Dear America – Nothing Will Change Until You Face Yourself

Emelda De Coteau
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Emelda De Coteau

Mother, wife, sister, friend, writer / blogger / creative organizer, budding photographer... These are just a few of the many hats I juggle each day. I believe creativity is oxygen for the soul. I created Live In Color blog to celebrate the beauty in every moment, from faith to inspiration and motherhood.And it is soon becoming Pray with Our Feet blog which will focus on the intersection of faith and activism. Follow the inspiration on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/praywithourfeetblog/
Emelda De Coteau
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Photo Credit: Nitish Meena

Last night I dreamed groups of us moved slowly, herded like cattle, pushed into large spaces meant to contain undesirables, those folks swimming across oceans, desperately chasing illusions of freedom; they hail from countries we callously dismiss because their faces are the color of copper pennies and mahogany, faces like mine.

I tried to run, all of us did, but escape seemed impossible; our mouths full of invisible cotton, choking words we longed to utter into the angry stillness enveloping us. It is the kind of dream one finds nearly impossible to awaken from because it echoes real life.

What is unfolding in America today under the guise of “immigration policy” is barbaric. Infants and children callously taken from their parents arms, left screaming for hours in unending agony, unable to be held or touched by workers in these shelters. Is this what we are becoming? Perhaps it is partly who we always were? Facing this scares us. And so, we swallow self examination with either avoidance or the shallowness of political correctness.

For the last several months, I have come back to Andrea Ritchie’s recent book Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color. It’s an arduous read, with account after account of atrocities committed by the state against women of color, from the indigenous to those who were enslaved:

“On the estate I am speaking of, those women who had sucking children suffered much from their breasts becoming full of milk, the infants being left at home. They therefore could not keep up with the other hands: I have seen the overseer beat them with raw hide, so that the blood and milk flew mingled from their breasts.”

Pain. Suffering. Sorrow. Ripping families apart then and now…

Photo Credit: Nathaniel Tetteh

All of these practices exist within a continuum of the historical dehumanization of people of color. And at this moment, migrant children are under attack with no regard for their psychological or physical welfare. According to a recent article in The Washington Post “nearly 4,600 mental-health professionals and 90 organizations have signed a petition urging President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and several elected officials to stop the policy of separating children from their parents. The petition says:

These children are thrust into detention centers often without an advocate or an attorney and possibly even without the presence of any adult who can speak their language. We want you to imagine for a moment what this might be like for a child: to flee the place you have called your home because it is not safe to stay and then embark on a dangerous journey to an unknown destination, only to be ripped apart from your sole sense of security with no understanding of what just happened to you or if you will ever see your family again. And that the only thing you have done to deserve this, is to do what children do: stay close to the adults in their lives for security.

A 2-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12 in McAllen, Tex. (John Moore/Getty Images)

I read these words over and over, each time the weight of my anger and sorrow grows. As I look back at the lead story photo, a little girl bewildered, desperately trying to make sense of a senseless situation, I see Nai, myself (the daughter of an immigrant), and every child. They all long for reassurance, love and safety. Now a country which espouses the rhetoric of inclusion has taken this away from them in a burst of fury led by a few and fueled with xenophobia.

James Baldwin once wrote: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it faced.” If we continue to run from ourselves as a society, we will merely create new iterations of the same oppressive systems rooted in ideologies of white supremacy, patriarchy and greed.

And folks of all ethnicities can internalize and carry on the work of institutionalized racism, turning hatred inward, toxically afflicting their own communities. Have we not seen it’s manifestations time and time again with practices like colorism, a term first used by writer and activist Alice Walker which she defines as “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color,” in her collection of essays, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens.

None of this is going away until we confront the ghosts who refuse to leave because we so vehemently deny their existence. The crying children of immigrants; our response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico; high maternal mortality rates for women of color; the school to prison pipeline; deadly attacks on those in the transgender and gay community, all of these egregious wrongs are symptoms of a society at war with both the most marginalized and itself.

