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Commentary: We are the ones we have been waiting for

Jade Kastel
Rich Egger
Jade Kastel

“We are the ones we have been waiting for” is the final stanza in June Jordan’s Poem for South African Women. This poem commemorates the 1956 Women’s March in South Africa when 40,000 women and children put their lives at risk in protest against apartheid. They became a force. They were the liberators they had been waiting for.

I wonder if Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court, had a moment when she thought she was one of the ones we have been waiting for, as she said in her confirmation speech, "It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, but we've made it! We've made it — all of us."

I wonder if Simone Biles, Megan Rapinoe, Layshia Clarendon, Venus Williams, or Serena Williams had a similar notion of we are the ones we have been waiting for as they elevated their sport to new heights, achieving records never seen before, all while addressing issues of racism, misogyny, sexism, the gender pay gap, LGBTQ rights, transphobia, and the #MeToo Movement. They forged new opportunities for athletes, eroding exclusion and inequality.

I wonder if Tania León heard in her ear we are the ones we have been waiting for as she composed her orchestral piece Stride, which won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Even though, for much of her life, her music was unknown in her home country of Cuba. This was an intentional silencing of her music, due to León leaving Cuba during the Revolution. This December, Tania León will be honored as a Kennedy Center Honoree.

I wonder if the internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Joy Harjo, felt as one of the ones we have been waiting for as she served three terms as the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States, and the first Native American to hold this position.

It seems a bit easier to attribute the statement we are the ones we have been waiting for, to people who have already overcome adversity and who have achieved greatness in their field. But this stanza resonates at any time and at all levels; personal, local, national, global.

We are the ones we have been waiting for has been a recurring mantra that I find returning again and again, louder and louder.

For example, it would be awesome if Macomb had a bike shop and a bike trail. Ooo dog owners, strollers, runners, walkers, bikers, they’d all use this daily. It could even connect to Galesburg, or stretch as far as Chicago or St. Louis. Hmm. I bet many people feel this same way. Are we the ones who will make this happen?

Okay, so this next example is one many of you have experienced. You see a stray, forlorn cat or dog. Who will help this poor sweetsie babe? Fast forward, your phone is filled with pet photos. Sounds like you both were the ones you had been waiting for.

Me, I’d love to see more diversity in jazz with gender and LGBTQ representation. Oh, wait. Am I one of the ones I’ve been waiting for?

Recently, reproductive healthcare has been in free fall. Although many saw this coming, it’s still stunning. We’re in disbelief. Who is going to step up? There's a collective feeling of exhaustion.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

We fought so hard for this decades ago and the inertia to do it all over again is crushing.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

And seeing what’s on the Supreme Court docket, it looks like we’ll be losing even more of our rights.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

Now is the time. It’s us. It's time to collaborate, organize, and create solutions that work for us. This is an empowering space, full of agency and hope. We are many voices with shared dreams. As we look in the mirror, we see it’s us — all of us.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.


Jade Kastel (she/her) is the music librarian and an assistant professor at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the university or Tri States Public Radio.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.