New beginnings

In Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, the main character Milkman struggles with finding himself in his life. He goes from being a selfish and reckless teen to a compassionate young adult and many people can relate to the problems that he faces in life including myself. At the beginning of this semester, I was given a course epigraph that stuck with me for the rest of my semester.“You just can’t fly on off and leave a body.” As a result of reading into this epigraph and keeping it with me for these past couple of months, it has indeed helped me grow. Struggling the first couple of weeks with the workload I was receiving along with trying to find my place on campus was challenging to say the least. Fortunately, I knew that I couldn’t give up on myself. If this epigraph has taught me anything, it’s that no matter what challenges you face, you can’t give up. 

Coming to Geneseo was something new and intriguing for me. Being born and raised in NYC was always something that I enjoyed growing up. After being there for many years, you often get tired and want to experience something new. Going into my senior year of high school, I knew that I wanted to leave the city for college, and with the support from my family, friends, and teachers, I was able to do just that.  It was very tough coming here and getting out of my comfort zone. I didn’t have any friends when I first moved in because I was the only kid from my high school to come here. I went from living with my family and seeing them all the time to living with someone I never met beforehand. Moving from a big city to a small rural place was tough but I knew that I could overcome everything I was feeling and make it seem like home.

Starting off the semester was a real challenge for me because I had to get used to this environment while also getting used to the workload. I am not a big reader so when this semester started and I had to read several chapters of textbooks and books every week, it was hard for me to focus. Due to COVID and being online for the last two years of high school, my studying and work habits became non-existent and I knew that I needed those things in order to succeed in my first semester of college. Something that was refreshing to me was that everyone was experiencing this as well. There were so many people who were here at Geneseo for the first time even if they weren’t freshmen. So many people are getting used to the place and trying to find friends. It took a couple of weeks to get my new studying strategies going but I was finally able to get through that barrier and push on. Something else that I struggled with this semester was being away from my family. I am the oldest of 5 kids and I have always been around my family so when coming to Geneseo and seeing them be together without me was tough. When classes first started, they would always call me and I would always call them but as time went by and I began to get more comfortable with my surroundings, I was at ease. I went from thinking of Geneseo as my college to Geneseo becoming my home away from home. 

During this semester, I learned about harm, care, reparations, and growth and these four words have meant something to me. As a freshman in college, it is hard to see your growth in just one semester but after being reminded by some family over the break, although you may not see it, we are always growing. Fortunately, I was allowed to grow as a writer and figure out my writing style which I immensely enjoyed. This semester was also the first time that I worked on a collaborative essay with other people and it went well.

As students take this writing seminar course, they often wonder why it is necessary and it becomes a burden for them. Honestly, taking this course helped me. Reading Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and William and Darity’s From Here to Equality has helped me grow as a writer. Reading about Milkman in Song of Solomon and seeing him grow from a teenager into a respectful adult helps me appreciate what college can do for me. We all have people and even events in our lives that have helped shape us and for Milkman going back to where his family is from and being able to heal his wounds, as a result, helped him grow into the compassionate adult that we see at the end of the book. While there are some good quotes in Song of Solomon, there is one other quote that stuck out to me after the course epigraph, “Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”

Many people come to college and expect to return home being the same person they were before they left. However, to grow as both a writer and a person, you need to let go of the past sometimes. In my final year of high school, I had to let go of some people that were holding me back from being who I was. It is important to remember who you are and to not change for one person but it is ok to let go of things to grow to become your true self. 

This first semester at SUNY Geneseo has taught me quite a lot. I have learned that not everyone grows up the same; not everyone will be your friend, and to have a fun time in college, you have to MAKE it fun. College is all about finding out who you are without your parents. It’s about starting your career and it’s about becoming who you are. College can be a fun experience if it makes it fun. These next four years are years that can change your life for the better or the worse. Just like in Song of Solomon, everyone will find themselves eventually, you just have to be patient and wait for it. 

