We Took a Breath

The caged bird sings  
with a fearful trill  
of things unknown  
but longed for still  
and his tune is heard  
on the distant hill  
for the caged bird  
sings of freedom.

We took to an impromptu stage. We took to a Zoom screen. We took to Burton Park and in a unified (but socially distant) voice our community spoke out against racism and spoke in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.

The Breathe Vigil was led by Cindy Chen, Milad Shafaie, Rachel Amir Chatman and Liane Brown; Carlmont High School graduates embarking on their own adventures next academic year and who are among the strong voices for our community today and tomorrow.

Everyone has the responsibility to educate themselves on African American history of and of the ongoing struggle of all black and brown people for equality and justice. If you’re going to show up to a vigil or a protest, show up educated.

Education and political change take time and commitment, Rachel Amir Chatman reminded us that the Birmingham campaign lasted a month, the Greensboro sit-ins lasted six months, the Freedom Riders lasted seven months and the Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted 382 days. “The fight doesn’t end here,” Chatman added. “This is just the beginning.

And while the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery are the catalysts for the current wave of Black Lives Matter protests, Liane Brown read the names of the many others over the years who have been the victims of police and white vigilante brutality.

Honoring the memories of the dead, while important, isn’t enough. Brown challenged members of the crowd, “Did you care about George Floyd, before he died? Do you care about black people in general, before we die?”

Milad Shafaie also touched on this theme and asked if non-black allies doing enough to support the black and brown communities. “We have the privilege to live relativity blissful lives, ignorant to the various forms of oppression African Americans still face.” If non-black allies live in this ignorance, aren’t they then playing a role in perpetuating systemic racism?

But looking to the future, Chatman, Brown and Shafaie all had ideas on what everyone in the community can do to educate themselves and stamp out racism. These ideas included:

  • Read books and watch documentaries on African American history
  • Engage in Black culture that is outside of the mainstream media
  • Seek out Black owned businesses
  • Campaign and vote for candidates who speak out against racism
  • Be a catalyst for honest dialog about racism

There were several hundred people spread out across Burton Park to listen to these words and over 70 people tuning in remotely over Zoom. Keeping the proceedings going was done in no small part by JT Eden who made sure the live mics and the Zoom meeting were all running smoothly.

Cindy Chen kicked off the proceedings by selecting and reading the poem Caged Bird by Maya Angelou. The poem tells of a bird singing to be free and Chen brought the words of the poem to life for the audience:

Caged Bird by Maya Angelou

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind  
and floats downstream  
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.
 
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and  
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
 
The caged bird sings  
with a fearful trill  
of things unknown  
but longed for still  
and his tune is heard  
on the distant hill  
for the caged bird  
sings of freedom.
 
The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own
 
But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams  
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream  
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied  
so he opens his throat to sing.
 
The caged bird sings  
with a fearful trill  
of things unknown  
but longed for still  
and his tune is heard  
on the distant hill  
for the caged bird  
sings of freedom.
San Carlos Breath Vigil

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