To All The Black People Killed Before Me

A Note from the Editor: Bear Bellinger’s voice in the community is critical to me. In a moment where I didn’t know if I had the strength to speak up, I read this essay, initially published on Medium. Bear has given us permission to re-publish it here, and I hope it gives you courage to use your voice, even when you’re scared, like it did for me. Thank you for the reminder that Black Lives, our lives, and what we do with them, matter. In an effort to prevent Bear from doing additional emotional labor, please refrain from reaching out directly to the artist. If you’d like to support, please consider giving directly. Venmo: @BearBellinger

I never expected to still be here.

Some mornings, I shoot up from bed confused, breathless, lost between the dream world I just escaped and the realization that I am still here. My body is whole, my mind is intact, my spirit…struggling.

You see, I occasionally have nightmares of being shot by the police, remixing past interactions with deadly consequences. I dream of KKK rallies and unprovoked bar fights. I dream of danger. I dream of our history. I dream of our present. And, those dreams inevitably end in my death.

You get it.

To be clear: I don’t want to die. But, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect to.

Growing up Black, in this country, I saw myself as having one of two choices recognizing the reality that growing up in the hood while navigating White America meant death was always one haunting step from catching me: I could stare death in the face and live each day with the knowledge that tomorrow was not promised or I could try to assimilate, mitigate as many of the obvious paths towards danger that I could find. Make myself one of the safe ones and plan for longevity.

I found myself in-between.

I never expected tomorrow to come and yet I worked to create a greater world where it could. I dedicated myself to a career actively fighting against the constant dehumanizing depiction of my people. I tried to reclaim my humanity, to project to the world, “I am Black. I am enough. I am still here!”

At the same time, while working for a collective future, I never plan for a personal one. I work hard, but I’ve never been interested in projecting my own trajectory. Why plan five years ahead when I may not be here tomorrow? I’m comfortable in my poverty. I have enough to survive. Advancement? Longevity? Retirement? These were words for White people who have the luxury of a future.

Buried beneath the anger, the sadness, the exhaustion, the pain, and the guilt that slammed into my chest every time one of you was murdered solely for being Black was the realization that I always expect one day for that coffin to be mine.

I wasn’t supposed to make it past twenty-five, jokes on me I’m still alive.

Recently, I told a friend, “I’ve always been poor. I’ll always be poor. I’m good,” and that Black man responded, “we gotta get you outta that.” He was right. We do. Not solely out of the generational cycle of poverty that has left me comfortable with scratching and clawing to survive, but out of the mentality that I have no tomorrow to prepare for.

Death may be the expectation but living is the goal. Part of living is working to ensure a better tomorrow. When we shun that aspiration, we lose the beauty of life. The greatest theft enacted on Black bodies by racism is of our ability to dream towards tomorrow. Your murders are a specific form of terrorism meant to deprive us of the basic human right to safety, to security, to that pursuit of happiness.

My promise, my prayer: To you who we have lost in this seemingly endless struggle towards equality–I will strive to live for a tomorrow. Today may be guaranteed but tomorrow is the goal. I will set my sights on a future. I will not let their fear take my hope away. I dream for you.

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