An Open Letter to Open Letters: Write What You Need

I was reading a letter that Malcolm X, then a young Minister in Harlem, wrote to the NYPD in 1957 when police brutality was intensifying in his neighborhood, and it made me shuffle the archive of our History with assessing law enforcement, in which I found a bookshelf of letters written from community leaders to their own communities. These letters affirm how effective and organizing writing is, just as much as marching or sitting in. Granted, there’s favoritism with Writers and how important the profession is because I could not write any other way, but these letters speak volumes about how one does not have to be a professional writer to write in act of protest. One does not have to be a professional in any field to begin participation, especially in solidarity for a necessary social cause.

I do not want to analyze Brother Malcolm’s text, rather what it is that we can learn from open letters. The clarity in his letter is striking because it does not arise out of deliberate metaphor and allegory, but the depth exists in its detailed facts of what actually happened, not only about the topic, but the subject. When our reactions to our social needs stem from what we individually want, it is as if we are demanding nothing at all because we have not reacted to who it is we really need it from.

The emotional truth is that we do not always want to know ‘what actually happened’ because we already feel like we know following a cycle of genocide on our streets. But if I am going to demand answers from a state and its police, a Nation and its President, I am not going to be taken through a process that stems from the same emotional dysfunction that is killing brown boys. I am going to demand of myself the courage, bravery, clarity, and depth to take the Nation’s police through a process of truth, with the topic of humanity and subject of humans. I am going to demand of myself the courage, bravery, clarity, and depth that it takes to organize a process for truth and justice long before truth and justice are under attack.

When I watch the news, and hear of a brown-colored boy who has not even turned 21 being shot excessively until breathless in cold-blood, by a peach-colored man whose hair is turning gray, I suddenly turn cold and feel like throwing everything that I can find at my television, once for the police and once more for the press. I am usually speechless, so I stumble over a rant, and when I finally gather words to mumble, they are none that I find effective to the cause when said out loud because they are angry and violent. This is what actually happens when we initially feel the pressure of being stuck between our given purpose and our Nation’s purpose for us: continuous antagonizing of brown-colored boys and angry, violent reactions individually.

I do not want to analyze how to approach protest writing, necessarily, but when we write for audience before we have written for ourselves, both the topic and subject is ripped from us and scribbled over with ineffective fable and unimportant fluff. However, I do want to extend the necessity of writing about factual information with clarity on ‘what actually happened.’ Because writing is such a subtle, yet intricate process for truth, mainly due to its demand of a writer’s total stillness, the open letter can become more than an individualized POV; the open letter can be a stable for conversation. For we not only need to ask questions, but wait on the answers to them.

I encourage you all to contact police departments, elected officials, and community peers in your neighborhoods, seek investigation, and do this on the basis that they encourage you to vote for them in State and National elections. If we are to mend wounds between so-called minorities and police, if we are to understand law enforcement at all, then we are to assess the role of the legislature that enforces.

Write what you need before we have to ask ‘what actually happened.’ Watch and Pray.



Sister Kahrima


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