Asali DeVan Ecclesiastes
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There are some chasms so deep and so wide, we find it hard to imagine how we'll ever make it to the other side. That space between who we are and who we want to be, the gaps between our high ideals and our base realities.

The distance between what we say and what we really mean. The raging river that flows between what actually happened and our convenient memories.

The lies we tell ourselves are lakes, overflowing their banks, flooding our speech with waters, caustic and rank.

The only bridge is the truth, passing through me and you, as we look one another eye to eye. But so often, that look is filled with our hesitations, and we can't help but glance to the side.

See, we've long ago let go of the language with which we describe our softer parts. We learn early that those with softer hearts suffer. So we allow lean emotion to reign, never noticing that only strain has been the fruit of our restraints. We haven't escaped pain. And our battle scars are far from faint. Yet and still, despite our desire and willingness to heal, we often find ourselves fighting hard in the paint, holding onto false images of everything we ain't.

So while our dream coincide, our fears collide. And we want to know one another, but think we can't.

The gulf between empathy and equity is as unfathomable as the fissures that line our collective integrity. And we spend eternal eternities trying to translate that into virtue. Perhaps you have met one or two of the virtuous on your path. They are only very few, and I know that I have, from time to time, mistaken pretenders for real, yet still make room for the possibility that it's I who's been pretending.

Please, bear with me, I'm still mending, but I'm no longer bending to the will of my injuries, nor my injurers. I much prefer to stretch my arms like Nüt until I become the sky. I'd rather stretch my tongue with truth, our bridge to cross when we look one another in the eye.

But the tongue, like the heart, gets tired. The weak make it hard for the strong to stay inspired, like the lost prevent the found from escaping the mire, and the degraded stop the enlightened from taking us higher.

But no matter what you hear from the mouths of these liars, we are one people with one destiny and the common enemy, that's why it really stresses me to see our hearts so tattered, our minds so scattered, our egos so easily flattered. We're enslaved, yet think of our shackles as gifts.

Rather than resist our masters, we let them widen our rifts, like mindless, material junkies, we seek that which lowers, not lifts.

But somewhere in our midst, there's been a paradigm shift. Justice is getting restless in its chains. Our youth find it useless to separate their souls from their brains, their truth is ingrained, their integrity insustained. Let me call your attention to those who serve as examples.

Those who daily give their all, but their reserves are still ample. Those who battle friend and foe, yet their hope is never trampled, they make music, never sample, and the world's ugly could never cancel the fullness and the sweetness of their composition. Nor the unadulterated truth of their mission.

It's time we shut our mouths and listen. Close our eyes and pray for the humility and the guidance to follow them to the way. Thank you.

(Applause)

(Cheers)

Thank you.

(Applause)

(Cheers)

Thank you.

(Applause)

Thank you all so much, you have no idea how fulfilling and energizing that is. For the past three years, I've had the privilege of codesigning with my neighbors a space in New Orleans known as Under the Bridge. In 1966, Interstate 10 landed on the Tremé neighborhood, displacing 326 black-owned businesses, over 300 live oak trees, effectively destroying the region's most successful black commercial district, disrupting intergenerational wealth and truly unraveling the fabric of the nation's oldest African American neighborhood.

Today, after 45 years of community advocacy, after 500 hours of community engagement and 80 hours of community design, we are so excited that in 2018, after capturing the voices of thousands of residents and the support of our local, federal and philanthropic partners, as the city celebrates 300 years of transforming the world, we will get to transform 19 blocks under the Interstate into community space, into black-owned businesses, in the form of the Claiborne Corridor Cultural Innovation District.

(Cheers)

(Applause)

We will be bridging time, we will bridge memory, we will bridge disparity and injustice, and we can't wait to see you all on the other side.

Thank you.

(Applause)