I didn’t cut one second from this conversation with Joy Kmt and with her four-year old sun Omo, who after very actively participating, gradually fell asleep in his mother’s lap. Joy’s apartment has thin walls, out there in the suburbs where she has had to move because of lack of affordable housing for she and her five children in Pittsburgh. The sounds of vacuum cleaners and televisions and neighbors fighting next door came from all around us to cloud the clarity of the audio. My own various categorical walls came tumbling down: Public Safety and Gentrification and Transportation and Health and and Land Bank and Transition Teams and Gender and Housing and Sexual Orientation and Racism and Classicism and Body and Brain refused to stay within any sharp lines, refused not to be as interdependent as they are in lived experience. With Joy I could not stay safe behind any classification or pretense of objectivity – she and her life and concerns and commitments and honesty and vulnerability and courage break through so many boundaries.
I remember so well, last year, when she sat down on Centre Avenue to express her rage and her grief for Trayvon Martin, and for his mother, and for her own children, for all black sons, daughters, mothers, fathers whose lives have been crushed by white supremacy. I remember so well that she and her friends refused the boundaries of the planned protest, choosing to remain sitting outside the designated area that has been marked out for the expression of black rage for decades, crossing over the curb of Freedom Corner in the Hill District on Sunday, July 14, 2013, to remain beyond the designated boundaries time of silence and stillness announced by other black leaders. Joy and the other members of Pittsburgh for Trayvon planted themselves and remained in the street, even as their own allies protested their refusal to cooperate with any plan, any strategy, any prescription for long-term victories in some far away future. They made clear that they would obey only the promptings of their own grief and determination to refuse all cooperation with unjust, racist, hateful execution of deadly force.
I remember a Port Authority bus slowly advancing down the Hill towards Joy, and the gravity, the groundedness that seemed to root her down through the pavement to the very gravity of the planet, even as that mass of metal passed within a foot of her body. I could see that she fully understood what could happen to her body. I could see that she would not be moved. I could see that love bound her – no, that love freed her – to remain where she chose to be, close by all those others who also chose to grieve, to refuse hate, to demand that black lives be given full worth and weight.
Photo by Trib Total Media