It’s 4:30 AM, December 4, and I am stricken by survivor’s guilt. On this date in 1969, Chicago police, colluding with the FBI, executed Fred Hampton while he slept. He was twenty-one. On this date in 1969, I was midway through my freshman year of college, oblivious. What have I done in the fifty years I’ve been gifted since then? What have I done to deserve my grief? Fred Hampton said, “If you ever think about me, and you ain’t gonna do no revolutionary act, forget about me.” How revolutionary is the act of writing? I can’t forget the Chairman, or the black innocents who preceded him and followed him in death at the hands of American white supremacy. Grainy images still shock: a mutilated boy in an open casket, a blood-soaked mattress, a knee on a neck. Say their names. Today, their names are Fred Hampton.

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After Tops Grocery Store, there’s no time for the stages of grief, because — Uvalde. And then it’s the 4th of July. Too many sobbing parents and aunties and uncles and grandchildren and husbands. My neck knots up, as pain shoots through my back. Previously trustworthy muscles cramp. My writing hand spasms. Maybe it’s Uvalde, or maybe it’s George Floyd, or maybe it’s children in cages, or maybe it’s the Africans thrown into the Atlantic before they reached the land of the free.

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Dawn Downey

Dawn Downey

Dawn Downey writes about love and pain. Her latest book is Blindsided: Essays from the Only Black Woman in the Room. DawnDowneyBlog.com.