Balance and reparations

By Isabella Algieri, Amanda Cruz, Amariah Sellers, Olivia Smock, Fiona Sullivan

In Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, we meet a complex character named Guitar who believes that killing people will bring justice to those who were wronged. Unfortunately, his ideals are arguably skewed. In conversation with the main character Milkman about the organization he has joined, which seeks revenge on white people who needlessly kill, he states, “I told you. Numbers. Balance. Ratio. And the earth, the land.” The group that he is a part of consists of seven people that seek a form of reparation in their eyes. They commit the exact crime that has been committed against people of color on white people. The reasoning behind this group includes imposing fear to prevent future murders of people of color, vengeance for innocent lives that have been lost, as well as retaliating against inequity. Although Milkman and Guitar shared many ideas, Milkman did not join the Seven Days group and disagreed with Guitar’s involvement. Milkman had a way better upbringing than Guitar which is why Milkman doesn’t quite understand Guitar and his morals. After his father was tragically killed, he wasn’t given compensation from his father’s white bosses. Guitar states, “ White people are unnatural. As a race they are unnatural. And it takes a strong effort of the will to overcome an unnatural enemy”(157). As a result of his father’s death along with him experiencing discrimination on a daily basis, his idea of white folks became much more negative which ultimately led to his hatred of white people. He had to constantly fight to survive connecting his upbringing to his ideals and what he believes is right for the people. His past is a motive as to why he joined the group and ruthlessly sought justice. In Guitar’s eyes, he is completing these tasks out of what he thinks is love for his people. In From Here to Equality, the authors, William Darity and A. Kirsten Mullen believe that adequate reparations have not been made, yet the solution for achieving justice should be mobilized by a national effort. Darity and Mullen agree with Guitar’s ideas that justice was not given to African Americans who were wronged as a result of slavery, but they don’t necessarily agree with his methods for getting justice.

According to From Here to Equality by William Darity and A. Kirsten Mullen, full reparations set for black people were never completed. In the first section of this book the text states, “American reparations advocates were motivated by the federal government’s failure to fulfill its promise of an endowment of forty acres and a mule to the formerly enslaved made on multiple occasions toward the end of the Civil War and in the years immediately following 1865.” This was one of the first promises made in an attempt to right the wrongs that were done against African Americans during slavery. However, it failed.  When Guitar includes “land” in his quote, he alludes to the fact that the land former enslaved people were promised was never given to them. After slavery was abolished in 1865, African Americans still struggled when it came to their security and trying to move on from the holds of slavery.

Ever since the first broken promise was made, African Americans were not able to start over and begin a new life where they were equal to fellow Americans. This broken promise ultimately paved the way for countless more to follow with segregation, discrimination, Jim Crow Laws and so much more. Even the safety of black people was threatened every day. Violence against people of color was more prevalent after the Civil War, continuing into the world we live in today. Black people were not safe in their homes, on the streets, in church, etc. “Intimidation of black voters with gun and noose became the norm” (From Here to Equality, 213). Also, the lack of safety of black people from the police, a system that is supposed to protect its citizens, has stemmed from those broken promises and the Jim Crow era. Black people are proportionally more likely to be killed by police than other groups of people, as well as being harassed and targeted. According to Darity and Mullen, “With respect to safety encounters with the police, not only are blacks far more likely to have fatal encounters, but they also are far more subject to harassment associated with police stops, especially while driving” (254). In addition to this, “Black elected leaders were tortured and killed, and a host of impediments was established for black voters” (213). Even when they tried to join and fix the system that was harming them, more animosity followed. In Song of Solomon, Guitar is explaining to Milkman what the secret society he is a part of does and their reasoning for it. He describes the group as a group of seven men called the Seven Days who kill white people in response to black people being senselessly murdered, in the same way, they were killed, to “keep the numbers the same.” With all of the imbalance that occurred after the Civil War that is still prevalent today, people like Guitar wanted to seek their own ways of reparation in the form of balance with an “eye for an eye” mentality to “frighten them into behaving.” Ultimately, their idea of justice was one that would do more harm than good. 

