Roma Stephens’ Story
I have been to hell and back.
I have seen the army tanks at the edge of my neighborhood in West Dayton.
I have seen my friends be treated like animals.
What I have witnessed has enhanced my blackness and womanhood to become an unyielding protector of my people.
I am proud.
I have been removed from school for celebrating my blackness.
After I took my walk of shame down Germantown Street, James Brown’s voice rang in my head: “Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud.”
It’s not my fault the school couldn’t handle an Afro.
After MLK died the same school who kicked me out allowed us to write a book of comments sent to Coretta Scott King.
My comment was about how I pledged to go to Georgia and fight for my people’s rights.
I went to high school feeling my race being expunged from my soul.
I learned that I sounded white, as an African princess, whenever I spoke.
I learned to be unapologetic for my semantics.
I also took a class on Black History and learned how my country, my home, was built on the backs of my people.
I was and still am a Black Panther sympathizer, silently fighting with and for my people.
I am proud.
I experienced racism at work too.
I was more than qualified for the job.
They told me on the phone to come in for an interview.
When I walked in they said the job had already been filled.
My blackness was shameful for them.
I persevered and I am proud.
College wasn’t any better for my blackness. The school was dominated by young white males, who were a far cry from my black self.
College didn’t work out for me but I still treasure learning outside of the classroom.
I am still a learner, and I am proud.
The more I lived and worked with my people, the more I realized people were working against us.
I have witnessed authority pretend to support the youth of my people.
I have seen and felt what it is like to be an afterthought.
I sympathize with these youth because at heart I still am one.
I just want to give these children a shoulder to cry on and a hand to hold.
I want the world to see that my people’s lives do matter.
I never have nor will I ever give up, because I am proud.
I was married.
For a long time.
He had his issues and I had mine too.
After the mental abuse was too much, I took my son and left.
Our house was barely standing.
I did not care.
For the first time in my life, I felt peace even though I couldn’t afford to eat.
I left and I forgave him because of God’s glory.
I forgave, I returned, and I am proud.
Some days are harder than others.
Some days it hurts to breathe; I am in so much pain.
My health is deteriorating.
I appreciate people helping me, but I just want to be independent.
I have seen the ends of the earth; I can handle my own pain.
But it hurts so much.
I am resilient and I am proud.
I try and try and no one listens to me.
I wish I could just scream “listen to me.”
I want the young women of color to look at me and my story and learn.
I want everyone to look at me and the hell I have been through and learn from it.
I want people to learn that love is always the answer.
I can still love because I am proud.
I am black. I am a woman. I am a matriarch. I am a protector. I am a defender. I am a lover. I am a child of God. I am proud.
This story originally appeared in Facing Dayton: Neighborhood Narratives, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio.