reflections: no justice, no peace

lodged in between two worlds. one i have seen with regularity & the other is beyond this pale of current affairs. these worlds sit opposite one another. they frequent the same spaces i find myself, but they never come together. i find myself to be painfully blissful to never have noticed their preeminence until now or notice how much is at stake in coming to terms with what they are. what’s even more remarkable to me, is how long i’ve been pulled back & forth by these worlds. i’ve been asked to choose & no longer masquerade in between & i am also realizing that, choice between the two is given to us all.

on one hand, i have been witness to this world of peace seeking. peace offerings seek to smooth the divide & move past it. peace is where a lot of us want to be – with ourselves & with others in the world. to be at peace is to have seemingly quieted a fierce, unceasing storm. i suppose what really entices me to be peace oriented, is the messaging behind its ambition. we’re told that peace is loving, kind & calm. i certainly aspire to be all three & so, i almost naturally fall into its bosom, because it feels warm & inviting to me.

on the other, there’s the world of justice. justice is thorough & meticulous. it requires a lot of effort to be just, because it leaves no stone unturned. on the surface, justice sounds more rigid than peace & more times than not, it is. justice seeks to identify the issue & where things are said to belong; it then launches investigation on the divide & aims to rectify the matter. i identify with the endgame of justice, but also take stock of the work & the feathers that will be potential ruffled in the process of seeking justice.

peace is ideal, but when peace is offered in a shallow attempt to mend what’s broken, justice is circumvented. i love harmony & hope we find it one day, but, in this time & place, there’s work to be done to achieve it in full, without question. therefore, to call for peace, before or without earnestly seeking justice first, is to thoroughly turn a blind eye to the levity of struggle & even worse, is to passively strike a violent blow upon millions of already marginalized bodies.

in this year i have come to see this as absolute truth. the democracy of south africa is a young & developing 22 years of age. one could drive around one of the country’s beloved cities, travel a relatively short distance & see literal & symbolic images of a country still rebounding from an ugly history. the state-sanctioned segregation of apartheid is no longer legal. however, though some of the essential freedoms, such as: the right to vote, the right to take up residence in one of the beloved major cities & the ability to be gainfully employed anywhere are now available to non-white citizens of this country, it is readily apparent to anyone who spends time here that there’s much left to be done.

in the rural village that i call home, demoralizing poverty, lack of accessible quality education & healthcare, joblessness, and disease still plague the communal body. what’s more, is in the communities such as the one i call home, the experience of these collective traumas have seemingly left lives in bleaker conditions than in times of the apartheid era. there’s work to be done, not only in terms of building sustainable living for all, but also in building equitable opportunity that is sustainable. this work will be long & rigorous – this work must be lead & sustained through an earnest effort to create a society based around justice seeking.

of course, based on what’s at stake, there are those who will continue to call for peacefulness. this stems from the subconscious realization that, if justice prevails, what results is loss of not only the profits of privilege, but also loss of an identity centered around the subjugation of bodies. prioritizing peace benefits the privileged, because, peace, in this context is to ignore one’s culpability & place the hones on the oppressed to forgive & move on. not only is this problematic because of lacking accountability, but also, because in the long run, nothing has changed.

it must also be said that many well-meaning folks prioritize peace-building over justice-seeking, even through a proclaimed desire to work for change. this comes from a short-sided view of the divide that looks at it as only an interpersonal matter. let’s be clear – the attitudes & deep-seeded beliefs of oppressors are indeed what have laid foundation for this plunder, but, there’s carnage that must be accounted for. the interpersonal is only a pillar of the design. the systemic, organizational & institutional pillars have long been the fruits of the labor interpersonal hate has harvested. to neglect this is to be a passive part of the divide.

if we’re really about liberation, this whole thing needs to be uprooted – there’s no two ways about it. justice is needed & long overdue.

