What This Decade Means to Me

Maybe a week ago, I was doing my usual hourly scroll through my Twitter feed when I stumbled across something one of my friends from college tweeted this:

When I think about this decade, to know how much of school I’ve gone through in just ten years, it’s a bit baffling (much like the meme attached to the tweet above). Elementary, middle, high, and now the college has all happened within just ten years, in one decade. I went from being nine to eighteen, went through three schools, two and a half console generations, iPhone 4 launch to iPhone 11 Pro launch, and most of all forged the relationships that helped shape who I am today.

Decade wrap-ups are sometimes cliche, and I’m well aware of the fact that many just recap the trends and experiences of us within the lens of politics and/or pop culture. But for my generation, for the people my age, we’ve gone from children to teens, and now adults (legally, but maybe not behaviorally). In 2010, I was only thinking about planning the next baked good I wanted to make or when I was heading to a friend’s house to play Shaun White Snowboarding: World Stage. My fashion sense consisted of whatever my mom thought was cool and hip for kids. I was in third grade, ice skating every single Friday with my friends, eating Safeway chicken tenders and begging to go to Baskin Robbins a few blocks away.

In 2010, I didn’t grasp the concept of what it meant to be a black kid in America. I knew I was different from most of my peers growing up in Silicon Valley, who were white and Asian, but I never saw myself as sharing a particularly unique experience or having to deal with a variety of situations that only I would go through. I knew the history of black people in America, but I didn’t quite understand how I played into it all. All I knew at the time was that I loved learning about the past and that I wanted to one day do something related to politics.

In 2010, I wasn’t fearful of nearly anything. To the credit of where I grew up and how much time my mom spend with my brother and me, many of the hardships in life were oblivious to me. I didn’t know what it means to truly be sad, to be in a position where I had no control over my life circumstances, heck even know what it felt like to be depressed or feel hopeless because I was protected. It allowed me to live life to the fullest and be joyful almost constantly.

As I continued to grow up, transitioning from elementary to middle school, I began to truly learn what it meant to feel emotions that may have been less than pleasant. The same goes for the transition from middle to high school. I began truly understanding that life may not always be pleasant all the time. It was in my navigation through these downs that allowed me to re-evaluate how to get back up, again and again. I learned maybe sooner than my peers what gratitude means and how I need to amidst whatever I may be dealing with, to choose to put my experiences into perspective.

In 2019, I’m a first-year in college at a school I had no idea existed when I was nine, studying what I had anticipated I wanted to learn more about. I live halfway across the country and consciously chose to freeze myself for the next four years. I still love to write frequently, read the news, but now I do so with coffee by my side (as I’m doing right now). My wardrobe exclusively consists of darker pants and hoodies, and I’m a hip-hop fanatic as opposed to the pop radio listener I was in elementary school. Salads are nearly the top of my favorite types of meals, I love drinking water courtesy of my iconic blue HydroFlask, and I own an iPad, something didn’t exist before this decade.

In 2019, I feel as though my outlook today is more optimistic and hopeful than it was when I didn’t know the challenges life would throw right at me. I grew to have this mindset that is strongly based on the belief that I will be the person I want to be and remain true to myself. I know that amidst whatever challenges I will face, I want to prove to myself I can overcome whatever odds. The past ten years have been a constant flow between great ups and downs, but I somehow have been resilient enough to not let anyone or anything defeat me or dictate how I move forward in life. I am very proud and perhaps more confident and secure in who I am than I’ve been ever, but I know I have so much room to continue to grow.

In 2029, I don’t know where I will be, but I hope at the very minimum that I continue to write, continue to push to be the very best version of myself. If there’s anything I’ve learned about myself this decade, I can do more than I know is possible, so why not go for it all?

I’ll see y’all next decade…

Being Noah Tesfaye #112: What This Decade Mean to Me

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts. Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/noahbball1

Website: http://noahtesfaye.com/

The Soundtrack of My Decade — Favorite Albums of the 2010s

As the 2010s wrap up, I just find it particularly hilarious to look back at where my music tastes lied at the start of the decade. From B.o.B to the Black Eyed Peas, the evolution of my music taste and the phases I went through discovering different artists has been really fun to go through. I scrolled through the nearly 3,000 songs saved in my Spotify library, reminiscing at all the good, the bad, and the ugly that got me to add a certain song or album.

In some ways, I feel as though it’s a bit unfair to try and push myself to distill some sort of completive list of the ten best albums of the decade. But, at least compared to a songs of the decade list, I can more cohesively evaluate a body of work rather than a particular mindset I had when listening to one song, or how it repeatedly was a part of my life at that given time. Each one of these albums holds a personal place in my memories from this decade. Each album had some part in inspiring my growth or was crucial to a particular moment in my life I want to cherish. So, with that said, this is my soundtrack to the 2010s; these are my personal ten favorite albums this decade.

