River City Rising: Enough.

Reflections from River City Rising Author, CJ Kirkland

Story Highlights
  • "Countless lives taken from us by natural disasters we decry as being just plain cruel and un-natural cruelties we decry as being just plain disastrous. We lament aloud why either is necessary yet glimmers of hope are erected in the midst of our lamentations when we learn what is truly needed to bring about the healing of a people and the healing of a nation." - CJ Kirkland

So. Much. Pain.
Each time I tried to catch my breath another blow was delivered; doubled-over I gasped for air and, once I somewhat regained my balance, another punch to the gut reminded me that it wasn’t yet safe to stand up. This was how I recently explained my feelings about the year thus far to a friend, referencing in a very figurative way how I felt as a bystander watching one painful event after another unfold; believing with each one there could not possibly be something worse that followed.

I’m not Australian but that didn’t stop my heart from alternately sinking and rising to my throat as fires destroyed 13.6 million acres of New South Wales during what was declared Australia’s worst fire season in history. And while I was never a huge Kobe Bryant fan, I sobbed after learning of his and his daughter Gianna’s death that January Sunday, knowing that his wife and remaining three children will now have to navigate life without him helping guide their way; knowing that he will not be present for so many of their big life moments, such as seeing his youngest daughter Capri take her first steps.

Then, the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic hit and, did you ask at some point like I did, “My God, why have you forsaken us?” The images broadcast from all over the world and from within my own community captured a pain so raw, so deep, so unending, I once again felt- at times- as though I couldn’t breathe. But figurative speech is simply a representation of true life and feelings are fleeting so neither f-word can compete with the maddening vulgarity of what came next.

George Floyd pleaded: “I can’t breathe.” Then he stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating under the crushing weight of another man’s knee on his neck while pinned against the hard concrete. The world watched him die while begging for life.

So. Much. Pain.

Here’s a snippet of my reality while growing up in the Bahamas: though I experienced childhood poverty, I was privileged. My prime minister, the majority of cabinet members and magistrates, school directors and various other persons in positions of leadership all had brown skin just like me. I was a bi-racial girl growing up in a country wherein I was not mistreated because of my ethnic makeup or the color of my skin. I lived inside a comfortable bubble, unlike my husband who grew up on “that” side of the railroad tracks in Arkansas and has been on the receiving end of racism numerous times throughout both his childhood and adult years. Also unlike my son growing up here in the United States, who was told by a boy when he was four years old that he could not join their playground group because he was too dark. Suffice to say, through their experiences and now a few of my own, my bubble has been irreparably burst.

Even so, as you’ll recall from your own childhood pastime of blowing bubbles, as soon as one bubble bursts others are created and I’d be amiss to not acknowledge my family has found itself inside bubbles yet again: a socioeconomic bubble; a neighborhood bubble; an educational bubble. They are transparent bubbles from within which I look to the outside and scream amid cries of disbelief and frustration “Enough.” Enough.

I want you to know I am afraid. I am afraid that my conservative, privileged, non-POC (person of color) friends will read my words and choose to no longer return my calls or texts; choose to no longer allow their children to play with my son. It is an honest fear of being perceived as too outspoken, too militant, too liberal, too…But I must speak. Because I am afraid.

I am afraid that, worst-case scenario, in ten years my funny, creative, college-attending son could be pulled over and the last breath he takes will be with his cheek pressed into hard concrete- after he’s been compliant and done every, single thing the police officer asked him to do. I am afraid that, best-case scenario, in ten years my loving, hard-working, ambitious son will be followed in stores, questioned as to whether the credit card he’s using is actually his, followed in his car until he pulls into our driveway in our beautiful bubble of a neighborhood and questioned as to whether he “actually” lives here (this happened to my nephew several weeks ago in Kansas.) Yes, I’ll be hurt and annoyed with the best-case but I’ll be overcome with joy that he is still breathing.

So much pain we have collectively borne during what has become the most difficult year most of us have ever seen or experienced. As soon as we catch our breath we’re dealt another blow. Countless lives taken from us by natural disasters we decry as being just plain cruel and un-natural cruelties we decry as being just plain disastrous. We lament aloud why either is necessary yet glimmers of hope are erected in the midst of our lamentations when we learn what is truly needed to bring about the healing of a people and the healing of a nation.

Even if we are afraid, we must speak. We must cry out: enough.

About the Author, CJ Kirkland

C.J. Kirkland was born in New York to an Italian American mother and a Bahamian father. Raised in the Bahamas and having lived for three years in The Netherlands, she considers herself truly multicultural!

C.J. attended Spelman College on a full academic scholarship. She initially chose to major in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. However, her desire to study and better understand the human psyche (because of events that transpired during her childhood) led her to transfer to the psychology program during her sophomore year. She was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and subsequently enrolled at Morgan State University to pursue a Master of Arts in International Relations. C.J. planned to embark on a career in journalism and, at the advice of her best friend, moved to Los Angeles during her second year of studies. She completed her requirements for her MA in International Relations at UCLA, during which time she had a short internship at CNN. It was during this internship that C.J. met her mentor who believed she should open herself up to opportunities in mainstream television, not just news broadcasting. After booking a national commercial on her very first audition, C.J. worked as a commercial and voice-over actress for four years before returning to her first love: writing.

While working as a freelance writer C.J. embraced her psychology background and began a creative writing group at a Los Angeles residential home for at-risk youth. She also volunteered at a Memphis non-profit organization, helping students build their writing and English skills in preparation for the GED exam. In 2011, C.J. was the graduation keynote speaker at BRIDGES in Memphis, Tennessee.
Currently, C.J. is writer of the River City Rising blog for cityCURRENT. She is also a contributing writer for Executive Speakers Bureau and the Ronald McDonald House of Memphis.

C.J. recently completed her first Contemporary Fiction novel, FOR TRUE. She lives in Memphis with her husband, young son, and two dogs.

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