Photo by Lauren Barkume. Creative Commons license.

Photo by Lauren Barkume. Creative Commons license.

Of course it was Valentine’s Day when I first saw her. We had shared organizing spaces before, but this was the first time I saw her fully. And seeing is believing.

We were a group of 40 or so Black organizers preparing to #BlackBrunch in the predominantly white suburb of Walnut Creek, California. She was coordinating the action. In that first moment I saw her, she was leading the group in spiritual grounding. I saw her, heard her and believed in that moment that we were safe. I felt this collective belief and power course through us as we gathered.

We were going into restaurants and businesses occupied by white faces to read the names of dead Black people. Trayvon Martin. Rekia Boyd. Michael Brown. It’s an inherently traumatic ritual and it cannot be done without a sense of love and trust between us.

She and I had several more run-ins before I had the guts to ask her out — via text, of course. What followed were late nights and early mornings full of laughter and light; deep conversations about the liberation of Black folks; holding hands on the way to shut down an intersection; struggling through the daily reality of what being Black and queer in the struggle for freedom means.

Our Black love has meant more to me than romantic daydreams and escaping reality — it’s meant enduring and celebrating our realities and giving each other the strength to do so.

Our Black love has meant holding each other in tears after Freddie Gray, the Charleston massacre, Sandra Bland. Sometimes it’s meant long talks about how internalized behavior is harming our ability to grow together. More recently, it’s meant sharing the magical moments from Beyonce’s Lemonade and gettin’ our whole lives.

But always, it’s meant knowing that I don’t have to explain my daily existence. Because we are a reflection of each other. And we are wrapped up in each other’s liberation.

As I have loved her in her Blackness, femmeness, truth and spirituality, I have come to embrace those parts of myself that are constantly under attack. She has taught me endless lessons about the person I want to become and helps me see all that I already am.

These lessons are not always easy ones. Every day I grapple with the difference between loving versus needing and wanting. I’m learning that healthy boundaries break down walls and build trust. She teaches me that love does not have to be selfless and unconditional, but that it is patient, committed, present and forgiving. Through her love, I am liberated because I am not bound by the expectations of an ant-Black, transphobic and queer-phobic society.

She has taught me that liberation without love is like macaroni without the cheese: bland and disingenuous.

And that is a lesson I carry with me into every Black space I enter: that organizing without love, care and respect for those around us gets us nowhere and reinforces everything we’re trying to dismantle.

Love — intimate, platonic or communal — is rarely an easy experience when so many of us come into spaces carrying our pain, our woundedness. We are told to throw ourselves into “the work” of revolution without fully understanding that “the work” must be rooted in healing, a culture of care, transparency and community accountability.

Black love is #BlackBrunch, taking the streets in honor of our ancestors and beloved community — and shutting down the Bay Bridge for Black lives.

But Black love is also remembering to breathe, remembering to laugh. Black love is dropping in on a friend we haven’t heard from in a while. Black love is holding each other through unexpected grief. Black love is my sweetie’s hands greasing my scalp and twisting my locks. Black love is all of the gritty, hard work of relationships and friendships that we don’t see on the camera. Black love is knowing and trusting that when we go into a space to fight for our people. We are fighting for each other.

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