The Ward District
“It is important to understand that men, in particular black men who will come off as allies at first, are the most dangerous threat to our society…”
The large projector illuminated against the white wall, showing highlights of men beating on black women and children. The dark auditorium was full of sisters with identical cornrows, black shirts tucked in and black pants with black sneakers, all sitting behind a desk as our eyes reflected what was being poured into us. I took a brown hand to smooth my braids back, feeling a hint of oil and grease in between before folding and puckering my lips back out. Anything to keep my hands busy from jumping through the screen to fight. A man raised a bat to a woman holding her child before slamming it down on her as she tried to defend herself. Her cries were loud and clear, and so was the child…
I picked at my nails, jaw rotating with a slight tick as I kept my eyes trained on the screen. The more you watch it, the easier it gets and we did this every week since I was 12. I am now 28. Every sister in the district was meant to come to sermon to show the ongoing war outside of the walls that we needed to prepare for.
“We must be ready at any given moment to defend ourselves and attack. We have sisters inside the community that are unable to fight back the way you can. They are not trained nor born to protect. They rely on us for our strength, our courage, and our ability.”
I felt my fist ball up against the desk as we watched a woman being raped by a white man. Depicting her screams being masked as he violated her in every sense of the word, but we never turned away. No.
My sisters and I watched every second of it. Consumed it. It only made us stronger, mentally preparing us for the war that would soon come.
“You have to be ready,” the narrator said in the video as I silently mouthed the words, “for there is a war coming…You will be asked to kill, to fight, to defend, and sacrifice yourself if needed for the betterment of the community. Are you prepared?”
The image of a Ward sister stared back at us with her hands folded behind her back, eyes forward, looking at each and everyone of us. I smiled with a firm nod.
I suddenly felt a small tap on the back of my shoulder as I looked back seeing my mother quietly leaning down, careful not to get in the way of the screen before motioning for me to follow. I ignored the weary and possibly jealous eyes as every elder, Auntie, and sister watched me follow the councilwoman, head of the Ward, Leslie Noles out of the auditorium.
The hallway was bright as I looked at a woman wearing a black dress that was taken in at the waist, and a silver bun smoothed back by the roots and edges. Her brown face tight, smile inviting, and the pink brooch signaled fertility, motherhood, and baby girls.
She was an elder of the Brentwood faction. We were of the same brown complexion with dark brown eyes, but the wrinkles, the tired eyes, and stoic bone structure gave way to her obvious age and maturity in life.
We followed my mother back to her office down the gray halls of the main building before the door closed and locked behind us. Something was off, I could tell by the way my mother was looking around, closing the blinds, and making sure no one was close enough to hear.
I stood with my arms behind me, chin up, chest out as my mother stood beside the woman, nearly towering over her.
“Oh, she was just a baby girl when I last saw her,” the woman said in awe. “Her and Pandora should be around the same age I believe… she’s gorgeous, Leslie…”
“You said you want someone to protect your daughter?” My mother said, keeping her eyes on me. “Your name?”
“Valerie Onora Noles.”
“What does it mean?”
“Strength, honor, and the head or lead.”
“Where are you from?”
“The Victorious, the Strongest, and Bravest Founding Mother, and Warrior, Joanne C. Ward, and under her guidance, I am a loyal soldier and daughter.”
“Who is the enemy?”
“Anyone who isn’t me,” I said, rotating my jaw clockwise.
“You should be able to do what?” My mother asked.
“Look at anyone and see myself and if I can’t, they are no ally of mine.”
“How many friends do you have dear daughter?”
“None. Friendships serve me no purpose.”
“Well, I want her and Pandora to at least get along,” the woman murmured.
“My daughter is trained to go, Andera,” she said with a smirk. “There will be no friends here. You wanted protection, I’m putting the best I have in this Ward in your care. I can’t think of anyone better or anyone I could trust as much as my own blood…”
I held back my smile, and just continued to face forward, looking at no one in particular.
“With that being said… We believe her daughter is in danger, here inside the walls as well as outside of the walls.”