O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain![i]
Until yesterday, I’d not been properly introduced to you.
My name is Malii Brown. I was born and raised on the land that you made your own. I was nursed on the Black American National Anthem (Lift Every Voice and Sing[ii]) as a childhood lullaby. I’ve been schooled in some of your most prestigious schools. In your spirit of the Dream, I am an entrepreneur; the captain of my ship. I’ve stepped foot on 20 of your states and D.C. With my navy blue passport in hand, I represent this republic well when I depart its borders.
Your reputation precedes you. I’d heard of you. I’ve read your history in my schoolbooks, and non-fiction reads in more recent years. At the knee of my great-grandmother, grandma and mother, I learned about your unique self.
Now we meet, face-to-face. And I’m at a loss for words.
Last night, just before you elected to return to your roots and reemerge as clearly as the North Star, I was on the phone with my baby cousin. She’s twenty and in her senior year at a university in one of the states that you claimed. From within her off-campus apartment, she and her roommate sat side-by-side watching the glare of the TV screen like “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”[iii]. My baby cousin told me that she was turning off the house lights, afraid of patriots celebrating in the streets who might introduce you with rock through window. And, I was angry that the cousin who I saw born into this world was made to be afraid by the afterbirth of a nation that is starry-eyed for power.
While you were silent on the lips of so many neighbors and friends—and before your back-and-better-than-ever return—we were trudging towards the promise on which you were founded:
…One Nation under God,
With liberty and justice for all.[iv]
Our struggle is one, America. There is no “us” or “them”. There’s no “other”. E pluribus unum.[v]
I will go about my days as I have before, building you brick and mortar, hand-in-hand with others who bleed red. Yesterday, I was in the Great Lakes State[vi] leading a workshop for K-12 Education administrators rallying for inclusion and equity. Tonight, I write you from my hotel room in the Buckeye State[vii], where I’ll present at annual, national NAME Conference on a similar topic. This Dec. 2016, I’m co-facilitating Race and Reconciliation, designed to prepare leaders and change agents to expand commitment to social responsibility, enhance team performance, and reduce conflict by building bridges to racial reconciliation in the U.S. And—as they say--the beat goes on.
Dear America, I do not exist without you, and you do not exist without me. I live because of your wealth and opportunity. I thrive despite your passion for privilege. And, emboldened by your example, I commit myself to die living free[viii].
From cradle to grave,
[i] Excerpt from the song, America the Beautiful, with lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates and composition by Samuel A. Ward.
[ii] The song, Lift Every Voice and Sing, also commonly known as the Black National Anthem or the Black American National Anthem, was penned as a poem by James Weldon Johnson (b.1871; d.1938) and set to music by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson (b.1873; d.1954).
[iii] Excerpt from The New Colossus, a sonnet written in 1883 by U.S. American poet Emma Lazarus (b.1849; d.1887). The sonnet is engraved at the site of the Statue of Liberty.
[iv] Excerpt from the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, composed by Colonel George Balch in 1887, and later revised by Francis Bellamy in 1892.
[v] The motto of the U.S. in Latin, meaning “out of many, one”.
[vi] The motto of the U.S. state of Michigan.
[vii] The motto of the U.S. state of Ohio.
[viii] Reference to the motto of the U.S. state of New Hampshire, “Live Free or Die”.
people. place. purpose.