In August of 2011, my best friend and I made our way down long and twisting Route 29 toward Charlottesville and the University of Virginia. We attended our University Convocation on the Lawn, excitedly facing the Rotunda and drinking in each moment. As our University President lauded our classes’ academic accomplishments and spoke of the many bright years ahead under the enduring legacy of our founding father, Thomas Jefferson, she quoted the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self evident, all men are created equal.” That night, as I walked up to my dorm, built on top of unmarked slave graves, it occurred to me that Mr. Jefferson probably wouldn’t be the biggest fan of a woman of color like myself studying at his precious University.
This was the year I learned of his words in the Notes on the State of Virginia “I advance it therefore…that the blacks whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstance, blacks are inferior to the whites in the endowment both of body and mind.”
In August of 2012, I hit Route 29 again. After move in, I met up with my lively group of friends and we attended the opening week ceremonies on the Lawn, including an annual evening of acapella performances. My favorite was an R&B group called Remix; with their music I felt at home.
This was the year I learned to find the pockets of empowered blackness among my fellow students and in my classes.
In August of 2013, I arrived before orientation for Resident Advisor training. I spent the next few weeks bonding with my staff as we engaged in emergency response, energetic team building, and heated debates about microaggressions and other topics on diversity. Of the 24 first year residents I had in my hall, only one was black.
This was the year I learned what a “post-racial society” supposedly looks like.
In August of 2014, I arrived on my own for Senior Resident Advisor Training. I learned how to lead a staff, how to engage appropriately with residents, and how to manage move in dates and sorority and fraternity rush. There were some significant gaps in my training. Then again, how can you ever be “trained” to get through the kidnap and murder of a university student? Or the airing of an article in a national magazine alleging violent sexual assault? Or the attack of a black student by police officers? Or several suicides in one year?
This was the year I learned the power of a candle light vigil.
In August of 2017, I spent hours crying and shaking in a bathroom at Penn Station from a visceral heartbreak. Terrorists were on my Lawn. Our Lawn. The imperfect, irreplaceable, Academical village defamed. Our bodies, black and brown bodies under siege. Again. And again. And again. With the whole world watching.
So many questions floated across my various newsfeeds: How this could happen? What would posses hundreds of terrorists from across the country to come to OUR home? To OUR Lawn? What would make them think they can come here? And do this?
Ever the eager student, I looked to the enlightened Mr. Jefferson for an answer:
They hold these truths to be self evident.
Photo by John Sonderman | Flickr