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interlude iv: june newsletter – moonlit hours

loved one,

there’s something so sacred about the moon as it rests above us. its great pull, the way it guides the waters that have the capacity to rage wildly. the subtle nature, the way it shades itself for days & in its own cycle, fully reveals to remind all of the great wonder. this great beauty it holds from a distance pales in comparison to the accounts of its beauty by those granted a chance to explore it near. a land that lacks gravity, with craters & potentially undiscovered life.

that land is vast & incomprehensible to me – so the same with this pending transition back home to the united states.

loved ones, i write to you in the night fall of my time here in south africa – month eight of ten, to be specific.

i don’t write you with any new discoveries. instead, i come before you shrouded in mystery, with a burden of anticipation. i am coming home to you with many stories that i am excited to share, but in this time i feel it necessary to just to sit in awe of the view before me.

my eyes have witnessed many things in this time – sights of love & trauma. they’ve all converged together to make a year away from you that has been full. of course, with the anticipation of returning home to you, there’s also a great sense of loss that has overtaken my being. i am leaving not only sacred land, but a sacred people conjoined as one body, with a sacred story that i will cherish until my dying day.

i get chocked up when i think about life without this body of people. this context has become a daily reality for me. the way of living i’ve come into, though familiar in some ways, has shaped me in new form. a part of me selfishly hopes i’ve done some shaping work also in these relationships.

this darkness hums over me, but do not confuse this darkness for some sort of negative agent. i’ve had to fight a battle within myself over the last month, refusing to let the sentimental way of being that has taken over me, snatch me away from the present – it can’t, though it’s capable of doing so. because the moon above me is guiding me as i be, as assigned by the divine creator.

i am carried in strength by all phases of our moon in this evening hour. from dusk to the approaching dawn of my return home. what i love most about the evening hours, is the space it gives me to create from an introspective angle following the buzz of the daytime. & this has indeed been a time of reflection of all that’s been before me to witness.

what i’ve created in this time of silence is words of gratitude – to you & to this community. in our morning devotions before work, we’ve been focusing on the forming church following the ascension of jesus christ. the themes that sing aloud for me are the acts of not only the apostles, but of the larger community. i think this theme continues on throughout the epistles. each and every single person contributes to the mission.

each & every one of you have been guiding me with gentle whispers as i’ve walked this path of service. i send gratitude & thanks again, because you’ve guided me to new things.

so, as i sit in this moonlit hour reflecting on all that has been, with eyes slowly but surely welling up for a great release of tears, that i hope i’ve made you proud.
i’ve accomplished dreams here – of ancestors, alive or perished & of my own flesh. it still boggles my mind how i made it through this entire year, not merely surviving, but thriving with love & a story to tell.

i sit on this patio, where the wind whips across my face & the stars illuminate the scene around me, with a grin. this moon above me is the same where you are & the sky is as beautiful where you sit & in this, we’re connected. i wonder what has been of your life since we’ve last spoke, if ever. i wish you love & the full experience of life alongside it.

with love & peace,
rjmy

free?

to be free;
what then,
would then my limbs give way to?
a dance, song, or some other rhythm?

what really,
are the possibilities
afforded to me?

would i saunter,
cautiously?

or would i run,
no longer subjugated?

would the world finally resolve,
or would the sum of it all be inconclusive?

we’ve all been reduced,
we’ve all known pain –
some more than others,
but what could we really be,
if on even plain?

would we be
birds of the air,
or would continue to toil,
below?

the labor is rigorous,
but is what we reap,
the thing?

drunken babbler prayer

here i am,
drunken babbler,
with a prayer –
i want love to come over me in this life i live.
i never intended to do no harm or hurt nobody,
lord.

i’m shackled to regret
& it’s been months
i been sittin’ here depressed.
feelin’ as hollow
as a empty jug container –
fill me up lord.

i’m tired & temperamental now.

i just want a swig of that hope you been passin’
’round here,
lord.

i see smilin’ faces right ’round me
& this bottle of hennessy ain’t did nothin’
to help me get what they done got –

i’m just dizzy drownin’ in the doubts.

just give me a chance to be yours,
good lord.
promise i’s take all the right steps towards you,
if you guide me.

see, once i lay this here bottle down,
i lay my life down wit’it.
i’m jus askin for rest,
sweet lord – i don’t wanna be weary no more.