10: ‘Victory Lap’— Nipsey Hussle

Celebrity deaths have never shaken me. But Ermias Asghedom, better known as Nipsey Hussle, was more than just a celebrity or an artist that I admired: he was an inspiration of what you could do to make a direct impact for those in your community. Ermias’s art was just the means of discovery for learning about how he wanted to invest in technology with black people front and center for his vision, how he did buy his block and turn it into a center for his community. Victory Lap made my list of best albums last year, but following his passing, the album only further reminds me of how you have to believe in yourself against any odds to do what is right. Highlights on the album like the title track “Victory Lap” and “Hussle & Motivate” are great insights into the mind that was truly once in a generation. TMC. The Marathon Continues.

9: ‘Flower Boy’ — Tyler, The Creator

Much of my thoughts on this album remain the same as when I wrote about it on the blog two years ago recapping my favorite albums of 2017. What makes this project continue to stand out for me has just been its permanence in my life. Since its release, there has not been a month that I do not go and revisit the album in full. Whenever I throw on “Boredom” or “See You Again” or “Glitter,” everything just stops for me and me immerse myself in Tyler’s world. His love story that is woven together with simple, catchy melodies is what gets me to return over and over again. It remains one of my favorite albums and deserves a spot on this list.

8: ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’ — Drake

Drake put out so much music this decade, a decent amount of it falling flat for me. But, if I could take one Drake project with me, even if it may not be considered an album (whatever that even means today), it would be this one. With my personal favorite Drake song of all time on it, “Know Yourself,” or with other iconic Drake anthems like “Jungle” or “6 God,” this project is the only Drake project I thoroughly enjoy in full, deep cuts and all. There isn’t much else to say about it, and in many ways, that’s enough to earn a spot on my all-decade rankings.

7: ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ — Kendrick Lamar

The eighth-grader in me got put onto Kendrick after taking a deep dive on Spotify, looking for complex, current-event-based bars. Amidst the rising support and awareness for the Black Lives Matter Movement, there couldn’t be an album that could encapsulate the mind of a black man at this time. If you were to pick a single album to represent this decade, you could not pick a more impactful album to do it. “Hood Politics” and “i” continue to be my favorites off the album, but as with all albums on this list, there aren’t any songs I don’t listen to on at least a semi-regular basis. Kendrick deserved his Pulitzer for this one.

6: ‘21 ‘— Adele

During my peak piano passion time, my angsty middle school self became an Adele stan. There was a time where I would only listen to this album for hours on end, never not screaming out the lyrics with my tiny Sony headphones. It was a great time to be alive to have such amazing pop ballads I wanted to hear on the radio so for the days I was going around with my friends in their parents’ cars, I could jam with them on our way to school or Starbucks. “Someone Like You” and “Turning Tables” are the two tracks I will never forget from this album because of their heavy piano emphasis, and when it came to learning how to play, this album was crucial in developing my skills. Currently waiting on the next album as we speak, hopefully coming this winter/spring.

5: ‘Malibu’ — Anderson .Paak

There are albums that you get to hop onto right when they release. You grow with the project, and it forges a bond that makes it unforgettable. My relationship with Malibu is the complete opposite of that. I discovered it six months after its release, after deciding to click on it as I was jamming out to “Come Down” and “Am I Wrong,” the lead singles from the project. I think I heard about it from a commercial I always saw watching basketball. Nonetheless, from the middle of 2016 to now, Anderson. Paak’s soulful, soothing voice gives me the joy that no artist does. Live, there has been no performer that has blown my mind like seeing Paak drum and sing/rap for over an hour and a half. Every time I listen to it, I have new personal favorites from the project and can pick through different tracks based on any given mood I’m in. As of now, check out “The Dreamer” and “Lite Weight.” This album is currently one of two, the other being Flower Boy, that occupies wall space in my dorm.

4: ‘2014 Forest Hills Drive’ — J. Cole

Who knew that my first true introduction to J. Cole would be through my mom watching one of his interviews right after this album dropped. She was watching his conversation on NPR and told me to check out his music. I was hesitant to take a music suggestion from my mom, but it turned out to be a recommendation I will never forget. From start to finish, FHD plays through the mind of a young boy who becomes a man. When I was listening to this project, I was growing and experiencing some of the same stories Cole was rapping through. The three-track sequence of “Apparently,” to “Love Yourz,” concluding with “Note to Self” is maybe the strongest three-song stretch on this whole list. It is Cole’s honesty in these three songs in particular that allowed me to begin to open up and be more vulnerable in life, something I could never be more thankful for.

