The cassette danced around my mother’s Camry
To the percussion of a road that we weren’t on
Rattling like a world unhinged,
bursting from his plastic barriers
Begging to be rewound, studied,
captured in the black hands of a black girl in the backseat.
What a world to be in, I thought!
If purple raindrops of royalty could never stop,
the lightning must fly like lavender pedals.
He stayed by my side the rest of the trip
Until my mother asked for him, reaching back
the lyrics catapulting from her heart
Listen to this part,
she would say.
He kills it!
Contorting her fingers all over the steering wheel like guitar strings
Her voice and his riffs would wrap around the open road
and choke that empty space–
the miles between us and home
cracking the chains off my mother’s memory
Stretching her face to the place that many artists go once they
truly find themselves
I never forgot this praise dance for the downpour
This pull towards freedom
that my mom and him translated for me so early
in my artistic journey
That response to the calling
To find one’s self is not just for the sake of being comfortable in this world
But for the purpose to unravel into something more
Creative and Administrative Assistant to
Kevin Powell and BK Nation
I remember when I first saw the Facebook campaign supporting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. The Internet buzzed with a cry for women to be represented and to replace the face of patriarchy and racism. A Black woman at that! Talk about win-win. Let’s do it!
Upon further reflection: Do we really want to take up space on American currency? The same currency that many people of color don’t get to hold when they live below the poverty line? The same currency that recent college grads like me fight for to pay off our student loans? The same currency that causes bullets to fly in the streets when drug dealers conduct business? The same currency that didn’t help clear the water in Flint, Michigan? The same currency that went missing during the fundraising after Tamir Rice’s murder? Do we want to see the face of one of the most revolutionary activists and humanitarians on that dirty paper? No, thank you.
Spare me the symbolism America. This announcement came around the same time that police officer Peter Liang received community service and probation after killing an unarmed Black man in Brooklyn, New York. After hashtag after hashtag of memories and murders justified by a system meant to protect us. What about the symbolism of the current election in which pundits tell Hillary Clinton to smile more while responding to Donald Trump’s comments on his own penis?
Putting Harriet Tubman’s face on this America’s currency does not make me feel warm and fuzzy. It does not make me feel like America has heard me, my mothers, or my ancestors. It makes me feel cheap. Representation on money would mean a lot more if women received the same pay as men.
Department of Treasury: Please take those $20 bills to the community leaders who risk their lives and sanity every day to keep their communities thriving while confronting forces that work twice as hard to tear those same communities apart. Take those $20 bills and invest in quality education for ALL children that includes the Arts. Take those $20 bills and fund solutions to intractable problems like stopping the deconstruction of marginalized communities, mass incarceration, and sexual assault. Spend those $20 bills to honor people of color and the historical trauma that still plagues us.
Harriet Tubman’s face on the $20 bill will provide a constant reminder of how much more work needs to be done. She will remind me that I cannot be distracted by peace offerings or symbols of an attempt to give women of color the credit for all that we did and that we put up with. She will remind me that I must continue to move our nation and our world toward freedom … by any means necessary.
Tayllor Johnson currently resides in New York City where she has begun her journey into Poet. Passion. Period. In between those learning moments, she sometimes has just enough time to jot a few lines...
if a sequoia could