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The country is on fire. Racism is the fuel.  My hometown, Louisville, KY is one of the hotspots. I'm trying to make sense of it all, as I sit in my apartment here in Houston.  I am a second year graduate student at the University of Houston.  I graduated from the University of Kentucky in Lexington last year.

Racism hits different in Lexington, Kentucky. That’s just another way of saying you will inevitably experience blatant racism there. This morning, my sorority sisters from UK and I discussed the shock of growing up in Louisville and then moving to Lexington. For me, that shock was even greater because even though I was born in Louisville, I left when I was three. I grew up in Montclair, New Jersey. As towns go, it's about as progressive as it gets.  So coming back to Louisville, was a bit of culture shock.

We all discussed being called a nigger for the first time and when we first discovered the slave mural at UK.   The slave mural is located in memorial hall, the iconic building that is used in the university's logo.  I see it on my diploma hanging on my wall everyday as a subtle, yet constant reminder of racism

Kennedy Guess (holding the sign) at the student takeover of the University of Kentucky's adminstration building listening to the university president, Dr. Eli Capilouto.

Even in the diversity utopia of Houston, Texas the racism of Lexington still haunts me.

I feel so safe in Houston. I’ve never entered a room and been the only person of color. The police officers are people of color, the mayor is black.  The president of the University of Houston is an Indian woman, and the county judge is Latina. I’ve been so happy.  I try to forget what happened in Lexington. We did everything we could my senior year to combat the racism. We occupied the main building, called the media and demanded civil rights. We eventually won. Of course that was a minor victory in a much larger battle - the mural is still there.  As a concession the president decided to cover it.

I left Kentucky thinking I had left the effects of racism behind. I was wrong.

A couple of weeks ago,  I looked on the news and I saw my city, my hometown Louisville, Kentucky and the words police brutality in bold. I quickly research what happened. Breonna Taylor. I read the details of her murder. The events that took place were unfathomable. I was horrified.

Eventually things began to escalate. The people in Kentucky were fed up. They took to the streets in protest. They were tired of a system that was built against us.

But this time I wasn’t a part of the fight. I was at home, watching it on TV, on the phone with my family getting a blow by blow.  I felt helpless. The first place I really considered home, was on fire. I expected this from Lexington, not Louisville. In the middle of a pandemic...people were outraged. They didn’t care about catching the virus. They just wanted change.

But then the narrative took a huge turn right in front of my eyes. You hear gunshots and people running... then I check twitter and see a horrendous tweet. 7 shot during peaceful protests. I hoped it wasn’t true. A day or so later, I heard that a beloved restaurant owner was shot and killed by the police during a protest.

How? How had all of this happened so quickly. Cities all over the world are seeing America’s not so secret, secret revealed in real time. Racism is real, inevitable, and deadly. It’s killed innocent men and women. It’s divided a country that wasn’t so together in the first place. But through it all, I still see small glimmers of hope.

This morning I received an email from my program director at the University of Houston. Her message was simple and powerful. I appreciate you, I see you and I stand with you in this time. I realized although I’m still haunted by Lexington, I’ve found evidence that diversity and harmony are possible. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it and I really hope soon the rest of the world will too.

A conversation has begun. People are finally talking about it. White America seems to finally be getting the message that so many in Black America have known for centuries.  Right as I was finishing this piece, I got an email from my alma mater. Because of the racial climate in the nation, the president of the UK decided to permanently remove the slave mural.  The pain, tears and anguish from those of us sitting in front of him last year led him to decide to cover the slave mural.  George Floyd and Breonna Taylor's deaths convinced him to remove it.

It's not just UK. Other organizations are taking things to the next level.  The NFL has admitted that they were wrong about the player protests. Major companies like Nike, and Target are making statements condemning racism and affirming Black Lives.

Everyone has had to face this ugly elephant in the room. It’s a shame and simply terrifying that so many people had to die in order for them to get this point. It didn't have to be this way.

I really hope this conversation continues and these glimmers of hope can lead to real lasting change.  And most importantly, I hope that no one else has to die in order for that change to continue.


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