On June 5th, Breonna Taylor would have turned 27 years old had she not been fatally shot by police officers on March 13th while sleeping in her apartment.
On June 27th, I will turn 27 years old. And while I’m usually the type of person that is overly obsessed with celebrating their birthday, this year I feel nothing but guilt. Guilt that my life continues while another’s was ended far too soon. Guilt that my life continues while another’s was ended so unjustly. Guilt that I will see the sun rise on the morning of my 27th birthday when Breonna’s sun set at just 26 years old.
As a biracial woman, all of the black lives taken in officer-involved shootings have brought up feelings of unimaginable sorrow within me. But contemplating Breonna’s death on the day of her birth had me wracked with sobs so visceral I was struggling to breathe. My mind jumped from hard questions to harder questions.
How could I, in good conscience, celebrate my birthday this year? How would I explain to my nine month old daughter, Zuri, why mama was so sad on a day that she should be so happy? What will the world look like when Zuri turns 27? Will we still be protesting police violence and institutionalized racism or will all of humanity finally recognize that black lives matter? What could I do to honor Breonna and share my day with her? A friend suggested I let a piece of my 27th year be for Breonna.
In my 27th year, I will give birth to my second daughter, Lucy. Zuri, Lucy and I will wake up to dozens of sunrises and fall asleep, safe in our beds, after dozens of sunsets. While it would be easy to let my guilt over Breonna’s death paralyze me into inaction, I’m choosing to use my guilt and fear and rage and heartbreak as fuel to raise daughters who grow up in a world that never questions whether black lives matter.
I, half-black and half-white, grew up in almost exclusively white suburbs with my fully white, red-headed mother. From a distance most question whether we are related, but if you take a moment to really look there’s no question that I am her daughter. Her skin may be white and mine light brown, but our eyes are the same. Her nose may be narrow and pointed and mine wide and rounded, but we have the same smile. Her hair may be wavy and red and mine curly and dark brown, but we have the same chin.
When I was 7, a woman behind us in the Target checkout line asked my mother whether I was adopted.
When I was 9, a friend meeting my mom for the first time asked skeptically, “Are you sure that’s your mom?”
When I was 14, my mom took me to work with her for the day on the high school campus where she was a college counselor. After leaving the campus for lunch, we returned to find that a report had been filed against her for taking a student off of school property. A coworker had seen the both of us from across the parking lot and (although there were photos of me all over my mom’s office) hadn’t recognized me and assumed that I was a student.
When I was 18, my mom married a white man with three white sons. After one of our first big trips to Disneyland as a family, we sat down together to look over all of the photos. While the rest of my family playfully argued over which ride was the most fun & who wore their mouse ears the best, I sat silently, tears clouding my vision. To the unfamiliar eye, I looked like a stranger who had inserted herself into this white family’s photo. My mom fit in perfectly, but I still didn’t know where I fit in.
One of my most fervent wishes growing up was simply to look like everyone around me; my neighbors, my teachers, superheroes, anyone… I wished I could go to sleep and wake up in the morning with lighter skin, shinier, straighter hair and a narrower nose. Most of all, I just wanted everyone else to think I looked like my Mom.
Although my daughters will be white-passing, I want them to understand why we read Mary Had a Little Glam and Hair Love in addition to Madeline and Nancy Drew. I want them to look up to Michelle Obama and Misty Copeland in addition to Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Taylor Swift. I want them to cheer for Black Panther and Miles Morales in addition to Captain Marvel and Starlord. I want Zuri and Lucy to celebrate their 27th birthdays in a world that Breonna Taylor didn’t; a world that values black lives.
Protesting now is instrumental. Donating now is instrumental. Listening, advocating, and voting now are all instrumental. But long-lasting change to institutionalized racism will only endure if we also surround our daughters and sons with influence of every color.
Zuri and Lucy will grow up saying Breonna’s name. Her story will not be erased.
Morgan Venezia is an Army wife, currently stationed overseas in South Korea. She gave birth to a beautiful girl in 2019 & is currently pregnant with her second daughter.