top of page


Justin Hartley

Winnetka, IL

North Shore Country Day School


Creative Nonfiction

     It is amazing what you begin to really see when your eyes are open. Even when your eyes are lost in the deep nights of sleep and closed in physicality, the world can seem so close. Open your eyes—see the clouds below you. Take them in as nothing but a new frontier to travel and explore.

     See the skyscrapers of Johannesburg peak through the clouds, when the ships of Lagos ride the sky like waves, dredging up the houses on stills like stilled time, it is when among the clouds you hear the echoes of Swahili and the corrupted queen's English. It when the winding streets of Nairobi become the beckoning ground for the young African girl with long, nappy hair, that twists and kinks and are as black as the night skies near Lake Turkana. It is when the ebony skinned boys smiled with joy, as their hundred-year-old grandmas told them stories of their ancestors and the gods they use to pull from the sea and from the sky. Drunk from the intoxication of culture and love, look around and see a world where little black boys can play with other black boys. The Savannah bordered the north with desert; far, far beyond that, endless seas to the east, jungles to the south and grasslands to the west—our land, our utopia, fell at Africa’s grand intersection. A place where, “akɔaba,” “assalamualaikum,” and “hujambo” are heard deep in the cavernous markets resembling the halls of Khan El-Khalili that wrap their way through Cairo. Traders would call for their wares, give the little children handmade caramel sweets that melt on their tongues and dance in the market ways for joy. 

     Call together the great writers of Afrofuturism, paint the buildings the black, red and green of the motherland and drape them with clothes from the Mursi, the Masai, the Tuareg, the Igbo, and all the cultures and tribes from the continent. Call together the harmony of nature, call every blue wildebeest to take our streets and call it a party. Have our matriarchs, bathed in gold and soot, cook couscous, chickpeas, and steamed vegetables with a side of Fufu and peanut soup for your brothers and sisters.

     Kente would wrap our necks in this land instead of rope. The expanses of hearts, souls and futures had more value than the beautiful umber, sepia, ochre, russet, and terra cotta organs patching the bodies of millions of people. People. In our dreams we were people.

     When your body reawakens to this world we inhabit, see that utopia in Juneteenth, in February, or in the only black child in the school musical, walking down the street, or perhaps on the news. Perhaps, the Jannada, the paradise that Somalis speak of would be restricted and culled to only our dreams. Our aljanna, our paradys, our ipharadisi would be forever even if the lands we walk include the lynchings of black boys for not whistling at white women.


Prepare for your heart to embark on its own journey as Hartley simultaneously transports us. With mature and profound passion, the author has crafted a voice that is not only riveting, but necessary. Poignant in its drive, exemplary in its fulfillment, this is more than memoir. This is a way to survive.


Justin Hartley is a creative from North Chicago, Illinois. They grew up in a home with parents from Jamaica; creating a multicultural childhood where they juggled American culture and the Jamaican customs of their family. Justin attended North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, Illinois and graduated in 2019.

< Previous
Next >
bottom of page