Aya de León


Aya de León is a Bay Area-based AfroBoricua author who directs the Poetry for the People program in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley, teaching poetry and commissioning writers to address the climate emergency. Kensington Books publishes her award-winning feminist heist series, which includes SIDE CHICK NATION, the first novel published about Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. In June 2020, Aya published her first children’s chapter book, EQUALITY GIRLS AND THE PURPLE REFLECTO-RAY, about an Afro-Latina girl who uses her superpowers to confront the president’s sexism. In December 2020 Kensington will publish A SPY IN THE STRUGGLE, about FBI infiltration of an African American eco-racial justice organization. Aya's work has also appeared in Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Bitch Magazine, VICE, The Root, Ploughshares, and on Def Poetry. Aya is at work on a YA Black/Latina spy girl series for teens called GOING DARK. She is an alumna of Cave Canem and VONA.

Visit her online at ayadeleon.com, on Twitter @ayadeleon, Facebook or Instagram at @ayadeleonwrites, where she writes about race, class, gender, culture and climate action.

June 2020 - For George Floyd



I don’t know what to tell you.

To all the non-Black people who have called/emailed/texted to check on me.

What the hell is wrong with you? Do you think I want to be reminded every five minutes that my people are being lynched in the street? That our nation is sliding into race war? Do you think your kind words are enough here?

To all the non-Black people who haven't bothered to call/email/text to check on me. What the hell is wrong with you? Can't you see that my people are being lynched in the street? That our nation is sliding into race war? You can't even manage to reach out? Really?

I can’t read the news today. 

I can’t possibly contain more information about Black bodies under siege. I just move through days, through screens, working from home, parenting. I breathe shallow, trying not to make any sudden moves, remembering that I, my Black male partner, our Black child are still alive.

To all the white people offering condolences: you are the ones we should be feeling sorry for. George Floyd died with his humanity intact. Your culture raises the monsters, the serial killers, the war criminals, the mass murderers, doing the monstrous. Derek Chauvin, Donald Tr*mp. 

To all the non-Black people who have called/emailed/texted to check on me. I can't call back because I don’t know what to tell you. I don't know how to show you what it feels like to live this Black life. To feel half-broken but to need to keep up a strong face for the Black child I live with 24 hours a day in a pandemic. I need to show that--even now--being Black is joyful, is powerful. I can't break down. I can't break down.

I break anyway. To my non-Black peer counselors: you were the only ones I could tell. You called and I knew how to show you. You texted that you could listen for five minutes. For ten minutes. I could call back in the cracks between work-work and house work and writing work and parenting. As peer counselors, we had a different agreement. I didn’t have to lead with any niceties. When it was my turn, it was my. fucking. turn. We could start the clock and you could bear witness to my tears and rage and bitter laughter. I knew I didn’t have to take care of you and you knew you didn’t have to console me. We both knew that the consolation was in the space to break down. 

To all the non-Black people who have called/emailed/texted to check on me. The hardest part is that I don't know how to respond to you. All my training is to tell you that it's okay. That you are okay. That your act of reaching out is enough. That I will stand in the gap for all Black people whose forgiveness you want, whose lives you would protect, whose lives you can't protect. You care. You mean well. It's not your fault. It's totally your fault. 

Right now we have to protest wearing masks, but as Black people, we always wear masks. Mostly we don't even know it.

Until people reach out to check on us. And the mask fails. I can't be witty today. I can't be inspiring today. I can't be what you want today because you want me to be okay. Or you want me to be not okay in a way that your caring can fix. It can't.

I don’t know what to tell you today.

People took to the streets and the white nationalist president offered a rootin' tootin' lootin' shootin' pep talk. This is how fascism creeps in. A little curfew. A little threat of martial law. Scrape the protesters off the street for a president photo op. make america great again.

I don’t know what to tell you.

Through the liquid terror in my gut, some days all I can remember to tell you is to vote. That we’re not electing someone who will save us, we’re electing someone who won’t send the military to kill us while we’re trying to save ourselves. But voting is the bare minimum. And you already know that anyway. 



I read the news today.

I read about people in all fifty states—plus mi gente en Puerto Rico—marching for Black lives.

I read about the Minneapolis City Council voting in a veto-proof majority to end the MPD.

To all the non-Black people who reached out to check on me: now I know what to tell you.


Say it with me. 

You know who I mean. Those mostly men in snappy uniforms who have always been perfectly nice to you. Who always came when you called. Who you have depended on to keep you safe. 

Defund. I had heard the idea before but only now can I see that it’s possible. We could stop being a society that produces crime and then punishes it. 

You want to know how I am feeling?

I am feeling like big solutions are possible today.
A world
without police
without ICE
without billionaires
with Medicare for All
with a Green New Deal
Because we can build the movements to make it happen. 

To all the people who reached out to check on me: send me reports from the future…



June 2021: After we ousted Tr*mp with the largest turnout in any election in history, a mobilized public effectively pushed Joe Biden to make good on some of his campaign promises. Especially racial justice, addressing climate change, and comprehensive reform around gender violence.

June 2022: Eddie Granderson, a former Minneapolis police officer lost his job when the police force was disbanded.

              “I always thought being a cop was the ultimate job. I was pissed as hell when we got defunded.”
Granderson has found his calling in the solar-retrofitting of buildings under the Green New Deal. 
              “Now I look back differently on my cop years. I was anxious, stressed. I couldn’t sleep and I drank too much. I was a dick to my wife and kids. Some days, I’d be so fucking twitchy at work, I could’ve been one of those white cops who shot a black kid. Now, a black kid is my boss. (laughs) But I sleep great and my family likes me better.”

June 2032: Gianna Floyd—George Floyd’s daughter—graduates from high school and plans to study medicine in college. Her education will be free. She hopes to specialize in pulmonary health, so everyone can breathe.



© The Acentos Review 2020