News

Veterans Day 2020

As is tradition, on this Veterans Day/Armistice Day/Remembrance Day, the Democrats Abroad France Veterans and Military Families Caucus laid wreaths in cemeteries in Suresnes and Neuilly to honor our fallen soldiers. Here are a few photos from yesterday. Thanks to Anna Marie Mattson and Tilly Gaillard for their efforts on behalf of all Democrats living in France.

In addition, the DA France Veterans and Military Families Caucus held a well-attended Zoom event where thoughts and memories were shared, including these two videos:

Veterans Day 2020 with VFW Post 605

President-elect Joe Biden shared these thoughts yesterday, "Today, we honor the service of those who have worn the uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States. To our proud veterans—I will be a commander in chief who respects your sacrifice, understands your service, and will never betray the values you fought so bravely to defend."

Message from the Chair on 2020 Election Status

Democrats Abroad Global Chair Julia Bryan has issued the following statement:

"Tonight Joe Biden reminded us that 'It ain't over until every vote, every ballot is counted.'

It is going to take time to count the votes, and some states are still waiting for a sizeable number of mail-in votes to arrive. Trump may declare that it's over and no more votes will be counted, but he has no standing to carry through with that statement. 

Even in 'normal' years elections results take time, and that the overwhelming number of vote by mail ballots by necessity will take even longer than usual to tabulate."

Ada Shen, Chair of Democrats Abroad France, underscores this point, saying that "there is a process in place by which the United States conducts elections. It is only normal to expect that each state will follow the vote counting procedures and to adhere to the protections in place for all voters, including overseas absentee voters."

You can listen to Joe Biden's full statement here.


DA France is in the news!

Here are some of the recent appearances by Democrats Abroad France representatives and mentions of DA France in the news!

November 8: LCI with Gretchen Pascalis (French language)


November 8: BFM with Philip Breeden (French language)


November 7: CNEWS with Philip Breeden (French language)


November 7: France 24 with Gretchen Pascalis (French language)

November 7: Libération with Ada Shen and Amy Porter


November 4: LCI- Brunet Direct with Julia Grégoire


November 4: RFI podcast with Fred Hoffman (French language)


October 26: TV78 Patrice Carmouse and Friends with Amy Porter (French language)


November 1: Le Progrès - Diane Sklar (French language)


October 31: NPR - Joe Smallhoover (English language)


October 27: Direct Citoyen - Didier Moutou (French language)


October 23: CNEWS - Amy Porter  (French language)


October 20: ESCP Debate - Jonathon Holler & Ada Shen (English language)


October 22: INSPIRELLE - Voters Abroad


October 9: France 24 - Amy Porter (English language)


Thanks for serving as our DNC Representative (2018-2020) - Connie Borde

With the "changing of the guard" of the Democrats Abroad team at the Democratic National Committee, we wanted to to express our deepest thanks to Connie Borde on behalf of DA France for your service as one of Democrats Abroad's DNC representatives. So we held a party via Zoom with many current and former leaders of Democrats Abroad France, Global Chair of Democrats Abroad Julia Bryan, and a special guest appearance from Representative Jame Raskin (MD 8th district).

If you were unable to join us, here is the recording of the Zoom call. The beginning is a moving video in Connie's honor which gives a good idea of how far Democrats Abroad France has come...with Connie's constant, unflagging presence. Toward the end of the recording you'll also find an animated discourse by Jamie Raskin. Have a look! 

Connie has long been a champion of progressive values. She has been a friend and mentor to countless among us within the DAFrance leadership, the Global Women's Caucus, and, indeed, Democrats Abroad. Your tireless efforts to push Democratic politics to be more, and do more, have left a lasting impression on us all and surely has done so on a great many who had the pleasure of working shoulder to shoulder with you at the DNC. 

Thank you for representing us and inspiring us Connie. And thank you for always keeping us apprised of what was happening within the Democratic National Committee. It was an exceptional convention, maybe the best one ever — and  we hope a harbinger of resounding victory for Democrats this November.

