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Letters on Vulnerability to my Baby Sister



July 10, 2018

Dear baby sister,

I hope you are well. I miss you already, and wish you were here. You would like Atlanta, I think. Walking around the city, you get the sense that history can be found in the cracks in the pavement and the spaces between the bricks. Atlanta practically vibrates with remnants of its past, which is good for those of us who have come here to learn all about it. In uncovering the past, we hope to get a better understanding of the present and the future. I will let you know how it goes.

July 15, 2018

Dear baby sister,

I hope you are well and received my last letter. I am writing to tell you that my efforts to excavate the past has not been a pleasant experience: From the treatment of indigenous communities, to the lynching of African Americans, to the erasure of the poor through gentrification, the experience has left a dark bruise on me, making it difficult to breathe, at times, and making me feel heavy, like the weight of it all has settled in my spine. Except, perhaps, the bruise is not on my body, but in my soul: Invisible to the eye and unlikely to fade. I imagine that one of our speakers, Professor Ward Churchill, knows this feeling very well. In hearing him speak about indigenous tribes, it seems to me that there are places in the world where the bruise is so big and so inerasable, it covers entire communities.

July 20, 2018

Dear baby sister,

We were told, early on in the program, that the John Lewis Fellowship would not be an exercise in therapy. Yet I find that the Fellows here speak very openly about their emotions – it would make me uncomfortable, did I not admire and envy their ability to do so, so much. Not only that, they speak about their deepest vulnerabilities and trauma, and often do so in a room full of strangers. Personally, I have always felt that I have lacked the language, and that this has prevented me from even acknowledging the existence of any trauma I may have. It was not until Toni-Michelle Williams, an organizer for the Racial Justice Action Center in Atlanta, recounted how she, too, had once lacked the language to express her trans-identity that I began to wonder how many things within ourselves we silence because expressing them requires words we do not have.

July 25, 2018

Dear baby sister,

How are you feeling today? Be honest – do not say you are fine, if that is not the case. Among the many things that this Fellowship has given me, perhaps language to express vulnerability is the most important. Each person here, whether they are a fellow or speaker, has shown fragility and vulnerability with a level of honesty that I have never found elsewhere. Did I tell you about Marshall Rancifer in my last letter? He is a community leader and activist who serves on Atlanta Mayor Bot- toms’ Tasks Force for the Homeless. Marshall opened up to us about his experiences with homeless- ness in a way that has made it impossible for me to ever regard the issue as a passive bystander. His stories have made me realize that expressing vulnerability is important, because it is through vulnerability that we become human in the eyes of others, allowing them to empathize with issues that are not their own.

July 30, 2018

Dear baby sister,

Continuing the theme of vulnerability, I have had a new realization: Namely that we are more than our vulnerabilities – and while we should recognize and embrace our fragility, we do not need to let it define us. As part of our Fellowship, we recently visited Fulton County Juvenile Court and the presiding Honorable Judge Renata Turner. She truly showed me what compassion looks like, and what it means to see the human that someone is underneath their vulnerabilities. Written on a wall within the courthouse were the words: “You are more than the worst things you have ever done.” It gives me hope to see so strong a belief in humanity’s endless capacity to be better, kinder and more patient than it has ever managed to show. Judge Turner hugs the delinquent youths upon the closing of their trials. She understands that while society may see them as undeserving, they are more than their role in the narratives of others. Instead, she asks them what they want to be in the future: She returns their narrative to them. Like these youths, I would like to reclaim my narrative – perhaps it will inspire you to reclaim yours.

August 4, 2018

Dear baby sister,

I took the first step at reclaiming my narrative today, by sharing with the fellow community – yes, we are now a community, and no longer a room of strangers – a fragment of our family history. I have not told this story to a single person before. I could feel my hands sweat, my voice shake, but with the eyes of thirty-one people on me, I also felt the first tremors of liberation. Vulnerability is scary because it makes us feel alone, but sharing vulnerability connects us and allows us to see hope in each other. After my story-telling, Dr. Tanya Washington, the Program Director of the John Lewis Fellowship, told me this: To be different, is to add. To be you, is to uncover. And it occurs to me now that not showing vulnerability does not mean there is none. Something that is invisible is still there – you just happen to be the only person to know about it, which means you are also the only person to carry it. And so, as your big sister, I will tell you this: Share your vulnerabilities with me, and I will carry them with you. Happy birthday and lots of love from Atlanta.

To love my father
is to love his wounds.
In times like these, we present our hurts
like old toys we polish up
to show each other
who we used to be.
[Excerpt from ‘Go Forget Your Father’ by Cathy Linh Che]