La Lucha Sigue
My name is Vanessa Whitney Bell Kontulis Lynch Zorlu. I have bathed by the Euphrates when dawns were young and I will not be conquered over.
I want to write about trauma. I want to write about healing. I want to share with you a story of diaspora and resistance whose end has yet to be told.
I am first, a human being. A living, breathing, feeling Black women who has walked across deserts and over mountains and heard stories from elders and babies. I am alive. I am here.
My father is from the West Indies and my mother from Greece, her father from France by way of Ireland. I have survived rape and tears and back injury and surgery and violence – state, domestic and otherwise. I have seen poverty and felt hunger. I have seen blood and shed tears. I have seen military occupation and the inside of many jail cells. And I am still here.
This week, I have listened and have heard the pain of the world. From the inside of the Courthouse to the inside of the Mental Health Unit to the living rooms and dining halls that do not belong to me, I have listened.
In the last month I have been harassed and faced down soldiers with automatic weapons. I have fought for my brother’s life and my own. I have heard my sister’s sorrow when a man she didn’t know touched what was not his. I have heard my mother cough from exhaustion. I have faced judges across the state. I have told my truth. And I will share it now.
As a human being I will never claim perfection or supreme knowledge, for there is much I do not know. But I know myself. I am not above reprieve. I am not above mistakes. I am not above anything.
All I can do is my best. And this is what I aim for.
I have no degrees. My college was interrupted with abusive relationships, people who depended on me, and the news that my spine was disintegrating in on itself.
I have no money. I am working to become a paid organizer but until that time comes I am blessed whenever a few dollars to fill my gas tank find their way into my pocket.
I have no home. In many ways I never have. We have been displaced for centuries. I have been displaced for decades.
I have no malice in my heart for those whose pain and rage has turned into a severe bitterness that lashes out at anything that is not agreed with.
I have only a vision of a better life. This is what propels me; An endless determination for the liberation of my people – of my family and of myself.
Black Lives Matter appeals to me in such a deep way because it feels like the beginning of a home. Because three sisters from different life positions and perspectives came together under the captivity of a White Supremacist –Capitalist Patriarchal apocalypse to scheme a blueprint towards freedom. This blueprint does not silence me. It has room for me to speak and share my story. It is for this reason I align with this struggle.
In 2011 I founded PeaceWalks to document the revolution of our daily walks. The stories and photos of the earth and those who inhabit it.
In 2012 I co-founded Orange Ink for the same reason. I was in space with beautiful elders and confused ones too, and was regularly the only young black woman. This was not okay with me. I wanted an inclusive space that catered to me, the people who look like me and share my struggles. A space for artists, organizers, rebels, freedom fighters, revolutionaries, obeah doctors, singers, painters, dancers and creaters. A space for African, immigrant, displaced, dispossessed, queer, young, transgender, angry, happy, full, empty, gang leader, hip hop artist, felon, hungry truth seekers. So I made it.
I had no money and while working in a grocery store I found the space to host a first major gathering. I invited first young, local, queer, indigenous, immigrant, black women to share the space with me. I introduced them to each other. We listened and spoke. Through music that we chose, poetry we wrote, photographs and paintings that we created, we came together.
From here I found my way to radio, to share my story and the stories that of my people. I brought some of my comrades along. I continue to do the work I have always done.
From here I walked for those who are living each day in a cage for their religion and skin color and hair texture and language. From here I found my way to the great city of Springfield. I found my way to committee meetings and court steps and college campuses. I found my way to board meetings. I found my way to Ferguson.
And I was transformed. The courage and bravery of the black womyn on the front lines and the ones I met driving and the ones I met in the basement of a church planning what we would do when we got back home gave me life. It was later that night that we faced death and survived.
I came home heartbroken and empowered. I did not want to leave this place and come back to a quiet normalcy. Those who were with me in Ferguson felt the same. So our marching, which had always happened, received new life and new energy. Our chants held the raw power of a people who have everything to gain.
And so we started building the local chapter of Black Lives Matter. The harassment from police intensified. I tried to go back to college, imagining that I could retrieve the opportunity that was robbed from me by white supremacy and poverty, but had no money to make it to my classes. I found a few dollars for gas and continued to organize marches and gatherings, pouring the entirety of my soul into the actions and meeting with my comrades. There was one day, on my way to the college that I was arrested on one stretch of the highway. After a short stay in a holding cell and in front of a judge I went back to explain my absence and on the same stretch of highway was stopped and almost arrested again.
Since last summer I have been arrested a total of 6 or 7 times. I believe 2 were intentional. The rest, symptoms of a nation that don’t want me.
Officers who know my name and face have been inside of my house, beaten my brother, visited the job of my father and walked out on me.
The collective that is BLM is working consistently to deal with our gathered trauma. We are working towards unity. We are working towards People’s History classes and towards giving our people food and shelter. WE are working towards ending this police state and abolishing prisons. We are fighting for the right to live with every breath we inhale and sending love to our people with every exhale.
IT was not even two months ago that I closed the most recent case, the charges against me, “disorderly conduct” and now, another black officer has laid his hands on me, left me to feel the cold, dark silence of a jail cell again, and charged me and 14 of my comrades with the same. They have been in our homes and cars and phones. They have interrupted and walked out on us. We have demands for the mayor and the commissioner but with their guns fully loaded they leave us or laugh or yell over us when we try to speak. Those who do not understand why we do what we do have pushed us out of meetings, misrepresented our mission, and planned meetings based on our sacrifice and vulnerability without inviting us.
But we are still here. I am still breathing. And I will not be silenced.
There will always be those who are waiting to see you fall. I will not give them the satisfaction of dignifying their misplaced rage with a useless defense. My work and my posture will speak for itself. This month I have seen rape and military occupation. I have seen pain so deep that life tried to end itself and after a breath of survival was snatched away to a prison cell. I have felt hunger and cold. I have heard anger. I have looked into the eyes of a man with a gun who was so threatened by my presence that he tried to lock me in a cage again. I have felt love. I have read truth. I have withstood much. I have not cried today. I have not died today. I have bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young, and I will not be conquered over.