Home > Love Is a Revolution

Love Is a Revolution
Author: Renee Watson




1.Find a new hairstyle. According to Grandma, hair is a Black girl’s crown. The thicker and longer the better, so I definitely won’t cut it. But I like to experiment: perm it, dye it, weave it, wig it. This summer, I want to do something I haven’t done before. Maybe I’ll get highlights—chestnut ombré or copper brown. Maybe honey blonde. Subtle of course, just enough to add texture and depth.

2.Find time to spend with Imani, my cousin-sister-friend. We have a plan to hang out with our best friend, Sadie, and binge-watch everything on Netflix that we’ve been putting off because of too much schoolwork. We have a long, long list, but it’s not all senseless entertainment. There are a few documentaries on there too—music docu-series about some of our favorite singers—but still, it’s informative and educational. So our brains will be learning something.

3.(And this is the most important) Find love.

And I want to find love because I want someone’s hand to hold as we roam Harlem’s summer streets. I want to find love because I am tired of being the fifth wheel with Imani and Asher, who act like they’re married, and Sadie and Jackson, who swear they’re not a couple but are always (no, really, always) together. It’s the last week of June and the first weekend of summer break. We’re just months away from being seniors, and I have only had one boyfriend—if I can even call him that. He moved to Philly after just one month of us making it official. And I know New York and Philly aren’t oceans apart, but they’re not around the corner either. We both thought it was too much of a distance for us to make it work. And I want to find love because now I don’t have a date for winter formal, or the prom.

And I want to find love because . . . ​who doesn’t? Who doesn’t want someone to laugh with even when something is corny and only funny if you know the inside joke? Who doesn’t want someone to call at night and talk about tiny things like what are you doing? and want to get something to eat? And big things like what’s the one thing you want to do before you die? and what are you afraid of? and who do you want to be in the world?

I want that.

But right now, it’s not about what I want. Right now it’s all about Imani, my cousin-sister-friend. It’s her birthday, and I promised we could do whatever she wants. And of all the things Imani could want for her birthday, she jumps up off her bed and says, “Nala, do you want to come with me to the talent show tonight?

What I really want to say is absolutely not. First of all, it’s raining. All of Harlem is drenched and somber. It would be one thing if it was just regular rain. But no. This is hot New York summer rain. This is a steamy downpour that just makes the air even more muggy and humid. What am I going to do with my hair tonight?

But a promise is a promise, so I get dressed and agree to venture out in this hotter-than-a-sauna storm because I’d do anything for Imani, my cousin-sister-friend, who shares her mom and dad with me. I’ve been living here since I was thirteen, when I got into a fight with Mom and I stormed out to spend the night at Aunt Ebony’s and I’ve been living here ever since. I’m seventeen now. Six months younger than Imani, and she never lets me forget it, as if being six months older than me really counts. There is no mistaking that we are family.

Whenever we go to Jamaica to visit our relatives, people we don’t even know come up to us, saying, “You must be one of the Robertsons.” Some people even think we’re sisters—we look just like our mommas, who look just like each other. Strong genes, Grandma always says. Imani and I are what Grandma calls big boned. That’s in our genes too. Imani always rolls her eyes whenever Grandma uses any other phrase for “fat” except the word “fat.” “It’s not a bad word unless you use it in a bad way,” Imani always says. “I’m fat. It’s just a description. It doesn’t have to cast negative judgment.”

And this is where we differ. I am not down with the Say-It-Loud-I’m-Fat-and-I’m-Proud movement. I don’t have low self-esteem or anything, I just don’t feel the need to talk about my weight or make statements about it or reclaim a word that was never mine in the first place.

I sit on Imani’s bed. “So tell me what’s going to happen tonight.”

“A talent show,” she says. Imani dabs her wrists with an oil she bought from a street vendor on 125th. I can hardly smell it, it’s so soft. Then she pulls her chunky braids up in a ponytail. Sadie did her hair two days ago so it still has that I-just-got-my-hair-done look.

“What’s the prize?” I ask.

“I don’t know. A trophy, maybe. Or a certificate. I can’t remember. But who wins isn’t important,” Imani says.

“Easy for you to say. Tell that to the performers.”

“Well, what I mean is, it’s a talent show to raise money and awareness. It will be promoting Inspire Harlem and raising money for our activism programs,” she says. “So it’s more about the gathering and being together and raising money than someone winning a prize.”

I try really hard not to roll my eyes. “So, this is how you want to spend your birthday? At an Inspire Harlem talent show?”

“Don’t start with me, Nala. You asked me what I want to do and this is what I want to do. We’re going to Harlem Shake afterward. Does that make it better for you?”

“It’s not about me. It’s about what you want,” I say. I mostly mean it.

“It’s never about what I want,” Imani mumbles.

She thinks I didn’t hear her, but I did. I definitely did. “What is that supposed to mean?” I ask.

She ignores my question and keeps talking. “I don’t know why you don’t like my Inspire Harlem friends.”

“I like them,” I say. And then I mumble just like she did, but softer to make sure she doesn’t hear me. “They don’t like me.”

And here is Reason Number Two why I don’t want to go: Imani and her Inspire Harlem friends. Inspire Harlem is an organization for Harlem teens that does community service projects and hosts awareness events about various social issues. Imani has been trying to get me to join for the past year. But I don’t know, they’re a little too . . . ​well, let’s just say I don’t think I’m a good fit.

The last Inspire Harlem event I went to was an open mic. The theme was Love Is Love. I thought it would be a night of love poems, sweet and beautiful sentiments about relationships with parents, partners, friends. But no. The first poem was an I-Love-to-Hate-You poem recited by a girl who wrote a poem to her ex-girlfriend. There were poems about loving people even though they aren’t worthy of love and poems about how America doesn’t love Black people, or Native people, or immigrants, or women.

It was not the Roses-Are Red-Violets-Are-Blue kind of poems I am used to.

And I should have known it would be that way. All the teens in Inspire Harlem are activists, which sometimes feels like a word that means their opinion is the only one that matters. I guess I just don’t know if I could live up to the standards they have.

Just last night, Imani went through the junk drawer in the kitchen and threw out all the plastic straws Uncle Randy has been saving from delivery and takeout. “Isn’t throwing away the unused straws just as bad as if I had used them and then thrown them away?” he asked.

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