Each of our lives depends upon tearing down the myths which have held generations captive for centuries. Our collective freedom is inextricably linked to each other. When we come to understand this then fully lasting liberation can blossom within our hearts and souls.

Feeling overwhelmed by all of this? Start with this action:

Sign the petition over at Moms Rising, urging your lawmakers to reject the bills on the table. Here is some info from Moms Rising (the rest is available when you click the link above – “Sign the petition”):

On Friday, President Trump suggested that he won’t change HIS policy of intentionally separating kids from their parents, unless Democrats agreed to his other destructive immigration demands.

Trump’s demands include passing a very dangerous bill proposed by Speaker Ryan. This bill will NOT end family separation. Instead, it would result in children being detained indefinitely in worse conditions, without basic standards for their care or well-being.

It would also result in the near immediate return of other children to the very life-threatening conditions they are fleeing and from which they are seeking asylum (a legally protected right in both national and international law).

Why Activism & Creating Affirming Spaces for Women Moves Me

Emelda De Coteau
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Emelda De Coteau

Mother, wife, sister, friend, writer / blogger / creative organizer, budding photographer... These are just a few of the many hats I juggle each day. I believe creativity is oxygen for the soul. I created Live In Color blog to celebrate the beauty in every moment, from faith to inspiration and motherhood.And it is soon becoming Pray with Our Feet blog which will focus on the intersection of faith and activism. Follow the inspiration on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/praywithourfeetblog/
Emelda De Coteau
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Black Womyn Rising (May 2016)

Ever since elementary school, I have stood up against any perceived injustice. Not on a picket line, more subtly I suppose, as my early protesting involved befriending kids others made fun of or ignored.

On the weekends, Dad told my brother and I stories about his life, the years he spent in Hounduras before coming to the U.S. We learned about his childhood, both the simple beauty and abject poverty. Those expressive eyes held a tinge of sadness as he told us about wearing shoes only on Sundays, as they walked to church; they traveled to school barefoot.

I sat there, all of 6 or 7, fully absorbed, unable to push the sentences about hardship back, tears and anger welled within me. Of course he said, “don’t cry,” “I’m fine now, Meldy” (his nickname for me), and yet, as he hugged me tenderly, smelling of cologne and peppermint, I couldn’t shake the heaviness of it all.

Why did I have shoes and clothes and other children didn’t? It felt absurd, cruel and unfair, and I wanted to change something, however small. I always felt a deep desire to transform the world in my own way, bringing light and beauty.

All these years later, I finally feel I am walking into my purpose as an activist, organizer, and cultivator of affirming spaces for women. Sometimes God must remove the noise, distractions and barriers which are hindering us from growth.

Rocking a shirt given to me by my good friend Kayla (includes names of Black womyn and girls murdered or assaulted by police)

And I suppose this is how I have come to work with Black Womyn Rising, an intergenerational organizing collective  I helped found with several other sistas based in Baltimore. Our work is intersectional (meaning we seek to understand how various forms of oppression operate and  impact black womyn and girls), and rooted in transformative love and global sistahood.

We are deeply concerned with resisting all forms of oppression and actively creating affirming spaces for womyn of color.  In the spirit of Nina Simone and so many other foremamas, we uplift the beauty, complexity and the rich layers of blackness.

While social justice and activism are a deep part of my soul, so, too, is creativity. Writing, photographing, sketching, these outlets are oxygen for me. Last year I founded Women Creatives Chat, a community that lives online for now (working on planning some events) whose mission is to inspire, empower (through tips, resources and regular Instachats), and connect my fellow creatives with one another.

Since launching on Instagram late last year, it’s growing daily. And I feel blessed to follow and connect with women from all around the world who are creating and trusting their unique visions. You and I truly can have the life we seek and dream about it. It begins with clarity, which I believe is rooted in prayer, a personal relationship with God and radical self love.

Graphic designed by Emelda De Coteau Founder, Women Creatives Chat

 

Anyway, enough about me! What sets your heart on fire? What do you feel called to give to the world?  I want to hear all about it in the comments below, sweet friends.

