I’ve always wondered how a murderer becomes a murderer. Murder is part of my family’s story.
Let’s back up. Mass killings in Ethiopia began in 1976 and continue to this day. The civil war, which began with a dispute between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s central government and authorities in the northern Tigray region, is a battle between ethics groups over power. This battle turned into a gruesome civil war.
My mom was born and raised in Ethiopia during the civil war. She tells me countless stories about what happened. She said houses were crammed with frightened people. According to my mother, unlike in America, houses are only filled when something terrible is about to occur.
My mom said to me, “I could hear steps getting closer and closer.” She heard 23 shots fired as military troops surrounded the house. She remembers when her own mother said, “These men aren’t normal; those are the eyes of a killer. These are the ones who don’t want people to be educated, these are the folks who kill for pleasure.” My mom could sense footsteps outside the door and knew that catastrophe was about to occur.
I didn’t want her to continue the story, but she did, and what she told me was devastating.
She said two of my uncles were buried alive, and one was shot for simply protesting for educational freedom. That should be a human right. This story leaves me with so many questions. I wonder why the killers choose them and not others. I wonder why there was a division among a group that should never be divided.
I’m sure you’re wondering how this affected me as a now 17-year-old high school senior living in Minnesota. It affected me but didn’t have nearly the same impact on me as it did my Ethiopian family. But this story is my identity, and I need to write about those uncles I never met: Hamza Umar, Mohamed Umar and Yusuf Umar. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for them.
I have so much gratitude for living a safe and healthy life that it is impossible to express in words. My uncles fought and died for their education, for my homeland and my family. So, for me to have a platform to learn and grow feels like a tribute to them.
I still try to honor them today.
I write and recite poetry about them. Despite pushback, I also made a stand of my own: I started the first chapter of the Black Student Union at my school. Being a young Black Muslim woman is hard in America, but it’s in my blood to stand up and speak out, and I plan to do just that.
Even though murder will always be a part of my family story, those deaths birthed a new generation of activism, and I am honored to carry on their legacy.