In creating an imagined family tree for the 1619 Project, I have selected a net of people I find to be the most connected to me mentally, artistically, spiritually and morally outside of my biological relatives.
Parents: Tupac Shakur and Lauryn Hill
Grandparents: Afeni Shakur
Great-grandparents: Medger Evers, James Baldwin
Aunts: Assata Shakur, Nikki Giovanni and Bell Hooks
Uncles: Bayard Rustin, Muhammad Ali, Kanye West
Tupac, my father, is whom I share my multifaceted personality and love for hip-hop music. He would be the father who blasts old school classics on the weekends. While blasting the music, he’d be going room to room making sure everybody was also having fun. I share the cathartic expression that hip-hop allows him to release and connect to mentally. While being the happiest in the room, like Tupac, I can also be the saddest, feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders.
I share my appreciation for soul music and indulge in my blackness through my mother, Lauryn. She is a woman phenomenally sure of her place and encourages women across the world (especially black women) to do the same. She is personable, free and open. She’s definitely the mother to come to when something is wrong. Every one of your friends also comes to her. She would ensure I know who I am as a black woman and affirm my right to be in any space, whether traditionally created for me or not. She’d teach me spirituality, not religiosity. She’d ensure I was connected with God and without feeling compelled to jump through all of man’s hoops to feel accepted by God.
My sense of dignity and purpose comes from my paternal grandmother Afeni.
I share my spirit of fearlessness with Aunt Assata, my grandmother Afeni’s sister. Aunt Assata, one of the world’s examples of fearlessness, is a woman firm in her livelihood. She also refuses to allow the racial realities of our country bind her to places she does not deserve to be in. She would teach me to be sure of myself, strong and purposeful. Like my mother, Lauryn, and grandmother, Afeni, Aunt Assata would teach me early to know myself, find my passion and never stop pursuing what I know to be right.
Aunt Nikki influenced my love of writing and poetry. As a child growing up in both visual arts and theater arts, it was only a matter of time before I discovered the type of art that suited me best and came most natural. Like Aunt Nikki, that would be writing. Aunt Nikki would teach me to value art in all of its forms. I can imagine her taking me to plays, poetry slams and events across the states to see the beauty that lies within artistic expression. Like her, I would learn to formulate phrases that encapsulate lessons, perspectives and experiences. I’d learn to juxtapose ideas, make parallels and paint the picture with my words of reality untold.
My Aunt Bell is whom I share my deep thoughts and love patterns. She spent her whole adult life writing books, essays, articles and talking to people about how to love — whether in spaces of positivity or negativity. Like me, Aunt Bell finds love to be the human factor that pulls us all together and keeps our souls fed and hearts warm. We think the same on many issues of healthy love and the forms it takes. As an aunt, she would be the one I ran to in distress as a child. When I battled personal insecurities and identity trouble or questioned friendship and romantic relationships, she would be my first resort.
My activism and niche for social justice comes from my Uncle Bayard. A leader for most of his life, Uncle Bayard would show me what it means to be as dedicated in media as in real life. He’d support my decision to attend a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) 100%. He’d propel me to find what I am good at and make it work for my people. Born with a heart of compassion, Uncle Bayard would help me mold it into something worth sharing with the world to advance the position of black people across the nation and one day across the world.
I share my work ethic and humor with my Uncle Muhammad. A true Capricorn, he is at the least very calm, collective and happy. However, when it comes to his passion, he is nothing short of persistent, determined and driven. This is what I have from him. He’s the playful, turn-every joke-into-a-lesson uncle. He shows me how to find the laughter and happiness in life and let that be all I need. Laughter is good for the soul.
Uncle Kanye speaks in metaphors, painting pictures with his thoughts. I get my artistry and free spirit from him. He speaks out loud and would teach me to do the same. He would offer me advice to never allow the world to make me someone I am not. No tragedy is greater than the strength I will find overcoming it. He would be one of my favorite people. He’s the uncle who confuses most people who think on different logic. Similar to me, he gets artistically fixated on his craft, finds freedom in solidarity, works to understand the most complex things and wants to share his findings with a world that doesn’t want to listen.
Brianna Nargiso covers social justice for 101Magazine.net. Her imagined family tree is part of the curriculum developed by the Pulitzer Center, education partner with The New York Times Magazine on The 1619 Project.