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"Because You Belong"

By Aaqilah Wright

I’ve always wondered, to what extent is my black body was seen as a commodity or an accessory. Since my freshman year of high school, I was used to being in a classroom where I was either the only, or one of two, black students. In those spaces, my opinions and thoughts were valued insofar as they existed within the mind of a Black body.

I had become accustomed to being sometimes the token black friend, though I despised the very term. I had become accustomed to sometimes being the sole voice for other Black bodies, even when the consequence was being the ‘angry and overly passionate Black girl.’

Depending on the space I was in, my Blackness became a defining factor in not only what I would experience, but to how those experiences would occur. Subconsciously, I became very accepting of the fact that if I was surrounded by others with Black bodies just like mine, I knew I was welcomed and I belonged.

However, there remain countless times where my Blackness existed in spaces of isolation. In spaces where it was by its lonesome, it was only a matter of time that I was reminded that I was in the wrong space.

I wish I counted the number of times the spaces I took up seemed to have enough room for me, but somehow closed in to make me feel claustrophobic — uncomfortable. The number would be too high.

But still, I can count one time for the racial slurs cast on the floors of Day Hall. I can count another for the young black woman who was taunted and harassed by white frat men as they spewed the n-word in her direction. I can even count a white supremacist manifesto directed at POC bodies, that had supposedly infiltrated the wrong spaces.

Only as of late, have I learned the power of Blackness and the Black body. With my peers sleeping on the hardwood floors of the Barnes Center, to the chantings of “Sign or Resign,” echoing throughout campus like a bedtime lullaby, it is Blackness that has often sparked change and progress, in a society initially built upon the exploitation of Black labor.

I recognize how just existing has caused concern in those who are nothing like us, making them feel insecure and unwelcomed in what is supposedly their space.

As I walked through an empty and obsolete campus yesterday, I found that for once in a Syracuse autumn, the wind has settled down. My heightened my senses made me aware of every step I took and all that surrounded me. For the first time in my life, I feared that I could be a target. Not from a stranger, but a member of my campus community. Someone living in the same space as me, whose body just experienced it differently.

My mind was cluttered with tragic stories, like of little Latasha Harlins, who was shot dead at the tender age of fifteen, because she occupied the space of Korean liquor store owner in Los Angeles. Her death was a catalyst to the Los Angeles riots in the 90s.

I commend my peers for leading and executing such a meaningful and powerful movement. #NotAgainSU has not only empowered the students here at SU, especially the Black students, but it has marked the beginning of meaningful, structural change.

The levels of courage and dedication that have been exhibited are admirable, reminiscent of forefathers who have fought to belong in the spaces we occupy today.

The movement is a reminder that we belong, and that many before us dedicated their lives to ensure that we did. Today, we fight for the years to come. So that all students will be comfortable in their body, as a Black student here at Syracuse University, and as a Black individual in the world around them.

So please, in the wake of all this madness, take space… take as much of it as possible.

But always remember why you’re here…

Because You Belong.

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