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By Querida Duncalfe
Dearest Ahmaud Arbery,
Last month, your murderers were convicted of the hate crime they committed when they hunted you, gunned you down, and spat racist epithets over your body as you lay dying.
This verdict, just a day before the anniversary of your murder, has created a morose sort of poetry: a funeral dirge with notes of justice building to a crescendo.
Your family has laudably persisted, Ahmaud, especially your mother. She has pushed and pulled and struggled and fought– even in her bereft state–to force the Department of Justice to do its job.
I hope that her loving face and voice enveloped you and ushered you out of this life and into the next.
Although you were killed in February, it was May before we knew about your murder, Ahmaud. For months, your murderers’ deeds were hushed and covered up by the perpetrators themselves, as well as by local attorneys. Were it not for the video footage captured by one of the men who attacked and killed you, no compelling evidence would have existed to be leaked online and ultimately hold the criminals accountable.
Face of Ahmaud Arbery reflected through the eyes of other Black men
I did not meet you while you were alive, Ahmaud. Rather, like most of the world, I first saw your face after learning of your murder.
I clearly see your smiling face against a blue background. You are wearing what looks like a tuxedo.
I see in your angular jaw and warm eyes the man-sized freshmen I have taught. You were growing and changing and becoming the young man you were when murderers took your life.
The hope in your eyes reminds me of the hundreds of students who have flowed in and out of tutelage, each of them brimming with potential and carrying with them the dreams of their loved ones, most of them closely guarding their cherished aspirations–those they dare not speak of.
I could see your face, too, one gray morning as I drove the hilly roads that wind through my neighborhood. One of my neighbors – a Black man, friend, and father of three boys – was out for a jog.
Losing your body
I paused briefly when I saw him.
I probably waved.
But the news of the violent manner in which those men took your life, Ahmaud, was still fresh. And I could not discern a difference between his face and yours.
My breath caught.
My eyes watered, warm tears threatening to spill over.
And my mind grasped wildly at the possibilities of what I might do next: would I slowly trail after my neighbor in some awkward attempt to ensure his safety as he continued his exercise? Would I steer my car to his house where I imagined his wife anxiously awaited his safe return? Would I steer instead to my own home, where I could weep and cry and gnash my teeth in mourning and fury and exasperation?
In this moment, where his face was yours and yours was his and both of yours were my children’s and my own, I fully understood what Coates means when he speaks of losing your body.
To lose my body meant to realize afresh how quickly and easily its life can be snuffed out: without accountability for perpetrators, without any rationale beyond race-based prejudice, without just cause.
Our bodies – the only possessions we own when we enter this world and when we exit it – are in clear and present danger of violence. Daily. Because we are Black.
I can never forget your face, Ahmaud Arbery
Ahmaud, it seems like so much and so little has happened in the two years since those men killed you.
Briefly, the world seemed to be on fire with the righteous indignation of Black folks and allies alike. During the summer of 2020, we didn’t lose our bodies but instead placed them in the streets to protest injustice and demand a measure of equity and peace.
But you lost your body, Ahmaud. Not because you were careless with your precious and beautiful self, but because a trio of white men saw the color of your skin and allowed their racist assumptions to snuff out your life. They thought they had a right to do as they saw fit with your body.
I never met you, Ahmaud, but I can never forget your face.
When I look at you, I see my neighbor, my children, myself.
Murderers may have taken your body, Ahmaud Arbery, but they’ll never take your memory from us.
And neither will they escape accountability for their unspeakable crime.
Until we see each other face to face,
Querida Duncalfe was born and raised in Dallas, Texas and now resides in East Texas with her husband and two sons. After ten years of teaching high school English, she left the classroom to become a full-time writer, podcast host, and community activist. She writes about race, faith, identity, and their intersections on her blog Something True and in her forthcoming book Peace by Piece: Unlearning Racial Bias.