Connie may have completed her term as DNC Representative, but we will all continue to benefit from her leadership of the Democrats Abroad Global Women's Caucus


Getting out the Vote in 2020!

It has never been more important to get out every vote, EVERYWHERE! And, this year, we have a host of motivated volunteers helping Democrats Abroad France and VoteFromAbroad.org to do just that! 

Through October, VotefromAbroad.org volunteers will be on hand to help US citizens living abroad register to vote, request their absentee ballot, and to protect their vote with the Backup Ballot (the FWAB). Please see below for a complete listing of the In-Person Voter Assistance events on the calendar in France.

* Please note that Covid safety measures mean that we may not exceed 10 persons at any point in time, and you may need to wait or return at a later time. We thank you in advance for your cooperation. 

If you cannot stop by one of our in-person events, there is One-on-One Voter Assistance available online (via Zoom) Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Here's the link for times. Join any of these Zoom Meetings using the following connection information

Zoom link: https://zoom.us/j/91090344003, 

Meeting ID: 910 9034 4003
Passcode: Vote2020


IN PERSON EVENTS (PARIS REGION)

 

MONDAYS:

THURSDAYS:

SATURDAYS & SUNDAYS:

 

Every vote counts. Make sure that your vote is counted! #NovemberIsNow for voters living abroad. If you need help with voter registration or ballot return, please come to see us. And, tell your friends! #EveryVoteCounts


A Broken Heart - In Memory of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

 

by Connie Borde, Co-Chair of the DAFrance Women's Caucus, formerly DNC Representative and Chair of Democrats Abroad France.

Today is a sad day. Like many Americans, I mourn the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And like many American women who came of age in the 60s, I lost the woman who stood for everything I believed in and who had our backs: equal rights for those who were deprived them, for women like me, but also for the many in our society.  

Here’s what Bill Clinton said when he appointed Ginsburg to the Supreme Court:

“Throughout her life, she has repeatedly stood for the individual, the person less well off, the outsider in society, and has given these people greater hope by telling them that they have a place in our legal system, by giving them a sense that the Constitution and the laws protect all the American people, not simply the powerful.” 

All of RBGs written opinions reflected her beliefs, she never wavered. When the Court sadly moved to the right, her dissenting opinions were eloquent monuments to the cause of equal justice under the law for all: minority rights, voting rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, gender equality, and more.  

While we mourn her death, we’d better get ready for the fight.

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

Women of the world, mourn….and unite.  We cannot accept a ramrod nomination.


PROTECT YOUR VOTE. Vote with the BACKUP BALLOT.

As of August 28, 2020

Most states will allow their overseas voters to return their voted ballot by email, online, or fax, but if you vote in one of the following 20 states*, you must still return a ballot by POSTAL MAIL: 

Arkansas (AR), Connecticut (CT), Georgia (GA), Idaho (ID), Illinois (IL), Kentucky (KY), Maryland (MD), Michigan (MI), Minnesota (MN), New Hampshire (NH), New Jersey (NJ), New York (NY), Ohio (OH), Pennsylvania (PA), South Dakota (SD), Tennessee (TN), Texas (TX), Virginia (VA), Vermont (VT), and Wisconsin (WI) 

Due to postal mail service disruptions in the US and abroad, if you vote in one of these states we strongly advise that you PROTECT YOUR VOTE and VOTE NOW with a Backup Ballot, and return it by mail right away. The Backup Ballot, also known as the FWAB (Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot), is a ballot especially for overseas absentee voters who have sent in a ballot request to use to help make sure their vote gets counted.

You can vote and mail back a Backup Ballot first while you wait for your official state ballot to arrive. Then when your official state ballot arrives, you can vote and mail that back too — it is not double-voting**. If your voted state ballot is received by your election officials in time, they will count it and ignore the Backup Ballot.

