Donita Volkwijn

Breath. It always starts with breath. How would it feel to breathe easy? Literally? Figuratively? For Black and brown lungs to fill with an equitable amount of breath? For our airways to have the same access to clean, unpolluted air, for our breath not to catch every time we hear that another unarmed Black man has been killed? What would it feel like to know that access to lifesaving, air-giving medical equipment was not precipitated by the color of our skin, but rather by the depth or our need? How would our lungs be shaped differently if each time we sent our children out into the world, we didn’t need to hold our breath until we knew, at least for a moment, they were safe from the clutches of the hangman’s noose, held by the hands of racism and indifference?

Would we feel the return of the air stolen by knees to the neck or the unheard cries of babies who never know breath and mothers who lose theirs simply because of the color of their skin? How different would the air feel if it was not ripped apart by the screams of those left behind when bullets create airways where none should exist?

Body. Our bodies have been shaped by racism. Many of us have forged an unlikely armor, created by unhealthy foods that are quicker, cheaper and more accessible, that fill a belly, but not a void. The constant need to protect from quotidian racism has ensured that chemicals, meant only to be present in moments of danger, course through our bodies, even while asleep, stealing years from our existence. The diseases that are more prevalent in the BIPOC community, ravage us in such a way that even our passing adds burdens to already stressed communities.

Our bodies are fetishized, criticized and often perversely lionized to the point that the gaze of the other becomes weaponized. How different would the movement of our bodies be if the invisible chains that stretch back 400 years were to be dissolved and we were finally set free?

Mind. “A mind is a terrible thing to waste”, the saying goes. And yet, we squander the wisdom of our youth in the most grotesque ways. Inequitable funding, uneven access to quality childcare, bias and prejudice that run amok in our school system; a pipeline that sends untapped brilliance to be forever lost in the maelstrom of ignorance.

We fight to have our thoughts valued but are thwarted by minds too small to grasp the meaning of we over me. Community over individualism. Mind over matter.

Our minds matter.

What happens to the spark of intelligence when it is blocked or twisted to fit an unfittable mold? When our minds don’t matter, they turn against us and what is meant to go out, turns inward to wreak havoc on our Selves.

How would we be different if our thoughts were nurtured and brought into the light to find each other and create legacies and structures that we have not yet dreamed?

Heart. Part of the body and yet, a whole of its own. Our hearts break every day. Each unbreathed breath, each broken body, every wasted mind is yet another fissure in the soft tissue. Hope causes our hearts to expand, but with each added weight the contraction becomes that much more of a collapse against which even hope will lose the struggle.

We bear the weight of the world in these delicate organs.

If our hearts could finally sing, would the very air around us vibrate differently? Would we be able to hear to feel to touch to smell to see the world we are meant to build? What would we hear in the song of our hearts?

Soul. We must reconcile with the souls that have been tortured on these lands. Each tear, each pained groan has embedded itself into the soil to sprout the seeds of hatred and fear that are picked up in the crevices and corners of our souls as we brush past. Unless we heal our land and through it ourselves, we are doomed to sow the same stories to be harvested anew with each generation.

With our breath, our bodies, our minds and our hearts, we must strive to overturn the soil so that the dark moments of our past can be brought into the light and held for a reckoning. Otherwise, the wounds of our past continue to fester until we succumb to rot.

These last few months have hastened the painful journey to uncover, to open, to reveal. And with it we have come face to face with our worst selves. We are tempted to hide from truths revealed but we must remain steadfast in our gaze. As we sow the earth with reconciliation and lay to rest our lesser selves, we can begin the work of embracing our wholeness with which we can finally achieve the unimaginable, the undreamed, the unknown.