I come from an intellectual tradition that sees scholarship as akin to combat. I was trained to see scholarly jousting as the means by which we refine and sharpen ideas. Consequently, as the brutal summer of 2020 unfolded, I channeled my anger, fear, and the viscous existential dread of being an Afro-Latino into a pugilistic fervor. I loaded chapters and articles onto my syllabi like ammunition into a magazine and answered calls to arms all over our new-found digital battlegrounds. Out of this work came both the class and podcast, We Can’t Breathe! [hereafter WCB!], a project designed to speak to and elucidate the landscape of contemporary anti-Blackness. This was a project subtended and made possible by Westtown’s own, always emerging anti-racist commitments. Put simply, WCB! wouldn’t have been possible at any other institution where I’ve worked—and at no other point in time in Westtown’s history.
My phone was blowing up. Push notifications and texts from friends and colleagues were letting me know that the National Guard was in West Chester. I looked up from my phone to see Diego ’22, Eli ’19, and Jio ’18 laying out on the couch in my living room loudly arguing over the ending to the movie Se7en.
Though I have no sanguinous relationship with Diego, Eli, or Jio, they’re part of the family Westtown has given me. Eli and Jio, fellow Harlemites and Harlem Lacrosse alumni who are now at Haverford College, spend their summers with me while they work, study, and get ready for the upcoming lacrosse season. Diego took Peace and Justice with me his freshman year and is the son of Jio’s host parents. Their daughter, Daniela ’20 is off to Penn next year, took Latin American Experiences with me this spring, and dates Eli–and hates that she can’t come to the boys’ nights. Our summers are spent enjoying our 600 acres, devouring horror movies, and eating as much grilled food as the weather allows. Their visit that night was particularly special as we were trying to recoup some semblance of our usual summertime shenanigans since the county had moved into the yellow phase of the COVID-19 protocol.
The protests catalyzed by the death of George Floyd lay in stark contrast to the fun we had managed to have. Multiple generations of Black and Brown Westonians finding joy in the midst of so much rage and mourning felt like a necessary reprieve and a rearticulation of the mattering of Black lives. However, the uncertainty of why the National Guard had made its way to West Chester pierced through the rowdy mundanity of having the boys over for dinner and a movie. As they piled up dirty dishes and got ready to head out, I was immediately filled with a suffocating, viscous dread: what if they get pulled over?