A Letter by Brianna Oliver

My Tess and my Vera, you entered this world too soon yet took it in such stride and with such strength that it takes me breath away. You fought everyday for three weeks in the NICU to reach seemingly impossible milestones. Your tiny bodies had to endure so much, and eventually, you were able to come home to us healthy and ready to embark on this journey called life.

Not too long after your homecoming, the world was forced to shutter its doors as the COVID-19 pandemic set in. For months on end, at all hours, the four of us were together - and though at times it was very challenging - I remain thankful for the comfort and safety our home provided us, and for our continued health and wellbeing.

And it was your first birthday while in quarantine that I was struck by a thought. You both were sitting in your high chairs surrounded by your Sesame Street decorations, questioning the very large piles of sugar in front of you in the form of birthday cakes, with your grandparents, aunt, and uncles singing Happy Birthday to you over Zoom. And I was thrilled to be able to celebrate your day with you, but throughout the day - like all the days - my mind kept revisiting my dismay at the state of our country, as hope for your futures seemed to be fading. But it was then that it occurred to me that you - my two beautiful, incredible miracles - embody what America is supposed to be.

I sat with this thought for some time after, and as the days and weeks passed, the truth of it revealed itself time and again. And since then, hope has come pulsating back, steadily gaining strength.

You: the result of a marriage that 54 years ago would have been illegal, and now - thanks to progress, a commitment to freedom, and true leadership, your mom and dad were able to celebrate their love without fear or reservation.

You: a glorious blend of Ethiopian American and southern American heritages, cultures which are so different and seem worlds apart, yet here you are, in this time and this place, blessing everyone around you.

You: where in so many places being a girl is considered less than, never allowing for any hope or opportunity to achieve your dreams - have the ability to set your sights on anything, and though you will encounter a variety of glass ceilings to break, they are yours to break should you choose to do so.

You are, in essence, America. The America that is meant to be, and the America that can be, if we - your parents, your families, your neighbors, your friends - can put in the hard work to make it what it is intended to be for all.

The Democratic experiment is currently under existential threat, and there are many reasons for it. Those elected to lead our country and advance the promise of America are doing anything but that; rather, they are turning their backs on doing the hard work of attempting compromise, and instead, always demonizing those who disagree with them. It’s incredibly easy to place blame and target those we disagree with, as it enables us to avoid accepting and addressing our own fears and limitations. There’s no denying that our country has many problems, yet our polarizing politics blinds our ability to address these severe and deeply rooted issues, if only we are willing to put in the hard work.

The hard work involves reflecting on how these actions - the finger pointing, the blame game - prevent progress and prevent healing. The hard work requires reaching out to those who are so different from us. Change is not meaningful or lasting if we simply turn our backs on those who challenge us, leaving them out of the discussion or out of decision-making. It is only meaningful and lasting when all are part of the Democratic process and are empowered to live their truths, respecting that “living freely” has no singular definition.

It’s hard not to be angry, and even harder, not understanding those who fundamentally believe and act so differently from us. How does one begin to break bread with someone where a common thread seems nonexistent? But I look at you both - my fearless, energetic, happy children - and you remind me that there is indeed a common thread. That common thread is you. It is me. It is them. It is our community. It is our mutual existence as human beings, as Americans. It is all of us. We, the people.

You fought so hard to come home to us. And I promise to fight hard for you, your generation, and the generations to come. What a joy and a privilege it is to bear witness to your lives - the reflection of what America can and should be. There is hard work to be done, but together, anything - and everything - is possible. I love you.

-Brianna Oliver

Gaithersburg, MD

September 3, 2021