Another month, another Poetry Place—this week I’m bringing things a little closer to home with a personal note and my own poetry for the first time in what feels like forever.
Every single post I make is important because I write both for myself and for you; that being said, I haven’t shared my writing here in a little while. I can’t necessarily tell you why, though I promise that it’s not because I haven’t been writing or because there’s nothing to say— I don’t know if I’ll ever find myself with nothing to say— I just haven’t known quite how to say it.
I haven’t known in what context to share it with you all.
Timing is everything though because this piece of poetry is quite imperfect, and it was borne out of imperfect times. The reason I am sharing it with you today, imperfections and all, is due to the story I am sharing it alongside with. That means that there are two parts to my post today: I’m telling you a story and sharing a poem. It’s important that they go together because the person I need to tell you about, well, her story is time-sensitive.
I’ve talked about the blackface incidents at Cal Poly before, but I’ve never spoken about being a part of the protests and who I met at them. That sophomore year, I met a girl who didn’t go to Cal Poly, but her personality and outspoken energy was everything I had wished I could be; even though she didn’t know most of us from the school, she still came around and threw herself right into the protests to speak up and do so loudly because she cared about her community the black students in it.
That was the first time I met Tianna Arata.
The way she showed up to our campus and used her voice to stand by us, I should have known that she would end up in the spotlight just for being passionate about fighting for equity and justice just by being who she is. In the past few years she’s done her fair share of mobilizing and activism in the SLO community she was raised in, but the biggest change happened only recently— that’s where I need your help.
Students in San Luis Obispo have been actively protesting and after a protest she organized, Tianna was arrested on the 21st of last month on account that it turned violent. You can read more about the protest and what happened during it, but from those on the ground, Arata’s organization of the group does not warrant what now stands as the possible 8 charges against her. SLO PD would like to charge her with four felony counts of false imprisonment; one felony count of conspiracy; one count of resisting or obstructing a peace officer, a misdemeanor; one count of inciting a riot, a misdemeanor; and one misdemeanor count of unlawful assembly.
That’s five felonies and four misdemeanors for a protest and having nothing to do with the “violence” that from the reports, didn’t actually occur as is perpetuated in the media.
What I need your help in is awareness, spread, and response. This holds several links to funds to donate as well as email opportunities that are crucial in responding to those who have the ability to change how these charges are handled. These two articles here and here may be catching the most media attention along with the most recent news release from SLO here, but it’s important to know the full story—follow the #freetianna and #freetiannanow hashtags on Twitter to see what else is happening. She is currently being represented by prominent civil rights attorney S. Lee Merritt with Arata’s arraignment set for Sept. 3.
I say all this to also remind you that unfortunately, there is a different kind of weight that comes with how we each live our lives and as a Black woman who fights for those around me, I understand that there are burdens to the way I care for others. People of color so commonly have to build the spaces we want to be a part of because they almost never exist the way we need them to until we put in the work to create them; right now, Tianna and those around her like Elias Bautista (more info for them found here) who was also arrested, are being penalized before those spaces can truly begin to exist. The way I put my foot forward in this fight for justice may look different than how Tianna and others do so, but they should not lose so much because of how they prioritize the justice and equality of those they cares about. Tianna and Elias both do not deserve what is happening now.
My poem today is a response to both this and a reflection on people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others that represent the loss that has been compiled over time—it extends to a question of the burden black bodies bear. Think about it and please, do what you can for both Tianna and those who fight alongside her. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me.
Without further ado, here’s that second part I promised. It’s short:
Black Body–Karina Nichole Williams
There’s a lot of unsettled
sitting on my chest.
About the black lives,
the friends I’ve lost,
the life I can’t live,
the air I can’t breathe,
around acknowledging the losses
my heart has endured…
Instead, I push it down
and I continue on.
But I am hurting,
this deep, aching hurt
that makes me want to
claw at my bare chest
and cry out against the pain
that sits there,
just waiting for me to acknowledge it
knowing that I can’t.
That I won’t.
That I don’t know how.
For if I let one loss in,
I let all the losses in.
Can my body,
can this black body of mine
handle the losses
the black bodies around me
have already endured?
With that, I’ll see you Friday. I hope you can spare a moment to take some action at least share Tianna’s story before then; stay safe and Happy Tuesday.