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  • Writer's pictureHey Draughter

On The Run II: Emancipation & Black Birthdays in Quarantine

Updated: Nov 16, 2020

Like most people, I dreamed of photoshoots, dinners, the memories of going out with my friends until morning. The way we celebrate birthdays and life are often stored in our minds as vivid photographs and immeasurable memories. As a Gemini-baby, my birthday is literally at the peak start of summer, it almost always falls on the weekend of LA Pride, and, of course, for my upcoming 25th birthday, I was planning a fire weekend with my homies. I wanted my quarter-century birthday to be one that I’d remember forever-- and then when COVID hit, our world closed and summer began to look a lot different for all of us.  

In Portland, our sunny summer evenings sounded off with prompt protests at 5 pm each day. It metamorphosed into tear-gassed neighborhoods and residents being packed up into cars like terrorists even quicker. The days were often sightings of white supremacists, the national guard attacking civilians, and a haze of endless chaos that's still nestled in the cracks of the streets of that strange city. For a large part of 2020, Portland, OR, like most of the United States was a war zone, crumbling in a key turn of the #BlackLivesMatter movement after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

After a month of the city being flipped upside down, Pride Month kicked-off a little over a week before my birthday, which was around the same time Breonna Taylor would’ve turned 27. On top of these deaths, throughout the month of June, there were then reports of a number of murders and attacks on Black Transwomen. And for a long time, our summer’s song was injustice ringing from city to city and state to state. For some time after her death and George Floyd’s, I could so nothing some nights other than sit in the shower and cry. I’d have dreams where I’d see the scene of what happened to Ms. Taylor happened to one of my sisters, one of my cousins, or my mother. For two people I’d never met, I felt the eternal weight of her existence, but most of all there was a stain in our hearts that is still there, and this is the forever pain of her absence that I’ve been sitting with for months. How could we live in a place that allows people to take our lives too soon? And how could this system literally be built on the backs of our people and not even provide justice to us?

At that moment, I didn’t even want a birthday. My spirit felt no need for celebration. No candles, not even a cake, I barely wanted to be around friends. All I wanted was for the world-- our world to acknowledge that a black man and woman’s life had been taken away by officers, and they needed to correct the way they had been taken from us too soon. I wanted white gays to acknowledge the Black Trans-people who built Pride. I wanted every street of this nation to burn. Over the course of the summer, I’d even send out page-long notes to my co-workers in an effort to try to wake them up, but it often felt like my words had fallen on deaf ears. As protests got louder, the anger in the streets was heavier than it had ever been, it started to feel as if Portland was stuck in a snow globe from the Civil Rights era.

I went for three weeks without barely four or five hours of sleep each night, I was always up, and my mind kept racing. I'd been signing petitions, trying to write about it, found other ways to educate others, and donate, but nothing really seemed to help. One night, in the heat of my insomnia, I picked up the phone and called my Muva, a dear friend who resides in LA, and told him I needed to come home. In this instance, home would be wherever Muva was at the time, and he was in one of my favorite places on the planet, Los Angeles. And it was decided, I got off the phone, I bought a one-way ticket that would leave the next day and I’d return once my spirit felt like it was time to go back.

Having the clock countdown to that flight, gave me a sense of urgency that I’d forgotten I had. It had been so long since I’d had to be dressed and ready for an appointment, after all, most people have been locked in taking all our calls from home in our sweats and undies -- but that flight gave me a sense of life for the first time in a long time, and it was everything.

That’s when I knew it was really time to reconsider what I really wanted from this next chapter of my life. When we’re in college, we often think of where we’d be at 25. For some of us, it’s a photo shoot or a community cause, maybe it could even be an album you’d hope would win an accolade. No matter who we are, somewhere, somehow we always think of what our lives would look like a quarter into them, what visions we’d have, and what goals have been accomplished, but often for black lives, we are often truly just grateful for another day of breath. And here I was, coming up on mine, recovering from a surgery with a poem to be published in one of our country’s biggest publications not feeling complete or creatively fulfilled. At the crux of my decision to get on a plane for a reset, my mind, body and soul were disconnected into three sections that weren’t melding like an impossible puzzle, and in an effort to put the pieces back together, I reimagined what I’d really wanted for my 25th birthday.


Growing up, I grew up in a traditional Southern Baptist household with a pretty strict mother who barely allowed to watch SpongeBob peacefully, let alone listen to anything other than Gospel music. I’d get a routine escape each summer when my mom would send me off to Atlanta to spend some time with my favorite aunt.

This was the time when I’d get to be away from home, and I’d felt most like myself because of it. I never had to hide who I was with my aunt or my cousin, we were always close and had the best inside jokes, but the thing that held us together closest was music. My aunt listened to bops and bops only, and I fell in love with those bops. Everything from Luther Vandross to Destiny’s Child and Maxwell to Kelly Price, I remember being 8, 9, shit even 10 listening to these love songs, falling in love with the music I knew I wouldn't be able to openly listen to once I got back home. Summer ‘05 was probably one of the most influential summers of my life.

