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  • Yemi S.

The First Time I Knew I Was Black—

I am Black, and I love Black people—and I want Black people to be free.

In fact, I know the moment when I became Black, when I came into the awareness that Black people are amazing and Black spaces are dynamic, and that there's an energy to Blackness, an honesty, a rhythm, a flow.... No one can explain it because it's deeper than language, higher than sound, but I'm in love with the unmistakable vitality of Blackness, and I can recall my first conscious taste of it.


I don't know the exact dates and details but I do recollect clearly the occasion. It was a march in Washington, DC to call for a national holiday to commemorate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. It's why I revere him... and the others whose work is to be honored. I was 5 maybe 6 years old, and it felt to me then like a zillion people were there. And there was purpose. At my tender age, even I knew why we were marching. I felt through the crowd and began to understand intellectually that Black people were steadfastly committed to our own freedom. More than our skin color, the commitment to liberation is what made us Black. We were asserting our humanity, and there was dignity, I felt so empowered. But what sold me on my Black privilege was the joy. We were full of purpose and joy and love. Clearly, the Blackness that was shared in that space was beautiful, and I was beyond proud to be a beneficiary of it.


That's when I knew it was a privilege to be Black because I couldn't imagine that any other space could generate the vibe shared in that crowd.


And you know what? We won...

As I got older, I studied Black history more deliberately. I was particularly fond of the genius of Black strategy in gaining rights and equal citizenship. Charles Hamilton Houston became my favorite Black intellectual of all time. He is known as the man who killed Jim Crow. Diligent, precise, competent beyond reproach, he prepared a generation of legal minds to attack the discriminatory practices that were an extension of American slavery. In college, I composed a comparative analysis of the language and themes in the speeches and writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X for my undergraduate thesis. I love the story of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 60's. To know what was accomplished... it commands awe. It is arguably the greatest feat of social engineering in the history of human civilization. I'm certain it will never not inspire me.

To be Black in America is, of course, defined by a great deal more than merely the quest for fair and equal access to the promises of citizenship... but it was that pursuance of justice that first gathered my attention to my own racial identity, an integral aspect of my own sense of self.

After that day, I knew that I am Black, and I love Black people—and I want Black people to be free.

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