By Onyeka Agwu
Like blackbirds we lived in a constant state of struggle trying to survive. Every time we tried to fly there were others pecking away at our wings. Like that bird, fueled by our need to survive, we learned to soar.
Their eyes bore into her, while the question “Why you wanna fly Blackbird?” begged to be answered. As the silence grew, the words “You ain’t never gonna fly” rang in her head, revealing the unspoken truth.
Sitting in the front of the room surrounded by books, she began. At the drop of each note, a melody ensued and the voice of 12-year-old Eunice followed. Turning, her eyes glossed over the crowd in search of her parents, but they were nowhere to be seen. As she was about to return to her piano, there they were relegated to the back and constrained by their complexion.
Blackbird. A species of birds with strong bills and one not to be confused with another species. Their blackness is a symbol of pure potential. However, common blackbirds spend their time looking for food on the ground where they are infected with ticks. This leaves them exhausted and worn out. Despite their troubles, these birds maintain a high level of alertness even in areas of high predation.
As a black woman, Eunice faced the complex struggles of class, race, and gender. Like a blackbird, she was filled with pure potential but found it hard to experience it because of the pressures of society keeping her down. Although Eunice’s experiences left her brimming with rage, it was this anger that fueled her. Her rage kept her afloat and alert to inequality and racism around her. Using her musical talent, Eunice discovered her identity and full potential as she fought for racial justice.
In 1963, after the assassination of Medgar Evers and the Birmingham church bombing which left four young black girls dead, Eunice, who was now known as Nina Simone, wrote the song “Mississippi Goddam.” Although her song was denied on many radio stations, she used the anthem to raise awareness of racism and inequality. Nina understood that living life in fear was a waste of life. In the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” Nina chants about the passage of life and that there is a time to break down and a time to build up. These verses were ones Nina lived by. Despite the risk of losing her life and being blackballed in the music industry, Nina continued to protest. As an image of “black rage,” she openly expressed her contempt for America and her lack of hope for the future.
Though Simone lived a life of struggle, her fearlessness and passion to uncover the truth taught her that she didn’t need society’s permission before learning how to fly. By living true to herself, she found her passion and reached the potential the world had tried to suppress. Even in a time of severe oppression Simone lived with a conviction that allowed her to fly, silencing the doubts of the Blackbird’s capabilities.
Onyeka Agwu is a class of 2020 Girls Write Now mentee based in Bronx, NY.