& as you raise up,
bring me with ya.

today,
i wanna take wings
up one of them angels up there
& fly away from here.

amen.

-rjmy

in loving memory

roses are red, murder is crimson.
so, when i lose this life,
bury me with a dozen.
show me you love me,
just this once.
place them delicately over my heart,
so i know it’s real.

for all these years, i lived in your cages.
shackled by your vices.
but that wasn’t enough – you needed the visual,
so you knew it was real.
four walls surrounded me as i went without shelter.

four years went by,
& all the tears i shed became tattoos.
freedom was taboo, so i took a little bit from each
& everyone i saw with some.
then i saw it for what it was –
being released into the dream was the real danger.

-rjmy

chapter III – afro

chapter III – afro

“i’m good to go, ma!” in the midst of packing on an blistering hot day in mid-august, i was off task for a moment when i stumbled upon what i interpreted to be a great something. “ma, look at this! is this a dashiki?” a beautiful burnt orange cloth with circular brown imagery. it fit the curves of my biceps & ran down past my torso & found a fitted rest right at the top of my thighs – love at first glance. “ma, you think people who are originally from africa will appreciate me wearing this or is this appropriation?” i’ve always been over-careful, but yet somehow, still dangerously naïve to the world & how wide it was. my mind still set out to employ courage & fail out loud, if it were to be so.

the excitement i felt was bone-deep, it had passed through the textile of my skin & permeated every corner of my heart – i was africa bound. a boy from cleveland descending upon the majesty that is the motherland – the cradle of all humanity. what a gift it was for me to be embarking on this place, i, a black man, who wanted to quest in order to know myself more deeply & the royalty that i inherited all by way of my pigmentation. kings, queens, the history of the first civilized society, the lost prophecies, the ground that gave way all religions. nas, tupac, kendrick lamar & bob marley guided my visions of a mystic land. when i came home, i would be a balanced rock, with africana as my center.

of course, it wasn’t all serendipity in my dreams. i deemed myself aware of these famine like conditions i saw images of too.  i heard africans were hungry & so we needed to make them a mission trip, but i rejected that notion & still do. instead i subscribed to the secrets of forgotten royalty & highly under-publicized places where civilization existed. this needed to be revealed & i was coming to be the narrator to fundamental white folks that weren’t looking deep enough. i needed to organize people here on the ground, too. my notions were enough for me to believe myself a prophet coming home to become a radical, afro-centric. these labels theoretically fit me seamlessly – just like my dashiki. i had a clear role.

when i arrived, i instantly saw the beauty. the stench of the air to me was like the smell of cotton candy & funnel cakes. the curvature of the mountains were thrill rides. this was my culmination. if i was brave enough, i would’ve stopped to kiss the ground, but instead i just grinned like a boy up to mischievous deeds. as i looked upon people who shared my pigment & began to notice myself the majority, i felt emboldened. i walked by these pedestrians eargely nodding my head, sometimes even throwing up my right fist clamped with exclaimed passion – this was the code of ethics i already knew to live by. the initial days here are both vivid & yet still feel like an illusion i vividly created – i can’t call it yet. what i do know is that i was called to move out of slumber & into the actual rhythm that was developed long before me.

a rhythm of disharmony, terrorism & corruption of the mind. in my first day here in this community, baba told me to adjust. he said that i was in the third world – amongst a people who were type-casted &  then edited out for a more appealing character that the world has loved many places over.  conceptually, this was the call to wake up, but at second glance, the reality existed in an even larger organism. i remember stepping out a few days later on heritage day. still dreaming, i was in another dashiki i had purchased back in the states. this one more loose around the body, allowing the wind to sneak up underneath so it could hum on my chest. when i stepped out, i was disenchanted by the sight. it turns out i didn’t see dancing bodies in tribal gear. no parades led by drum, not even a chant. instead, i saw human beings who were being human – trying to cope with the weight of groceries & an certain evil that has spoken before. young humans new to the world who played in the fields as they were assigned to do work. the elders, however, let them run free: they enjoyed watching the children, because they missed naivety. i miss it now, too.