3: ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ — Kanye West

From a technical perspective, you could make the argument that there is no album on this list that is as ambitious or sonically powerful than MBDTF. Releasing the first day this decade, this album is not only the best of Kanye but is what I believe is his most honest reflection into his state of mind we’ve seen. The writing, the production, and, most of all, Kanye’s bravado and confidence culminate in an album that has remained a part of my life for the past ten years. “All Of The Lights” was the first rap ballad that I memorized lyrics to, and since then, I’ve explored all parts of the album. “Runaway” is my song of the decade not only for how unique it sounds but for how much that song has gotten me to just be okay venting and feeling crappy as long as you know you will grow from it. I have a playlist with just this song titled “For Those Days…” because it is the song that brings me back to remembering why I want to achieve the things I want to conquer. Kanye was at his best, and I could have lived nowhere near the same decade without this album.


The summer of 2017 was the most pivotal three months of my life. One of the reasons why was because I discovered my favorite artist/group to date. The day I listened to Saturation for the first time, days after it’s release in June of 2017, my perception of what hip-hop could be was shattered. All three albums released in six months are, in my view, one triple album that captures the evolution of the best group in music. The versatility, the vulnerability, the grunginess all are in full-effect throughout the three projects. To witness their rise from the very start is in part why this ranks so high. I do rank the Saturations 3, 1, 2, but I cannot take one particular album without bringing the whole package. That’s why I cannot ever take one without bringing all three. “BLEACH” and “GOLD” are my favorite BH tracks of all time, and seeing these tracks live a few weeks ago reaffirmed how much the best boyband of all time is so incredible.

1: ‘4:44’ — JAY-Z

It was no surprise to me that in the course of compiling this list where this album would lie. I haven’t listened to any other album this consistently, for as long, on repeat, shuffled, then this one. From the moment I first listened to it in a dorm at midnight at Columbia, I knew that this album was gonna be special to me. And, every single week since it has been the soundtrack to my life. To see my favorite rapper of all time be so direct and honest about his mistakes and recount his family history were the stories I needed to hear at this moment in my life. The memories of walking through New York City alone listening to this album that summer, rapping along silently to every bar, are where I came to some of the most important insights about what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and what I’m truly living for. The production by No I.D. across the album with samples of Nina Simone gives this album the longevity that it deserves, merging different generations. The features are placed perfectly to complement the beats and Hov’s confidence. The back and forth in particular between the personalities of JAY-Z and Shawn Carter is what drives this album. “Marcy Me” and “The Story of OJ” are narratives that hit home for me time and time again. If there was one album I would take with me for the rest of my life, to never let go of, it would be 4:44 for the memories and adventures I had with this playing throughout the past two and a half years.

So that’s the list! Feel free to check out any of these albums if you haven’t already heard them. Each one, for different reasons, is an album that, most importantly, means something important to me. I encourage you to try and make your list or go back through the music that shaped your decade. It brings forth a level of reflection that I think we all could use, especially as we wrap up the 2010s and are on break.

Being Noah Tesfaye #111: A First Quarter Reflection

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts. Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/noahbball1

Website: http://noahtesfaye.com/

A First Quarter Reflection

Quarter one of twelve is over.

I knew these twelve weeks would fly by, that we would be going non-stop. But I still struggle to put into words just how much happens in the quarter system. You learn a semester’s worth of material in ten weeks, then have finals, and you’re done, off to the next set of classes.

As I’ve returned, writing at the usual spot back home, I’m finally getting the time to process what the past three months or so have been like. I am resting, not thinking about classes for the first time in what feels like an eternity, sleeping a sensible amount of hours, and eating seasoned food. Amidst nearly everything that has happened, I’ve been able to begin to synthesize everything I’ve learned about myself into a few more general lessons.

The biggest thing I learned about myself in my first quarter was that I should take on more new opportunities and meet more people, even if it leaves me initially with higher levels of frustration than I may like. I pushed myself to be in more uncomfortable situations to push myself to grow and introduce myself to people I wouldn’t otherwise cross paths with. Through random events on campus, I did feel anxious constantly having to reintroduce myself. But it was through being in these scenarios that I ended up forging friendships I never could have anticipated having. It was these efforts I made initially in the quarter that enabled me to feel more confident and assured that I did have people who I could help support and vice versa through our most difficult moments.

This kind of naturally leads to the second thing I learned about myself: I need to learn how to take productive and methodical breaks. I realized throughout this quarter that in the moments where I felt unproductive or burned, I wouldn’t give myself the right break needed to get back to working efficiently. Whether it was just taking a stroll to work or meeting up on campus with friends somewhere, I wish I did more of that throughout the quarter. Recharging more frequently instead of waiting until I could not physically do any more work is a strategy that I have to change.

