Everything I know about being afraid*


Demonstrators in downtown Sacramento May 31 protest the death of George Floyd six days earlier. (Photo by Sara Nevis/saccityexpress.com)

For my students of color on the front lines, June 2020

It’s not the fear itself I fear.
I’m afraid that I won’t listen well enough
to hear your hearts, to have patience
as you tell me what is it to be you in this moment,
to hurt and rage in a world that doesn’t see you
for you, doesn’t value you for you
as I hope I do. As I hope you know I do.

I hope I have told you how much the world
needs your voice, your perspective, stories
only you can tell—even when you’re telling
the stories of others. I hope I have told you
I see you, value you, appreciate your goodness,
your compassion, your determination.

You, marching for the first time,
you, carrying a sign with aching arms,
you, hoarsely shouting in cadence with others,
lending your voice, your heart to a cause
many of us hoped would no longer require
your participation. But it does. It calls you
as it has called others for generations.

And your righteous anger is more than
a loud outcry. It is right—right now.
I am not afraid to say that.

But I am afraid for you. I want to put my
old white lady teacher body between you
and anyone, any group of ones, who might hurl
rubberbulletsflashbangs and any manner
of harm at you.

Because you are the face of what the world
is dying to become—the old order on the way out,
the new one laboring to be born. It is a long,
bloody struggle, 400 years of trying to be embraced
as worthy, as equal, in this experiment of democracy
for some, still not for all.

Fear, that insistent teacher, whispers
that this will never end, though I will,
that you will not see a day when you can
live in the world unafraid.

But, it seems to me, you have taken fear
by the hand, marching daily into the fray
with it tagging along like a reluctant little
sister/brother. You do not cast it aside,
nor do you let it lead.

You give me hope—
you, recording this moment in history,
you, with signs and allies of many colors
on the front lines.

You, the steadfast, the wholehearted,
you, fists raised, voices lifted,
you, the mighty calling for justice,
you, whose strength is going to
—please, God—
transform us all.

*The title comes from a line by poet/essayist Audre Lorde from “A Burst of Light: And Other Essays,” a series of diary entries.



About janishaag

Writer, writing coach, editor
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4 Responses to Everything I know about being afraid*

  1. Gayle Slaten says:

    Your message is enveloped in love, concern and knowing. You see the bright eyes of possibility through your eyes that have seen how we, as a country didn’t turn a blind eye but were the cause of such pain. Your fear is tempered with support. Beautifully written poem, touched me greatly.

  2. Shelley Mydans says:

    Beautiful. Thank you

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