being a dreamer & also being undyingly stubborn, though, forced me to hold on to the image. it was just too good not to be real. where were the elders with zulu tales, the fire lit circles & the damn drums? my body has slouched from time to time, now that life had kicked in. the everyday life of those forced to live in a system of marginalization that has changed the language to sound inclusive, but still deep down is excluding. i, the now dreadlocked prophet in question, sat powerless, locked in devices of abused idealism. so, i began sleep walking, though my body somewhat awake, still i was trying to fade back into the dream.

that was until i saw something my eyes couldn’t escape. not too long ago, i sat at a table with two others enjoying a bite, in this time more comfortable to be in part slumber. a man who had brown skin like me approached us. he wanted money to drink & be for the night. we refused him & so he went on to others to continue his barter. not too long after leaving us however, his body was taken, arms placed behind his back, now under control of the system.  i couldn’t help but snap back into memories of loved ones who were taken under for similar or of less consequence. the reasons of plunder justified by the habit. no hope for rehabilitation & community, just more isolation, granting him more chances to binge. he wasn’t free.

that moment served a reminder, but yet still in part slumber, i grogged on, still looking for the afro-centralizing, that cultural moment – still, i thought myself to be simba.. so, i used a computer again to feed me a more concrete image to tuck in my mind. this only caused more of a chasm between me & the world i was invited into. i had no choice but to stop hitting snooze & be here, ten toes firmly planted on the ground.

i stepped outside my flat again & went with a new lens. with this new lens, however, i’ve noticed old things. a food desert, with a folk who were told they were free for the system now, but still somehow relegated to living standards below human dignity. a community that suffers from stigmatization of crime rates & the assumption that they are the primary plunderers.  a community lacking places that supply physical resource for living, but has a plethora of spiritual ones, in the form of churches nearly everywhere – places of refuge for those who were looking past the human threshold for hope – i saw my home.

i’ve never felt enlivened & deflated all in a swoop, but in this time, i knew it inside. what i was looking for by way of a homecoming wasn’t to be a parade, but instead a march in solidarity against a familiar foe.

this isn’t just home in the sense of struggle, but also in love, too. i experience the care of sweet women who take care of me as if i am of their womb. a community of men who are fighting just to avoid the system catching them. the system here doesn’t currently hinge on police militarization & the black body here sees a different abuse, but maybe that’s the point. in this day of veiled racism, you can’t ever make yourself too obvious. i see so much of home that i don’t even feel like i’m away sometimes. the language barrier, however, serves as ample reminder.

there hasn’t been serendipity found in waking up. i still think about the dream & wonder, can it ever be? i’m starting to take issue with the dream, though. what feels certain to me is that my desire for afro-centrism can’t be rooted in the dream. yes, the ancestral context & culture matter deeply, but there’s more to our connected story. this time has led me to believe that afro-centrism must also be rooted in the reality that though it shows it’s face in different ways, we are in bondage. our history & our present are just as diverse & complicated.  our core spread all-around this world, suffers & yet is still fighting for basic human freedoms – that’s connection.  though we fight battles that hold different things at stake, we fight for a common core. so, yes, let’s love, but let’s approach love in its fullness, not just its pleasurable dimensions. that’s being centered.

chapter II – identify yourself

prelude II – little black boy by rjmy

i, just like you, know pain, little black boy.
i, also, have wallowed in the sorrow of this nothing.
i, even, have a back that has been battered & bruised;
they built a great thing on top of me, too.
i just want you to know, i am your brother
&
i will take time to press my lips against your wounds;
you, too, can tend to mine,
because ,i, just like you, know pain, little black boy
.

