This collaborative event, sponsored by the University of South Florida’s African-African American Burial Grounds Project, Kitchen Table Literary Arts, Sulphur Springs Heritage Museum and The Battleground youth program, was held during Black History Month in the Sulphur Springs neighborhood as an effort to help remember the injustice of erasure as we move forward.
Memory is tricky at times. I frequently forget who I am, who I truly am at the core. I forget that at my core, I am indestructible, boundless, worthy of deep respect. Often, I also forget that this same core exists in other people, even if on the surface they don’t seem to possess it.
Like tree roots that are entwined and connected through the same source beneath the soil, we are connected through a network that we can’t always see directly but experience evidence of its existence. And on the surface level, we can see the ways in which we grow, what we have endured, what we may offer to others.
The collective and specific experiences of a culture and peoples are expressions of this universal principle. It is not by diminishing or eradicating specificity where we find the dignity of all life—it is by delving into it. Some have the misconception that acknowledging the realities of race and gender causes more division. It is quite the opposite. Because to deny the specific lived experiences of people, especially those experiences that shine a light on oppression and the mechanisms that support it, is to deny their humanity, their dignity.
We often forget as a collective. We forget the patterns that continue to repeat over time, proven over and over again. Just as the universal principle that binds us all can express tremendous value and good, there is also an inherent and incessant flip side to this, manifested as ignorance. This is why the act of remembering is so vital.
As we stood together at the event, including everyone who was seated, young and old, Black and white, academic and blue-collar, I called attention to how this moment encompasses past, present and future. And how we are acting against the cycles of oppression by writing our own stories and making sure we are heard. I thought about the insidious nature of gentrification and how under the guise of bettering a community, it actually operates to bulldoze a culture and the people who have created that culture, similar to colonization.
A couple of the boys who I’ve supported ever since I started working in Sulphur Springs are moving out of the neighborhood. Their family was forced out due to drastically rising rent prices.
As I dropped them off at their Sulphur Spring home after they attended the “We Will Not Be Erased” event, I asked them how they feel about having to move. They said “terrible”. They grew up there, they grew up in that house. I told them that to me, they are Sulphur Springs. It won’t be the same without them. They will take with them their brilliance, their creativity, their keen perception, their generous hearts, their sense of humor.
The Hispanic-looking man who had approached as I set-up for the “We Will Not be Erased” event told me that he had recently bought some property in the area. Not a home, property. Not a community member, but an owner. It was clear from the antagonistic response he paid to me when I told him about the event that he had accidentally stumbled upon, that he wasn’t entering the neighborhood with an understanding of and respect for the people who already lived there. My answer to him? “Black.”
Of course, Black people are not the only ones who have been erased, whether through building upon their bodies or stealing their culture. We know that our Indigenous brothers and sisters have experienced incalculable loss at the hands of invaders as well as all the injustices experienced by other cultures that have been colonized by white people, whether British, French, Dutch or Spanish.
If we are to change the patterns of oppression that have continued, we will have to maintain constant vigilance and call out whenever we see the same pattern starting to emerge. Real estate developers and buyers who have no regard for the culture or the people of a neighborhood, especially when the culture and people are those who have historically become colonized and oppressed, better think otherwise. Stay your asses out.
I don’t carry guns, but I do educate youth. And in a greater sense, I think that’s the most powerful weapon. For this installment of “Poet’s Notebook”, I would like to amplify the voice of my very first poetry student from The Battleground, a bright young man who lives in Sulphur Springs who goes by Negasi.
“Bones of Yesterday and Tomorrow” poem by Negasi
In a world of lies, I sift for the truth.
So l dig myself out the dirt then go to the river and float down to where the Metal towers parlay and pursuit. Poisoning the hands that feed them.
Building luxury decked out in blood and bones. A civilization erased, but the bones and spirit never leaves its place... the blood erodes the infrastructure.
If the dead cannot rest neither can the living.
The end is to come but so what. Find your heart space be in where you choose to end up by your judgment.
Civilizations Rise and Fall but the ones who survive are the ones who listen to the hearts. The unseen voices of your connection to the bones of course.
We are Not doing this for no reason. As long as you’re going towards your true goals you change the world and you change the most important thing–yourself.
Allow the bones to work its ways. Then prepare to work towards the true future you seek as one tree falls a seed is left in its place. We are in a time now where the bones won't be forced down as foundation anymore.
The bones at night has the blue screaming red as white fades away. Bones of every unheard voice quakes the times ticks closer the bones grow stronger and a new tree is grown in place.