It will be two years now since the last time I posted an article, two years since the last time I wrote something for myself.
It wasn't by choice at first. I loved writing. Actually, no, I loved the effects of my writing. I loved posting my ideas to the world and hearing people receive what I had to say. I loved the comments. I loved the questions. I loved the approval. What power that is for a young, black, immigrant teenager to have, to have the world hear her voice the moment she wants it to be heard.
And yet, one day, I found myself speechless. I tried, oh I tried. I tried to write something, anything, for people to hear what I had to say. But I realized that with every word I wrote, it was written with the consideration of others in mind, of how people would receive what I had to say, if they would accept it, if I should play more along the middle, be politically correct, be nice, be funny, be good, when all I wanted to do was scream.
I wanted to scream when the stress of my junior and senior years of high school became too much to bare. I wanted to scream when I realized I would have to write another article about another dead black child. I wanted to scream when my dad was sick. I wanted to scream when Natasha McKenna was killed in my hometown. I wanted to scream when Deah, Yusor and Razan were murdered. I wanted to scream when Baltimore went up in flames. I wanted to scream when I realized that I would be committing a grave injustice if I didn't write about the injustices of my people. I wanted to scream when I found myself unprepared. I wanted to scream when I realized college wasn't everything I expected it to be, when I realized the world wasn't everything I expected it to be, that I wasn't everything I expected to be.
But what good are screams when there aren't any words involved.
So I stayed silent, afraid that my screams would scare people away. In the meantime, I found myself listening. It happened naturally, I guess. The more I stayed silent, the more I was forced to hear everything else around me. I listened to my family, my friends, and to people on the city street. And the thing with listening, is that once you start doing enough of it, you learn that each and every story has a lesson that you keep. You learn that listening is a privilege.
I listened to stories of heartbreak and love found; I listened to gossip, and laughter, to fights and anger. I listened to the cries of marginalized Columbia students, to my mother's 'You need to eat' and my father's 'I just want you to have a better life than I had.' I listened as I lost friends and gained new ones. I listened to Malcolm and Martin, Nayyriah and Chimamanda. I listened to some of the most amazing minds I have come across, of intellectuals, of innovators, creators, activists and change makers that I am honored to call my classmates.
And along the way, I learned things like beauty is confidence and confidence is beauty, that self-love is the strongest form of love and that we do not ever need others to validate our existence. I learned the simple fact that by loving yourself, finding comfort within yourself, you will make others around you uncomfortable, and that's ok. I learned that it's easier said than done. I learned that lonely is synonymous to sad, and sad is synonymous to laughter. I learned that no matter what degree you hold, or school you go to, the color of your skin will always have the first word. I learned that challenging normalcy is a duty, and that literature is a right. I learned that girls are more likely to say sorry, even when they're not at fault. I learned that American exceptionalism is a dangerous ideal. I learned to never apologize for my anger, for my sadness, my identity, or my voice. I learned that happiness is appreciation. I learned to appreciate the sacrifices of those before me. I learned that stories are manifested in souls, and souls are manifested through time. I learned that people change, that people are misunderstood, that life carries on, and that I do too.
Most importantly, I learned to write again; I learned to write for myself. I learned to make sure that the next time the world heard my voice I was prepared, that my screams would become coherent thoughts and that my thoughts would never be compromised for anyone or anything.
Listening is the greatest privilege, and once I realized that, I understood that my voice was powerful.
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