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For Rachel Jeantel, With Love
byValerie Hugsy Bridgeman
Dear Rachel (Jeantel),
I said I wouldn’t watch this trial because I knew it would trigger me. And, honestly, until I saw you and heard the condescending tone in the voice of the Prosecutor, who put you on the stand to tell Trayvon’s side of the story, I wasn’t. But I looked at you. Stared, even. I saw the combative bravada of a very scared young woman. A beautiful, dark-skinned, big woman-child. This trial comes in the same time that Oprah Winfrey’s Network is running a documentary called “Dark Girls.” And so your presence is a living example of the living examples in the documentary. I’ve been sick reading Twitter and Facebook, listening to people call you all manner of things that denigrate and diminish your very self. The mother in me wants to take you in my arms and rock you. The big sister in me wants to start a fight on your behalf and take out anyone that talks badly about you. I am ashamed of some black folk right now. I admit, I expect it from some white ones. And that’s a shame right there. I just really want you to know that you’re not alone out here. Several of us: Brittney, Emerson, Jaha, Leslie, Guy, James, Earle, me and so, so many others are fighting back the maliciousness.
I have resisted making up a story about you, storyteller that I am. I heard your broken English and thought I heard a hint of something else. Later I learned it was Patois and Spanish accents underneath your attempt to represent yourself so well in a foreign arena. I am proud to know that you are tri-lingual, even if you were apparently socially promoted in an educational system that does not value teaching you, or that you suffer from a learning ability–I don’t know which. But hours of being on the stand, you managed to withstand the badgering. I admire you for it. You displayed a strength that some of those criticizing you for not being “their kind of black” have not displayed. I don’t know that I would be able to be as brave, as strong as you’ve been these two days. I find I admire you as I do think of all the obstacles you’ve faced to be in this world.
And now, you’re the “star” witness in a drama you never wanted a part. I imagine you are still grieving, traumatized by Trayvon’s last screams and last words, that they intrude your dreams, making their way into nightmares. I don’t know, but I imagine. I wonder if your mind races, if you think “if only” and “If I could have” thoughts. I wasn’t there, talking with my friend off and on, and I think these things.
Rachel, I hope the attempts to discredit you won’t seep into your soul. I pray for you these days. I hope you will grieve and be able to move on. This time is hard. I don’t ever mean to minimize that. It’s hard. And you’re being put under more and more pressure. But you are beautiful under this pressure. I pray you will not break under it. See how I’m praying? I’m praying that no matter what anyone says about, you will come out with your humanity in tact, your dignity in hand, and your soul at peace.
I continue to pray and beat back the maliciousness.
I am in it with you. All the way,
And here is another note: a love poem for you
**poem Dear Rachel Jeantel, copyright Valerie Hugsy Bridgeman, June 27, 2013
by Jaha Zainabu
To have a white man turn his back on you like you are nothing
In the middle of your speak
As if your words are garble and tissue and smokeBaby, I understand you
Baby, ask Don West how many languages he speaks
Baby, ask him how many times he heard his friend killed
Baby, ask him how bold you have to be to be
Ridiculed by your friend’s killer’s defense
They will talk
That’s what they do
You are brave
Brave like sun got nerve enough to show up after Katrina
And look all that death in the bones
They will talk
That’s what they do
Tell them what it take to comb hair
Tell them about putting on shoes
To face your friend’s killer
Tell them about keeping your voice as syrup as you could
Baby, roll your eyes
Baby, count to ten
Baby, breathe, Baby, breathe
I know what it is like
To be black girl nobody wants to hear
I know what it is like to be feared
Don’t get it twisted, Baby
They are afraid
They are afraid of you
They are afraid of your pointed finger across that table
Hold it together
Hold his life in your hands
You think they don’t know?
You will throw away the key
Why else is it so important to shame your black girl
Your arm fold
Are you listening?
You better ask him again
You better let him know
He better axe somebody
Baby, you betta know your power
You think they don’t understand
A black woman like you
Skin like ocean
Let them laugh, Baby
With his life all in your sass