A Letter to my Young Daughter about Living as a Woman of Color & Radical Faith in America 

Emelda De Coteau
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Emelda De Coteau

Mother, wife, sister, friend, writer / blogger / creative organizer, budding photographer... These are just a few of the many hats I juggle each day. I believe creativity is oxygen for the soul. I created Live In Color blog to celebrate the beauty in every moment, from faith to inspiration and motherhood.And it is soon becoming Pray with Our Feet blog which will focus on the intersection of faith and activism. Follow the inspiration on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/praywithourfeetblog/
Emelda De Coteau
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Photo Credit: Devin Allen

Dear Nai,

One week ago, while you slept, Mommy stood in the kitchen, surrounded by plates and cups and cried. I nearly collapsed, knees aching, my stomach somersaulting with uneasiness and lingering pain.

I cried because when I looked at Philando Castile’s fiancée, her eyes, worn from grief and shock, mirrored my own in ways you will one day, sadly, know as a black woman, unless the conscious of America profoundly shifts. Your Mama is an optimist, and a Christian so I stand on the anchor of hope (Hebrews 6:19), praying we will begin seeing each other not as Americans but people, people whose individual truths are valid and real.

Frankly, I don’t know if this will happen in your lifetime, but I want you to extend the love your Daddy and I give you always. Allow it to take up residence in your heart, and fill it often as you come before God in thoughtful prayer and communion.

Kes, Nai and me Photo Credit: Wayne De Coteau

You will need this love to live in a country and world which insists on rendering you, your perspective and intellect, your unique truth, invisible. Mama wants so desperately to protect you from the pernicious sting of rejection, but I cannot. And when I am forced to acknowledge this grimness, the weight of it nearly crushes me.  But then I think of women of color like Dr. Maya Angelou whose sentence from the poem, “Our Grandmothers” rests within Mama’s spirit, eviscerating this looming mist of defeat which attempts to choke out hope: “I come as one, I stand as ten thousand.”

Say this to yourself, my love, often, especially when you think you cannot overcome an obstacle. “I come as one, I stand as ten thousand.”

You are the descendent of a people rooted in resistance and resilience, dear heart; they refused to allow the ideology of white supremacy to define their destiny. Madam C.J. Walker became the first woman millionaire in America because a divine vision, superseded manmade barriers of skin color and gender.

Your Great Grandmother started working at age 5, and did not stop until her 60s; her retirement from being a domestic worker came because her daughter, your Nana, held a fierce determination within her heart, shutting out the high school counselor’s prediction that she should sweep floors, instead, she graduated with honors from Morgan State University.

Nana became an educator, touching the lives of thousands of children in Baltimore city, opening their minds to a more expansive history of the U.S. And then she came home, every day, and poured these revelations of our past into her children so our futures would not become marred by defeat, but instead, armed with this biblical truth: “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” Psalm 139:14

Each time you hear the lies of “not enough” (smart, beautiful or talented) echoed from American culture refute  these destructive words and live. Live because your life is a testament to triumph over fear and hatred.

Lucille Clifton, renowned poet, proudly declares, “come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.” These are your foremamas, Nai! Their struggle shall be your strength.

When you experience discrimination and meet others who do, waste no time bemoaning it, put your energy (all of the sadness, anger and frustration) into action. Allow these verses of scripture to dwell within your soul:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.

Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Proverbs 31: 8-9

You matter. Your ancestors built this country, not as slaves, but as survivors whose sheer will birthed an unrivaled ingenuity spanning every field and occupation. Listen. You will hear it couched in the melody of the blues, rising in the triumphant praise of gospel music, and through the eloquent work of writers such as James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis and many others.

You are always enough. God created you not to conform to this world, but to transform it.

And so, I leave you, my darling, with the words of Howard Thurman, a great African-American theologian, author and thinker (Jesus and the Disinherited) who inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other seekers of justice:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

My Love For You Is Eternal,

Your Mama