* As of August 28: 

  • WY voters may return a ballot either by email or by fax depending on their county — please check with your local election officials, or follow return instructions that will come with your official ballot.
  • New Jersey voters may return a ballot by email or fax first but must still send in the original hardcopy ballot by postal mail at the same time.
  • Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate’s Emergency Election Directive for the General Election - all UOCAVA/FPCA voters may return their voted ballot electronically.
  • Missouri has declared all Missouri voters overseas “inaccessible” and they are allowed to return their voted ballot by EMAIL.
  • Vermont is allowing EMAIL return for Vermont voters voting from countries without functional postal mail systems. France is not one of these countries.

** Per 52 USC sec 20303(d): Second ballot submission; instruction to absent uniformed services voter or overseas voter. An absent uniformed services voter or overseas voter who submits a Federal write-in absentee ballot and later receives a State absentee ballot, may submit the State absentee ballot. See also DA FAQ; see also FVAP FAQ

TO VOTE WITH THE BACKUP BALLOT NOW:

First, make sure you have already sent in a ballot request/registration this year. If you haven’t done this yet, do it now at votefromabroad.org.

      • When filling out the FPCA form, be sure to ask to receive your ballot by EMAIL/ONLINE.

Then, go ahead and VOTE by returning a BACKUP BALLOT.

      • You can fill it out online here -- just follow directions to vote, print, sign and return it to your election officials.
      • You'll find more detailed information on the Backup Ballot here.
      • What is on your state ballot? You can look up a sample ballot here 
        • Note: When filling in the Backup Ballot, you can also vote by Party (for example, you can write in “President - Democrat”).

NEXT STEPS:

Once your state ballot is delivered, vote that too!

If you requested to receive your ballot by EMAIL/ONLINE, you will receive your ballot in your email inbox on or before September 19 (45 days in advance of the November 3 General Election.)

You can vote that ballot too and mail it back right away. If it arrives in time, your local election official will only count your official state ballot, and discard the Backup Ballot.

When mailing a ballot, you have the following options:

      • Via local mail. Be sure to use sufficient international postage for your ballot. Consider sending via a method that can be tracked such as la lettre suivie internationale. 
      • Via US Embassy or Consular mail bag. American Citizen Services is accepting voting materials for the “diplomatic pouch” but this method is often much slower from France than local postal service, taking 3-4 weeks normally. Your mail MUST have correct US postage, or use a US-postage-paid envelope. (Get a printable US-postage-paid ballot envelope template, here.)
      • Via international express courier. Those considering delivery by DHL, FedEx, UPS, Collissimo or Chronopost should first check with their local election official whether they can accept delivery via this method as proof of returning your ballot from overseas. 

Make sure your vote is counted.

After you have voted, you can check with your local election officials to make sure that your ballot was received. Go to www.votefromabroad.org/states. Click on your voting state. Then scroll down to "Am I Registered" to find the contact information for your local election officials.

Have questions or need help?

You can send your questions via email to help@votefromabroad.org. Or, while you are on the votefromabroad.org website, find the red bubble in the lower right hand corner to chat with an overseas voting expert at the helpdesk.

 


2020 Democratic National Convention: August 17-20

Across the US, state parties and delegates are gearing up to participate in this year’s Democratic National Convention online and at home. Delegates from Democrats Abroad are also joining in - rallying together on zoom calls and downloading their ballots as they prepare to attend the Democratic Party’s first ever online convention in locations that stretch from Kathmandu to Kigali.

Read more

On Our Mind: Pride 2020

by Samuel Boehms

The observance of Pride Month serves as a moment of national reflection during which we should pause and think about the challenges facing the LGBTQ communities in America today. However, it is also an opportunity to celebrate how far we have come in the 51 years since the Stonewall riots marked one of the nation’s darkest days in its oppression of LGBTQ people. In the half century since the uprisings, we have reached a level of acceptance that would have been unimaginable to those early pioneers that took to the streets of Greenwich Village in protest for their rights.

Of course, there is the recent Supreme Court decision in Bostock v Clayton County (GA), in which the majority agreed that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination, handing the movement for LGBTQ equality a significant, though unexpected, victory.

