I remember my first time seeing a therapist. I’d just recently attempted my first suicide. I had been contemplating it for a while at that time. I was just 8 or 9 years old. Part of me was suffering from being sexually abused, a story I have shared many times before; part of me was responding to the uncertainty of my parents’ relationship, the abuse my mom was experiencing at the hands of my father, and the scariness of being caught in the middle; and part of me, as I thought at the time, was putting an end to the scathing verbal attacks wielded against my fat body. So reading about Phillip Spruill Jr’s death has brought back a lot of painful, agonizing memories. Instead of holding them, I want to use them to honor his life with words.

On Friday, April 5, 2019, after a failed attempt to gain the attention of the support staff at his school, Phillip Jr. returned home where he would later die by suicide. I read this, then I sat still for a while, and then I wept. Phillip was just 11 years old—not much older than I was at the time of my first suicide attempt—and had yet to truly even experience life. Tormented, I’m imagining with his grandmother, he woke up everyday dreading a reality that he knew was unchanging; one in which his Heavy Black body was always met with taunting and terror the moment he stepped outside his front door. It is so very evident that he had a loving family, and still, I wish I’d known him. In many ways, I did. His story is so similar to mine and many other fat Black kids. But I wish I had really gotten the chance to know him, and to do for him what no one had in my youth. Since I didn’t know him, however, I’ll do that for him and all other fat Black kids with this piece.

I so desperately wish that I could wrap my arms around every fat Black kid and affirm their existence in a way no one ever did for me. To teach them that their fatness is not a burden, nor is it a death sentence, nor is it something worth running from, but rather it is part of what makes them beautiful, whole, and human. No one ever told me these things. No one ever made me feel like my fatness was something worth loving and celebrating. Many times, I wanted to—and did attempt to—do exactly what Phillip did. This should not be. Black kids deserve to live in a world where they are not taught that the only freedom their fat body will ever know is through death. They deserve to know that fatness is not a prison. They deserve to hear that they don’t have to alter their bodies to be affirmed. They deserve to feel at home in their own bodies. They deserve to know that they were not created just to be abused; that their lives have purpose and value. More than anything else, they deserve to be surrounded by people who understand and are committed to destroying anti-fatness.

Anti-fatness is not biological. It’s taught. Through families, through media, through schools, through religion, and all other institutions, we are all socialized to hate, criminalize, and dehumanize fat Black people’s bodies. If you aren’t challenging anti-fatness in these spaces, you are complicit in the deaths of fat folks. Phillip was failed. This doesn’t mean that any other fat Black child must be failed, too. This is precisely the importance of developing a fat politic, or an understanding of violences experienced by (and the structural oppression of) fat people—a fat politic that centers Black people. We are most vulnerable to the anti-fatness in this world. Understanding anti-fatness, desirability, and anti-Blackness—and how they each work together to maintain structural fat oppression—is necessary to work towards building a Heavy Home in which our kids are safe from this kind of harm.

I wish that Phillip hadn’t left this Earth so soon. I wish it didn’t take over a month for me to hear of his death. I wish the response to his death was met with just as much care, indignation, and concern as that of his counterparts. I wish more of us were committed to a fat Black liberation.

It is imperative that we engage Phillip’s death as something bigger than just bullying. Bullying is pervasive in primary school, and while that is a necessary thing to tackle, it cannot fully explain Phillip’s experience. Many, many kids are bullied; not all of them are experiencing the violence that is anti-fatness. Using this as a moment to discuss bullying, while honorable, oversimplifies the deadliness of anti-fatness. More to the point, Phillip did not die due solely to being bullied; Phillip was murdered by anti-fatness. Sitting with and feeling that requires us to understand that his death did not happen in a vacuum, but rather that it is part of a much larger issue that must be eradicated on systemic, cultural, and interpersonal levels.

Whether you are a parent, a guidance counselor, a social worker, a teacher, or just an adult who is walking the same earth as the rest of us, you should be familiarizing yourself with work by bell hooks and Sonya Renee Taylor around the ethics of love and radical love; work by Kiese Laymon and Roxane Gay around the fat Black body; work by Sabrina Strings and the genealogy of anti-fatness. Teach fat Black children that they are not in this world alone. That they are loved and cared for. That there is a lineage of fat Black people who have already done heavy lifting on their behalf.

With that, for any and all fat Black kids—or fat Black people, in general—who read this, I will leave you with this quote from a piece I wrote on abused fat Black children: “At an early age, fat Black kids are often shown that their bodies are worthy of being criminalized, that they don’t deserve life, and that abuse is what they must endure if they are to live… [but] this weighted body is neither a prison cell nor is it a death sentence; it is abundant life and it is deserving of all freedom.”