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‘Driving While Black, Queer, And Female’ by C. Imani Williams

Public spaces,  including highways and getting from point A to B safely can be challenging for Black women. I am a fellow activist, Sandra Bland, or any one of the other sisters silenced and wiped away. 

I won’t forget Sandra or her voice. Ever. The continual string of police related murders of Black women, men, boys, and girls have pushed me outside of my comfort zone, and into advocating more actively for positive change — out of necessity for survival. Black people are dying from white supremacy and laws that do not protect us. Whether we’re driving, walking, shopping, visiting the library, or in our own homes, we’re dying. 

When we talk about experiences people have with “Driving While Black or Brown, (DWB),” we generally think of men. My shares speak to the reality that there are incidents that go unreported where Black women are targeted because of race, gender, NGC dress, or perceived sexual orientation. I have helped in the under reporting in the past, by not filing. That is over. Sandra Bland’s courage, along with her murder and the questionable deaths of other Black women, won’t allow me the comfort of silence. 

Not all cops are bad; let me be clear on that. However, good cops who remain silent also contribute to the seemingly never ending push to get Black and Brown bodies into the legal system.  

I have been stopped for being both Black and female, and adding the queer twist to the list is too much for some people. I should note that two of the six times I was pulled over, I was dead wrong.

One stop involved a left-hand turn (not my forte). On another occasion, I was rushing to pick my kids up from daycare after work and earned the speeding ticket. My being late was no excuse to put anyone in danger, including myself.

I began to think about the many interspersed unjustified stops and the link between the stress of driving in a police state and perceived death. For me, silence resulted in feelings of anxiety and helplessness from suffering police abuse and electing to “let it go.” Self questioning nagged, “Why didn’t I do more?”

As a Black woman, I pick my battles letting some incidences of human and civil injustice slide. Though, each time a video from #SandySpeaks graced my timeline I saw a determined sisters face. 

I saw a Black woman who knew her rights, and who came across as confident and strong, believing, justice would prevail. Sandra Bland was about life and living, the world in her hands, a new job, and an action plan for returning to Texas to fight injustice. The character assassination and ad nauseam regarding past mental health issues have nothing to do with being pulled violently from a car, or why she was found hanging in a holding cell. 

The truth remains relevant.

#IamSandraBland. For over 35 years, my attire at times has included African clothing, locs, and a nose ring.  Law enforcement had several labels to slap on me if they chose to do so. My appearance was as far from European as I could muster. Along with my pro-black or militant (depending on who was judging) physical appearance, my car and by proxy the driver (me), were labeled as, Q-U-E-E-R, Super Black, and an individual with an expressed affinity for women.

My rear bumper was riddled with progressive messages, in support of any thing, not white and male. They included stickers on, “Keeping Black Families Together,” LGBT stickers with colorful rainbows, and an array of colorful stickers suggesting, “Women Unite Globally!” I don’t think it too far-fetched to assume that these self indulges which lean strongly towards self-love and pride in who one is moved the cops enough to show me favor.

One particular traffic stop stands out

 On a poorly lit and severely unfamiliar suburban street, I was lost. I made a U-turn into a cul-du- sac to find my bearings. Upon pulling out of the exit, cop lights were in my rear-view. At twelve forty-five in the morning, on a back road, the loudspeaker on the squad car blared the voice at the other end, commanding me to pull over.

I hesitated for a few seconds that felt more like an hour. What if they were not real cops? It was dark and eerily quiet. Would anyone hear my screams if they tried anything? I had read that if you felt unsafe as a woman traveling at night to go to the nearest police station if you think you’re being followed.

I wasn’t being followed, but I wasn’t sure I was safe, either. Besides, that may be a set-aside rule for white women. With the light from the taller officer’s flashlight shining in my face, images of Black women being abused by law enforcement and left to find their way home bloodied and traumatized flashed through my mind.

I certainly feared the possibility of physical attack, including rape, and maybe even, death in those minutes. I felt totally alone in that situation, some police officers lie, and may get extra points when a black woman is involved.

My crime that morning was being in an unlit suburban area, in a vehicle that racist media painted as “hot” for drug dealers. My car was down and mother gifted me her older Pontiac 6000, when she purchased a new one. Neither of us aware, that she was “branding” me when I drove in certain areas. That morning I was lost and when I turned around in the dark and unfamiliar area, the cops were sitting duck for me. They pulled me over, questioned me about where I lived, and what I was doing in the neighborhood of Farmington, a suburb of my hometown of Detroit, Michigan.