Just last year, we saw Pete Buttigieg, an openly gay man, become a frontrunner in the primary race for the Democratic presidential nominee. Furthermore, there are 6 people who identify as LGBTQ in statewide elected offices, including 2 governors: Kate Brown in Oregon, and Jared Polis in Colorado; and two U.S. Senators: Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin, and Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona. In fact, every state in the nation has openly LGBTQ people elected to political office in some capacity, with over 150 LGBTQ elected officials nationwide. This year, we have the opportunity to elect many more LGBTQ people across the country.

However, our accomplishments go far beyond just the political arena. In 2018, Adam Rippon, an openly gay athlete, made history winning a bronze medal at the 2018 winter Olympics. We have also seen Billy Porter become the first openly gay, black actor to win an Emmy for best lead actor in a drama series. During this Pride Month, these achievements are indeed worth celebrating.

Nevertheless, we still have so much farther to go towards building a country that respects and protects the human rights of all its inhabitants. While it has never been easy to identify as LGBTQ in the US, recent years have seen alarming declines in the acceptance of LGBTQ people amongst certain segments of Americans. These attitudinal shifts have coincided with a series of actions taken by the Trump administration that have stripped crucial legal protections from LGBTQ communities. Despite his initial rhetoric in support of LGBTQ rights, President Trump has systematically reversed key advancements achieved under his predecessor.

In 2017, President Trump announced via twitter that transgender people would not be allowed to serve in the military. The ban was officially implemented by former Secretary of Defense James Mattis in 2018. Lawsuits are ongoing to reverse the policy and protect the rights of current and future US military personnel. However, the Supreme Court has upheld the ban while the legal battle is decided.

While this month the Supreme Court decided in support of LGBTQ communities, there are still many difficult battles to come before all people experience the full enjoyment of their human rights. With so many decisions concerning protections for LGBTQ people appearing before the Supreme Court, it is absolutely necessary that we elect a president this fall that will stand up for LGBTQ communities and appoint Supreme Court justices that will uphold and expand the legal protections to defend Americans against discrimination and prejudice on the condition of who they choose to love or how they decide to identify. Gaining a majority in the Senate would go a long way to furthering protections for the LGBTQ community at the national level - as of 2020, 29 states have not outlawed anti-LGBT discrimination.

Joe Biden has received the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest LGBTQ rights organization. As vice president, Biden spoke out for LGBTQ rights even before President Obama and his 2020 presidential platform has highlighted key measures that he will take as president to advance the LGBTQ movement.

Despite the great victory that LGBTQ communities and their allies won in the US Supreme Court this month, another pivotal battle still lies ahead of us. In 2019, the Equality Act was passed overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives, only to become stalled in the Republican controlled Senate, which has made no effort to pass a bill that would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to affirm the constitutional protection of the rights of LGBTQ people. To protect the rights of all people, we must flip the Senate, and elect candidates that are determined to pass legislation that will defend our LGBTQ communities.

All Americans need to stand together in support of our LGBTQ communities. We cannot allow them to fight the battle for equality alone. Their rights and dignity are under attack by the Trump administration and state governments across the country. We need to mobilize the vote at every level of local and national elections. No matter where you are in the world, remember, your vote matters. Get registered and ready to vote at votefromabroad.org. And tell a friend.

Interested in joining DA's Global LGBTQ+ Caucus? Visit their webpage. If you would like to be active a the local level, contact the DA France LGBTQ+ caucus leaders at lgbtq@democratsabroad.fr.

About the author: Samuel Boehms is a native of Kansas City now living in Paris, France. He served with the Peace Corps mission in Panama and has worked as a community organizer promoting economic, social and environmental rights in Latin America, SE Asia and Europe. He currently works as a human rights advocate at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.


Juneteenth 2020

Juneteenth 2020

We were told once, by virtue of our bondage, that we could never be American.

But it was by virtue of our bondage that we became the most American of all.”

Hannah Nikole Jones, 1619 Project

As we celebrate Juneteenth this year it is painfully obvious the struggle for freedom continues to be a long, hard road 154 years after Emancipation. From the first slave ship to the latest act of brutality and prejudice, the institutionalized system of racism and inequality continues to work as it was designed. It denies full citizenship and equality to African-Americans. 

