By Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead
It’s 4:20a.m.: it is quiet outside, and this is my daily soul check time. I slowly open my eyes, without getting up, and ask myself the same question: do I remember who I used to be before I became the person that I am now? I remind myself to be still, to breathe, and to remember how I got over. I tell myself that I am a descendant of people who chose to survive. I get up slowly and make my way to the mirror. I stand in front of it and remind myself that I am the hope and the dream of women who fought to, both, have dreams and keep their hope alive.
I sigh deeply as I think about how my grandmother used to lift me up on her shoulders so that I could see all of her land. She was a proud Black woman who taught me to lift my head, never to look over my shoulder, and, in the face of weapons and racism, not to blink or turn away. I think about her every morning, and even though she taught me to brave, the reality is that today, I am a coward. I live in fear and what scares me, what keeps me up at night, is the growing sense that at any moment, on any day, in any given space, my sons could be shot and killed.
We live in a country that has more guns than people. It is a place where we average a mass shooting each day, while our politicians do not seem to have the testicular fortitude needed to repeal the damn Second Amendment. It is clear, as Dr. King once said, that we are all tied together in an inescapable network of mutuality and responsibility, so we are all plagued and haunted by the same demons, some real and some imagined.
Every morning as I look into my mirror, I see myself through a very narrow lens: I am a Black mother who has chosen to live and raise my sons in Baltimore City. Every day, my demons and nightmares play out in the lives and stories of women all around me. When I read the stories of children and women being shot, my heart aches and my breath slows down. This is a moment where the broken-down souls of heavy-laden mothers rarely get a chance to mourn.
In this country, we are more likely to die from gun violence than from many leading causes of death combined, with some 11,000 people in the US killed in firearm assaults each year. As of September 3, according to data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, there has been 283 mass shootings this year, in this country alone. Here in Baltimore City, where we regularly deal with reports of quadruple and triple shootings and homicides, 218 people have been shot and killed. This represents a 25 percent increase in shootings and sets us on a pace to exceed 300 murders for the fifth year in a row.
It is exhausting because there has been too many bodies, too many bullets, too many marches, and too many hashtags to properly mourn, so we bury them somewhere inside of ourselves, and then we rise, again.
Less than two weeks ago, as I drove my youngest son to fencing practice, I turned onto a side street and rode past three men, two White and one Asian. They were laughing and playing with a rifle, and when we rode by them, the Asian man raised the gun and pointed it at my car. Since they were standing on my son’s side, I put my arm across him. Although I knew, somewhere in the back of my brain, my arm would not save him, I could not stop myself. I felt helpless as if I was drowning in my own nightmares. All I could do was grit my teeth, with tears in my eyes, and keep moving forward.
I was not angry, though that happened later, I was scared. I felt alone. I felt like no one was coming to save me or coming to save us. I reached out to a therapist friend who told me that during those moments when I feel most afraid, I should say to myself things like, “I am safe. He is safe. We are safe.” Unfortunately, every time I do so, the realist in me whispers the words, “For now” because unless we repeal the damn Second Amendment and get rid of our obsession with guns, we will never be safe.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Afro-American Newspapers.