Contest Winner (Third Place): Zarion Irby

Young Leaders In Action

Original Spoken Word

To Breathe.
One simple movement of your lungs expanding and contracting
A function that happens in all bodies
When you breathe, you are filled with life
When you breathe your hair stands on the edge of your skin
As you begin to feel the calmness and restoration that comes with a breath.
When you breathe there is a second in which the whole world ceases to stop.
A second in which you no longer feel the trauma of your life
But rather the peace of that breath.
When you breathe an overwhelming sense of home
Courses through your veins
Reminding you that you never want to go without breath again.
But that is the thing.
Is getting hard
For me
To breathe.
It is getting hard for me to breathe because I look at the world around me and see violence.
Videos appear on my screen
Photos plastered throughout my feed
Recurring on a loop with no end
Another black man shot dead
Screaming out for his mother as he’s beaten by police.
Another black boy witnessing the world tell him he is undeserving.
It is getting hard for me to breathe because I am constantly saying the names of black people murdered by
I am constantly watching black lives turn into trendy hashtags that make my white counterparts feel a
little bit more liberal
It is getting hard for me to breathe because everywhere I turn there is another race to run
Another battle to fight
Another hill to climb
Another body to bury
And I don’t know whether
Or not
I am surrounded constantly by the mass sharing of black trauma
Further perpetuating the idea that my life will not reach the concept of joy

It will not reach the idea of a future
It will not reach beyond that glass screen that confines me to stereotype that devalues my very humanity
I am operating on a manual breath because society isn’t allowing me the courtesy of an automatic one.
My chest is under the pressure of the entire world
Slowly taking away the little breath I have left.
So when do I get to take my breath?
When do my lungs get filled with privilege?
When do my lungs get filled with safety?
When do my lungs get filled with joy?
When do I get to breathe?

As I reflect on the question I realize that it is not only that I am not allowed to breathe
Or that I can’t breathe
Or that I simply haven’t tried
No our world has been so infused with chaos, violence, and fear
That it has intoxicated our air to the point where it is no longer breathable
An atmosphere that allows 6 year olds to face down the barrel of a gun
Not knowing that it was recess they’d be missing that day
Not knowing it was snack time they’d be missing that day
Not knowing that their teacher would lay down their life for their best friend that day
Not knowing that they were going to miss out on the rest of their lives
An atmosphere in which a human being is placed in a box
Distorted in order to mesh with the walls closing in little by little
That is not your body they say
That is not your choice they say
That is not the love you are suppose to have they say
That is not the political party you are supposed to belong to they say
That is not the manner of tone you are suppose to speak in they say
They say
They say
They say
The words filling the air toxifying and constraining
A battlefield of comments, likes, and retweets
decaying the very ground on which we walk
The question is are they right?
Do I get to breathe?
Do you get to breathe?
Do we get to breathe?

Take a breath in
And another out
How are we making an impact?
How are we creating an atmosphere online that caters to the empathy we should have in our day to day
I do not want to live in a world in which one is confined to a reality that is not their own.
Because where there is chaos there is peace
Where there is violence there is gentleness
Where there is fear there is safety
Where there is sympathy there is even more empathy
Where there is hate there is love
And I want to love.
I want to love and be loved
Cared for and care for others
I want to look another human in their eyes and know that i’ve made an impact on their lives
And we can do this
We can love
We can hope
We can dream
We can love every part of our skin
We can love for love is love
We can
We can
We can
And we are.
We are the voices of the future that also recognize the past
We are the people who can love even when everyone else hates
We are the hope of our generation
We want to be the impact that provides that next generation with a breath of fresh air
Not befuddled with the toxicity of the air we breathe now
A breath of peace
A breath of love
A breath of joy

Name: Zarion Irby (he/him)

What is the inspiration behind your project?: The chaotic nature of our world and the idea of this chaos creating toxicity in the air we breathe.

Reflect on what you hope to communicate through your project: I hope to communicate to others that our world has so much chaos, violence, and hate. But, within all the chaos, violence, and hate there is a generation of youth that can break down barriers and build a new world that thrives off of love and hope for the future.

How do you hope your project will make an impact for yourself and/or others? : I hope it encourages others to think deeply about the spread of traumatic videos and how it impacts communities of color. Also, emphasize the ways in which social media can aid in harmful hate speech and insecurities. However, also recognizing that the current state of the world is not the end, but rather a starting point to marathon of change and reform. Technology and social media are not all bad, so encouraging others to take different approaches when posting, commenting, and interacting with social media.