When I Was Eight...written by Ahjalia Hall
When my heart is heavy, I write. I cannot stay silent.
When I was eight years old, I asked my mom if I had to say the Pledge of Allegiance at school. She asked me why and I said, “because it ends with the words Liberty and Justice for All and there isn’t liberty and justice for all.”
We stared at each other and my Mom said, “You’re right. Well, why don’t you say the rest of the pledge of allegiance and you do not have to say the line that you don’t believe to be true.” So from then on I didn’t say it.
It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in liberty and justice for all—it was that I understood that we weren’t practicing those words in our country.
I understood this concept at eight years old.
I’m a proud American. My Grandpa, born in the 1920s, was a proud Black Colonel in the US Army and there are several books and an Epic Mini Series depicting how my family helped to build this country. You see, my cousin Alex Haley wrote the book ‘Roots’ which is about my family from Africa, stolen into slavery and brought to America. (He also wrote the Autobiography of Malcom X). Because of the book Roots I have a full history of my family tree documented from Africa to present-day America. This was a very important and proud part of my upbringing and therefore I read the book Roots and watched the graphic Mini Series with my mom when I was quite young.
I understood at a very young age that this country was not founded on the premise of liberty and justice for all from a Black persons standpoint.
So while I couldn’t have the educated conversation about racism in this country at 8 years old that I could have with you today, even 8 year-old me understood that the plight of Black people in this country was being ignored even at the most basic level. It also made me feel like I as a Black girl am not part of the “all” that is mentioned when discussing liberty and justice for all. Imagine this type of awareness permeating throughout your youth. What does that do to your psyche?
It has been extremely hard to wake up Black in America over the last few weeks. I typically hold my head high and proud, but the last few weeks my head hangs with tears rolling down. It’s not that the scenarios in the news are new—they aren’t—these things have been happening since we were stolen from Africa and enslaved. But when I watch videos of people being murdered on the news and on my Facebook feed, I see my cousins, my uncles, my father, my grandfathers and myself. It’s actually traumatizing to watch. At the same time it has been an extremely hard dynamic to watch people protest the quarantine because they can’t surf or shop when they want, citing “Freedom”, when the premise of liberty and justice for all still doesn’t ring true for us all equally even once the quarantine ends.
This is not a political message, just insight into the fact that my idea of Freedom Rings differs from others and rectifying those differences is extremely difficult. It’s heavy.
This heaviness is something I live with and something that comes and goes in waves but can never go away. A few months ago I took a seven-mile walk in my West LA neighborhood and when I returned to my apartment building (where I’ve lived for 15 years), as I entered the secured glass entrance to the building a man coming out of the building (my neighbor) blocked the entrance. With his arms outstretched blocking me from entering he asked “Do you live here?” I was immediately in shock. He was requiring me to answer his question before ALLOWING me to enter MY building. I normally don’t have a shortage of words, but this fully stunned me that someone would question me and physically block me from entering my home.
1. We BOTH live in this building, how is it that this man felt he had the right to question whether I could enter or not? Was this because I was a sweaty Black woman who just finished a seven-mile walk with my curly hair pasted to my face? Would he have questioned me if I was blonde and wearing jean shorts and a crop top? Or would my presence have not been questionable or threatening if that was the case? Really think about the assumption here. The assumption is that I don’t belong here…but why? Why do I not belong?
2. Would he have physically blocked me from entering if I was a man? Or was he flexing his privilege as a man to physically block me from entering, knowing I could not otherwise prevent him from doing so.
I wanted to scream, yell, push him away from blocking my body, run but instead I gathered my thoughts and I just gently pushed past him without saying a word.
I don’t owe him OR ANYONE answers in my apartment building where I’ve lived for 15 years. I don’t care if I’ve lived here for one day. I belong where I am, wherever that may be. I belong here in America.
After I was several steps away heading up my stairs I called out to him and said “I’ve lived here for 15 years”.
Now HE was the one that seemed shocked, and if you can believe it he then yelled out into the stairwell “Is that even true?” Still from afar he questioned my honesty? I just entered my apartment and closed the door. Heart beating fast, tears in my eyes.
I was so angry when I closed my door; mad, embarrassed and also relieved I was safe. The sad part is, what could I do about it? Is this a crime? It should be, but truthfully it’s a person flexing their privilege on someone they feel better than.
These types of experiences happen in this country ALL OF THE TIME. If you are a close friend to me you know about this story and how devastating it was to have that experience right in the building where I live. It’s a terrible, horrible, disgusting feeling.
I can’t help but think about the men who shot Ahmaud Arbery saying “he started it” and the men who killed him saying “they killed him in self defense”. Would the guy who blocked me from entering my building be able to say I started a confrontation with him when I pushed past him? Would he then be able to shoot me for speaking up for my own right to enter my home? Would he be able to say it was self defense? These are thoughts I live with each and every day.
Often times I feel like if I could just share my feelings with people who don’t quite understand that my experiences might be different from theirs, they would hear me and care about my experience. After all “you don’t know what you don’t know right?”. For the most part I have to believe this is true, which is why I’m writing this.
