My week started out rough. I passed out, injuring both my left eye and my poor glasses, and ended up missing my Monday class because, clearly, I had to make sure I hadn’t also dislocated my brain. I still managed to finish my readings for the rest of my classes with my one good eye, making sure to keep an ice pack on the other.
When Tuesday evening rolled around, I was ready to give up on my so-called Resiliency Project. I was in a sour mood, I was injured, and things just did not want to look up for me.
But as I scrolled through Facebook that evening, I saw in the Black Lives Matter Facebook group that the Black Law Student Association would be having a protest the next day. As I had missed the Africana Studies Open House to nurse my injuries, I jumped at the opportunity to meet a few more Black graduate students.
The next day, I dressed in all black and headed over to the Law School after class, by myself. To off set my anxiety, I immediately tasked myself with helping to make a few more signs, once I’d finally worked up the nerve to go in and find the group of protesters.
In the end, I’d say around 30 students, a more diverse group than I’d imagined, came together to sit in the lobby of the Law School to draw attention to yet another incident of police brutality, and that we did not agree with what was happening.
The sit in was short, a lot shorter than I’d expected, and with the president of the BLSA only saying a few words to acknowledge the situation, I began to feel like something was missing. I quickly whispered to the girls around me did they know the words to the Black National Anthem. Though they didn’t know it by heart, they encouraged me to start and they would back me up.
So, I did something I still can’t believe I did: I sang the Black National Anthem at a protest.
In that moment, every time I had ever stood for the Black National Anthem at an Office of African-American Affairs event at UVA rushed back to me. Gratitude for the lyrics printed on nearly every pamphlet produced by OAAA washed over me. I could even feel the spirit of my friend Kelsey with me, as I had watched her sing the Black National Anthem so very many times over the course of my UVA career, always in awe, but more recently with pride to be her friend.
UVA trained me academically, but OAAA trained me in pride and respect for my people and for that I will always be thankful.
I spoke to a few people after the crowd broke up and started to disappear down the many corridors of the law school, just to get my name out there and to also spread the word that I wanted to start a Black Grad Association for the Arts and Sciences students similar to what BLSA had going. I even reconnected with a girl I had known so long ago it felt surreal to even see her again. I had known her as the Attorney General of Girls State and it was only fitting that we reconnected as she helped lead a protest at her law school. It’s amazing how life comes full circle sometimes.
The next few days gave me new life. Going to the protest relieved a lot of the built up emotions I had about the current state of America. I began having conversations with people that made me realize I had been doing a lot of this very much alone. Thursday, I went back to the law school to attend the BLSA meeting. It was largely a period of decompressing and I didn’t realize how badly I’d needed the space to do that with people who truly understood until I sat in that room, feeling like I was taking my first deep breath in weeks. I felt very welcome, despite not being a law student, and I was a deeply appreciative of the few smiles I got from the people who’d recognized me from the protest the day before.
Before I left, I made plans with the former Attorney General for coffee, and headed home to enjoy my crock pot. As I’d been extremely productive, and exceptionally social, I decided I wanted to have someone over to have dinner with me. Reaching out to my Korean military friend, we spent a wonderful evening eating roast beef and talking about, you guessed it, race in America.
I can be fairly single-minded to the point of obsessive.
But I was getting out a lot of the frustration I had been feeling since day one that I only got to let out in small doses with the couple of other Black grads and my parents in the moments I’d been able to catch someone. I felt so much better, and I realized that this was all a part of my self care. I needed to have these moments for my sanity, and thankfully I was falling in with a crowd that could provide me with a safe space to speak my mind.
Though I was getting my fill socially, I was also grinding. One of my older “brothers” in the program had been connecting with me people over the course of the week. One such person led to an introduction with a blogger for the Society for U.S. Intellectual History. Despite my concern that my work wasn’t exactly intellectual history, this scholar was enthusiastic about me writing a piece on graphic novels. I was working on this when my brother hit me up again and asked me if I wanted to be on a panel for conference.
I often say yes to things before understanding what exactly it is I have to do.
So I spent most of my Friday, after grabbing coffee with the former Attorney General, working on an abstract for a paper I haven’t written, updating my CV and helping to edit other abstracts for both the premise of the panel and presentation papers.
I had no idea what was happening, what I was doing, but I knew it was exciting.
It worked out that the abstract that I submitted will be the prospectus for the paper I’m writing for my Popular Culture and Power class, which is due Tuesday. The paper that I write for this class will be the paper I present at this panel, if we’re accepted. (Or at least a shorter version of it, more than likely.) While I was on this high, I went ahead and started in on my bibliography, which was due with the prospectus. As I worked, I got excited. The more sources I pulled, the more I could see my paper coming together. It was the same feeling I get when I’m painting or working on a novel chapter: all of the lines, all of the pages, start to fall together and I can see the bigger picture.
Whoever believes academia isn’t art, isn’t thinking about it the right way.
All of the excitement culminated in my first academic piece going up on the Society for United State Intellectual History blog yesterday: The Transnational Road to Graphic Novels and the American Superhero. I was beyond ecstatic. Blogging paid off. My Superman obsession paid off. My French degree paid off. Yesterday, I got a taste of what gets you through the slogging moments of grad school. You do the libraries, the solitude, the never ending reading to produce work that people engage with. I suddenly started gaining a ton of followers on Twitter– academics, who were interested in me and my “work.” (It’s still crazy to think that what I do is “work.”) One professor even called me a “scholar to watch.” Me. I’m a Scholar To Watch.
What I think is just absolutely ironic about all of this is how my love of superheroes actually once almost got me into a lot of trouble. When I was in the ninth grade, I used use my journal time to write my best friend these superhero stories in which we, the students, with our X-men-esque powers, battled our equally powerfully teachers. We were all angsty and bitter about being the first class of International Baccalaureate in our city because, in truth, the city couldn’t afford to do the program justice. We were short a lot of classes and options that would make our program competitive, that would make the students competitive for college– and so we felt betrayed. Part of the way we dealt with this was through my stories, which at one point, were so popular that they were read out loud during class.
I wrote a sizable stack of these superhero essays, which no one took issue with, until one day, my parents were called to the school. Most of the teachers thought the stories showed ingenuity, and were pretty funny, but one teacher felt threatened by her depiction as a villain. She was calling for my suspension from school (even though we were already out for summer at this point.)
Only that my parents were skillfully able to argue that I was turning my frustration with a system that was failing me into a creative enterprise and that the principal had known me and my mother for years as she had also been my elementary school principal, saved me.
The irony is that I’m still doing what I was doing then: showing how superhero narratives give voice and agency to the unfairly treated.
Here I am, 8 years and a college degree from a prestigious university later, still writing about superheroes.
It’s amazing how life comes full circle sometimes.