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Romy Keuwo is a Cameroonian first year graduate student in the Intercampus Program for Communication Disorders at the University of Kansas. His research interests include augmentative and alternative communication, assessment and treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders in adults, and bilingual language acquisition (in particular, French-English bilinguals). Additionally, he works toward increasing equity and inclusion for students of color in communication sciences and disorders.
By: Romy Keuwo
Holding spaces to uplift one another during this pandemic of Black suffering is one of the greatest forms of therapy that I have personally been blessed with during this time period. Being able to express myself through writing, poetry, and music is not only a coping mechanism, but it is also what feeds my soul during hard times, especially in times like these.
On June 5th,2020 I attended two very different demonstrations in my hometown of Kansas City, Kansas. They were the first demonstrations I have ever attended.
The first demonstration took place at 11 am in downtown Kansas City at City Hall, and it was rather peaceful with members of Congress (including Kansas’s 3rd congressional district Representative Sharice Davis) and Black individuals directly impacted by police brutality.
The focus of the demonstration was accountability, funding for body cameras on officers, and emphasizing the importance of voting and protesting. One speaker was the mother of Ryan Stokes, an unarmed Black man shot in the back by a Kansas City officer two blocks away from where we held our demonstration. The federal court ruled that the officer’s use of deadly force was justifiable, and so, the officer was exonerated of the charges against him. Ryan Stokes’ family is currently fighting to reinstate the case in order to bring him the justice he deserves.
Stories like Ryan Stokes’ are one of the many reasons I chose to attend the demonstrations. Ryan Stokes, George Floyd, Amhaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor…they are not just Black lives lost to police brutality. They are Black lives lost to a failing system.
Later that night around 9 pm I attended a half Open Mic, half peaceful demonstration. It was held near a popular fountain located at Kansas City’s Plaza.
I arrived to the protest around 30 minutes before the march started. One of the first speakers I heard was a seven-year-old biracial girl who spoke about her anger toward the murder of George Floyd. She chanted “Hands Up,” and the crowed echoed, “Don’t shoot.” It was emotional hearing a seven-year-old chant those words, but it was also so beautiful how self-aware she was. After her speech, a majority of protesters left to march down the streets of the Plaza.
The rest of us stayed by the fountain and listened to poetry. After the marchers came back to the fountain, there was a beautiful sermon-like speech given by a Reverend (there was also a similar speech given by a Pastor who spoke at City Hall). The gist of both messages were that ALL Black lives (straight and LGBTQIA+) matter today, tomorrow, and every damned day God created on this Earth.
After the Reverend’s speech, a majority of protesters left again to march down a different street in the Plaza. It was inspiring that, despite their exhaustion, they continued marching. After the protesters had left and with much encouragement from my friends, I performed two pieces. First, I read my poem “Dear Black People,” which is my tribute and reminder to tired Black folks that they/we are revolutionary. The poems reads:
“Dear Black People,
We are dreamers and believers
We are outing the deceivers
We are stronger than oppression
We are pausing for reflection
We are trauma and it’s sorrow
We are praying for tomorrow
We are nations, but one village
We are exposing their White Privilege
We are try me and you’ll see
We are righting history
We are brighter than the sun
We are leaping when we run
We are milk and honey dew
We are Black in every hue
We are curls and kinky hair
We are truth and we are scared
We are hands up and don’t shoot
We are Earth and all it’s roots
We are screaming our lives matter
We are fighting for cadavers
We are grieving all their names
We are living though the pain
We are angry and enraged
We are fighting till there’s change
We are organizing movements
We are leading revolutions
We are the slaves they can’t take back
We are American and fucking Black”
Afterward I performed “Feeling Good,” a song that I label for my own emotional attachments, a Black spiritual. I’ve sang this song numerous times. Not only is it my go-to karaoke song, but it is also a song that has reflected different stages of life and the milestones in my growth as a young queer Black man.
I sang this song on that day for my Black community because despite the bullshit we are going through, I felt good about the change that is coming and the conversations we are starting. It may not happen tomorrow, but the change is coming.
As I heard the applause after I finished singing, I was reminded that Black folks are not only resilient, but we are also revolutionary. I hope the Black folks reading this remember that our time is coming. Our retribution and justice is on the horizon. And although the process of getting to that point is painstakingly slow…our mere existence is resistance and that, THAT is why we march and protest and wake up in the morning and do it all over again, whether that is physically attending protests or dismantling systemic racism through our advocacy, anecdotes, and existence. Simply by existing we are resisting the chains of oppression. We are unshackling those chains and placing them into the hands of those who oppress us.
I leave with this message from the Reverend, Pastor, members of Congress, and the POCs I listened to on June 5th, 2020. All of what I am writing may be inspiring and although my wish is that this gives some people hope, I want to remind you all that simply protesting when a Black person dies or saying “Black Lives Matter,” is not enough. These conversations need to happen in the classroom, in the locker rooms, in our churches, in our schools, at our jobs, and in our daily lives. It would be a shame if Black lives only matter when we are dead bodies broadcasted on your television screens. If you say Black lives matter, then prove it. Do your part and be unapologetic in your stance against systemic oppression. Black folks cannot do it alone.