Over 400 years we have been enslaved, murdered, tortured, terrorized, emotionally scarred, economically impoverished, starved of educational resources… The list could go on. The fact we are still fighting shows the strength of our character and belief in what the United States is supposed to be. The struggle for equal rights and opportunity requires the country to live up to its full aspirational potential.

The African-American contribution to the U.S. is immense and immeasurable. The country was literally built on our backs. From the beginning we did the work to build an economic powerhouse but have yet to meaningfully benefit in that wealth. Deprived of everything except our love, spirit and faith we have strived to build lives and fulfil the American Dream. Through hardship and pain African-Americans still shine bright and drive global culture. As comedian Paul Mooney says, “the Black man in America is the most copied man on this planet, bar none” and to paraphrase Maya Angelou, “Still We Rise”.

Without struggle there is no progress so this Juneteenth let us continue to fight the struggle, recognize our progress and prepare for the battles we have yet to face.  Let us take advantage of the current sad state of affairs to effect real change. Most importantly your voice must be heard. Make sure you are registered to vote in this year’s election.

I leave you with a poem describing the sorrow, joy, heartache and anger of the Black experience in America. The poem, A Study in a Lifetime of Elegies, is part of a portfolio which won the 2020 Gold Medal Portfolio at the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards. The author is Emory Brinson.

Reed Kennedy

Co-Chair, Democrats Abroad France - Diversity Caucus

June 19th, 2020


A Study in a Lifetime of Elegies

Personal Essay & Memoir, 

Emory Brinson, Grade 12, South Mecklenburg High School, Charlotte, NC

I. In which I mourn the living.

On September 6th, 2018, Botham Shem Jean dies after an off-duty Dallas police officer illegally enters his home and shoots him twice. The story settles into my veins like ice, and it is all too easy for me to picture his terrified face as he is startled by an armed intruder, only to die at her hands. I try not to picture my uncle or father in his place, instead, I watch my mother react to the story. I can see past her painted concealer mask, and like all black women, she harbors an aching sadness for her brothers, husbands, and fathers. To me and her, it seems like death is always one step away. I’ve been waiting for my father to die since I understood what it meant to be black in this country. Have you ever mourned someone who was still living?

It isn’t like watching a trainwreck in slow motion. This is an endless funeral. They roll the caskets out one by one, and my dreamscape is painted in black hues. I wake gasping with the image of my little brother laid in white burning in my eyes. Open casket funerals have been in style since Emmett Till’s mother told the mortician to show the world what they did to her little boy. There are no secrets anymore, and the camera flashes hold the locks open anyway.

I look into the mirror and wonder what I am supposed to see. Do my full lips and natural hair tell a story of danger or call into question my intent? I look at my father and try to look past his kind heart and iron-clad morals to see what they must find at first glance. I take in his powerful shoulders and calloused hands, and for the first time, I wonder if people look at him with fear. Suddenly, I am terrified of losing him to the preconceptions in their heads. Why can’t they see what I do?

There is an ache that wraps itself around my ribs; it is a constant noose of loss. For the first time, I can see the fearful beast that bares its chest in the place of a person. Understand, this country is committing men to death by prejudice and perpetrating genocide on a systematic level. I have mourned more men in my 16 years than I dare say most will lose in a lifetime. I wait for a day in which children will not have to know this heartbreak with frantic breaths and a mess of tangled veins in my chest.

II. In which my father and I come to an understanding.

On a Friday night in December, we watch Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. I ignore the discomfort watching the police beat Radio Raheem to death with popcorn grease on my fingers causes me. As the credits roll, I catch glimpses of my father’s childhood between the black and white text, and his desperation for us to watch this movie finally makes sense. For the first time, I can see him in his true form. His New York accent has faded after 25 years in the south, but there are parts of him that are straight from the rough streets and cramped bodegas of his hometown. It’s in the way he pronounces coffee, the heavy set of his shoulders, and the way he is undeniably straight out of this film.

