Nita studied the plaque on the eighteenth step of the Lincoln Memorial, honoring the very spot where Dr. King gave his famous speech. The eighteenth step, as all the steps, were crowded with protestors.
At least five people had megaphones. At least five different chants were fighting to be heard at that very minute. Despite the noise, the swell of chaos gathering under Lincoln’s stoic gaze, Nita took another full minute to take in the plaque before she turned to go looking for Earnest.
Mostly, things had been peaceful. A few counter protesters clashed here and there but mainly things were festive. Flags of all flavors could be seen over the grounds of the nation’s capital. African Flags, Jamaican flags, rainbow flags, and many versions of the American Flags. Skirmishes broke out in pockets, sometimes catching steam but mainly coming and going with the marching.
Nita checked her phone. Nothing from Earnest. Six texts from her mother. Each more concerned than the last. Nita had three reasons for coming to the capital on June 19th, and her mother only knew a third of them.
“No Justice, No Peace,” prevailed. It’s what she saw mostly on signs and flags and shirts and stickers. Others read Justice for Jacob, or Tamir, or Ahmaud, or George, or Trayvon, or Eric. Or, pick a name—the list went on and on and Nita wondered if there might ever be a memorial erected to honor the victims.
Nita swallowed the thought and continued making mental notes. She would be writing a story on this—most of it—for the Crawford High newspaper (make that reason Number Four). She figured she’d better get some work done.
A few steps ahead and she stood on her tippy toes. The National Guard stood in front of the actual Memorial. The way they were lined up, in full gear… Us vs. Them, Nita scrawled in her thought journal. Behind them, in the shadows, the sixteenth president sat safely roped off. She chuckled, thinking if only he’d had that kind of security up the road at the theater all those years ago. Now, looking past the guards, the president sat like the stone he was, hands down, looking over the festivities. She couldn’t be sure, but he seemed to be holding back a smile. Or maybe not.
She sent a text message to Earnest. He was, after all, reason Number Two of why she was there. Now sixteen, Earnest stood nearly six feet tall, with broad shoulders and strong, well-defined arms, the results of all his odd jobs and physical labors. Nita had noticed, in more ways than one, how her best friend had grown into a young, handsome man. Less boyish and more like a, well… Anyway, while Earnest’s features made her sometimes take a second look at her old friend, it also brought other, less desirable attention.
Nita had talked him into joining her. Maybe because every time she saw a young black man’s face on the news she saw her best friend. On the way up, Earnest driving his father’s car because his little clunker would have never made it, he’d actually listened this time instead of laughed as Nita spoke about how important it was to her that he be more aware, more cautious. She went over how to carry himself in certain situations.
Maybe he listened because of what had happened last winter, while knocking on doors in the rich part of town, asking to shovel driveways after it had snowed. All a misunderstanding in the end, but the point had finally wormed its way to his head. He no longer shrugged it off or changed the subject when she pleaded with him now. Instead, he retreated into himself, went quiet.
Nita gave up her search. There was no way to find him, not amongst the thousands of people in the area. Nita took solace in the fact that it was a mixed crowd. White, Hispanic, Asian, all shades of skin could be found, supporting the cause. It gave her hope. but still, where was Earnest?
Nita’s breath caught. Her phone showed two pm. She nodded to herself, as a mini marching band paraded up the steps and four dreadlocked men with black and orange bandanna’s turned on their heels and stood opposite the guardsmen.
The drumroll coincided with Nita’s rapid heartbeat. She closed her eyes, reminded herself to breath, and made her way to the bottom of the steps. Sixteen years of waiting had come down to these final moments. Reason Number One was somewhere in the sea of faces.
After years of begging her mother relented. She’d given Nita her father’s name. Jamar Reed. Crawford High school. Class of 1999.
Her mother said they’d had a falling out. He went out west without knowing about the pregnancy. He’d never known. Not until Nita’s big story broke through.
Three years ago, Nita had written a story on her neighbor who had been falsely imprisoned. It went viral. Nita’s life changed forever.
Her father had called.
She hadn’t known what to think at first. She didn’t trust him. He took it slow. Then, last week, he’d said he was going to be at the rally.
Now he was an activist. Nita’s mother had said it figured. She’d always told Nita her stubbornness came from him.
Shuffling down the steps, Nita told herself she wasn’t nervous. But who was she kidding? The only thing worse than an awkward situation with her father was him not showing up at all. Nita didn’t know if she was prepared to deal with that scenario.
She arrived at the meeting spot. A black man in colonial garb stood on crate, calling out a litany of grievances against old King George III.
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us…
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world…
He was railing against King George and the British monarchy when someone spoke into Nita’s ear.
“Where have I heard this before?”
Nita started talking before she turned around. “It’s the Declaration of—”
She locked eyes with him. She knew instantly, from the deep brown of his eyes, to the nose she’d seen in the mirror. Her father, in the flesh, with a smile spreading across his face.
All was forgotten. Nita fell into him with a hug. He ooofed, but reciprocated, and they locked in an embrace while the man continued down his list.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging war with us…
Nita pulled away from her father and looked him over. Black cargo shorts, black shirt that read Jesus was Black Like Me. An African medallion around his neck. Boots. Yep, her mother would not be pleased to know where she was and whom she was with, that was for sure.
“So,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “Are you on a story?”
Nita smiled. “Kind of,” she said, wondering what happened to her voice, why it was so high pitched. Had he been keeping up with her stories? Nita did her best not to look impressed. Too late, her father smiled broadly. It was a nice smile, she thought.
“I’ve read everything, Nita. Went all the way back to the archives. You, are one talented lady. I’ll say that.”
Nita looked to her feet, nearly gushing from the compliments. The colonial man was now proclaiming the king to be a tyrant, unfit to be the ruler of free people. Nita’s father motioned for them to seek quieter place. Nita remembered Earnest.
“Yes,” she said, craning her neck to look around. “It’s just, I’m with a friend, and I’m not sure where he is.”
Her father arched an eyebrow. “Friend, huh?”
Oh, he was not going to do this, she thought. Sure, she was flattered he’d done his research, but Nita was not about to let him go paternal on her, after three minutes of meeting her, nonetheless. She looked him head on. “Yes, a friend. Someone I’ve known a long, long time.”
Longer than you. She wanted to say.
On cue, her phone dinged. Earnest, with great timing for once.
At the Smithsonian. This place is crazy.
So he’d already managed to scamper off. Nita glanced at her father. Her father. She could barely say the word in her own head. She pecked out a reply.
I’m with him now. So weird.
That’s why I got lost. Relax and get to know him. See you in while. Text me if you need me.
Amazing, she thought, that he’d leave her here to do this alone. Then again, maybe it was easier this way. How was she to know? Her brain was scrambled.
“So, take a walk?”
Nita nodded. “Sure.”
*This story involved a young adult version of Nita Simmons, the main character of my middle grade debut, Justice in a Bottle. While I won’t be pursuing this, it’s fun to write….