“Did you have your earrings made or did you make them yourself? I just now noticed there was a guy on them!!!”
~Waitress, Cheesecake Factory
***Must be nice to be oblivious. O.o
The last time I was in Philadelphia was back in 2013 when one of my poetic comrades/brothers and I packed up and hit the highway for New York City. He was doing poetry there and I was tagging along so that I could peruse the city and spend unnecessary money. We stopped along the way in Philadelphia to spit at an open mic we were both invited to. While there I met some other dope poets, a few that I still have contact with today (Hey Kelli Kellz!!), and bought two pairs of earrings that I attempted to walk past but couldn’t resist the urge to own. The seller was set up in the first room before you got the poetry and I noticed her display as she was still putting it together when we first walked in. After she was finished setting up, I walked over and spent some time browsing before stumbling upon the ones I ultimately walked away with.
My eyes were stunned. I stared at them and held them in my hand, cradling them like mini-babies who dare to cry. They were distinctively different yet just alike in the worst way. I teared up as I walked away with them as my purchase. She gave me her card and the travesty of that is that I lost it. Actually, I probably still have it mixed up in the pile of random business cards I’ve collected over the last decade, but I wouldn’t know it was hers if I saw it. I also don’t remember her name and with all the memories I’ve collected and poems I’ve added to my brain since then, I can’t accurately remember what she looked like. But I still have the earrings. I will probably have these earrings for the rest of my life as I know it.
The earrings are pictures of Trayvon Martin.
On one pair the colors red and yellow contrast the melanin rich picture of a young Trayvon with folded arms. It looks like this was once a school picture-turned tragedy cover story photo. The earrings themselves are circular in shape and an exact replica of the People Magazine released April 9, 2012. To the side of his picture and covering his right shoulder were big yellow block letters that read:
An American Tragedy.
I remember seeing the magazine in stores but I don’t remember reading it and I’m pretty sure I didn’t buy it. People isn’t a magazine for people of color; it’s a gossip tabloid that comes out on a weekly basis. They add a little bit of Unsung Hero stories near the back to give it a well-rounded feel. Whatever. It’s a celebrity gossip magazine and I know this because you have to travel beyond private affairs, divorce settlements, child custody cases, and paparazzi pictures snapped without permission doing things like grocery shopping and opening car doors before you can get to anything regarding an unsung hero. So I dare not give my money to them for based on Trayvon Martin being the cover. It looked exploitative and I’m sure it was to some degree. Especially since they made sure to include GZ’s ‘side of the story.” #FOHThe second pair of earrings bear a picture of a Trayvon Martin in a hoodie. The picture surfaced shortly after his murder and while I’m unsure when and where it was taken, I do believe it was the picture that became the icon photo for Trayvon and the right to wear a hoodie. And be black. And human. And not in the projects. If a picture tells 1000 words then these earrings are novels. He looks young; there isn’t an ounce of facial hair on him.
I can be found wearing these most often.
I love both pairs but the ones with him in the hoodie are the most symbolic. It leaves no room for question as to who that is on my earrings. If you know the story you will probably recognize who it is. Usually, people do.
Unless you are the white waitress at The Cheesecake Factory. His eyes are piercing and his expression is youthful. He looks like a kid that might have a sack of candy in his hoodie. Maybe even an Iced-T. But he doesn’t look like he deserves death.
I’m not one to exploit people’s death. It could almost be argued that I fear people thinking I would ever do such a thing. When I first started wearing these earrings after returning from the free-East Coast style to the conservative Midwestern flair, I worried that I looked like I was making a fashion statement of his death. There’s nothing fashionable about wearing Trayvon Martin earrings. But I am making a statement.
That statement became my peace of mind. I learned there was a form of power, activism, and rebellion in wearing them.
One of the definitions of Power is:
The capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.
Synonyms include capability, effectiveness, influence, virtue and talent.
I am a walking billboard. We all are. We are all inadvertent models for the clothing we wear, our hairstylists and barbers, the manicurist and our doctors where applicable. Those of us who have branded themselves in some way know that we are our first and best asset. When I leave the house, even when I’m going to work, I can’t leave ‘Januarie York’ at home; that’s my brand and it goes where I go. With that said, there is absolute power and responsibility in being a walking billboard. This isn’t about my love of modeling and runway shows; being a billboard is about making a public statement that one can’t just drive past.
When I walk outside with these colorful and bold pictures of Trayvon Martin hanging from both sides of my face, I have turned myself into that exact billboard. You can’t look at me and NOT see them. These earrings stopped being about JUST Trayvon long ago. They have taken on the ghosts of all who have preceded him in the same unfashionable manner and when I wear them, I am extremely conscious that they are there. So are others. I’ve had people express their love for them and ask about where I bought them. My only regret is that I can’t point them in the direction of the lady in Philly who made them. White people aren’t heavy in comments, but they are in looks. I see them staring and I make sure they can see!!! I don’t know if these earrings make them uncomfortable or make them wonder. I hardly ever hear comments like the one from the waitress. Most people who actually speak of them know who they are looking at. But some people just don’t have to worry about this or concern themselves with it. So why would they know???
I feel like power with them. Like I am staking my claim on my spot in this world. You look at me with these earrings and you will think Black Lives Matter, whether you agree or not. Being in corporate is a challenge. Black people have to lose a piece of themselves and ‘become’ what corporate says is acceptable. Some of us have freedom at our jobs and I’m one of those people. I wear afros and afro earrings, high heels and bold lipsticks and when I feel like it, Trayvon Martin. Some would call this rebellious. I would have to agree. I do rebel. I reject what is ‘professional’ when there is nothing about my behavior or personality that can be altered with how I wear my hair. Or what I identify with.
These earrings are an act of rebellion. They are a rejection of death and the killing of unarmed black citizens (also known as human beings…for more on this concept, check this blog: http://theiisneversilent.com/2016/07/16/dear-nicole-a-perspective-on-guilt-black-lives/). These earrings stare harshly into your eyes and if they don’t pierce your heart and make you question everything about the judicial system, then there might be something less human in your soul.
I didn’t ask to be an activist or even mean to be. I just don’t want to be one of the ones sitting idle if there is something I can do. I will always do SOMETHING. Sometimes I’ll be marching and doing poems at protests. There will also be times when I sit on the sidelines. I might be engulfed in my phone or partying with my friends. Because I too need a mental break and to remember I still have reasons to smile. Other times, it will be other things. Like writing. Speaking. Engaging. Working. Wearing earrings.
Wearing my Trayvon Martin earrings.
Hoping not for white-guilt but that a conversation might be started. The kind of conversations that lead to leveling up and creating change. I want this ‘fashion statement’ to influence people to open their eyes to the reality of the situation. Even our children are dying without anyone being held accountable. Trayvon has been murdered in death at least once a year by GZ (I will not type his name). There have been auctions and paintings and articles and interviews. When I wear these earrings I demand that if you look at me, you see Trayvon Martin. And because they don’t just exist for him, I demand you see Sandra Bland. I demand you see us. I can list enough names to start a new blog post. I want you to see all of us when you see me, wearing these earrings.
I demand you see black people, Without Sanctuary!
I demand you see our sons.
And daughters. Wives and mothers.
I don’t want to tread the line and be the acceptable negro. I’m not the acceptable negro. Black lives matter to me. I am black. AF! I fucks with my people heavily. I love us. I hate to see us dying.
I am not acceptable, I am scared.
I am not acceptable, I am a target.
I am not acceptable, I am black.
And you will know this when you look at me with my really big Trayvon Martin earrings on.