On the screen, the character DaMayer tells Mookie in a Brooklyn accent almost too thick to understand, “Always do the right thing.” My father, for better or worse, has always lived his life by this rule; he is protective of his pride and family, never strays from his perception of the “right” thing, and is a stickler for fair treatment. There are some principles that ingrain themselves into your bone marrow and shape all actions you take from there on out. If I peeled back my father’s thick skin I would find those words burned into the white of his bones. I know this to be true in the same way that I know the sun will rise in the morning.

He turns up the stereo volume while we drive past a group of policemen, the words, “F**K THE POLICE” blaring out of all four open windows while we speed by. I’m horrified, but the story he tells me afterward shifts my worldview once again. He’s not quiet or ashamed as he unravels the memory, because my father never is, but I can’t help but wonder if that is the New Yorker in him, or if he was simply born with an unwavering spine. He paints a picture of a little black boy growing up on the outer edge of New York City in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Raw emotion courses through his voice as he tells me about the police pulling him over on his bike in 8th grade. I can imagine him with a painstaking clarity, only 13 but terrified he wouldn’t make it home for dinner because someone decided he didn’t belong. I ache for him, and I am reminded of my own brother, who looks so much like what my father must have at that age.

It isn’t until after Botham Jean that he tells me another story. He describes trying to unlock his door as a college student in upstate New York, only for an NYPD officer to tackle him. The policeman calls for backup, and within minutes six police officers are arresting him for trespassing on his own property. Yet again, I am learning to understand my father in ways I could never have imagined. His distrust of the police is one that has blossomed from years of prejudice and attacks. Though I can’t always agree with him or his methods, I can understand on an intrinsic level where that pain and hurt stems from.

In the days after I first watch Do the Right Thing, I see the parts he tried to leave behind. New York didn’t make him, nor did his experiences with law enforcement, but both have shaped him in ways I can only attempt to understand.

III. In which I find out what it means to exist in this country while black.

I have always known that being black in America inherently meant being viewed as dangerous. Every day passes like a hunt in the desert of our distant home. This is predation on a big city scale, and they have turned me into prey. The knowledge is passed through the generations: blowing into my mind with the faint bellow of a slave ship’s horn, and the stench of sweat wafting from the fields. Every people must pass down something to the new generation to preserve the years of history that have built them up from the black soil of a shared homeland. For me, it is the image of my great-grandmother, holding tight to her son and begging with harsh words and soft hands for him to stay out of trouble as the radio blared about that boy who was lynched in Mississippi. The memory has always existed in my mind, smudged with the inconsistencies of old stories, and somehow smelling just like the bitter salt of chitterlings.

Two black men are arrested for sitting in a Starbucks without purchasing anything, and the incident becomes the spark to a Twitter firestorm. It seems like every day that social media is popping up with another “Living While Black” Moment. White women and men have been calling the police on black people living their lives for as long as they have been able to, but now instead of silently suffering the uncomfortable consequences of being born black, the victims were taking to Twitter. The stories that go viral act as a window into the harsh realities that had previously been shoved under the rug that is the privilege of white ignorance. There is a difference, however, between knowing that these things happen and watching a video of a white woman screaming for the police to arrest a little boy for selling water. The situations usually resulted in a slap on the wrist with no harm done on either side, but it begs the question: how much anguish can the Black American psyche take before the constant insinuation that they are less than starts to sink in?

The sweltering summer of 2018 bleeds into the sharp chill of Autumn, and I find pieces of myself among the bright orange chrysanthemums my neighbor plants. The day after the flowers bloom, the moving sign in her yard gets a shiny new addition; a plaque swings in the wind and the word SOLD sinks into my stomach like lead. The moving trucks blew in with the first jack o’ lantern, and with it came a growing nervousness in my mother. The new couple was likely nice enough, but the images of the innocent black children splashed across Twitter were still fresh in our minds. “I’m going over to introduce myself and make it clear that 5 black children live on this cul de sac. I don’t want there to be any confusion about who belongs in this neighborhood.” The subtext isn’t subtle: she wasn’t going to let these new neighbors treat us as if we didn’t belong, and there was no telling what kind of assumptions could be made from a quick glance while we stepped under the streetlight on the way to the bus stop.

