Jarika Recommends: “What’s Goin On” by Marvin Gaye

Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Atatiana Jefferson. Rayshard Brooks.

The list, unfortunately, runs long, and it begs the question, “What’s going on?” For America, the answer is past due.

When I first heard the Marvin Gaye hit, “What’s Going On,” I was around eight years old and unaware of the atrocities this world would offer me—but as I grew older, I came to know the way Black bodies are brutalized. Before live-streaming technology made it possible to view racism on a global scale, I witnessed many micro-aggressions and instances of outright racism and police brutality in my childhood neighborhood.

I trembled when the police pulled me over for the first time. I still tremble. I place my identification on the dashboard and my hands on the steering wheel. I roll the window down before they arrive at my door. I do not jerk away from the blinding lights that they flash into my eyes. I remain calm when they call for three squad cars for my one broken taillight.

I stay alive.

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying

I understood this song’s sentiment with a familiarity that a non-Black passerby might not possess. I am a student of the art form that has no classification, the one in which marginalized people create frameworks that shimmer and glow so they can place the truths of our realities in the center of them. The contrast is stark, but the message eventually gets across.

Maybe it has taken this landscape, wherein we are all stuck at home, wherein a global pandemic threatens all of our lives, wherein there is no football or basketball to distract us, wherein there is nobody to say, “It’s okay to look away now,” for us to come together and ask, “What’s going on?”

If so, we should also come together to strive for the B-side of that verse:

You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some loving here today

We are all responsible for answering Marvin’s question, “What’s going on?” If our answer is not love, respect, and mercy, then we’ve utterly failed each other. We may tremble while we move toward justice, but we must not stop moving.


(Editor’s note: Please enjoy this bonus live version of “What’s Goin On.”)


Jarika Tucker is pursuing her MS in Computer Science. She develops apps during the day, writes at night, and directs a short film once every blue moon. She spends her free time reading anything she can get her hands on and traveling as far as her family’s budget will go. She is a member of the AWP and was a Mentee in their Writer to Writer Mentorship program. Jarika recently read an excerpt of her speculative manuscript about magical Black mermaids, The Drowning Crown, at AWP’s 2020 conference; she is seeking representation for this and other speculative fiction works. Visit her website jarikatucker.com for updates on writing and film. She is also on Twitter @jarikatucker and IG @lovejarika.


A donation has been made to: The Equal Justice Initiative

The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.

Rosey Recommends: “Young, Gifted and Black” by Aretha Franklin

When I was a kid, “Young, Gifted and Black” was a community-wide anthem of Black pride. Every time I heard the song, it was like she was singing directly to me, reminding me of my worth and potential. Although I’m older now, the lyrics still encourage me to succeed against the odds and work to instill the same confidence in the generations that follow me.

Although the original version released by Nina Simone touches me profoundly, Aretha Franklin’s interpretation speaks to me in a different way. The opening music and harmony have an ethereal quality, balancing sorrow and joy. Even as a child, the music reminded me of the ups and downs of life. There was a heaviness in the song, and it ran deep. But somehow the melody still projected inescapable hope at the same time.

In this whole world, you know
There are millions of boys and girls
Who are young, gifted and Black

That verse told me that I wasn’t alone and that there were lots of other kids just like me who were destined for greatness. And the song said that we could all achieve it.

When you feelin’ real low
Here’s a great truth you should remember and know
That you’re young, gifted, and Black
You got your soul intact, oh, and that’s a fact

In childhood, there shouldn’t be so many days when you feel “real low.” But the reality is that life is complicated for lots of Black children, particularly for those whose lives are steeped in the manifestations of structural racism. “Young, Gifted and Black” validated my feelings. It didn’t lie to me and suggest that I didn’t have a reason for reacting to the injustices I saw in my community, most of which were direct and indirect results of slavery and Jim Crow laws.

Oh, it’s a mighty sweet thing, yes, it is now

Throughout my life, this uplifting three and a half minute pep talk has told me to remember that I am special, that I can use my gifts to make a difference in my community, and that my gifts will allow me to create a life that will bring joy and abundance.

You got the future, don’t you know it’s a fact?

