A Letter by Nicole Baker Fulgham

mpu   |   September 15, 2021

Dear Mackenzie,

I watched our world implode on itself during the last 18 months. I can barely comprehend what has happened in the last year and a half. I wonder how you, at the age of 15, can make any sense of it either.

In March of 2020, time literally seemed to stand still. We shut down everything: school, worship services, movie theaters, sporting events, sleepovers…everything. And so it began. Our worldwide slog towards stillness. The quiet was so loud that it was almost deafening. I wondered how you would cope? How would this life defining season shape you for years to come?

And then, only a few weeks into the pandemic, my dad – your Pop-Pop – was diagnosed with Covid. He declined quickly as the insidious disease ravaged his body. Three weeks later he died. Again, the stillness. The quiet. Do you carry that with you every day? Or do you remember my sheer grief and horror as I tried to make meaning of my father’s death from a disease that robbed me from honoring or memorializing him properly? Was I right to try and shield you from the worst of my emotional scars or should I have exposed them to you so you could slowly watch them heal?

That same summer, as if the pandemic weren’t sufficient, we watched the brutal murder of George Floyd – with a knee on his neck, squeezing the breath out of him. His name was added to the much-too-long list of so many other Black bodies that left us too soon at the hands of law enforcement.

You marched for the first time. The pictures of you with a sign, wearing your mask, still leave me breathless. You found a voice that summer I didn’t realize you’d had. Maybe you hadn’t realized it either. Your IG stories were full of protest, politics and progressive ideas. You spoke boldly to your peers about the beautifully messy intersection of racism, systemic injustice, history, policing, and politics.

You got in the trenches and spoke your truth. But I wondered how it affected you, my Black girl — the constant drumbeat of having to declare that our very bodies and beings matter. Where do you put that when you’re taking an honors course at your mostly white school? Do you feel that tension and duality as you speak in class, write a paper, or solve a trig problem in front of your peers? I do not know where that lives for you.

Amid so much tragedy and pain, I wonder how you will emerge. Unscathed? Appropriately reflective? Deeply troubled, but unable to find the words? Numb and trying to push blithely forward?

I worry that we are not creating a country that allows you to express your inside struggles.  I worry there is something that we are doing that forces you to feel that you must have it all together. And you don’t have to, my dear one. You definitely do not.

I want to create a country that is big enough to hold your fears and your courage, your weakness and your strength, your certainty and your wonderings. Complexity and nuance are beautiful – they are what gives each of us meaning and depth and texture. I want a nation that allows for complicated debate and does not force us to squash parts of our identity or take a bifurcated position on issues that are clearly not black and white. If the events of the last 18 months have taught us nothing else, I hope they have taught us that.

So, I’m here for the gray. I am here for your gray, my sweet girl.