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How to Make a Celebration Somber

In this moment, I am in the throes of getting ready for my graduation ceremony.

Over the last two years, I have been in graduate school studying for an MFA, sifting through memories and, with them, writing stories, getting a couple of them published, one of them winning an award. It has been both an exciting and arduous journey, and not one that I’ve done alone. Thankfully, I have had my husband, Jermar, and I have had my friends, James and Mary, and countless others.

But I have also had my mom, Mary, 60+, a woman who prays fervently, a pastor who delights in Sunday morning service and the fellowship thereafter.

I’ve had my Aunt Lela and my Aunt Bea, both of them over 80 years old, both of them always preparing meals when they know folks will be joining them at their house for an hours- or days-long stay.

I have had my dad, a minister, and his wife, both of whom are also 60+, both of whom prepare on Saturday for Sunday morning service, laying out and ironing their outfits, figuring out the menu for their post-church meal and going to the store to pick up what they’d need.

All of them, today, will be celebrating me in some way.

And here I am thinking about Buffalo.

When they released the names, the ages and the faces of the victims earlier this week, when they told us that the killer researched the busiest times of the market, when patrons are shopping for post-Sunday-service mealtimes and fellowship, when the story of Katherine Massey, a community activist; the pictures of Pearly Young and Ruth Whitfield, undoubtedly grandmothers tucking $20 bills in the smaller, younger hands of their loved ones; the images of Aaron Salter and Margus Morrison, certainly uncles who exclaimed a “Hey Now!” when doting on their nieces, nephews and niblings– as these details have emerged, I have been thinking about the graduations they’d miss and the loved ones who will miss them. I am thinking today about the family members, fellow congregants, neighbors and co-workers, current or former, who have counted on their kind words and thoughtful advances to push them forward and who will, today and forevermore, live with this void.

Miles away, here in St. Louis, as I’m hurrying to type these last words in this Google doc and throw on a dress and my graduation gown, as I prepare to convene with loved ones who saw me over the threshold and will celebrate with me this afternoon as I walk across the stage to receive my degree, I am carrying ten people in my heart. I am carrying their people who grieve this great loss today. I am carrying my people, and how, because of our Blackness, because of anti-Blackness, we must always be vigilant– mostly because no matter how much sweat, tears, and blood we’ve spilled in and for this country, it will never be enough to make us safe, equal, or free.

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