It was the summer of Katrina, it was one of the few summers when I really knew that I was different from the other kids around me, and it was my soul-awakening through a musical introduction to Mariah Carey. The Emancipation of Mimi was one of the best selling albums of that year, and it had a permanent slot in my auntie's 5 Disc CD Player in her car, right next to Destiny Fulfilled, The Evolution of Robin Thicke, Dance With My Father, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite. Summer of a true RnB lover’s land.


Strapped up with my mask and aboard my first flight in eight months, each time I tried to close my eyes, my mind went back to the images I'd been dreaming of for months. Thoughts of freedom and life that should’ve been granted to Breonna Taylor and the breath that was owed to George Floyd. My restlessness on that flight let me know that I wasn’t just going to LA for a little breathing room, I was going for a reset. I thought about a book I’d read earlier that quarantine, Yaa Gyasi’ Homegoing, and there’s an instance in the book where two relatives connect in the ocean. For black people, we often have many extended families and feel connected to our people even we aren't related. And as I felt connected to these two souls, I knew that I needed to go to the water to find a way to release, recognize, and reclaim myself and my blackness. I’d been yearning to be in the water all Spring and Summer, and when my plane landed, I was going to load up that Mini Cooper, pump up a playlist, and hit the road to find the source.

There’s really nothing more than I love to do than go on a drive. I’m a speed demon and get a rush off of feeling the wheels rip off the pavement, making quick sharp turns, and zooming down the highway. Racing down 405, my thoughts on that drive to my Muva became clearer, and feeling the tires stamp into the ground brought me back to when I’d bolt off the blocks in my younger track days. With each step, I’d let something go that had been weighing me down. I love the track just as much as I love the road. With each mile I drove, my spirit became lighter, and when I approached my destination, the heaviness and the weight that subsided in the streets of Oregon that had settled so deep into my subconscious had been lifted from the open road of a different atmosphere gave me the space to free my mind. My time with the top down brought me back to times when ten-year-old me would sit in that Lexus with my aunt and my cousin, veering out the window into the trees and mountains of Georgia. As I parked outside my Muva’s, I looked up beaches near where I was, I was going to be in LA for about a week, and I wanted to give myself all the time I needed to connect in the space. And for my 25th year, I’d drive down the coast to Malibu to meditate, reflect, and remember during one of the most turbulent times in our country’s history.

Truthfully, meditating was something I’ve always struggled with. I have the attention span of a squirrel, so getting me to do something for longer than a minute sometimes is pretty incredible. But, for a week, I’d wake up in the morning to workout, grab something quick to eat, and a few snacks, and I’d sit at the beach for about an hour each day. That time in meditation was healing. The focused intention around my thoughts allowed me to pinpoint the source of my unrest that had been sparking off all quarantine, and once my vacation was done, I was able to return home to be way more productive. During tough times, it can be hard to celebrate yourself, but if there’s nothing that we’ve all learned this year, it’s simply the fact that our lives really do matter. Your life matters. It’s important that we remember to give ourselves the grace to clap for ourselves, find the space to reflect and process, and give ourselves the freedom to grow and learn in even the most stifling times. 

2020 has most definitely been a challenging year, it’s also been one of the most emancipating experiences for my heart and mind. Here are some things that I gained from my meditative trip to Malibu that might help you on your quest for spiritual freedom and self-love. 

  • Listen to your intuition. You know what your heart need most. Listen to your spirit when it tell you you need a break, a change of pace or even a change of scenery.

  • Revisit spaces and places that make you feel alive. When my body told me that I needed water, the first place my heart went to was somewhere in California, and I denied myself that because of safety concerns. I'm so grateful that I got to go to my home away from home for a reset, but it isn't always that easy. Think of even doing somethings like staycations where you can seriously unplug if you can't physically switch up your spot.

  • Take yourself on a different kind of journey. I've never gone on this type of road trip before. It was something that I've been wanting to do for some time, and I thought it was what I would need. Turns out, it was that and more. I was able to get car that fit my trip, and chose to do one activity really well for my downtime. All in all, it helped give me some peace.

  • Live every day like it’s your MF birthday. If you know me, you know I love to shop. This year has been extremely hard for me because I really haven't. I always try to treat myself with a lil somethin' somethin' for my birthday, but this year I couldn't feel it. I opted out for a trip to see my extended family during a time I needed them most. Do what you can to celebrate yourself. Whether you chill and vibe out for a week, or go on a socially distanced trip with some friends, find a way to live each day like it's your birthday.

  • Use your voice to speak out, vote, and make change. My time in Malibu was so peaceful and healing. But before that, I was speaking out more than I ever had been, signing petitions, and finding a way to try to find justice for our brothers and sisters. Out of that energy, I was able to create this piece, "blood.water" for Breonna Taylor that will be printed in my upcoming poetry collection. The piece was a labor of love, but I hope it brings our people some healing as we continue to fight for justice for our brothers and sisters. Voting is a right and a privilege we've been afforded by our ancestors, we know we have a lot of work to do, but we still have the power to make change. All of our votes and voices matter.

-Your Nigga at 25.

Stream the augment. playlist on Apple Music.

Photos by Jon M. Dailey, III (@jondailey_).

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