Third, which is also related to productivity, is that I’ve learned how crucial it is to understand what you want to prioritize on a given day. Of course, if you have deadlines coming up, those respective assignments take precedence. But on a more micro-scale, finding out what things you can do tired versus needing full energy is a crucial step I didn’t realize I wouldn’t need to evaluate until I got to college. These considerations are crucial for maximizing how much you can get done.

There are a lot of places where I see room for growth and improvement. I do not think at all, whether socially or academically, I’ve reached quite where I want to be. But, if there is anything I’ve been extremely grateful for, it’s the friendships I made these past twelve weeks. To be surrounded by people who continue to amaze me with their passion and their genuine interest in supporting your success is something I cannot overstate how thankful I am to have. I know it isn’t the easiest to be able to go out of your way and meet new people in a new environment, but to live amongst people that continue to inspire me every day and also be people who I can call my true friends is an opportunity I will never take for granted.

I will gladly be taking my three weeks off as a true detox, knowing these next six months back will be a constant grind. However, I do believe I’ve learned enough about myself to put myself in a position where I can only improve more upon the experiences I’ve had this quarter. The real challenge will be having to navigate this new-found concept that I haven’t quite heard of called “winter,” but that’s for when I need to deal with it. Till then…

Being Noah Tesfaye #111: A First Quarter Reflection

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts. Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/noahbball1

Website: http://noahtesfaye.com/

AirPods Pro are That Good

When I first bought AirPods this past summer, I wrote about how they completely blew me away for their convenience and ease of use. There is no gadget I carry around more frequently besides my phone than these headphones.

Every single major thing I had complained or found particularly disappointing in its design were distilled to two core things: sound isolation and sound quality. For me, the original AirPods were never about really getting the best sound quality, but I would be remised if I didn’t say how average their sound was. There was not that much sound separation between the mid and highs. The bass was present, but not that punchy. There was always a component and a wish for me that one-day AirPods would be at least a little more satisfying to listen to as a whole package.

This naturally leads to the more important concern I had with the original AirPods: sound isolation. The most frustrating thing about them was that I would have to repeatedly increase the volume to be able to hear whatever I was working on or listening to in any non-silent room. It naturally leads to not only more ear fatigue, but it got to the point where I would sometimes just take them out because I refused to listen to music at such high volumes. I, like almost anyone who uses headphones, don’t want to destroy my ears, and if there was anything that did concern me the most about AirPods, it was the fact I could never use them in public transit or busy coffee shops because the environments were just too loud.

When Apple announced the AirPods Pro at the end of October, I do not recount any other time where I was more excited to scoop up a new gadget that closes to launch. After seeing the overwhelmingly positive reviews, I sold my AirPods 2 and picked up the AirPods Pro at Michigan Ave Apple Store. I admittedly ran into a slight technical difficulty when I realized that I had to update my software to use the headphones, so I waited for another hour and then just got to test them out.

For the past month, I’ve been using the new AirPods Pro every single day. I’ve walked between classes with them, taken them through the green and red lines, worked in busy shops, and taken them on the plane. I wanted to reserve my judgment until I comfortably could speak towards what I truly felt about the gadget as a whole.

AirPods Pro are, simply put, my favorite headphones I’ve ever owned.

The feature that singlehandedly makes these headphones for me is the active noise cancellation. My daily driver headphones before I had bought these for ANC had been the Bose QC35s. The noise cancellation was fantastic, but recently, after three years of constant use, they are showing some signs of aging. Almost instantly, I was just blown away with how great the ANC was on these tiny earbuds. The way with which they not only actively drown out noise but remove almost all pressure upon your ears most commonly associated with ANC is truly special. They allow me to travel with a quiet world in my pocket, which especially as a college student, is something that I value. For the moments where I don’t want that, transparency mode, which you can toggle on/off with either three presses or through control center, does a good job in allowing you to be more of your surroundings. Nonetheless, I choose to just never turn off noise canceling, which allows me to continue to play my music at low volumes and still enjoy it.

Something I hadn’t anticipated enjoying so much was the fit of the earbuds. They produce a true solid seal in my ears that the previous AirPods were never quite as successful with. I have no issues moving actively, whether biking or in the gym, with these in my ears. Perhaps the true winner in this design is the perforations in its chassis that exist that balance out the noise cancellation with the outside world. This enables it to have an almost airy, light feeling whenever I have them on.

The fit ultimately is what enables these to have such a substantially better sound quality in comparison to the original AirPods. Although the drivers are larger and are more dynamic, it is the more secure fit that enables you to truly feel the sound in these more than with the originals. The bass is strong, the stereo separation is far more noticeable, and most of all, I’ve been able to pick up the same minute music details that I hear in my over-ear Bose. I was already accepting of the sound quality that the normal AirPods had at the expense of convenience. However, to be able to have this level of sound quality, to have noise-canceling this great in the tiny jeans pocket, let alone in a pocket, has truly changed the way I enjoy my day.