In From Here to Equality, there is statistical evidence of this injustice and inequality. When Guitar states “numbers,” a perfect example of this is the inequality in asset poverty. On page 254 in From Here to Equality, it is mentioned how the “noteworthy median net worth of whites is in the bottom twenty percent of the nations income distribution is higher than the median net worth of all black Americans.” Guitar recognizes that there is an unfairly large gap, with numerical proof, between black and white Americans, thus demonstrating his motivation for wanting to balance the numbers and ratio. In Song of Solomon, this is demonstrated when Macon and Lena had a conversation about the beach houses and how no African Americans can afford such an extra asset. Along with numbers that show the disparity between the monetary worth of African Americans and white people, some statistics display the physical worth of these people, expressed as ratios. In From Here to Equality, Darity and Mullen include how “…there was one hospital bed for every 139 white Americans but only one for every 1,941 black Americans, indicating that the average black life was worth only 7 percent of the average white life” (220). Clearly, this ratio proves how African Americans were never given the same opportunities and treatment, even though they were promised reparations and justice after slavery. 

After looking back at our conversation with Joe Cope (the Associate Provost for Academic Success and Professor of History at SUNY Geneseo), we can use his knowledge to help show us that Guitar’s actions are doing more harm than good. As Guitar goes about murdering white people as revenge for slavery, one can’t help but think of the consequences. If they were to carry out their plans and kill white people, then these people would fear them and retaliate by hurting African Americans or worse, killing them back. This whole thing could ultimately end in a huge bloodbath.  As we learned with Joe Cope that every action has a reaction/consequence, Guitar’s whole revenge scheme can ultimately cause more harm to African Americans than good. History even shows us that African Americans were no strangers to violence from slavery, segregation, discrimination, and present-day events where many African Americans are brutalized and treated with very little respect. Fortunately, there are people such as Joe Cope who are working to make equality among everyone greater than before. He further includes how admissions systems of the past thoroughly excluded people of color, in efforts to continue systemic racism. Joe Cope acknowledges that wrongs of the past cannot be changed, like Darity and Mullen. In From Here to Equality, they include, “The fact that full amends cannot be made for a grievous injustice does not mean significant recompense should not be made” (255). People like Joe Cope himself are working to compensate by rebuilding a new structure that is based on balance and equality. When explaining his role at SUNY Geneseo, he included that  “…the vision and why I’m here, which is about inclusion right, that’s why I think it’s important that we’re a public institution. That’s why I care about what we do here. But we’re also operating with an institution that has these really problematic historical roots.” His work in making a fair and safe environment for every student on campus is something that is greatly appreciated. If a problem arises with a class or community he tries his best to troubleshoot and problem solve. In everything that he does, Joe Cope always tries to make sure that there is inclusiveness within each classroom.      

           Even today there still remain so many injustices and inequalities amongst African Americans. Even after African Americans were “released”  from slavery, systematic racism kept African Americans in and at an unequal status. So much was promised to repair the sufferings they endured but they were never fulfilled and instead further harm was implemented. Even though the injustice of slavery could never be amended, African Americans well deserve consequential reparations and care. Since African Americans never got reparations after being freed from slavery, people like Guitar wanted to take matters into their own hands. Although Darity and Mullen would agree with the passion behind seeking rightful reparations, they would not agree with the violent measures Guitar took. There are still people like Guitar who want to seek justice for those wronged. It makes some people think what would have happened if African Americans got their reparations when first freed from slavery? What would our world look like today? 

Moving on

“You just can’t fly on off and leave a body.” –Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

When I first read the epigraph for this course, it reminded me of my struggles in high school. In high school, especially my freshman and sophomore year, I had many friends with whom I spent much of the time with. Although we had our good times, they had so many problems (both personal and not) and because I was their friend, I thought it was my responsibility to let their problems into my life and to even try and fix them. Unfortunately, by doing just that, it took a very negative toll on me. As a result of this, I spent the first two years of high school worrying about other people’s problems instead of taking care of myself and it impacted my mental health in a negative way. It was something that I kept from my parents and friends because I didn’t want them to see how badly I was really suffering.