– rjmy

chapter II – identify yourself

one day, me & monilise were sitting on the porch.
we were discussing many topics, one of them being the united states.
he specifically wanted to know the state of her black bodies & how they identified themselves.
his television led him to believe the lighter pigmented folk enjoyed the sweetest of coronas & that the darker ones were disoriented.
he wanted to know why the black body uttered lazy english & was always seen laying on the ground, lifeless.
i found this seven year old boy to be prophetic, measured in speech, and powerfully wise – i have envied him ever since.
as he gave me the floor to speak my version of the truth, i felt far beyond obligated to speak with dignity, intellect, & and some sort of clarity.
i tried to explain the way the black body tries to ration itself: black, african-american, african, etc.
monilise cut my words short – “why would any black person from america say they are african-american, or african?
the disgust on his face left me with an distinct sadness – i knew what he was perceiving.
i presumed that he believed those who knew themselves to be black, african-american, or african, god forbid, to be without identity.

i have been staggering ever since that time, loved ones.
i am writing this piece from a place of sorrow & brokenness.
i cannot help but to feel that monilise knew far more about me then i could ever pretend to know about myself.
i have long walked with a strange hurt in my heart, but never have had the capacity to put words to it.
some days, my body fails me miserably.
there have been days my body has deprecated so deeply that i felt like i could not spend another day on this earth
i have had to see a therapist about my mental health, or lack thereof.
i have experienced illness at the most inopportune times.
i have had to face many demons of days past that i expected to be long gone.
i am spending so much time trying to heal myself, that i often wonder if my eyes can see anyone else.
how could i dare say i am accompanying anybody when it seems my body is the one that needs rescuing?

the truth is, that i walk in this world with many labels, but with no clear identity.
do not hear respectability coming from my speech – i am standing on a far different island of despair
see, i wear these labels like a thousand gold chains, but it is not my fault that i have no identity.
in fact, i share a common bond with the black & brown bodies in this place through that.
we live in a world that has snatched identity right from our grip & left us in that place, held captive.
we have been gentrified, seen apartheid, felt the wicked hand of militarized police & worked for little to nothing, hoping we could get a little dignity.
we have been seen secondary to coffee shops & the comfort of whiteness that lives on an island of ignorant bliss.
monilise was confused by the black body in the united states, because he thought they would offer his distant kin something greater than his own state of being.
monilise knew full well that the black & brown bodies in this country have been long contained by systems,.
he knew that these systems spoke of a new freedom granted, but indeed, his people were tortured & tamed.
what he had hoped for, was that upon my arrival, i would speak of a great place, where he could be free if he worked hard & saved up.
sadly enough, i could not give him what he wanted & actually, i had to tell him that i hoped for the same type freedom to be given unto me in coming here.

i am not disappointed, just made aware of this universal truth:
there is no place in the world where the black or brown body is free.
i am learning, history’s many stories of marginalization are not separate, they are all interlocked.
these stories come together through the sins of abused power & greed.
i believe that god, in the beginning, gave us all we needed, but that we lacked trust, so we took.
in this time & place, i find this shared struggle to be a bit endearing.
i am learning & growing from a people who know what it means to be in long-standing pain.
we are journeying together in struggle, in despair, in a hope that one day, absolute freedom will come.
our struggles have different storylines in specific, but are bound in the fact that, our human life & dignity are on the line daily.
there is no need to suffocate one’s struggle to fully hear another’s; we share in this brokenness together.

where is the hope?
maybe we should not be so quick to rush to that place.
what if we just sat here in this sorrow, instead of logging out to escape sad news.
if there is hope, at least through the lens of christianity, it is that brokenness always is redeemed by resurrection.
if our stories walk alongside that, then maybe freedom is beyond this life.
is that really hope? i do not have the answer.
i, am far too carnal sometimes, & i that causes me to wonder, what the purpose of being on earth is.
what i do know is, i find the love of song & dance here to be so sacred.
it appears to be the most direct sign of reconciliation in this place.
i have fell in love with this, too.
when i sing & when i dance, with this beautiful community, it seems that i have a control over my body that feels quite foreign.
it seems as if when we join together in these two, we are shouting out to god, saying that we believe you have promised more & sit here in expectancy.
yes, the world hurts, but while we have breath in our bodies for just this little while, let’s celebrate what we do have.
that is peace beyond my understanding, far too vast for me to attempt to give words to.
this peace gives me hope, even if the state of our world tries to drain that hope.

  • rjmy

chapter III might not be free, either…