On August 26, I found myself feeling frantic. I could not stay still and kept adding additional items to my to-do list each time I completed all the tasks. I was cleaning, organizing, responding to emails and doing laundry. At one point, I even ordered an earring organizer online with an unwarranted sense of urgency.
Recognizing that something was off, I settled myself and turned inward. What was up? Why was I feeling so anxious and unsettled? And then it hit me, I was scared.
My husband Jermale and I were planning to fly to Washington, D.C. the next morning to participate in the commitment march that would commemorate the 57th anniversary of the original March on Washington led by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This particular march was being organized in honor of the more recent victims of police brutality and white supremacy—Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake. I wanted to go. I felt it was important to go. But now that the trip was only hours away, I found myself fearful and anxious.
We had purchased tickets and reserved our hotel months earlier, but knew there was a good chance the event would be canceled due to COVID-19 concerns and even if it wasn’t, we were uncertain if we would go. As the trip got closer, I started to feel worried.
One night, Jermale said “I have some bad news and some good news.” I asked for the bad news first. “Our hotel reservation for D.C. got canceled,” he said. “Well,” I responded, “that’s a sign. We aren’t going—the decision has been made for us.” “The good news is,” Jermale continued, “I was able to get us a new reservation and it is less expensive than the first one.” With the good news now on the table I reverted back to the original plan and purposed to go.
It wasn’t until I really sat with it that I realized the source of my fear and the reason I was so quick to suggest canceling the trip. It was the combination of facing two significant threats.
First, COVID-19. My family has been quite cautious in our activities and gatherings since the start of the global health pandemic. Although we do not have any particular risk factors that would make us more susceptible to contracting the virus, we still wanted to be careful due to all the unknowns surrounding the virus and also as a way of doing our part to protect others in our community who are more vulnerable. Now, we were preparing to take an airplane to a different city in order to gather with thousands of people. I struggled with feeling that this was perhaps an irresponsible choice and the “what if” questions swirled into worst-case scenario thinking.
The second fear was around physical safety. I’d been following the news and I knew that for all the people who would attend the commitment march with the purpose of showing unity and love in a demonstration demanding justice and equity, there was a chance that other people with very different motives might also be in attendance. Just a day earlier, two protestors in Kenosha, Wisconsin had lost their lives at the hands of a white teenager armed with an AR-15. The event that we were preparing to attend would be in our nation’s capital following a tradition that spans decades and proclaiming that Black people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness along with everyone else. If someone didn’t agree with that, if a group wanted to make a statement and express racism or hate on a large scale, the commitment march seemed a likely target.
So that was it. That was why my house was looking very clean and my earrings would soon have a new, organized home. I was scared and I didn’t want to face it. I was scared that my husband or I could get COVID and I was scared that we could get injured or worse at the march. At the root of these fears was the question, “What would the consequences mean for my kids?”
We have three beautiful, Black boys ages 11, 8 and 4.5 (he really wants to be sure the half is included when we share his age). My biggest concern when I think about something happening to me is that they would be negatively impacted. Yet, in the end, my boys were also my biggest motivating factor when I decided to go to the march.
We have always talked about race with our boys along with elevating our family values of kindness, integrity and excellence. We have framed racism by explaining how it is not compatible with these values and we have taught our boys to be proud of their skin color, their hair texture, and their ancestors while also being fully open and inclusive toward all other races and intersectional identities.
Due to the pandemic, I was working from home and all of the boys were home as well. We had a daily schedule that helped us all stay sane and I decided to add a new element. Every day after lunch, we started having what I called “Black Lives Matter” time. During this time, we would consume age-appropriate content about Black identity, Black history and social justice movements. It was a small addition in our day with a big impact. We were having new conversations and I could see their understanding of their own Blackness expand and their resolve to be justice fighters grow. I was learning, too. One of the main books we have been using is called The Civil Rights Movement for Kids. It follows the civil rights movement with an emphasis on how children and young people were involved.
