There was a lot of rhetoric being bantered about these last few days in El Paso, following the killing of twenty-two people of color by a white male shooter last Sunday. Which political leaders garnered the largest crowds when visiting this hurting city; who did the surviving victims really want to meet with, or actually avoid; and was the US President truly treated like a ‘rock star’ by those who were still recovering from their injuries. The jury is still out on all of these.

As a journalist, it sometimes seemed insurmountable, standing alongside the makeshift memorial overflowing with teddy bears, flowers, photos and the names of those who perished carved into simple white crosses honoring each of them. I was there to provide the truth for all to bear witness, and to even help fuel change, but I often felt helpless, beset by baseless and false rhetoric claimed by those with alternate public and political agendas. Could words ever be enough? I often wondered to myself. For the first time, I felt language may be far too limited.

Yet I was saved…saved by the one true rock star who was undeniably present, perhaps not physically, but in every honest and heartfelt word expressed at that makeshift memorial. But this savior would not have cared, or even dared, to publicly claim that title or assume that role. For she already owned it, silently, allowing her life and her work to speak for itself.

Yes, Morrison was on my mind. Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize- and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who died on Monday at the age of 88, was very much alive. “This is the time when artists go to work. Not when everything is alright. Not when it looks sunny. It’s when it’s hard.” Toni Morrison once said.

But one not be a professional writer, or artist of any kind, to use the power of words, or to understand its promise for others. Wordsmiths of every age, education, and ethnicity were there in El Paso expressing their sadness, hope and even rage, on signs adorning the makeshift memorial overflowing with personal tributes. So in tribute to their courage I am providing you, our readers, with an open window to some of their most powerfully written words, and messages to live by. And, since all writers stand on the shoulders of others, it is Toni Morrison’s corresponding messages of truth and hope that you will find included alongside them. For truly, as she said during her Nobel Prize address in 1993: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” 

“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” 
– Toni Morrison, Beloved
“If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.” 
Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” 
Toni Morrison
“The function of freedom is to free someone else.” 
Toni Morrison
“You are your best thing” 
Toni Morrison, Beloved
“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” 
–  Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
“Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” 
Toni Morrison, Beloved

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” 

Rest In Power