Other people hoped to make nice with the new neighbors to avoid complaints about loud Christmas parties, but my mother wanted to make sure they knew we belonged. She was saying, “Look. These are my brown children, and they live here, just like you.” This is our persistent reality; a life of constant motion, always watching for the next predator who waits in the pale brush, preparing to pounce.

IV. In which I discover that differences lie deeper than skin.

Growing up, I often longed to be more like everyone around me, but I never felt more like an outsider than at my middle school. That wasn’t always the case. In fact, for the most part, it was a positive experience. I learned an abundance about the world and myself from my teachers and classmates, but one thing they never needed to teach me was that I wasn’t like them. Being one of three African American girls in the grade left me with the constant knowledge in the back of my head that, as much as I tried to blend in with my classmates, I would always be different. Most of the time it remained in the background, but other times I wore it like a bleeding brand. I bore the nervous looks during slavery and civil rights units, tried not to roll my eyes when at least fifteen people congratulated me after President Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012, and quietly acquiesced to reading off black history facts.

Every. Single. February. Still, there are turning points to every story.

On August 9th, 2014, Michael Brown is murdered, the Black Lives Matter movement emerges from the ashes of the burning buildings in Ferguson, Missouri, and my world shifts on its axis. I struggle to come to terms with the idea that there is violence affecting my people in a way I haven’t truly understood until this point, but the other kids are angrily protecting the police.

They scream “All Lives Matter” and spit when they dare to say his name. In those familiar halls, Michael becomes synonymous with thug, and I learn to walk with my head down. They act as if he isn’t worth the same amount of space they are, and by association, I suddenly wonder about the amount of room I take up on the stairwell. They look to me with expectant eyes, but what can I say in response when I see him in every family photo that hangs on our wall? When I look in the mirror?

I was floating alone in a sea of people who didn’t understand how close to home a shooting 724.1 miles away could feel, and the loneliness was beginning to eat away at my sparkling worldview.

V. In which I am learning how to not be afraid.

I am no stranger to fear. It has taken the shape of maggots to eat away at my insides since I learned the difference between denotation and connotation. In these terms, the space between what black means and what this country hears instead is big enough to hold a slave ship worth of bodies. I am terrified of watching my family die at the hands of a nation that doesn’t care about them. I am afraid of losing myself in the mass of people who cannot help but see me as less than, who can never understand what it means to exist as a black woman in this country. Still, I am slowly learning how to turn fear’s shape into something more.

I have spent a lifetime studying the elegies that define the lives of girls that look like me. We live, trapped in the grip of injustice and death. Every day we are threatened with the stench of terror, waiting around every corner to remind us of our place. Still, we have a choice. There is loss all around us, yes, but there is also joy. While videos of police brutality circle the internet, inspiring messages of hate and disgust and reminding us that we are in a world that sees us as inferior, so are images of women with broad hats, waiting to serve hungry children with warmth and love. Even as I feel compelled to write elegy after elegy, wracked with fear of the future and sorrow from the past, I recognize the opportunity to write odes and sonnets in honor of the men and women who inspire everything I do. Every day, I find myself celebrating our durability. Here there is fear, and here there is love.

This is my pledge: I will elegize and mourn and dig into the melancholy sitting heavy on my mother’s shoulders, and yes, I will fear, but I will also move this world one step closer to understanding and compassion and overwhelming love whenever I can. I have the opportunity to bring understanding to the people who want to learn, and I have the chance to grow myself. Maybe this realization, the recognition of the complexity of our world, is the distinction between girl and woman. I am still learning what it means to exist as a sister in this country, but what I know is this: the time for mourning is over. This is not the age of fear, but instead resilience.

Like my mother, I stare down the world and I say,

“Look, we are here, just like you.”