“I looked up my family tree and found out I was the sap.”
The other day, I was reading an article and came across this quote from Rodney Dangerfield and it stayed with me. The roots of my family tree are so tough, and the bark is so strong, yet I realized I was the sap. Sap keeps the tree nourished and healthy. It gives it new energy transmitting hormones and nutrients. I have realized during my study abroad journey throughout Europe that my family is living through me. Since the beginning of the summer, I’ve been traveling back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean. First to Senegal, and now to Europe. A lot of my family has never been outside of the United States.
Since being here, I’ve seen the Gothic Quarters of Spain, famous breweries of Ireland, the bridges of Prague, and about three different Duomos here in Italy. Each of these places look and feel different, yet I’ve always found ways to make sure I’ve left something that my family has taught me in these places. I was able to bring the rhythm of the drums heard in Senegal to the bold boardwalks in Barcelona. From the different types of dances we do to having uncomfortable racial conversations, this knowledge, freedom, and tenderness is all from my family. Leaving my mark is my role as the sap, leaving residue of my tree but also filtering new knowledge and wisdom back to my family.
I wish my family could see this.
As I sit on top of the hills of Villa La Pietra, the old home of the Acton family. Royals and wealth surround me as I come to the realization of how I fit into the world. I am small. Nature is bigger than me. World issues are bigger than me. I am small, but I am worthy and content. notice that nature and world issues are bigger than me.
I have the privilege to twist the pasta at the table of my four story host-home. As my Italian host family passes me bowls of new foods, new sauces and oils, I sit and only hope that my family could feel this love one day, that they could experience this opportunity, be able to chase dreams that weren’t made for us. I’m realizing that this is what my ancestors fought for. It is my duty to be able to push through for them.
This weight isn’t easy. Every few weeks since I’ve been abroad, my brother calls me and gives me all of our family updates. With some news good and others not so much, all I can share in return is how many new experiences I’ve had. There’s this tension because of course I took this journey for myself, but also for my family. Their stresses aren’t mine, but they are the people who got me here.
All I can remember is how many days my mother worked overtime to make sure I had enough traveling money. She went from Mount Vernon to Jerome Ave every week, going from work to home every other day. These streets in Italy don’t look like Rosedale or Gun Hill Road, and for so long I felt like I had a gate around me. The push from my support system to keep me going has also come with the push of responsibility, but I would not trade this pressure or these experiences for anything.
In the beginning, I didn’t know what to do with this weight. I had forgotten how strong the bark of my tree was. This sap is like no other. This sap gives hope, possibility and freedom. What I have seen allows sight for us all.
About two months ago, I was called a ‘nigger’ for the first time in my life by two Italian locals in Bologna. I was already emotionally exhausted due to the most recent killings of Keith Lamont Scott and Terence Crutcher - this threatened to break me, feeling like a slap in the face and a stamp on my forehead. Mere weeks later, I was hit by a car. I did not want anyone to know outside of my immediate family. I stopped posting photos of my trip and just hoped that my family would understand. I was just ready to go home. During my time in the hospital, my dad sent me a message saying:
“It's just a moment! Don't allow small instances and challenges to change your direction...Fight through it. It's all mental and you can control that. I just need you to be strong for me. They view you as different and so what. Be who you are. Just be mindful of your surroundings and stay with your positive people. Don't take the streets out there for granted. Accidents happen all the time baby. You walked away from this one!!!! That what’s important.”
I looked at my x-rays and realize that Keith Lamont Scott and Terence Crutcher didn’t have this second chance. My ancestors who fought for this freedom didn’t have this second chance.