They had me walk the line (I was sober), searched my vehicle (inside and trunk), without a warrant. I wanted to challenge them, but decided that may not be the wisest decision given the darkness and not particularly black or queer friendly neighborhood. 

As the officers went through my trunk, I explained that I was staying at a friend’s in the neighborhood who was out of town, while my girlfriend moved out of our place. Geesh, I was going through a breakup and now this! The queer newspapers and boxes of conference materials filling my trunk were left over from a Transgender Youth Conference where I had presented earlier in the day. The officers took care to go through each copy.

Finding nothing but queer gear, they continued to detain me. I was handcuffed in the rear of the squad car for almost thirty minutes as they called in my license. My outfit — in case it matters — was a floor length African Boubou (I was covered from head to toe), shoulder length locs, and a nose piercing. 

The only noise, aside from the police radio feedback, were my bangles shaking as I prayed for a quick exit. Prayer works and thankfully, God kept me from harm. The rear door opened. I didn’t receive a citation when my hands were uncuffed. My license, insurance, and registration were returned and the shorter officer decided to play nice cop, telling me to “Get in safely.”

Out of nowhere, with my dignity assaulted, my voice returned. I wanted badge numbers and the names of commanding officers. The “nice-cop” laughed as if I were joking. Still shaken, I committed the two badge numbers to memory, got in my car, and with them watching to make sure I wasn’t going to double back to retrieve or drop off bundles of dope in my “hot” Pontiac 6000, I found my way back to a main street. I say their names because they matter and because I am, AND WE ARE, Sandra Bland, and we must stand strong to call out injustice and stand strong in Demanding Justice.

Copyright 2019 by C. Imani Williams. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘An Open Letter On Cinco de Mayo’ by Imani Williams

In 2005, I like many others celebrated Cinco De Mayo in Southwest Detroit. I did the street festival and ate at Armando’s. My feet were burning from wearing new sandals on hard concrete I was full and tired. I called my Cool Cat when I got home. I had no idea it would be the last time I would ever speak with my Daddy. His power was out and he’d called DTE to explain his bill was paid.

Daddy’s words, “I’m sorry for not being much of a conversationalist baby, but I’m having problems with this candle,” will forever ring in my subconscious. The phone line went dead. I called back three times and tried to lie down.

I was restless, something was wrong. I jumped up, grabbed my keys and purse and hit I-75. I made it to Southfield in 15 min. I could see and smell smoke as I drove up the I-696 service drive. Firetrucks and a Channel 2 news van took up the length of the block. I think I almost passed out from fear. After parking behind trucks, I walked up the block as six or seven firemen hoisted Daddy into an ambulance. I followed the ambulance to William Beaumont in Royal Oak, they couldn’t handle his injuries. A few hours later we were at Detroit Receiving. I waited alone for five hours to before I was called up to the burn unit.

Complications from the fire and several surgeries over three weeks took a toll. I knew when I walked into his room in the Burn Unit of Receiving Hospital at the end of May, that he’d taken a turn for the worse. The nurse shared that he was unresponsive when given a shot. I’d gotten to know the staff and this young man knew what he was talking about. The doctor confirmed a stroke and my heart dropped again.

We did hospice at Receiving and Daddy held on a couple more days as not to transition on my birthday. He passed away on June 2, the day after my 41st. I haven’t celebrated Cinco De Mayo since. Southfield Fire Dept. and the staff at William Beaumont and Receiving Hospital Burn Unit, will forever have my gratitude for being empathetic And professional. This year I stand in solidarity with my Mexican Sisters & Brothers by writing this letter. I am not here for laws that criminalize and throw people away for wanting a better life. My Cool Cat was a humanitarian with a big heart. I honor that spirit.

Copyright 2017 by Imani Williams. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

Featured Image Courtesy of the Author

‘Cool In The Summer’ by Gloria Christie

The little boy ate grasshoppers. I watched him closely as he captured the near-flight bug leaps in mid-air, the ease a testament to his practice. Then he looked around to see if we were watching. And we were. He had the goofy look another first-grader recognized as “not-too-bright.” But he grinned, the corner of his smile nearly reaching the ear, one on each side. I could see a haircut done at home by a mother too tired to care the result. Its mud-brown uniform, save from even the smallest light. A cowlick surrounded by sweat beads.

