I waited tables that first year in the Windy City, and I would come home in the middle of the night, put in my headphones, and take Linus for long walks while I listened to music on Spotify.
I introduced myself to lots of artists that year because I had access, like I was getting away with something. To name a few, I explored the likes of Tupac, revisited the 90s, and stumbled upon Nina Simone's To Be Young Gifted and Black.I was growing up older, colder, and so was she.
I recall one evening hearing Mississippi Goddam for the first time.
They try to say it's a communist plot
All I want is equality
for my sister my brother my people and me
In the documentary, What Happened Miss Simone (Netflix 2015), there is footage of Simone asking Dr. Martin Luther King what to do with all her feelings of rage. He, of course, encouraged her to focus energy on the nonviolent protests that would later go down in history as true democracy in action.
But they killed him.
So she sang this song, raging in a glorious, vulnerable masterpiece that the time for silent protest was over. That it's taking too long. Moving too slow.
And they ran her out of the country. She was destroyed politically and publicly. The beautiful black woman with the incredible voice was not singing the songs that everyone wanted to hear.
She wasn't smiling or trying to be nice.
Today there are so many voices scrambling and screeching to be heard and so many lives lost to alcohol, pills, guns, and violence, corporate violence, that America is not what they told us it would be. Yet, "they," whoever they are, are still trying to tell us that we need to hold on...for freedom? For what America......was?
America enslaved, tortured, raped, and murdered, countless human beings. Take a day and listen to the words to songs like "Strange Fruit," and "Mississippi Goddam." Take a month....take a month that is longer than February, take two months, and listen to the voices of those that have been trying to play by a set of rules that offers them very little.
Just like rage that gets stuffed down for far too long, the urgency of the song builds:
You keep on saying "Go slow!" "Go slow!" But that's just the trouble...
"Do it slow,"
"Do it slow"
"Do it slow"
"Do it slow"
Do things gradually
"Do it slow"
But bring more tragedy
"Do it slow"
Why don't you see it
Why don't you feel it
I don't know
I don't know"
The "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality is impossible in a nation controlled by large corporations.
The lies about black crime told to make white girls afraid. The false masculinity of the disillusioned men who rape and take what they have literally been taught is "rightfully" theirs by design. The white boys and girls that scream "all lives matter" who have been told the lie that the Black Lives Matter movement is a personal attack. It is not.
And the churchgoers that voted for our current president and still try to talk to me about love that surpasses all understanding.
We have all been lied to. Why don't you see it? Why don't you feel it?
Nina Simone's family found her years later, drowning in depression. It's hard to see the world for what it is as an artist, as a lover of what human beings can create through expression, and keep going.
When you see the lost, the unloved, the broken, and the hated, all marginalized and demonized so that one group of people can say they are better or stronger, so that someone can claim ultimate power and final say, it's hard not to drown in hopelessness because what's the point?
And that is what is happening to this country. It is ignoring the rage that it is due. Because we have all been lied to, been distracted, been in love. The Bible teaches that only the Truth will set you free.
So we are all in prison. Quietly, comfortably, wasting away in a prison that we don't have to accept.
You cannot live a lie. You can try. You can surely try. But it will eat you up, destroy you from the inside out. You can dress it up, buy all the best treatments for gaping wounds, but it will kill you in the end.
It's too slow. The admitting of our sins. It's time to admit them.
How long can we live in the safe notion that if we keep quiet and pray about it, it will work itself out? We are the answer to our prayers. We are the present and the future. What we do...not say....not pray....but what we DO is the only thing that matters.
It's not time to let go and let God. It's time to stand up, and be counted. And it's time to start paying attention. Those who are living are suffering...including you.
I am a terrible vessel.
History is full of prophets that we've chased away because they did what we were terrified to do: be completely vulnerable. Like Nina Simone.
America wanted Nina Simone to pay for her "sins," while it continued to ignore the sins that would bring it...bring all of us....to this point in history.
Maybe an angry black woman isn't the problem.
"Oh but this whole country is full of lies. You're all going to die and die like flies."
She said in an older interview, used in What Happened Miss Simone (Netflix 2015), that her biggest regret is not getting to play classical piano at Carnegie Hall. The interviewer was astonished. Nina Simone had played Carnegie Hall...but not classical piano. That means something to a musician, the dream of creating something beyond words in a space made for that very creation.
Instead, at Carnegie, she played what audiences wanted a black woman who could play and sing to play, and when they didn't like what she sang, they threw her in the fire, to burn.
And burn she did.
Before the truth can set you free, you need to know what it means to be free, but, more than that, you have to try to imagine what it means not to be.