When I hear Aretha Franklin sing “Young, Gifted and Black,” she’s telling me that my life matters. And she nurtures my hope for the future.


Rosey Lee is a New Orleans native who lives in Atlanta. She is the author of Beautiful, Complicated Family, a collection of uplifting flash fiction stories. Her stories have appeared in Necessary Fiction, Barren Magazine, Bending Genres, Turnpike Magazine, and elsewhere. Her work has also been nominated for the 2019 Best of the Net anthology. Subscribe to her website for updates and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Goodreads.


A donation has been made to: The Equal Justice Initiative

The Equal Justice Initiative is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.

David Recommends: “Playing Possum” by Earl Sweatshirt (feat. Cheryl Harris & Keorapetse Kgositsile)

To my mentors and comrades in arms

“Playing Possum” is a track from Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs that contains no hooks, or even any rapping from Earl himself. Instead, Earl samples recordings of his parents and splices the two together to create a conversation. Cheryl Harris, his mother, gives her thanks in an awards speech; Keorapetse “Bra Willie” Kgositsile, his father, recites his poem “Anguish Longer Than Sorrow.” Under this he layers vintage horns that sound like they were sampled from an “In Memoriam” VHS tape.

Earl’s choice to sample his parents brings to mind a storied tradition of voice messages in hip-hop: Kendrick’s cousin Carl’s brief homily on “FEAR.”; Ms. Rosie Watson speaking her piece on Frank Ocean’s “Be Yourself”; Drake’s “Marvin’s Room.” So while “Playing Possum” may be unconventional in its construction, it still speaks to a precedent of oral storytelling in Black music that verges on memorializing.

Notably, “Playing Possum” samples a Thank You speech and a poem, not direct messages. In a Vulture interview, Earl said he wanted to incorporate his father’s audio to make amends and to bring them closer. Kgositsile passed away before he could hear it.

To my son Thebe (Words like)
Cultural worker and student of life (Home)
Whose growth and insights inspire me, a thousand kisses (Could not carry any possible meaning)

How do you show love to a voice message? How do you make amends and show solidarity with no words? Recently, I’ve been trying to find an answer to that question that doesn’t involve death.

The premature daily death of their dreams

Days after watching another Black man have his life snuffed out on camera, my mom – who lives across the country – called me to ask how I was holding up. Anger immediately came to mind. That anger gave way to sadness, which still sits in me shoulder-to-shoulder with exhaustion. Friends and allies shared that video relentlessly as a call to action. As something to point to to encapsulate the complex injustices Black people are facing.

But it shouldn’t take a video of a Black man being murdered for nonblack people to care about racial relations.

Thank you to my family
(Can you see them now?)

In his final moments, George Floyd called out to his late mother. We later found out he touched mothers all over America. His cry was heard by Kadiatou Diallo – the mother of Amadou Diallo, who was murdered by police officers in 1999. Wanda Cooper Jones, the mother of Ahmaud Arbery, attended George Floyd’s funeral.

“Every mother heard him,” Diallo said in a CBS interview.

(Consider what staggering memories frighten and abort
The hope that should have been)

“Playing Possum” sounds like love to me. Earl stepped back and created a space to let his parents talk and echo over each other. It speaks to the unspoken pain, love, grief, desire for change, desire for love, desire to action, desire to be held – the complicated and powerful feelings of the Black experience in America.

(Perhaps I should just borrow
The rememberer’s voice again
While I can)

This track hits harder now, as Black Americans are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and are constantly being dehumanized by a broken mass incarceration system. The former makes it hard to hear a family member’s voice; the latter can make it impossible.

You know the real deal
(To have a home is not a favor.)

In the same way you know breathing is not a “favor.” In the same way you know hearing your son’s voice is not a “favor.” In the same way you know the freedom to wear a hoodie, eat skittles, jog, cosplay, and exist is not a “favor.”

In the future, I hope that it is joy rather than grief that is shared between the black mothers like Ms. Diallo, Ms. Cooper Jones, Ms. Harris, and my own.


David recently graduated with a degree in sociology and a minor in creative writing. He likes writing short stories and occasionally making mash-ups.


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