Apple has made one of their best products in recent years with the AirPods Pro. They addressed the main concerns consumers had with the originals and executed on those changes successfully. This is one of the few Apple products that I genuinely see no issue in paying a premium for. Sure, this may have a battery that will last for three years or so, but aside from that, these are a true quality product worthy of the high $250 asking price. With sales and discounts popping up occasionally, you can even scoop these up for $230 or $220. I cannot recommend a product quite like these, especially if you don’t have AirPods, and even more so if you do not have noise-canceling headphones. These will truly change the way with which you engage with music, and for that reason alone, should be worthy of your consideration.

Being Noah Tesfaye #110: AirPods Pro are That Good

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts. Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/noahbball1

Website: http://noahtesfaye.com/

A Lack of Permanence

It’s kind of difficult to articulate quite what I feel as I’m back home for the first time since I’ve moved to Chicago for school.

When I think about what I would have envisioned my first trip back, I thought it would be either completely seamless or completely strange. I had pictured a reaction of the extremes: either I felt just right back at home, or that I would feel like I didn’t belong in the community I was a part of my whole life. In reality, what I’ve felt is a lack of true permanence, a lack of myself really staying a part of this community, because, in all honest truth, that is just what it is.

The first night back, being in my room, I thought first that this would not be where I will be an extended period ever for the rest of my life. I saw my things, I saw my bed, my whiteboard wall, yet I didn’t really feel connected to much of it. It all felt familiar, yet it didn’t seem to quite feel like mine anymore. It felt comfortable and welcoming, yet there was something about it, whether it being less disheveled than when I lived in it, but I know it isn’t my reality anymore.

When I got back into the car to drive, I will say that I did feel right back in tune with everything. Blasting “BOOGIE” and “Gorgeous,” chanting through all of the lyrics, I remembered why I loved driving alone so much. It was my form of escapism, away from everyone, to just be myself amidst whatever I may have been dealing with on a given day. Yet, for as much as I have enjoyed driving again for the past few days, I know it isn’t permanent, I know this is no longer my reality.

Even as I’m writing at my favorite coffee shop, sitting at my usual table I always sit at, I feel a sense of connection. I feel comfortable with the great coffee, the amazing aromas, and the comfortable chairs. I see the regular people I’d used to see on Saturday mornings, working in the same spots. Yet, just like my room, or with driving, I know that this whole experience ends tonight, and I’ll be back in Chicago soon.

I do enjoy and have missed people and places and foods and everything in between from the Bay, but at the same time, I know I will never be connected here in the same way. That’s something I’m more than okay with. Honestly, I’m surprised at how mellow and ready I am and have been to just take this step to be collected in my willingness to move on. Perhaps it is because I remember a time where I was so unsatisfied and have been unhappy at points here, being a resident of the Bay, that I am okay with not being as connected with this place. After all, I wrote a whole column about the parts of the Bay I thought I’d escape coming to Chicago.

For the first time in my life, my relationships and experiences are no longer dictated by where my family is from or where we live. This affords me the privilege to really be exposed to things in ways I could never have been able to have in high school. The distance away from home in a way has allowed me to really push myself to grow in a deeper way, to establish more maturity and responsibility. It is this lack of permanence that I feel being back at home that has kind of made me feel as though this change has really materialized. I don’t know whether this ultimately will be a good or bad thing, but I do know that it is something that is occurring, and thus, I might as well go and take advantage of it.

Being Noah Tesfaye #109: A Lack of Permanence

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts. Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/noahbball1

Website: http://noahtesfaye.com/

The Fifth Democratic Primary Debate — More and More of the Same

Every single debate, I usually often give a thorough recap of my favorite moments from the debates. I’d go over the candidates I thought performed the best and the worst, while also discussing the context with which these debates were happening.

But, I’m not going to do that today. Why? Because I’m exhausted with these debates.

When I look back at the five evenings we’ve sat through, watching candidates repeatedly hash out the same opinions and ideas on the debates, I spent most of the two hours this week questioning why I’m even watching anymore? Why am I really going through the effort to sit through this amidst all of my prep for a midterm and extracurricular backlog? I could easily be doing more work, spending time with friends doing nearly anything else, and yet, every single month since June, I’m back to the debates.

Somehow, I feel obligated to watch these debates. I feel like I should be informed and a diligent participant in our democracy. When I watch the debates, I feel as though that however bored I may be, the act of at least tuning in is better than not watching at all. The debates may not be particularly informative or really that meaningful in the grand scheme of polling or the results of this election, but if I want to be able to effectively report and share my thoughts on the current political climate, I should watch.

