CHARLOTTE – Emory Brinson took the microphone at a Black Lives Matter rally on June 19 at Marshall Park and expressed the depth of her pain when she learned about the death of George Floyd.
“I have been waiting for my father to die since I understood what it meant to be Black in this country,”she said, lifting her head from her smartphone to gauge the faces in the crowd.
Emory was reading excerpts from a personal essay, “A Study in a Lifetime of Elegies.” That essay was part of a writing portfolio that earned the recent South Mecklenburg High School graduate a $10,000 college scholarship.
She was one of 16 students across the country to win a Gold Medal in the 97th annual Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for her portfolio, which included seven poems that describe growing up Black in the South.
Emory remembers learning about poetry as early as kindergarten at Trinity Episcopal School, but it was third grade when she became fascinated by haikus. She fell in love with the three-line poems, writing enough of them to fill a book.
“From there, I knew that writing was something I was passionate about and I never stopped,” she said.
Emory has worked hard to develop her voice as a writer. She has attended Duke Young Writers camps, as well as spent time in Paris for a writing mentorship with The Adroit Journal, a literary magazine that works with budding writers.
Creative writing serves as an outlet for her.
“It’s a way to express myself and really deal with the issues that I’m seeing on the news,” Emory said.
Emory wrote in her personal essay how the deaths of Botham Shem Jean on Sept. 6, 2018, and Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014, affected her life. Their names are among the many that echo throughout cities across America as more people rally behind Black Lives Matter.
“I have mourned more men in my 16 years than I dare say most will lose in a lifetime,” she writes. “I wait for a day in which children will not have to know this heartbreak with frantic breaths and a mess of tangled veins in my chest.”
The four-page essay includes moments shared with family. While her father’s New York accent has faded after 25 years of living in the South, she could better understand him after they watched Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” together. She recounted how her mother introduced herself to newcomers in the cul-de-sac to make them aware that five Black children live there.
“I think this piece in particular was really something that had been growing in my head for a while because it was all things I was seeing on the news or I was reacting to in my house,” Emory said. “It was one of the easiest pieces I have ever written in terms of being able to put what I was trying to say on paper.”
Being a South Meck grad, Emory was deprived of a senior prom and traditional graduation experience due to COVID-19. She said the pandemic really pushes you to think about what is important.
Outside of school, she has worked to connect disadvantaged children to the arts and served as a chapter president of Jack and Jill, an organization that develops African American leaders.
She told the crowd during the July 19 Black Lives Matter rally that she will help move this world one step closer to understanding and compassion.
“Even as I feel compelled to write elegy after elegy, wrapped in fear with the future and sorrow from the past, I recognize the opportunity to write odes and sonnets in honor of the men and women who inspire everything that I do,” she said. “Every day I find myself celebrating our durability.”