SOLHOT: ”Know That!”

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Roshauwnna Winfrey passed on Tuesday, January 22,
2008. I did not know Roshauwnna Winfrey personally. Yet
when I was told she committed suicide, my soul stirred. A
young person’s death whispers, reminding us that collectively
we will not be as great as we could have been.
The following Thursday, a girl I work with in Saving
Our Lives Hear Our Truths (SOLHOT) sent me a text:
“Hey um will u be busy around 11:30.”
”I have to teach. Was up?” I text back.
”Um it’s a funeral can u take me.”
”Funeral for who?” I text back naively.
Unable to text or speak her name because she’s shaken,
she calls and I say,
”Was Roshauwnna your friend?”
They went to grade school together. As a dutiful friend
she was sitting with her school counselor, permission
already granted from mom to go celebrate the life of
Roshauwnna, hug friends similarly hurting, and to give
love to “Boo’s” family.
”I can take you,” I reply, “I’m leaving now.”
It was in the faces of family and friends that I learned
more about Roshauwnna’s gifts and talents. The unspoken
motivation that kept people standing on their feet in the
church communicated that she was a daughter, a friend, a
sister, and a mentor—loved. I heard the speakers explain
that she was much like the girls I work with—fun to be
around, expressively independent, good with kids, and a real
talent for making people laugh. She was a very special somebody,
as the saying goes, and by all accounts gone too soon.
Which is why I can’t let this go.
Why should I feel discouraged,
why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely,
and long for heaven and home?
I don’t really know what happened. I don’t know the
details. But I do know the voices of black girls who come
to SOLHOT, who keep calling me, asking me if I heard
about Roshauwnna. We all want to know, why? And how?
And what if that was me or my sister? And can I lean on
you? So, I don’t have to make that decision, because I
understand why someone might have, and did. And most
of all, should I be afraid? Did Roshauwnna’s death have
anything to do with being a black girl? Because I’m a black
girl too and I don’t want to die that way and I could. Could
anything have been done so she didn’t have to either?
What happened to Roshauwnna cannot be business as
usual in Urbana Champaign for black girls, young people
in general.
I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know why he watches me
It is up to us to remember a black girl’s life—short-lived
but powerful. To make it impossible for anyone else to see
suicide as a viable way out.
We have to create our own celebrations. SOLHOT is a
space where black women and girls come together to try
and be positive, to try new things, to relate to each other in
ways that challenge the status quo, to work together. Our
coming together to be loved and to say I love you, and to
admit that we not always feeling loved is usually underlying
our actions and our words. For this reason, I never
underestimate a word uttered.
When black girls talk casually to each other and they
know they are not being judged, many truths emerge. For
example, sometimes when we’re talking, a girl full and sure
of herself will finish her statement with the declaration:
“Know that!” In this moment I hear her saying more than
two words. I hear her telling it like it is, suggesting we better
learn something. I hear her saying, “I’m here, and I can
teach you something.” She’s asking to be held accountable,
and she is telling you she is going to hold you accountable.
”Know that!”
All the ways they keep telling us: in the ordinary
moments of life, some times extraordinary lessons are
learned. In the death of a young person, in the genius
wrapped up and disguised as “talking back,” in being
together under intentionally different circumstances, those
who don’t really “count” demand accountability. At the
risk of romanticizing black girls, I think we should listen
more. Period. They keep telling us.
Know that!
My love and condolences to the family and friends of
Roshauwnna Winfrey. To the girls, parents, and homegirl volunteers
who attend and support SOLHOT, lets’ continue to
celebrate those we need to know and remember- thank you
for being you! Thank you to the University of Illinois, Don
Moyer Boys and Girls Club, and the Urbana Free Library.

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