How to heal from the trauma of an anti-Black past
It frustrates me that years in the Lake Oswego School District still take up space in my brain. The city that shrunk my once-gigantic world down to one suburb finds new ways to punish me. It manifests in the painful memories themselves, as well as the new understanding of just how messed up things were. It also frustrates me that the expectation seems to still be that Black children are supposed to solve the age-old problems of the town.
It's a lot to move with, and there are many from this town who carry it around wherever they go. If the city only needed three years to work itself into my DNA — when I was still reeling from the sudden death of my mother and the tragic loss of a beloved cousin in 2015 — I can only imagine the challenges Black people face who live their whole lives in LO. I dealt with anti-Black taunts from my peers, racist graffiti on the walls and an administration that danced around its rot until it no longer could. I've tried to find hope when that same administration would eventually feign interest in positive change, only to watch them retreat to the status quo and the stability it provides each time. Sometimes I still find myself balling my fists as the memories take over.
Beyond issues of race and prejudice, the town is an anomaly. I've lived in many places, from the West Coast to New England to South Africa and back. There's none other like LO. Maybe that's why so many people find their way back there, and children attend the same schools their parents did, and the strange language of the city moves through generations.
It took me a long time to remember that there was life before Lake Oswego. I remembered this through revisitations of the world I once knew, visiting family in Ottawa, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Rwanda. I've taken solitary drives up and down the Golden Coast and visited friends, including reconnecting with a few old ones from South Africa and exchanging old photos and words of love. I even wrote a novel and was reintroduced to a boy who loved to tell stories.
In my life after LO, I reflect on a lesson that's been brought to me in many forms since I left: it's hard to let go of pain while holding onto the thing that gave it to you. So, while I still find myself attached to the town in a couple ways, the plan is to dissociate entirely. There's an ocean of respect in my heart for those who still fight for the improvement of this small town. But out of love and respect for a broken 14-year-old boy who neglected his own wounds to lick those of a town that wasn't even his, now I choose myself. And I want the Black children of this town to know that they can do the same.
Daniel Nsengimana attended Lake Oswego High School from 2014-17, where he was heavily involved in issues of race and social justice. He still resides in PDX, and his current main focus is publishing his novel. More information can be found at childrenofthesunbook.com.
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