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  • Writer's pictureKirstie Bender Segarra

The Memory Stored in our Tissues and Cells: Shackled at the Ankles--In Honor of Black History Month

My hands are wrapped around a wooden ladder, my right leg is on an upper rung of the ladder, I look down and there are metal shackles on each ankle, the left foot is on a lower rung and there is a tightness between with the chain that holds them together. As I look up through the hatchway and see the sun, down below it is very dark and dim. It smells of sweat of bodies unwashed.

As my head comes to the top rung I peek on the wooden p

lanked floors and see others with chained ankles lined up to be delivered and sold to the nearest shore. My heart rate is racing, a heavy pounding of rapid rabbit rhythms moving my breastbones and ribs. Simultaneously, I have a sense of being frozen in time--I am not able to move further in the vision, I stuck on the rung of the ladder. I come out of vision as my partner is holding my fused left ankle. I state, this is the first time I connected my ankle fusion to my slave ancestry. It resonated with every cell in my body that this is a truth of how my subtalar joint was fused at birth. Generation of inherited trauma passed on through my paternal lineage.

In 1619, the first slave ship, the White Lion arrived in Point Comfort, now called For Monroe in Virginia. The ship was owned by an English privateer. Several days later a second ship called the Treasure arrived with more slaves. “Both groups had been captured by English privateers from the Spanish slave ship San Juan Bautista. They are the first recorded Africans to arrive in England's mainland American colonies.”

1619 marks the beginning of race-based bondage that defined the African American experience. I believe it lives on in each one of us who carries African American lineage, regardless of how the color of our skin appears due to intermarriages. I have learned t

hat the impact of my grandmothers “passing” in our culture has created a deep sense of loss and grief of losing important traditions and learnings of my personal ancestry. I imagine that I will continue to reclaim and learn from my cellular memory the true impact of slavery on multiple generations. It is clear our current culture is still struggling with the impacts of discrimination against persons of color (black, indigenous, Asian, mixed raced and more). The shackles and chains represent a deep restrained, restriction, loss of freedom, torture, lack of autonomy, torn from birth culture and homelands.

I hope we can all take a brief pause or longer to breath and reflect on the impacts of cultural decisions for profit and how that continues to impact all of us in the NOW and in our bodies.

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