We learned about Ruby Bridges integrating her school at age 6, Barbara Johns leading a school strike to demand better conditions at age 16, John Lewis joining the freedom rides at age 21 and Diane Nash participating in lunch counter sit-ins at age 22. We talked about how all of these efforts required courage and how people still participated even though they knew they could be hurt, put in jail or even die.
On August 26, when I acknowledged my fears, I also remembered our Black Lives Matter time and thought about what I wanted to show my boys and the world I wanted my boys to live in. I have heard people say that you don’t have to wonder what you would have done in the civil rights era—you just have to ask yourself what you are doing right now? The struggle for freedom and civil rights hasn’t ended and it is currently experiencing a new wave of critical consequence. I was still fearful, but I knew we had to go.
So, we went. The boys stayed with their grandfather and Jermale and I flew to D.C. We were relieved to see people complying with mask requirements at the airport and respecting social distancing protocols. After we landed, our Uber driver had custom plexiglass installed to separate the back seat and our hotel had limitations on public gathering spaces and hand sanitizer stations everywhere. It felt like we were all doing what we could to take care of one another and keep each other safe.
Attending the actual event was powerful. We were surrounded by hundreds of people taking up physical space with their bodies as a way of demonstrating a common belief that Black Lives Matter and a communal commitment to continue the work required to see justice and liberty for all. The speakers were strong and the comments from the family members of recent victims were reminders of what’s at stake if we fail to answer the call to action. It was energizing and hopeful, but also heavy and heartbreaking. So many hashtags, so many posters, so many marches and so little change.
Why are we asking for the same things 57 years later? How are we seeing images that resemble the same horrors seen during slavery and Jim Crow? Why does brown skin still predict life quality and outcomes across every domain?
Yes, there has been progress, but the pace has been painstakingly slow, and the results have been unacceptable. That’s why we march. To speak truth, to bring attention, to gain strength from each other, to reenergize and let the world know we will not forget, and we are not done. Marching is meaningful, but it can’t stop there. The energy has to be harnessed and applied beyond a single day or one-time event.
For me, what it looks like to take the purpose of the march into my daily life is completing the Census, voting, actively supporting and participating in political campaigns, donating money, contacting my legislators, teaching my children and using my voice in individual conversations and on larger platforms. These days especially, social media is a common communication tool. One small thing I am also doing is trying not to automatically delete friends and family on social media because we have different political views and opinions.
I know that we all learn and grow through relationships and echo chambers can be quite stifling to the evolution of our thinking and the broadening of our perspectives. My hope is that by staying connected to people even if something they post offends or hurts me, this keeps a door open to learning on both sides. There is already so much division and at the end of the day our fates are intricately connected. Now, don’t get it twisted—I am also aware that I have to be protective of my mental energy and monitor the level of emotional labor I am able to give on social media in order to preserve my holistic well-being, and sometimes an “unfollow” is the healthiest choice we can make.
I often feel like I should be doing more and, of course, there is always room to push ourselves further—further in action, further in risk, further in engagement. Still, I also remind myself that resistance to injustice comes in many forms including rest, joy, pleasure and health. Reading in my hammock, laughing with my children, dating my husband and connecting with my friends—all these things count, too.
The fight for justice requires persistence and sustained momentum. If you fight constantly without replenishing, you will diminish your ability to affect positive change. Your internal wellness is essential as you also work to advance the wellness of your family, your community, your nation and our shared world. As activist and author Audre Lorde once said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
So, let’s keep marching, let’s keep listening, let’s keep advocating at the ballot box, online, in our relationships and in our families. No one is free until all are free, and all lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter.
Anissa Eddie is a Pritzker Fellow and a Ph.D. student at Michigan State University in the Human Development and Family Studies Department. Her research interests include racial socialization and identity development in early childhood. She is also an early childhood advocate working to advance public policy in support of young children and their families. Anissa is the Owner & Principal Consultant at Liminality Consulting and the Co-Founder of Malamiah Juice Bar along with her husband, Jermale Eddie. Anissa and Jermale live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with their three sons and their dog, Toffee.