When COVID hit NYC and they had no choice but to keep us all home for the rest of my junior year, I was able to take a break from these people and I realized that I needed to spend some time worrying about my mental health and my family. After talking with some people who guided me to make the right decision, I also realized that in order to keep myself from going insane and finishing off the year strong, I needed to move on and let go of those people who were damaging my life to help make myself feel better both physically and emotionally.

When reading the course epigraph, I couldn’t help but relate it to my junior year when I moved on from those people who weren’t doing any good for me. The way I interpreted the epigraph was probably different from what others may interpret it. When you move on from someone, it is important to know that you will always have a piece of them, and they will always have a piece of you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a sexual relationship too; it can simply just be a friendship. Although those two years of my life were rough, I had friends with whom I went out and had experiences with that I can never forget about. Even though I might be moving on from them doesn’t mean some of the times we had were awful. In many cases, we bonded over a lot that we did together. Growing up in NYC was fun because there was always so much to do and although I may not be close to certain people anymore, I can’t hate on them. Something that I always hated was people who stopped being friends talking trash about each other. It always bothered me and even though I was upset with those people for involving their issues in my life, I wasn’t going to trash them because to me it feels like a terrible thing to do. As I looked over the course epigraph, I realized that this one seems more fit for me: “When you let go of someone, it is important to know that you will always have a piece of them, and they will always have a piece of you.” This new course epigraph feels better connected to my personal goal this semester which is to make some true friends. Being a freshman in both high school and college can be a challenge sometimes. Many people have told me that we make friends in college that will last a lifetime and I really want that for myself. Yeah, it may seem a bit selfish but after everything I have been through, I deserve to be a little selfish.

Based on this newly made epigraph, I believe that a goal that I have this year that can be based on the course is to grow as a writer. Based on the events that happened to me during those two years, I was able to take my personal experiences, write them as part of my personal essay and I was able to get into every college that I applied for with that essay. I think with this epigraph and with the readings of Song of Solomon and From Here to Equality I will be able to grow and become more mature as a writer. Something that I enjoy about this class so far is the idea that the students grade themselves. Although some people might use it for granted, I think this will be good for those who are honest with their skills and want to improve as a writer. I never met a professor/teacher who allowed the students to grade themselves for a semester and feel confident that those students won’t use it for granted.

Another goal that I have is to learn more about the history of African Americans and exactly what is being done to compensate those who had ancestors who were enslaved. When I first opened it up and read the first page of From Here to Equality, I honestly thought that this book would be boring. Whenever I read new books, I always look at the pages and if the font looks a certain way, I automatically assume that it is going to be boring. When I looked at From Here to Equality the size of the font made me assume that this book would be boring. However, as I started to read more, everything just unfolded in my mind almost. This book talks about many events in the 1800s and 1900s that I have either heard once about or not at all. (In the book, there was this one event that occurred in Florida I heard maybe once before but having the authors expand on it made me even more intrigued about it). I believe that this book will educate me and my peers more about the tough past many enslaved people had to live in. I love history so whenever I learn something new it always excites me. When I first bought this book, I thought that it was going to be another book from like 20 years ago talking about justice for those who had families who were enslaved. However, I was surprised and very happy with the fact that this book is only a year old. This helps provide us with way more accurate information in which I am very excited about.

After reading most of the book Song of Solomon, there was this one quote that stuck out to me. “You can’t own a human being. You can’t lose what you don’t own. Suppose you did own him. Could you really love somebody who was absolutely nobody without you? You really want somebody like that? Somebody who falls apart when you walk out the door? You don’t, do you? And neither does he. You’re turning over your whole life to him. Your whole life, girl. And if it means so little to you that you can just give it away, hand it to him, then why should it mean any more to him? He can’t value you more than you value yourself.” This one quote relates to the struggles that I have been through and what I want to leave behind. Valuing yourself is something that everyone should do, and it is important that we remind ourselves that our needs come first before everyone else’s. After everything that I have struggled with, I always tell myself that it is time to move on and try something new and exciting and I plan on just doing that.