But to contrast this thought that people would want to know how I feel, I saw a man wearing a T-Shirt that read “Trump 2020, Fuck Your Feelings” at the grocery store. That was just too much. It actually made me cry. It’s so hard to see that type of visual and then understand how far we still have to go towards understanding in this county. If you don’t want to know/learn/care about the problems, you are part of the problem.
My personal experience is just one of many, while Black men in particular are being murdered without consequence STILL 150 years after the end of slavery. When will it stop? When will we talk about it? When will we stop blaming the people who take a knee, or who put their fist in the air during the national anthem, or the people who say Black Lives Matter, or the people who protest on the freeway and shut down traffic, or the people who riot in the streets because Black people are dying senselessly and seemingly no one cares.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
What you see when people riot is the response to the lack of justice. Deep-seated resentments, repetitive frustrations and long standing disappointments galvanize people into action. It’s a visual representation of pain. Watch it and hear it. Riots happen when people feel they have no other option.
Today the President tweeted that “thugs” are protesting and rioting, they are not “thugs” Mr. President, they are frustrated Americans. Riots are NEVER senseless, you only have to read a psychology book to understand this fact. The president then tweeted yesterday “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” And here we go again. More murder? When is it okay to speak up? When does our wonderful America protect US? When does the Liberty and Justice for All start? We are crying out for help.
When will people stop blaming us for speaking up, when we speak up, how we speak up etc. We’ve sung about it, protested about it, marched about it, kneeled about it and still people don’t believe these injustices happen in our country, or don’t want to acknowledge it. At this point if you don’t see the problem, you don’t want to see the problem and THAT IS WHAT PERPETUATES THE PROBLEM.
This is not our fault. This is a deep rooted issue that stems from slavery when we weren’t seen as equal or even human and it’s time to talk about it. It’s time to stop acting like this doesn’t exist and be a part of the solution. How? Don’t push these things away because it’s uncomfortable; don’t say “All Lives Matter” right after someone says “Black Lives Matter”. Of course all lives matter, but we are trying to call attention to injustices that we don’t address as a country and these injustices consistently happen to Black lives.
Don’t say taking a knee is “against the Troops”, that’s not the point. I’ve never heard anyone say they are “against the troops”. People are taking a knee to use the only power they have to call attention to a systemic problem of murder and lack of FREEDOM that we have in our nation. Don’t say it’s “against America”. What’s truly against America is not having Liberty and Justice for ALL. FOR ALL.
So if you care about freedom, start to address the issues at hand and don’t push them away. Talk about them. Don’t judge the protest, JOIN the protest. We cannot do this alone. And please know that politics truly aside, if you say “Make America Great Again” it actually provokes fear in me. Fear that people want to return to a time when things were worse for Black people in this country.
I don’t want America to go backwards, I want it to be better than before. Better than it is right now. Better than ever. We can do better.
The purpose of this post is to encourage everyone to talk about racism. Even if it’s uncomfortable, learn about it. If you don’t stand for murder DO something about it, get angry about this. Don’t get desensitized to it. Imagine it’s your father, uncle, cousin or my son murdered on a jog. Read a book about institutionalized racism so you are educated on what that means and so you can understand what you may not know. Let’s teach these truths in our schools!
And what can you do starting right now? Don’t allow ANYONE to say racist or prejudiced things around you. If they do, tell them it offends you and you won’t stand for it. This is how racism is perpetuated and speaking up is how we break the cycle. Remember kids are watching what we do AND what we don’t do. They are listening to what we say AND what we don’t say. They are watching and learning.
Don’t be silent.
Don’t teach your kids about being “colorblind”. Teach them that people that are different colors have different experiences that might be more challenging than their own and educate them on what those experiences might be. You don’t have to be good at having this conversation, you just have to want to have it and have it honestly. Have these conversations not just for Black people but for humanity and for America, so we can all finally say “With Liberty and Justice For All” and mean it.
Read all 81 stories. These are men and boys who are human beings that have been unjustly killed. Love to each of their families. Let the lives lost not be in vain.
Known as Ahja, Hall is the director and co-owner of Thrive Dance Center in Thousand Oaks. Her passion for dance and the young kids and young adults she works with and trains is evident in everything she does.
“Dance is important to me for 2 main reasons. First, because it’s a beautiful form of expressing yourself when you can’t always find the words. And second, dance gives people confidence in themselves that they didn’t otherwise know they had. Watching that confidence develop is my passion”
Their mission statement says it all:
Our mission is to not only provide the best in dance and performing arts education to our students, but to also guide them towards realizing their full potential and help them to become amazing, creative, and generous human beings.
Our faculty consists of highly trained, inspired artists whose main goals are to nurture and develop aspiring artists’ talent by being technically proficient and dynamic instructors. Our staff is helpful, friendly and resourceful and we aim to create a well-organized and family friendly environment providing excellent customer service.
At Thrive Dance Center our main focus is top notch dance instruction combined with leadership, unity and life skills that will truly last a lifetime.