For the first time in quite awhile, it feels like I’m heading toward something that feels like solid ground.
For those of you invested in my personal life, my mom was finally released from the hospital on Wednesday. (Praise, Jesus!) She’s still slow, still on the mend, but the most recent positive update is that she took a little walk outside (!) when I was at the house yesterday. I ended up packing up all my stuff and heading back to Williamsburg after one of the craziest few weeks of my life.
Despite my mom getting out on Wednesday, I wasn’t done driving. This past weekend was the University of Virginia’s Black Alumni Weekend, which is essentially a Black family reunion that lasts three days. As an undergrad, BAW (which happens every two years) was the best part of the spring. All your graduated friends would come back, there were ample volunteer opportunities which usually came with free food and/or a t-shirt and there would be a probate (or two…or three) each week leading up to the grand event. Black bodies would flood Grounds, fill the air with the joyful sound of best friends reuniting, and you could follow the smell of delicious soul food all the way down to the amphitheater at mid afternoon on Saturday. You could count on an older graduate or two stopping you to ask we still used the BB (which we did) and if they didn’t, you could always count on them to smile encouragingly to you as you walked to class.
It confused the hell out of the white students.
We didn’t give a damn.
On Friday, I became a part of the Black mass that biannually converged upon Grounds. It felt surreal that I wasn’t a student eagerly awaiting the wave, but an alumni. It felt surreal to have an orange reunion t-shirt instead of an orange volunteer shirt. When I was handed my name tag, I felt a strange tinge in my stomach. After I matriculated into UVa it wasn’t unusual see myself indentified as “Ravynn Stringfield, class of 2016.” But this time when I saw my name, “Ravynn Stringfield, COLL 2016” stamped in bold across my badge, fastened to a blue lanyard, I understood how much it had cost.
In 1986, my dad left the University, his degree unfinished, not to return until I enrolled in 2012. I came to UVa with a vendetta. I saw my dad’s legacy was unfulfilled and I saw that it was my responsibility to enter the ring and finish the fight for him.
And, man, did I fight. I fought the disappointing B’s that filled my first grade report. I fought the racist Government TAs who presumed to not understand welfare. I fought a losing battle with my mental illness. I fought to stay in school and finished that semester with a 3.9. I fought for jobs and internships; competed for “prestigious” leadership opportunities and study abroad trips. I fought (and failed) to have my opinions heard and respected at meetings for organizations in which I held leadership. I was beaten down verbally and emotionally, disrespected and harassed.
Then at some point, I found myself on the verge of graduating and I realized I had almost survived.
That’s what I thought about my UVa experience for most of the 10 months that it’s been since I’ve graduated– that I survived it.
But as I rounded the corner and saw the Blue Ridge mountains spread out in front me as I sped up route 64, blasting my favorite 90s jams, I realized that this return was my victory lap. I had lost the battles and won the war.
My name badge and BAW t-shirt were the spoils of war.
And my friends and I celebrated. We celebrated that I had graduated, that I had returned, that they were prospering and finishing strong. We celebrated being reunited and friendships and life-long relationships. We celebrated life at UVA and the life beyond. We celebrated love and theater and scholarship and beauty.
The laughs and shouts of joy, the shine of Black bodies on the land that our ancestors had cultivated and built upon, the electric buzz of legacy created the atmosphere of love and happiness that’s like the most lit R&B, hip-hop, gospel mixtape you’ve ever heard.
I was only there for a day, because life has been a destructive whirlwind. But the whirlwind set me down outside of Peabody Hall, where I spent most every week day afternoon for four consecutive years.
With a smile, I headed inside– not as a student; but as a victor.