The moment I set foot in Washington, D.C., the day before Donald Trump‘s inauguration, I was instantly filled with remorse. His supporters were easy to identify at Union Station with their White supremacist paraphernalia and palpable glee. They had won a battle they were never really in danger of losing, and while I knew that intellectually, my spirit was still sick.
“Why did I come here?” I asked myself.
It wasn’t for what a Facebook friend dubbed the Million Microaggressions March; the massive gathering of White women in D.C. and around the world to protest Trump and serve as a reminder that when Black lives are on the line, they’re nowhere to be found.
I went to D.C. because the owner of the Busboys & Poets restaurant, Anas “Andy” Shallal, invited people to spend a few hours at the National Museum of African American History and Culture for its annual Peace Ball, a celebration of progressive achievements, joy and resistance.
We all needed to know how we could better survive in an increasingly anti-Black, anti-woman, anti-queer, anti-Muslim, anti-disabled America during the age of Trump.
My tension melted almost immediately after I stepped inside the historic Smithsonian building that housed the relics of achievement and survival of my ancestors.
That shared sense of struggle—that none of this oppression is “new” or unprecedented, despite what some might have us believe—was etched in the walls of the hallowed space.
Behind an elegant spread of food awash in fluorescent lights and surrounded by flowers, was the performance stage, where images of Black Lives Matter protests were projected.
Farafina Kan, a performance art group, provided traditional African drumming to remind us of the sound of resistance, said Sonya Renee Taylor, founder of the Body Is Not an Apology.
Following the steps of our ancestors, the Peace Ball set the tempo of our joy and struggle to the drum beat and, as Taylor said, decided to “unapologetically turn up and turn out.”
The inimitable author, scholar and activist Alice Walker spoke to crowd via phone to share five tools for resistance: kindness, connection to nature, respect for the ancestors, the creation of art and physical movement, “because hard times require serious dancing.”
Prolific poet Sonia Sanchez shared the poem, “Peace,” which conjures up thoughts of our ancestors, history, blues and jazz to have us answer how we can “make the unheard heard, without [them] blowing themselves and the world up.” The cause of peace, she says, “must be the preparation of peace.”
While it’s important to share stories of aspiration, Melissa Harris-Perry noted that “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” Americans cannot truly resist oppression without first taking an honest look at who we are as a nation and how we got here.
“We’re talking about America while we live in ‘Murica,” she urged. So, tell the truth “with a capital T.”
Esperanza Spalding was dazzling in a floor-length dashiki and sporting an afro that rose skyward. While strumming her cello, Howard University choir members arranged themselves in pairs and played patty-cake, reminding us that to resist, we must reclaim the joy of our youth.
The evening culminated in a rousing speech from iconic scholar and activist Angela Davis, who declared the Peace Ball, “The people’s inauguration, the inauguration of the resistance to come.”
Davis reiterated the words of Walker and each of the speakers and performers when she challenged us to continue to create. “We need art, we need music, we need poetry,” she told us before introducing the headliner of the evening, Solange Knowles, as “one who will help us produce the anthems of our resistance.”
Solange’s performance of hits off her number one album A Seat at the Table was ethereal. Decked in white, her voice was a balm on the cuts of a thousand microaggressions.
Mere moments after I witnessed a White woman tousle the natural curls on a Black woman’s head, Solange commanded, “Don’t touch my hair.”
After months, years of hearing people tell us that our anger about oppression, about misogynoir, about the devaluation of queer lives,” Solange explained that we have the right to be mad.
For all of us who’d succumbed to oppressive patterns of behavior after years of being victims of the very same, she told us to fall in our ways, “So you can wake up and rise.”
The event space felt as if were vibrating when she did the equivalent of a mic drop, leaving the crowd feeling less alone and more certain that the hallmarks of Blackness have been and will always be joy, creativity and resistance.
Brooke Obie is the author of the Black revolution novel Book of Addis: Cradled Embers. Follow her on Twitter @BrookeObie.