Kayla Weeden read her poem, “Years Later,” during DePaul’s 20th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast on Jan. 16, 2017. Weeden is the president of DePaul Presenters of Enlightenment Through Spoken-word (P.O.E.T.S.) and Spectrum DePaul. Currently in her junior year, Weeden is majoring in film and television, with a concentration in screenwriting, and minoring in LGBTQ studies.
Imani, Kayla Marie. Faith.
Kuumba, Kayla Marie. Creativity.
Nia. Purpose, purpose, purpose.
When I was in second grade my pale white mother held my hand as she walked me into school on the last day before Christmas break
Armed with a hand woven mat we had made the night before, and a hand carved candle holder with seven slots, ready to teach my class about my favorite holiday of the year
My classmates much preferred the flaky latkes and warm apple sauce of Hanukkah over her lectures on black history, but how I loved to hear my mother rattle off the seven principles as if she had been prepared to have two black children with no father in the picture all her life
I beamed up at with her with pride
That night before bed time she brushed through my nappy curls, parted it down the center, put it into two big puffs before braiding each one into three chunky braids, the baubles on the hair ties clicking together with each gentle tug
I asked her why she thought Kwanzaa was so important if it wasn’t a holiday for people like her.
Well, she said, working on the third braid of the first puff, I’ve got you and your brother and you deserve to know and love the parts of yourselves that didn’t come from me
What do you mean, momma?
She chuckled, her fingers working with care and she said, one day you’ll understand
Today, I think, might be that day.
I reflect today on the way my history was taught to me. My mother took all responsibility into her already overflowing hands, renting movies like Ruby Bridges, buying children’s books about Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad, graduating my brother and I slowly up to things like The People Could Fly as she shooed away the people in the grocery store confused at two black children being led around by a white woman
She tried so valiantly to provide me with a sense of connection to who I only knew back then as the people who had hair like mine and the people with skin like some of the birth marks I had freckling my hips
I think it appropriate 13 years after she stood on the right of me as I, a seven year old, delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech to a room of about 25 people, whispering how to pronounce Alabama in my ear each time it came up in the text that I stand in front of you now with a growing sense of who I am and a growing knowledge of who has worked so hard to make it possible for me to be here.
The world is a hostile place
It is hostile and violent and deadly to so many
It hurts to sit at home and read about them on a glowing screen only inches from our faces but I beg of you that today we not only remember those who have been lost to bigotry and ignorance, institutional racism, internalized racism, and layers upon layers of violence
I beg of you that today we not only celebrate their lives and mourn the astronomical losses our community and communities across the nation have suffered
But I beg of you to celebrate those who have faced and continue to face this hostility with love and patience and a constitution so strong it serves as the foundation of gatherings and events and celebrations like this very one
Our teachers, our mothers, our fathers, our leaders and predecessors are to be thanked
There is so much work to be done. We must not shy from our perseverance.
We must hold on to the unconditional love and support given to us and given by us.
We are a strong and persistent people
And though we tire and though we stumble, this long path to where we want to be is being beaten down passionately so that one day we may run upon it with fear of stumbling no longer.
Ujima, Kayla Marie. Collective work and responsibility.
Kujichagulia, Kayla Marie. Self-determination.
Umoja. Unity, unity, unity.