Black Excellence (4 of 29)

“Today in Black Excellence –”

Olympia shut down her computer. She loved Kid Fury, but if she started listening to The Read, she’d miss AJ at the train and be late for work.

She slipped on her jacket and walked to the subway, still thinking about Black Excellence. That adorable little girl accepted into Mensa at four years old after scoring 145 on an IQ test. That savvy 11-year-old who started #1000BlackGirlBooks because she sick of reading about white boys and dogs. The woman who bought an old bus and turned it into a mobile tech lab for the computer-less kids in her community.

“Oh, God,” AJ said when Olympia met him on the platform. “What too-special, feel-good nonsense has you looking all dopey and full of love for mankind this morning?”

Olympia smiled. “Black Excellence,” she said, taking his hand.

“Of course. Black fucking excellence.” He shook his head. “How am I supposed to maintain my snark, my scowl when you’re all beaming and high on your people?”

Your people, too, Alexander James.”

“Do not start with the names,” he said, holding up a hand to silence her. “Yes, my people. Fine.”

“Will it cheer you up if I tell you who all I’ve been thinking about?”

They boarded the train and sat across from the conductor’s booth.

“Don’t tell me a thing,” AJ said, stretching out his legs and draping his arm across Olympia’s shoulders. “You marching tonight?”

She sighed, leaned against him. “Of course.”

He nodded. “I get it, you know,” he said, looking over at her. “You need those reminders. We all do.” He sat up and turned toward her. “But it hurts too much to get excited and happy about some bright light of a child. Because they get gunned down and left in the street, their Black Excellence impugned on the news, their killers protected.”

He turned and leaned back, eyes closed.

Olympia took his hand, squeezed it. Imagining the Mensa baby dead in the street drove a ripping pain through her chest.

How many marches had they been to? How many rallies, die-ins, say-the-names events? It was in the midst of all that grief and death-marking that she’d begun cataloging everyday Black Excellence, calling out regular folks whose lives shone a light in hers.

Years earlier, she’d started a morning ritual of mentally listing things that made her happy — the colors of the Caribbean Sea, her close relationship with her sister, the sound of Italian, waking up in sunshine. And she noticed that, the longer she made the list, the stronger its impact. Three things were nice, seven made her smile, a dozen and she felt content.

“This must be why people say to count your blessings!” she’d said to AJ at the time.

“You and my Nana, singing the same song,” he’d said, laughing. “I never saw that coming.”

But he’d frustrated her by refusing to try it himself. He noted her good mood but did nothing to alter his own.

The Black Excellence catalog didn’t have the same effect. She felt grounded when she called out those people.

“Go on,” AJ said then, returning the pressure on her hand. “Go on. Tell me who you’ve been thinking about. Anoint me with some shiny excellence.”

She would cry later — the marches always brought tears. Too much anger and grief, too much choking impotence. AJ would hold her hand then, too. And she’d keep marching, keep chanting, despite her tears.

But that was hours away. She raised their joined hands and kissed AJ’s wrist. “So, it’s called Estella’s Brilliant Bus,” she said. “And it’s just the best thing.”¹


Leap Flash 2016

¹ – Check out all of the Black Excellence referenced above: the too-adorable, super-brilliant Mensa baby, the girl who started #1000BlackGirlBooks, and the lovely and generous Estella Pyfrom who owns and operates Estella’s Brilliant Bus!

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