Most days as I lay, brushing my fingertips across my remote, skimming social sites, clinging to the edges of my newspaper, scanning the screen, within my vision I only see the dark sides of Black existence and the history which stands within it. I see only those who were enslaved and taught to obey their masters, given lashes and lynchings, beaten and killed by policemen, racially profiled and given unfair treatment in the courtroom, segregated and discriminated against. I see those who were taught to hate their melanated skin, afro-centric hair, big lips, and big noses. I see us mentioned only in movies like 12 Years a Slave, The Birth of a Nation, Harriet, Selma, and The Hate You Give. I see shows such as When They See Us and Monster on apps like Netflix. I hear about individuals such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rodney King, Rayshard Brooks, and Michael Brown. Within my mind I start to wonder: Is this all we are? Is this all of what the Black community has become, and shall be?

But as I sit on the corner of my couch and unlock the treasure chest of Black greatness, I see another world. My mind begins to migrate to a state of Black excellence — maneuvering, approaching a form of Black existence that some may not be aware of. I slowly enter a trance and, hypnotized, I am delivered to an alleyway full of powerful beings who look like me. In this vision, I am fascinated and astonished by the wave of Black artistry — music artists like Beyonce, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, Missy Elliot, Nas, Tupac, Biggie, Lil Wayne, Queen Latifah, and Diddy — who speak and sing, and show us that we are talented. That we are special and can be super stars.

Next, I am captivated by all the powerful Black actors, Including Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes, Michael B. Jordan, and Chadwick Boseman, who prove that our young Black boys can make it  to the big screen. Alongside them are actors like Viola Davis, Jada Pinkett Smith, Angela Bassett, Taraji J. Henson, and Regina King, who play roles demonstrating what a strong Black woman looks like. We have Black shows like Black-ish, Moesha, The Parkers, Fresh Prince, The Wayans Brothers, and The Proud Family. These are shows that illustrate Black style, Black lingo, and the experiences of Black families in a very unique and profound structure, bringing into awareness that family is what holds us together and keeps us strong.

Then I see in my mind inspirational African Americans who set the tone and empower other Black people to prosper and always find a way — to fight for what we want no matter what society thinks of us. I see them: Barack Obama, Sha’Carri Richardson, Kamala Harris, Amanda Gorman, Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, and Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Soon enough, my brain switches again, rearranging itself to show me the Black activists of our time who have taught us to never be defeated, to never back down, to speak truth, and to stand tall with our heads raised. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcom X, the Black Panthers, Angela Davis, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and Madam C.J. Walker are there.

Next my thinking rotates to the business aspect of Blackness. Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, Kanye West, Tracy Ellis Ross, Jay Z, and Patti Labelle all give us belief that Black people can create, establish, and market our own identities, making it possible to construct a fortune, by just having a plan, sticking to it, and efficiently carrying it out.

Throughout my vision of who and what we can celebrate as Black people, I realize that everyone I see gives us confidence and uplifts us. I see models like Naomi Cambell, Tyra Banks, Grace Jones, Winnie Harlow, Slick Woods, and Lizzo. They show us that our nappy hair, braid extensions, dreads, lace fronts, and closures can be attractive and incredible. That our curvy hips and round bottoms can be seen as beautiful. Our bodies are a work of art.

I sometimes wonder if Black love is real. Do we have the capability of using our voices to spread the word of god? Where are those who uphold strong trust, belief, and love within the lord? As my state of mind escapes, and runs away from other things, it eventually leads me to Morris Chestnut & Pam Byse, Courtney B.Vance & Angela Bassett, Denzel Washington & Pauletta Washington, and Viola Davis & Julius Tennon, who move and flourish as power couples. They stay bound, connected, entangled with one another, proving to us that Black love can transfigure and renew into something amazing. That Black love can be embodied, tangible, and substantiated.

Lastly, my mind goes to persons such as Tasha Cobbs, Kirk Franklin, Karen Clark Shierrad, Tamela Mann, Le’andria Johnson, and Erica Campbell — those that have used the will within their vocal cords and their fondness of spiritual expression to touch and save an abundance of Black souls, navigating us to a higher power. They help us operate in a godly form, activating and routing us to higher vibrations, giving us a high level of frequency within our outer and internal flesh.

"I wish ... to be able to walk in absolute and unapologetic Blackness."

All this to say that the Black role models and influencers we have within our community are the ones I see as my guardian angels, spirits who protect me from allowing myself to believe that I am unworthy. They are the stars that hold a huge part of my internal existence. Theirs are the voices in my head that reassure me of my significance. They’re the people I think of when I need to feel strong and unfazed. They’re what I long to be when I look upon my reflection. They’re the stepstool I use when I need to reach and climb out to higher manifestations. I see them as an ax I use in order to be able to break through barriers and overcome certain obstacles. Their clothes are the ones I wish to wear to be able to walk in absolute and unapologetic Blackness, in order to present myself with stamina and authority. They’re the medicine I hope to ingest to be healed from the negative thoughts that cause me to stand in my own way. Their hands are the ones I hope to have when I’m on my knees bowing and surrendering to god, asking him to help me grasp my destiny.

They are also the marker I use when I need to check off the things that I’ve accomplished even through the storm. They’re the umbrella I use to shield myself from the rainy days. They’re the blanket I use when I begin to sense inner coldness. I wish to wear their shoes when I want my footsteps to possess determination and grit. They’re the bat I hope to swing to beat off all the ‘NO’s and the ones who may be praying for my downfall. They’re the hammer and nails I hope to use when I see myself beginning to fall short. They’re the glue and tape I use to seal myself back intact. They’re the map and compass I use to find the power I hold and travel to what I can become. They’re the ruler I use to measure out my life in a way that's best for me in the now and the future. They are the straightener I use to straighten out my intentions and aspirations. They’re the pen I use to write out the steps I must meet to reach the mountain top. They’re the screwdriver I use to screw in what I want to be remembered as. And they’re the scissors I use to cut out the individuals that may wish to belittle me and discredit me as I elevate.

All in all, my people, my culture, Black excellence, and the Black community are who and what encourages me to believe, just like how my ancestors believed that a new generation could be more than just a n*gger. They believed that someday we could be wealthy and Black, reaching over and beyond — a belief which resulted in them holding on, even though at many moments, they were being transferred to slave ships and placed on plantations — so that we could be born and see brighter days.

Anyla is a student at Walla Walla High School. She aspires to become a poet, short story writer, and essayist speaking about racism against Black people, current world problems, and hot topics. When she writes, she does it with purpose and passion. Anyla feels destined to touch others with her words, and wants to be known as someone who takes a stand and impacts lives with her writing.