Jayson could have been my student, a neighbor, or my family member. I was raising two young Black children and when police violence comes that close to your door, you wait out the storm of anxiety and preserve your peace. However this time, I had to fight. I had to fight not only for Stephanie and Paul, but all the others who have been murdered by the police in my city, in my state, in our country.
I immersed myself in the movement to hold the police and department accountable. I made a commitment to disrupt a system that continues to get away with brutalizing us. I remember rushing out of a legislative council meeting to hop on the Embracing Equity session call only to find myself checking in with tears and a fast heartbeat saying, “I can’t do this. I thought I could, but I just need to be with my family right now.” My facilitators gave me well wishes and held space for me to feel what I needed. I was grateful I found commnity in my cohort as I navigated learning and leading organizing efforts.
The Embracing Equity sessions stretched definitions I thought I knew and propelled me to activate a continued learning of my REI (racial ethnic identity) as a way to disrupt anti-Blackness and reclaim my humanity. We are never done learning and even when you feel like an expert, there is so much more to build on, and so many more mistakes to unpack. As a Black woman raising Black children with a Black man, it is my duty to interrogate racist systems as a tool for survival. I think my most back of the heart takeaway, is holding ourselves in wholeness when the world swallows you and just when you think you become nothing with the wind, your people cradle you back to yourself, back to this incredible human connection that bundles us in togetherness.
I want to leave with a poem published in Speaking for Ourselves and dedicate this piece for all the sistas that water me in the movement. This is for all the Black womxn organizers on the ground in New Haven, CT!
Believe Black women
Believe our stories before the rage swells up in our spirit
Believe us when there is no witnesses
No courageous white woman around to vouch for us
Believe us when we say we are tired
It takes us a long time to say it, so believe us when it comes out our mouths the first time
Believe our anxiety and depression
We are not being dramatic or crazy
Its real and we deserve to be honest about our mental health
Believe our pain
When our bellies are full with baby, don’t tell us to wait while we die in front of you
Just because we are magic and woman and black doesn’t mean that we can heal ourselves every single time
We need you to fight for us
Believe that we can be on the receiving end of love
Believe that our hearts are always open even if a smile doesn’t pucker our lips
Believe that black love still exists and is a form of disruption in and of itself
We are more than our heartache
Stop romanticizing our strength
as if our pain can be sold and bottled
We are worthy of a good morning
A hello beautiful detached from words that spoil it like “look happier “ “smile you are too beautiful”
Believe our whole bodies
Cuz our body language is even restricted
Can’t place my hand on my hip without feeling the looks
Can’t move them without being called nasty
Can’t birth from them without being called fast
Can’t adjust ourselves without jaw drops
Our Movement is a revolution
Our hair defies gravity and space and no you can’t touch it
Our frown is a battle cry
Our hand waving is a smoke signal that you messed with the wrong one and don’t let a clap accompany it cuz you are in clap back territory
Every time we walk
we march in formation
Every time we stay home to be with our family instead of going to the next community meeting
Know it is still resisting
Stop defining our healing for us
Stop telling us when to heal and when to work just for our names to be vanished from acknowledgements, from the news, from your cliff notes
Stop labeling our anger as a weakness
Stop thinking that we are all the same
Stop describing trans and non-binary folk as other
Stop redirecting your question so you can get a “more polite answer”
Stop thinking you can come to us for any and every damn thing around our skin when we are more than equity experts (because we have to be as a necessity for survival)
Stop apologizing for you racist remarks, just say it once and learn from it
Believe us when we say the work is urgent
Believe black women when its an unpopular thing to do again
No longer a trend or a t-shirt or a button
Believe us and make it count
Believe that we can do it ourselves and if we need help we will ask you