All my life I dreamed of coming to America for a better life and the opportunity for a great education. More than 150 years ago, my ancestors on my mother’s side fled America for a better life and freedom. So in some way, I am returning to America.
I am from Liberia, which was founded by freed American slaves. I recently learned from my 92-year-old great-grandmother that her grandparents were freed slaves who went to Liberia with their children, one of whom was her father. I am also a descendant of the Bassa tribe, some of the first inhabitants of Liberia, and the Kpelle tribe, the country’s largest tribe.
When I came to America at age 12, I didn’t know that being a Black woman means I live in a country where my skin color makes me a criminal. Just after we arrived, my mother told me, “You are a Black woman, so even though police are supposed to protect you, you have to fear them. When they see you, they see the color of your skin, and that makes you a target.” I did not believe her; I believed police were trained to protect us.
In my new middle school, kids said and did awful things to me. They made fun of the way I looked and how I spoke. They wrote disgusting letters and put them on my desk and in my locker. I told a school leader, but he accused me of writing the letters. Because of that, I never spoke up again. This was the first time I experienced racism and bullying. I hated going to school.
During my freshman year of high school, there was a big fight near my school between students. The police arrived. They seemed to assume that the Black kids started the fight. I watched my Black friends, who weren’t even part of the fight, get pepper-sprayed and pushed to the ground.
I leave my house not knowing if I am going to come back. I am tired of worrying if I will see my mother again every time she drives to the supermarket, because she is a Black woman. I am tired of being afraid to drive. I refused to get a driver’s license because getting a driver’s license leads to driving, which leads to Black people being killed by the police. I am scared that I will end up like Daunte Wright, the 20-year-old Black man who was fatally shot in his car by a Minnesota officer. Sometimes I am afraid of sleeping when I think of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police at home in her bed, in Louisville, Ky. I am afraid of going outside. It makes me feel anxious, like I can’t breathe, because every time a police car drives by I am reminded that I can be killed, raped, beaten, and this justice system wouldn’t care, because I am a Black woman.
After George Floyd’s murder, my little sister asked me, “Why are people trying to justify the police officer’s actions?” She was 7, I was 17. I sat her down and told her about how our people have been targeted since the time our ancestors were enslaved in America. It was the hardest thing I ever did. Seeing the sadness in my sister’s eyes when I told her that some people would hate her for no reason other than for the color of her skin broke me to pieces. When I was her age, in Liberia, I never had to worry about racism. But my family has returned to America, and I know one day she will experience racism, and I won’t be able to protect her.