Let me tell you about the day I had Wednesday, June 3, 2020.
Between working from home, managing life during COVID-19 and just trying to keep myself together, I do enjoy a walk around Warwick from time to time with a friend just to take in nature.
In this day and time, it is the little things that can mean a lot.
We had set up our walk so we would place an order at Galloway Grill halfway through and we would get there right as the order was done to take it back to our destination. I got a seasoned steak sandwich and my friend got a Philadelphia. It was perfect.
That is until, while walking up the hill, we had just passed Galloway Heights Road (I remember only because my friend had pointed out the pretty yellow house that had gotten remodeled on the corner) and a silver Jeep had just rounded the corner by the Reformed Church.
It seemed like a bunch of kids just having fun, nothing new.
Then, the one sitting in the back driver’s side, he was either wearing a bright green or a Day-glo yellow shirt, decided to shout out of his window:
My friend isn’t originally from the area and automatically went into protective/defensive mode. My friend had me walk faster while looking over the shoulder to see we were being followed.
I, on the other hand, was not concerned. I knew it was just some punk kids, and that is Warwick for you.
My name is Sabrina Jennings. Resident of Warwick, N.Y. Black woman. Nice to meet you.
Many of you may actually know me. I am a graduate of Stony Brook University with a BA in Sociology. I have been fingerprinted so many times that I have lost count, but not because I committed any crimes, but because of the various jobs I have had taking care of others and it was required.
I like to crochet, draw, read, volunteer and I have taken up power-lifting because, why not? I just learned how to sew and, teamed up with a friend, have made masks for friends, family and even Florida, N.Y. post office.
You may have seen me at Christ Church.
You may have bought apple butter from me at Applefest.
I may have babysat your kids or brought joy to your elderly loved one when I was working activities in a nearby assisted living facility.
I may have helped you with your insurance or maybe served you at a local restaurant or winery.
I may be delivering groceries to your elderly love one during the COVID crisis.
You may have bowled with me at Pinstreet Warwick (and probably won) or, right now, I may be helping your child get through college.
If you don’t know me, you might know my family.
My mother may have taught you or your child as a substitute teacher.
My grandmother may have bowled against you at Pinstreet Warwick (and probably lost).
I have three wonderful siblings you may have crossed paths with and a grandfather who made himself quite the regular at Flowick Deli.
‘I had learned to live with it’
If my account of today’s activities made you uncomfortable, good.
Because the problem is, at first, it didn’t make me uncomfortable at all. I had learned to live with it. If you didn’t know, there was a threat made on Snapchat about killing people in King’s Estates, known for its Black population. That didn’t bother me either, just some stupid kids probably.
Probably like the same kids I went to school with who thought being passively racist or flat out racist was funny. The ones who said I was only in honors and AP classes because of affirmative action, not because I actually earned a spot like them.
Probably like the shopkeeper in a Main Street business awhile ago (shop is no longer there) who decided it was best to ignore my presence while I was shopping, despite the store being completely empty but who sprung to attention when a fairer skin customer walked in.
Probably like the “you are so articulate” people I still run into today.
Probably like a litany of other instances I can recall while living here where I had to adapt the “it is what it is” philosophy to get by.
Granted, that’s how it is in the world but, well, keep reading.
‘I was in survival mode to stay in the town I love’
Maybe you are reading this right now and saying “Good for you! Don’t let other people bring you down. Be strong and power through.”
Thing is, why should I have to? This is my community, too.
Does everyone else have to do this as well when it comes to their race?
I am in no way a victim and I am proud of the person I have become, but truth is, I never acknowledged how many inner battles I had to fight to get there just because of my skin color.
I didn’t notice how those words really made me feel. I was in survival mode to stay in the town I love.
I should not have to become strong just because of my skin color.
I want to enjoy it like everyone else, and not have to be on edge fearing a drive-by “NIGGER.”
A little bit more about me is I plan on get my PsyD and become a licensed psychologist because no one should have to unpack these feelings on their own and it can leave lasting effects.
If you weren’t aware, there are multiple studies that show racism is toxic to humans by causing chronic stressors called “allostatic load.” Allostatic load causes the body to create more cortisol which can result in cardiovascular disease.
There is also the damage it does to someone’s self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence which all can cause poor mental health.
I am very lucky to have a supportive family and a great community of friends here in Warwick to help me remember I am a good person.
I cannot say I have gotten out of it scar free and that I am completely over it yet, but knowing what I have been through, it is scary to know there are some people who may not have the same resources as I do and may have to go through this alone.
‘’Have those uncomfortable conversations about what is going on’
This should not be pinned on the individual receiving the hurt though. The people who are hurting them need to take responsibility as well.
Recently there was a march/meeting of the people of Warwick who supported the Black Lives Matter Movement. I didn’t go. The reason why is because the people who are there didn’t need to hear what was being said.
I was in no mood to stand around with like-minded people just to feel better and like I was making a difference.
It was the people at home, and maybe even some of the attendees’ children who need to hear the message that racism is not okay.
There is subtle racism in this town that needs to be addressed and I actually want to make a difference and that is why I am speaking up.
That’s my Warwick, and until something is done about that, that’s why I will not be marching with you.
It’s a good feeling to feel like you are making a difference but it is better if you actually do.
It is better if you actually have those uncomfortable conversations about what is going on and the ramifications of your actions on others.
Warwick is a great place, but the only way we can make it even better is by acknowledging our shortcomings. Talk to your kids, talk to your neighbors, talk to your community members and make sure you are making this a welcoming place for everyone.
Our nation is going through a lot right now but try to take the time to love each other regardless of their skin color and what the media is showing you.
Warwick Strong needs to be Warwick StrongER for everyone.