I've been appealing this death sentence branded with my identity from the moment I exited my mother's womb, and truth be told I'M TIRED. You see, growing up in the rural south I've been defending my Blackness since I was 6 years old, as I vividly remember my sister getting into a physical altercation in my defense when a white girl in high school  called me a nigger and spat on me. So I decided I would appeal this sentencing of rejection by working hard, always giving more than my best, overcompensating with achievements so that this death sentence of guilty by identity would be dismissed. I skipped the 11th grade, known as most likely to succeed, was a first-generation graduate not only of my home but out of 21+ grandchildren, was the first MSW graduate student to sit on the Steering Committee for the UW School of Social Work, married at 24, owned the first home at 25, mother by 26, started a non-profit at 30 yet none of it was good enough. You see I've checked every box I could to appeal this death sentence, not for acceptance but to make my parents, my mentors, my ancestors proud and finally to breathe and move throughout this world without my Blackness being a burden and a threat. 

However, the years of success, good character, academic excellence, and selfless service hasn't been enough to convince the jury because when they look beyond the accolades, the title, and plain old me they still see my Blackness. No, I never silenced my voice or chose to look the other way. I've allowed my anger to be present because the truth is I had a right to feel what I felt. But somedays this fight to appeal get's tired because I, We are often misunderstood and played for a fool while the oppressor use reverses psychology to make us feel like what we are experiencing and feeling is our fault, or that we are overreacting all because they can't sit with their white privilege and acknowledge their wrong. Every arena I've entered into I've been wrongfully accused, from public school, higher education, the non-profit field, and sadly the church. 

Every time, I have felt myself getting comfortable, I'm reminded and triggered by the tragic headline news and those that were not deemed media worthy, of yet another innocent Black person executed by the very same death sentence. I look at myself and ask the question, what's the difference between me and Breonna Taylor or Sandra Bland and the reality is there is none, it just happened to be them and not me.  I've realized now more than ever, this death sentence ain't going nowhere until the agenda, mindset, and perception of the oppressor and those that benefit from white privilege shifts and changes. Until racism, systemic oppression, and white privilege become the priority of the White Community. 

However, I can't spend my energy fighting a fight that's not mine and always defending my worth. Not when I have a Black husband that needs me to sustain an atmosphere where he can just be at peace and leave the weight of his Blackness being a threat or the pressure and stress of navigating his military career as a Black Officer at the door. Not when I have two Black boys to raise and remind them of their strength, power, legacy, and greatness that they walk in and determine how my husband and I will have conversations with them regarding how they MUST unfortunately move and navigate within the world so that they can return back home safe and alive. Not when I have a Black daughter to love, nurture, and ensure that her crown remains intact no matter the challenges or disappointments that she will one day face and prepare her for the unfortunate misogynoir of black bodies that she will become more aware as she grows older and the lack of support, disbelief, double standard often placed upon Black sisters. Not when I have a legacy to continue to build passed down to me from generations of Blackness dipped in courage, strength, fortitude, community, beauty, perseverance, and grit that have and will continue to overcome the systemic oppression interwoven into the foundations of our country as I advocate on behalf of black and brown womxn and girls who have experienced interpersonal violence.

 So what do I do with this death sentence wrongly assigned to me since birth? The same thing I did with the glass ceiling when I realized it had no worth. I dismantle it and press forward as my ancestors before me, who endured the scars of animal bites, tear gas, water hose, ropes tightly coiled around their necks, rape, wounds of lashes, the trauma of separation, loss, the sizzling heat from branding that never left from underneath their skin, the bullets wrongfully shot, the cries of "I CAN'T BREATHE", and the trauma that I live and breathe every day carrying within. I continue to challenge every space that I go in, every seat I am offered, and every table I prepare for my Blackness is not a detriment to my existence but its very gift. I lean into my village as I feel their grief and my own. I allow myself to feel that happening around and within me, release, and rest. I pray and I hope, for the day that my Blackness is acknowledged for the contribution that it is to this world and my community, and the day that another baby is not assigned the death sentence because of their Blackness.

Signed in Blackness and Solidarity,

Queen Ashley


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