Below is the final post from De’Jonnae Boyd, our Marketing & Special Events Coordinator, who left HRI today. She has written about her personal journey in this position and what she has learned during her time at HRI and in Dallas. De’Jonnae’s post is deeply personal and she does not speak for Human Rights Initiative as a whole in this post.
I interviewed for the Marketing and Special Events Coordinator position from my breezy living room in Almeria, Spain. I had a feeling that Texas was all the heat an east coast girl needed. I read the job description and parsed the website, still I had no clue what I was walking into. For the past year I’ve combed through hundreds of headlines like “An Undocumented Teen Gains Asylum With The Help Of His Undocumented Lawyer”, “Sessions Makes His Case for Why Illegal Immigrants Must Be Held Accountable”, “There’s Something Great About the Muslim Ban” and “Illegals Flood the U.S. Border Amid Immigration Crackdown”. But no headline can fully blueprint what it means to be an undocumented immigrant or asylum-seeker who has been tortured and abused, having landed in the United States of America in search of the American Dream and protection.
As Desmond Tutu once put it, “my humanity is yours, for we can only be human together”; this quote resonates with me as a core ideal. It’s hard to imagine what the denial of humanity looks like until you’ve come face to face with it. During one of my first intakes I sat across from a man, Byron*. His skin was the color of midnight, his eyes a pale yellow. I didn’t quite know what to expect. He started, “I just wanted to advocate for the LGBTQ community in my country, I’m not gay, but they shouldn’t be denied rights because of who they love.” Byron went on to explain in gruesome detail the abuse he had suffered because of his advocacy, being beaten with a pole, raped by several officers, having his jaw broken, hiding in the countryside for years before finding a way out of the country safely (because visas to the U.S., and the E.U. are hard to come by, especially when you’re an average working class citizen). As Byron told his story his eyes glossed over, and he silently stared off into the distance, two women staring at him waiting for what courts call ‘proof of credible fear’. I’ll never forget the look in Byron’s eyes as he struggled to tell us in detail how he’d been raped by the very men who preached their hatred of homosexuality. I struggled to understand why Byron would advocate so fiercely for a group of people whose plight was not his own.
During another intake I met Sybil* who had fled her home country in order to protect her baby girl Rose from female genital mutilation. Again, I was left wondering, ‘why?’.
This past year has taught me what it means to carry the burden of humanity, even when the fight to been seen as human is not my own. Coupled with the deteriorating ideal of the American Dream, the ability to live one’s life hinges upon privilege During this year, I have learned that it is our duty as freedom fighters to advocate for those who lack privilege; those whose melanin and whose bank accounts reflect the generations of disenfranchised communities and corrupt political systems.
I’m baffled at the times we’re living through. Times where an executive order and the stroke of a pen denies humanity – access – to others who bleed just as red as the citizens of the United States of America do. I am baffled at those who sit with arms folded scanning headlines that read “At least 10 Dead, Dozens More Found in Back of Tractor-Trailer’ thinking to themselves, “they shouldn’t have come here illegally, that’s what those illegals get”. Really, it’s astounding that the same people who cry “they should have gotten a visa” are those whose ancestors migrated visa-less to the Americas in search of the American Dream.
Within weeks of moving to Texas, I was moved from a place of sympathy to a place of action. I learned quickly that action is what holds humanity together and that it looks differently for each of us. For some, action is praying the rosary in a dimly lit closet. For others it is advocating for the LGBTQ community even when you’re as straight as the Nullarbor Plain; it’s protesting when a Black mother’s son is gunned down in the street, even if your own child hasn’t a care in the world because he doesn’t fit the description.
Action for me has been mentoring a young girl from Fair Park;
it has been a guessing game over dinner with Iraqi refugees, Inam and Ferrell, because Google Translate clearly has no interest in translating Arabic into comprehensible English. Action for me has been countless protests and vigils, mourning for the young boys who perished at the hands of those entrusted to protect them. Action has been navigating racial reconciliation as a black woman in predominantly white spaces. Action is not always easy, it’s not always comfortable but it is how we carry humanity forward, it is how we carve a path for all to equally access the American Dream.
Working here at HRI has taught me that together we must carry this sense of duty and the burden of humanity which requires us all to fight like hell until even “the least of these” have access to the dream, The American Dream, to Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. I will carry with me the question ‘who are we to deny access to the immigrant or the darker brother?’.
Because the truth is that our silence and inaction makes us complicit in that denial. We have an obligation to see the humanity in our brethren, to empathize -knowing that only together can we be human and that the American dream tastes best when we’re each equally given an opportunity to live it.
-De’Jonnae Boyd, Marketing & Special Events Coordinator
*Names have been changed to protect our client’s identity.