An Open Letter on Black Lives Matter

By Helen Ogundeji

I am hurting and I am healing and often it is very difficult to decide which state to prioritize. The pain will lead to anger which will inevitably motivate me to action while the healing wraps invisible arms around me and tells me to rest and let the others go to work. By no means have I been a pillar of black activism in this community but nevertheless I am exhausted. Exhausted from engaging with strangers and explaining that yes, all lives do matter but we’re not talking about those identities right now, exhausted from scrolling through my newsfeed and seeing shared link after shared link of Alton Sterling’s violent death play out on my phone screen, exhausted from the daily motions of being black in a society that is committed to undermining and extinguishing your existence. I am exhausted and this is exhaustion is seeping into the way I respond to the tragedies that unfold onto those who share my skin colour.

This piece an opportunity for me to (publicly) arrange my thoughts and figure out how I feel about the nature and direction of my activism but is more of an open letter to those who are struggling with mobilizing for your cause while up against the threat it poses to your emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing. You throw on your black garb, wield your posters, take a deep breath, and show up for the lives senselessly stolen. You stand there next to activists and allies and shout and cheer and cry for these lives and the ones that will undoubtedly be next. You look around and you wonder why in the world this demonstration is even taking place; the solidarity is nearly palpable and as the crowd erupts in Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ for a moment you feel like your efforts will result in something tangible. The next day you read on Twitter that another black, queer, and/or trans life has been lost.

This shit is tiring. This shit is so fucking tiring. Sitting here right now, I’m trying to find the right words to that will accurately explain just how draining it is to be a fighter for this cause. It’s ironic that in a struggle that demands a right to life, as indisputable as that sounds, there would be such pronounced resistance. Yet here we are writing, marching, marking our bodies, spraying on walls, and screaming in faces that our lives matter and you need to stop killing us. Why won’t they listen?

It’s disheartening to think that a message so clear and undeniably justified would need repeating in cities all over the world. Stop killing us. It’s so disheartening; it often makes it hard to show up for the marches, demonstrations, and the vigils. In how many different words are we to justify our existence? I want to support my fellow activists but past standing with you and cheering after your speeches, I don’t know how to. I don’t know how to support my black friends fearing for their lives and the lives of their brothers, fathers, and uncles. I don’t know what to say after another life has been stolen and the sick relief that it wasn’t one belonging to your family overcomes you. I don’t know what to say and I don’t know what to do and I am tired.

I am writing this in the hopes that I am not the only one that feels this way, regardless of the cause in which you are steadfast to find shoes and march for. Black Lives Matter is a deeply personal struggle and I can’t help but feel a little selfish in how I choose to engage. Prioritizing self care (in whatever way that takes form for you) is wildly important and crucial to our capacity to continue being activists. For me, self care is starting to look more like entirely avoiding the subject of police brutality and Black Lives Matter. My guilt stems from distinguishing whether this is self-preservation or pure ignorance but then I remember that this is my reality and I do not have the option to forget that this is happening. I can blacklist social media for as long as I choose but this does not change the fact that this is my continued reality.

This piece was somewhat of a stream of consciousness and likely lacked the organization needed for you to truly understand what I’m trying to convey (sorry!). Black Lives Matter is a supremely important organization and has inspired a massive following worldwide, myself included. These folks do very important work and the activists that show up without fail are commendable. I am trying to remind myself to be the best activist that I can be within my means. One that doesn’t leave me bitter and angry and unable to commit to this community in the way that it genuinely deserves. I am taking the time to remind myself how to be that activist, and allowing myself to stay in instead of showing up to every call or respond to every message. That doesn’t change the fact that these stolen lives will always be with me. These lives will matter regardless of how I demonstrate my commitment. They will always matter.

In solidarity,
Helen Ogundeji