Within the context of America and my own passion for politics, I feel like I would be doing myself a true disservice if I was not as engaged as I am. From knowing there are people who look like me who are still around that were not able to vote in their lifetime, to having family who were not able to vote in the 70s and 80s in Ethiopia and Eritrea, I feel that I would not be taking advantage of the opportunities those before me fought so hard for me to achieve. I fear that my own lack of political activism could only hinder my own ability to take part in seeing the change I want to see in the world.

Reluctantly or not, I will continue to watch the debates, through ridiculous questions, fake candidate drama, and over-exaggerated policy positions, because I know that my political awareness is better for it. If anything, to be able to distill some of these ideas for fellow students and young people who are not as devoted to politics as I am is something I also am conscious and grateful to help with in breaking down these events. As the primaries finally are within our horizon, I look forward to writing even more about the election and my hopes to see a true progressive vision in the White House. Till then…

Being Noah Tesfaye #108: The Fifth Democratic Primary Debate — More and More of the Same

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts. Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/noahbball1

Website: http://noahtesfaye.com/

All of Us Deserve Mercy — “Just Mercy” Movie Thoughts

When I was reading Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption on my commute to an internship a year and a half ago, there were moments where I’d audibly gasp and have very single person near me make very awkward eye as I continue to glance back down into my book. For a few weeks, I’d hop back onto the train with this book in my hand, eagerly reading and repeatedly having my mind blown.

The story of Bryan Stevenson and his journey helping the wrongly convicted is truly an inspiration for me. His work is what I really want to do one day with the rest of my life. So, when I found out early last year that the book I loved was being turned into a film, I counted down the days till December to see it.

Somehow, on a purely random coincidence, I got the chance to see Just Mercy at school last week. And, for the past four days, I have not stopped thinking about what I saw.

I do not cry often when I watch films. I don’t know why or what about most movies don’t emotionally move me, but often times I’ll be that quiet friend while everyone next to me is sobbing. But this film was gutwrenching. I was crying and ready to yell at the screen on multiple occasions. For most of the film, even though I may have known everything that was happening, to see it live, to see it happening in front of me with the emotions of the people placed front and center was horrifying in all the important ways.

The film is centered on the around Bryan Stevenson and his client Walter McMillian, a man who is on death row for a crime he could not have committed. It’s the main arch of the book as well, where all of the stories are connected. Both Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx (Stevenson and McMillian respectively) play their roles with an incredible amount of conviction and sincerity that made me feel like I was there with them. Yes, there were a few short lines that were a bit corny for Jordan’s role in a script like this, especially when you put in context that this man is one of the most celebrated lawyers in modern history. That being said, the moments where he was forced to be strip searched as a lawyer or when he had to watch an execution were moments that could be looked back on as some of his definining moments on screen.

The film’s merits lie primarily with its character development, and fortunately, the majority of the book’s core moments were put into the project. Although I did know how the plot would unfold, I still think they did a tremendous job with still creating a compelling screenplay for those who had read the book. To see my friends to see these stories told in this way for the first time was powerful. We all were able to share this experience in a weirdly sincere way that brought us a bit tighter.

I won’t really go into the merits of the film as a whole since I don’t believe I’m as invested in film critiques. That being said, Just Mercy is not just an average film; it’s a powerful retelling of one of the most resilient stories in recent American history. I encourage any and everyone to see this film, especially if you’re just getting into understanding prison reform and the prison abolition movement.

Being Noah Tesfaye #107: All of Us Deserve Mercy — “Just Mercy” Movie Thoughts

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts. Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/noahbball1

Website: http://noahtesfaye.com/

One Year Out

Yesterday, I saw a three year-old Snapchat memory of sophomore in high school giving a two minute long reflection in front of a spread of networks broadcasting election results. As I saw Pennsylvania go, I went to bed and accepted what we’d see the next day at school: disbelief.

As I strolled around the quad, understanding the election on a deeper level than most of my peers, I remained almost stoic? I realized how terrible this result was, but I also simultaneously came to the conclusion that this was self-inflicted. We as a nation did this. You can point towards a lot of things, but ultimately, as we later found out, the Dems put together a terrible campaign plan that resulted in a substantial lack of voter enthusiasm, the complete opposite of 45. They didn’t campaign hard in Michigan or Wisconsin, and perhaps more importantly, they took some voters for granted, as if they were a guarantee to vote. Either way you look at it, as I saw tears and anger across the faces of other students, I switched my mindset towards this election, the one where I could vote.