He put the bug into his mouth, a moment of undivided attention. Then he sucked its guts out. Ewwww. He tried for another show, but his audience didn’t care. I watched him wander away, alone, my six-year-old self cold with disgust. About eating bugs and “not being all there.”

I had to visit my cousin’s school that day, just one room living on a square of donated land, not much bigger than the building. One of a thousand like homes to educating the rural masses. I’d rather play. Danny, was just five days younger than me, but that made me the oldest. Forever.

It didn’t matter if I went to school with my cousins. I liked mine the best, though. Danny’s paint curled away like cracked mud. People “took care of ours.” A community blended young to old, not-quite-poor to poorest. Danny’s bored me. I wished I could tell time. Without that secret, endless truly was.

My aunt’s two-tone green sedan pulled up outside the school window. I heard the tires crinkle over the rocks. And out the dirt-streaked window, I could see Aunt Frances and Mom laughing. They always did. The afternoon heat was climbing through the weeds vining up a forgotten trellis, small dust eddies puffed before the car, their windows rolled down. Laughing.

There were five boys in Danny’s family: Milton, Lyle, Billy, Danny, and Rex. Oldest first, youngest last. Lyle could jump up on a horse from behind, just like cowboys in the westerns we watched Saturdays on the black and white TV. I rode with him sometimes. Their house was little, little. Parked on land rich with sandstone formations. Cool places in the summer.

Aunt Francis took care of Grandma Moody who had a wonderful little trailer. But Grandma was sick. She was afraid to go to the hospital, because she said that’s “where people went to die.” Grandma made popcorn balls for us at Christmas, but they weren’t any good, not a real present. She was always crocheting, a new cap and sweater for each new cousin, 26 in all. She smelled of sick.

Danny and I made potted meat sandwiches to go to the sandstones, but his dog was there. And it changed the taste of the food, to one I didn’t want. We didn’t have to take the little kids, because they were too little, and “might get hurt.” I thought they would probably fall into a hole or something, they didn’t “know any better.”

We couldn’t play in the house, because Uncle Clarence worked nights in the creamery in town. Great big skulking boys making no noise. A quiet house. Wrong. I wished Lyle was riding their horses. I don’t know where he was, maybe down by the persimmon tree. They didn’t have a creek like we had, a place to haul pebbles from to the driveway. But they had sandstones, cool in the summer.

Aunt Frances’ boys all drank Pepsi-Cola, in bottles “from the time they were six months old.” But they didn’t have any cavities. I did. They didn’t even have to put half water in theirs.

When Mom honked the horn, we had to run, racing back among the dry grass, beyond spring. “A dry year, this year.” The car inside breathes hot and boring. Just like the last days of the school year. I didn’t want to go back to Danny’s school. I didn’t like it. No place to go where it was cool.

Bugs don’t go to Heaven.

‘Prescription For Existence’ by Andrew Bradford

In general, I thought less about it with each passing day

Until later it had faded so completely that I did not care

Smelling the sweetness of some Elysian Field, deeply sensing the perfection

The reality of what has become accepted truth is nothing but a patterned rumor

Then trillions of years pass and nothing remains but what is essential:

Breathing, seeing, causing, farting, eating, discovering, passing, fading, disappearing

Look at the cover and understand what it truly means to be filled with reverent awe

Read the words as if they are some holy script long since lost among the sands of time

Standing near the ocean, screaming for respite, for order, for one last gasp

But none shall be given–it has been ordained

Shallow sips of air, more, silently begging into the ether

For a last moment of grace

Yet handed only dust and ash.

Copyright 2016 by Andrew Bradford. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘A Lonely Walk’ by Olumide Oluwasegun

In times and a time, the value of life
I lived on an isle south of France
With nobles and royals all around
Behind a drawbridge lived my life
Candles and chandeliers light the night
From curtains and drapes spring forth light
Rays from the sun to warm my face
The glow of the moon when it’s pitch black

I long for a time when I’ll run around
Free of the drawbridge with glee and delight
Galloping on horseback meant for princes
Travel the world of Castles and Churches
Run in the fields of parsley and sage
Eat food garnished with rosemary and thyme
I’d love to do all these in time
But perhaps they are musings; musings just blind.

Copyright 2015 by Olumide Oluwasegun. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.