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©James Naruke " Carowinds" In the middle of the park, this sign is placed on the line that divides North and South Carolina

Epyana Smith's picture


A month and four days have passed and I’m still on edge.


On July 4th my family and I traveled to Carowinds, a very popular amusement park that borders the line between North and South Carolina. As a Black American I have never believed in actively celebrating a holiday based on freedoms not extended to my forefathers. However, I do believe in taking advantage of a day off of work and time with family. When the opportunity to travel to Carowinds, get on rides and enjoy fireworks presented itself, I was ecstatic.


My family is big on staying together when we travel to large public spaces. The entire group of us included 3 mothers, 4 teenagers, my 9-year-old sister with her best buddy, my 8-year-old cousin and myself. After traveling together for hours, somehow during a miscommunication I ended up traveling alone and phoneless with 4 teenagers and my 8-year-old cousin. We had ridden 3 rides before reuniting with the rest of our group.


Suddenly, while eating we saw a crowd of people running. In that moment all I could think of was my little sister, who had been sitting a picnic table away from me. As I stood up, I remember surveying the scene and watching her freeze. I ran to her, picked her up and sprinted to a restaurant for shelter. We ran through the doors with surges of people spilling in after us. While, some were trying to find a way to the back of the restaurant I slid my sister over a counter that acted as a barrier between customers and restaurant staff. I didn’t want to follow everyone else around the barrier to the opening because I was worried my sister would be trampled. When my sister was on the other side I screamed at her to run toward the back of the restaurant to the supply room where my cousin was standing to meet her. As I tried to follow her over the counter, I couldn't bring myself to lift my own weight. I dropped to the ground with everything I had and I could hear my Aunt screaming for me. For a moment, from their perspective, I had disappeared. The worry in my Aunt’s voice was something I had never heard before and after regaining my balance I hopped over the barrier by myself and made it to my family in the supply room.


While in the supply room I held my sister close. No one knew what was happening. As babies cried in the background other women around me screamed out for their children from whom they had been separated. There had to be 30 of us piled in a 10’x10’ room on top of restaurant supplies. My sister looked up at me with watery eyes and asked if we would be okay. I told her what I always told her “as long as I’m here nothing is going to happen to you”, words for the first time I didn’t truly believe myself.  Only that morning, I learned that in some parts of this country you could purchase an AK47 in less than 7 minutes at a local gun shop. Memories of Dylann Roof and the Charleston Massacre were 9 Black people were murdered lingered in the back of my mind. The reality was that no amount of love could shield anyone from the scenarios in my head.  I texted my parents “ I love you.” My sister saw my text and began to cry. I told her to do what I had forgotten… “Arrajah don’t worry pray and I promise it will be okay.”


All of a sudden a worker from the restaurant came to the door of the room and told us we had to leave. As people began to file out I screamed at my Aunt to come back. I looked the man in his face and I told him that none of us were leaving the area until it was secure and they brought a law enforcement officer to explain to the group of us what happened. Everyone who had begun to leave the room came back in. I refused to leave the place that I deemed safe without explanation.


From there we were given three different explanations of what happened. Some News Outlets would later report that loud popping sounds created the disturbance. We left the park immediately. When we got to the car we all held each other out of love and out of fear. On our way back home I sat in the back of the car with my 9-year-old sister and 8-year-old cousin who were both equally traumatized from the experience. I can say honestly that I have never felt closer to death in my life. Off the back of so much terrible news from around the world my mind could only piece together the worse possible explanation for what had happened.


As we drove home playing upbeat music and expressing our feelings about what had just occurred. I couldn't help but think about how my safety as an American felt threatened, every history class and news report of what has been happening in this country and because of this country played over and over again. I never felt like a genuine American before this. Ironically, these feelings presented themselves on the 4th of July. However, they wouldn’t last long.


On July 5th, I learned of the shooting of an unarmed Black man selling CDs in front of a corner store by police, Alton Sterling. An all too familiar feeling rushed over me as I made a conscious decision not to watch the video of his murder. The news of Alton Sterling was quickly followed by a live-streamed Facebook video of the murder of Philando Castile in front of his girlfriend and daughter. That news was followed by the murder of Delrawn Small, not too far from my home, by and off-duty cop after a traffic dispute. The day before I felt that my safety as an American was at risk, only to be reminded that I was never safe in America to begin with.


I’m writing this a month after my experience. The fear is still real. I don’t want to travel to large spaces anymore and my palms sweat uneasily in crowds. When I tell my sister everything will be okay I hate myself for not being able to be sure. The need for stricter gun policy is more important than ever. The need for police reform is long overdue. The truth is MomsRising was the light I found in the dark. For days after what I thought was an attack and after hearing about the unnecessary murders of more of my brothers, I found solace in working with MomsRising. As a vocal Africana Studies and Psychology double major and Black Student Union board member at Mount Holyoke College texts poured into my phone after the killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Delrawn Small.  People called me to vent, rant, and ask questions and cry. After every conversation I encouraged them to go directly to MomsRising to jump-start or continue their involvement in grassroots organizing. Every time I suggested MomsRising I thanked the universe for our existence. When you don’t feel safe anywhere MomsRising reminds you that you have the power to fight against oppression and injustice everywhere.


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