We’re one year away from the 2020 general election, a year that is poised to be a pivotal moment in American politics for generations to come. Although there may still be over ten serious candidates still running, the race has slowly distilled down to three final candidates truly in contention to win: Biden, Warren, and Bernie. To think that in a year, we will know the conclusion of this whole race, the one that really began the day after November 8th, 2016, is hard to fathom. The campaigns really began seriously at the start of 2019, but candidates like Harris and Booker took to building their national recognition through hearings and public speeches as early as 2017.

The past few weeks, amidst the impeachment inquiry officially beginning and foreign policy blunders, I’ll admit that for the first time this campaign season, I’m tired. Maybe it’s just being in college, but seeing this race repeatedly loop around the same discussions and false equivalencies is no longer interesting. I don’t want to hear more discussions about how Medicare-for-all is unfeasible, how progressive corporate taxes will force companies overseas, or that the US should remain engaged in pseudo-wars across the globe. If I as someone who really is fascinated and interested in these kinds of discussions, imagine how a more traditional, less politically-inclined voter feels at this incessant banter. How does this make anyone more interested in getting out to vote?

That’s why, above all else, this election needs to be about voter enthusiasm. It needs to be about getting those who may not have voted in 2016 or ever to the polls. With another year of this campaign still ahead of us, it is paramount that this energy of excitement remains a priority for any candidate. 45 has been rallying his voters literally and metaphorically since his first victory, and if there is any chance someone can defeat him, that kind of enthusiasm is the way we get there.

He still should be considered the favorite in this race. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: I truly believe he will be re-elected unless either the economy absolutely crumbles or he is impeached, neither of which seem likely at this moment. Although candidates are certainly taking him more serious this go round, I still sense a sentiment amongst many Dems that this election is a near-automatic win. If we fall into that same thought process, he will win again, and we will be stuck with another four years of 45.

Being Noah Tesfaye #106: One Year Out

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts. Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/noahbball1

Website: http://noahtesfaye.com/

Music That Plays into My Soul

To say that music has played a small role in my life is like saying my brother lived under the same roof as me; it’s an egregious misrepresentation of their respective impacts on me.

There really hasn’t been any sort of enjoyment that has been a part of my life like music. I can remember the contrasts of my mom playing African music CDs to my dad putting my brother and I onto jazz and reggae. Over the years, I got exposed to different genres, eras, and tempos. Although I may have spent most of my time in the car hearing the NPR morning report, every moment I heard a glimpse of some new music, I’d always be eager to learn more about it.

The first time I really ever dived into music on my own was when I got access to my first iTunes account and iPod Nano. Well, it wasn’t MY iPod, but I just kind of took my mom’s square Nano and started loading up songs I’d heard from my friends. The first album I ever bought was 21 by Adele and I played that the whole summer it released, along with a lot of Black Eyed Peas (The Beginning was incredible). I later saved up and got an iPod Touch, then upgraded again to the one that had a loop strap, which I wore proudly.

It was at this point roughly in my music exploration career that my dad showed me a new company that allowed you to just stream any song you wanted at any point. This was Spotify. I thought I was the coolest kid on campus knowing I could listen to and play any song I wanted, not having to worry about getting iTunes gift cards and purchasing music. It was thanks to Spotify that I really got the chance to really discover hip-hop. I played uncensored music for the first time and learned about the struggle of going through life when you didn’t know who you were.

I would say it was thanks to a lot of the music by Kanye West, Logic (before he went south), and C2C that gave me the belief that I could really be myself and succeed. Songs like “Runaway” or “Empire State of Mind” or “Alright” reminded me that I sometimes would just need to escape and soul search. I found through music that I could begin to make the difficult but necessary journey towards being a more confident version of myself.

Over the course of my exploration into music, I found out I enjoyed French rap artists, British R&B, Afrobeats, and every American genre in between. I learned I loved the greats like Nina Simone and Otis Redding, but also new artists like Berhana and DaBaby. Over the years, I’ve grown to expand my own interests in music beyond what I may have initially considered as “good.” My brother loves to poke me on how he plays me music before I’m ready for it, and he’s right. But music exploration comes at your own pace, so in that respect, I’m beginning to just be open to the fact that I may listen to someone that a friend may have never heard before and not just get unnecessarily upset at them for not “being on the wave.”

As of right now, my Spotify library of 2,802 songs are downloaded in the highest quality on my phone and take up 28 GB. I always want to carry my library with me everywhere I go. I want to have any song, any mood, any artist I enjoy to be within a few seconds away from me having a thought about their music. That weird anxiety about not having that music with me at any moment is why it takes up too much storage and why I have the highest quality music possible.

Music gives me the sense of escape that even in a short walk to class gives me the sense of simple reprieve and rejuvenation I want every day. In these five weeks of college, there have been countless moments of confusion, loss, or just raw frustration where music has been the one way for me to just feel everything all at once. It allows me to just zone into my own world and remind me of how I just need to enjoy being where I am.

