Our 17-year-old delegate, Liana Wallace, traveled with us on our 2018 trip to Cameroon. The young people are always a hit with the students with whom we meet, and Liana was no exception! Liana is a student activist, a spoken word artist who has lived in Japan with her family, honors her Jewish and African-American heritages equally, and is fearless in the face of injustice. Here is her college application essay, telling her story. She will be attending Georgetown University in the fall. Congrats, Liana!
"My peers know me as a spoken word artist: “The curve of my hip dips to the cry of mothers/babies torn from womb and left on street forgotten/I hear her crying.” I process my world through poetry. When I talk, people listen. They listen because they know that I’ll listen to them openly, with ears, eyes, heart and mind.
"Standing before Cameroonian teenage girls I dared to let my pen hit the pavement of the world. “You are woman / our liberation is bound together like the chains that separated us / different histories/but a strength woven between us.” I shared this as a member of the education committee when I delivered reusable menstrual kits to Cameroonian young women while teaching them reproductive health and African-American history. These girls were my sisters. I heard their stories, walking several miles daily during the rainy season to school and using herbal remedies to soothe their menstrual pain.
"I stood in awe of the way they hugged me so tenderly having only known me for a few hours. They went home to mud walls with thatch roofing to shelter their heads, yet lived with a respect and gratefulness for what they had, despite living a vastly harder life than I. As a little girl my hardship was my hair refusing the confines of a bun, wearing pink tights on the way to ballet class in Tokyo. My sisters deserved better than the colonialism that left their tribes and communities impoverished. Yet they smiled, didn’t complain, and carried a remarkable sense of peace. Witnessing this first hand strengthens and inspires me to continue writing poetry, sharing my thoughts, and being open to seeing all that the world has to offer.
"An especially crucial moment on my trip was visiting a historic slave port in Bimbia where we mourned the deaths of our guide Ekeni’s father and my Aunty Carlene’s husband. Ekeni, at 23, was a fearless guide. Aunty Carlene, at 76, came for the humbling act of service, and to spread the ashes of her deceased husband whose DNA had been traced to Cameroon. Amidst the stunning blue ocean of our ancestors, the greatest hug I could provide during their grief was through my words. “Your melanin gives me butterflies / gives me freedom / holds my body when it can't / generations / Aunty Carlene life has left pain on your glass skin / my sister Ekeni walks with a hole in her heart / yet your pain is what teaches me / invisible yet resilient in your smile.”
"The call to action that my spoken word has allowed has been a blessing. I was invited to share a poem during the National School Walkout Against Gun Violence in front of 1,000 classmates. This resulted in an invitation to perform on Chicago’s Heartland Radio Show and at a fundraiser honoring Congressman John Lewis. NBC 5 Chicago later showed up to my backyard to interview me about why I was organizing buses for Father Pfleger's peaceful shutdown of Chicago’s busy Dan Ryan expressway to raise awareness about the need for common sense gun laws, better schools, and community resources. “I am a mover and shaker / I promise I’ll bake her something with a piece of her reality.”
"I see myself speckled through the world in places and things that are disconnected. In middle school my peers didn’t always understand the girl who rambled in Spanish and carried chopsticks in her lunch bag. It didn’t matter because I could always write, putting pen to paper, connecting the world in ways that could only make sense to a black girl who spun dreidels and lit the menorah while participating in the Black Baptist church. You can touch Tokyo in the intellect of my thought, hear Spanish in the roll of my tongue, and see Blackness in the curl of my hair and the flash of my skin."