Music is a part of my soul in a way that is intrinsic to me being the human I am. My library is a collection of memories, emotions, and artists that have played an incremental or even substantial amount in my growth. And for all those pieces, however mellow or angry or energetic they are, they all allow me to tune into my mind in different ways. That’s what music is all about. That’s why I’ll continue to share it and experience it with those I care about (plugging my Spotify username “noah_tesfaye”), because I know that if a song could help me grow, maybe it could help someone else also key into their own lives.

Being Noah Tesfaye #105: Music That Plays into My Soul

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts. Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/noahbball1

Website: http://noahtesfaye.com/

Am I Being a Part of the Problem?

As I come to complete week four of the quarter, I’ve constantly been coming back to one thing. It’s been a barometer for me as I frame my perspective going to the school I attend.

During our first Black Convocation, I heard our second year student government president talk aboutblack exceptionalism. It’s the idea that just by being in a given space, we believe automatically we’re uplifting others who aren’t in our position. Often times, this ideology manifests into us thinking we’re better than those who didn’t make it here, or at its most fundamental form, leaves us not thinking about how we can help those who aren’t here with us. Her speech is far more eloquent explaining this intersectionality where we as black people are navigating spaces that are often times not as willing, if not flat out denying us the opportunity to be there.

It really initially goes right in explaining why the ideas surrounding Du Bois’s talented tenth plan was egregiously anti-black (thus why he abandoned it). Black exceptionalism has been used as a justification for upholding racial hierarchies since the inception of this nation, going all the way back to 1619. Those from Du Bois to MLK to Baldwin to Obama have been put on pedestals in ways with which they are treated as the rare case of us doing well, and thus, allowing for a perpetual justification in racist beliefs. If you can exclude these people as people who aren’t truly black, it gives room for these ideas to exist.

In my five weeks living in Chicago, I keep going back to this speech and asking myself this single question: am I being a part of the problem? Am I playing into this role of black exceptionalism and not being aware of the privileges afforded to me by coming to a school like this?

If I’m being honest with myself, I truly believe that I’ve done a good job attempting to not fall into this ideology. Being a resident in the south side, admittedly in a white savoir complex of a university, I still am stunned every day at the utter contrast that exists literally between blocks in this neighborhood. Since the first time I even came to Hyde Park back in April, I have already seen the area gentrify more and more, with more condos being renovated and more upscale restaurants popping up (also a Trader Joe’s, but I still am king of excited about that).

Students don’t really venture to go past 61st, and if they do, it was probably when they literally did a mandatory voluteering trek/took one of those bus tours of the south side. The way this place/our school community treats locals is not great to put it lightly, and albeit all the other issues that I could dive into, the simple thing I fail to understand is just the common courtesy. Why don’t more of us just say hi to people on the street, or at least acknowledge residents? Is it really that hard?

For a while, every single time I heard some comment that raised something egregiously wrong about the neighborhood or community issues here, I would challenge those ideas. But, I won’t deny that it gets exhausting. And, although the amount of racial prejudice is nothing new from what I’ve grown up with in the Bay Area, I have thought about whether it’s worth sticking in the fight.

Yet, for everything, I am beyond grateful to say that I have friends that truly help remind me to continue to fight for what you believe in, to know that my mission here is to create an outlet and space for black people both here and one day on a national scale. I can’t say enough how grateful I am for these people and how they really push to uplift me.

If were to answer that question I asked at earlier in a few words, I’d say that I may in fact be objectively by being in the space I am contributing to being a part of this idea of black exceptionalism. However, I know that I am actively fighting stereotypes and working to shatter misconceptions about us. I want to push to advocating for antiracist ideas and policies. I know this is just the beginning of my college journey, but I want to keep that speech in mind as I go through this process of growth.

This week marks the TWO YEAR ANNIVERSARY of the blog!

I kind of wrote a longer reflection for the 100th post, but again, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone. In the two years officially writing the blog, I haven’t missed a single Saturday. I don’t think that’s jsut a testament to how much I love writing here, but how much I appreciate everyone who takes the time to come every week and hear something new. Aside from the writing and mental growth I’ve seen in myself for the past two years, I just value the moment of reprieve I get writing here. So, while I don’t see this ending anytime soon, I’m excited to see where this writing adventure continues to take me. I hope you’ll stick around for the ride.

Being Noah Tesfaye #104: Am I Being a Part of the Problem?

Thanks for reading this week! Follow me on Twitter if you want to ever discuss anything and hear my spontaneous thoughts. Also, if you want to see more of my work, visit my website!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/noahbball1

Website: http://noahtesfaye.com/