Two portraits of Amir Hall and Nayan Mullings

Amir Hall

Major: English
Before Amherst, lived in: Trinidad and Tobago

Nayah Mullings

Major: Sociology and the Five College Certificate in African Studies
Before Amherst, lived in: Tanzania and Maryland 

On the idea of belonging:

Amir:  When I think belonging, I immediately thought of fitting, you know? I thought of family, yeah, but I was also interested in how we fit outside of that, because it’s kind of a given once you come into a family. I mean, it’s a privilege as well, but a lot of people aren’t afforded that. But you’re welcomed into a family with the idea that you’re going to fit in some way.

I also, I’m Christian, so I believe in God and fate, and all these things. Some friends fit within what I imagine is this trajectory that I’m walking in life. I knew right away I wanted to be friends with Nayah. So, one of the first signs was the laugh, and then the second sign was when she sucked her teeth one day in her room, which is something we do in Trinidad as well. I was like, “Excuse me,” because I didn’t know that people outside of that context also did it quite the same way. Since then, yeah, there are different ways in which she has fit into this trajectory that I’m living, and then I have been able to fit into her trajectory as well.  

Nayah: When I think about belonging, I think about being honored and celebrated, and loved, and supported, and challenged in my fullness. Amir’s someone who will do all of those things in my fullness, so taking in all of my identities, taking in all of the places, even though he doesn’t know everything I’ve been through in life or everything, every path that I’ve walked on. There’s a space for me in my fullness. He’s encompassing everything that I bring with me. I don’t have to leave some things at the door when I walk into his room. I can bring my full self. Yeah, that makes me feel like I belong.

Amir: When she says “walk into my room,” it’s actually me walking into hers.

Nayah: That’s true.

Amir:   All the time. When I walk into your room, there’s really never an intent. And then we end up staying there for hours sometimes. Like, I try to leave at least four times. Each visit ends in me saying, “All right, well, I have to go,” and then something else will start.

Nayah: Something comes up, yeah.

Amir:  Yeah. When I think about fullness, I think about moments like when we’re carrying certain things on the day-to-day, and then those meetings become places where those could exist and coexist somewhere. I would make space, so she would make space for the other to fill. Yeah.

Nayah: At Amherst, I think both about belonging and not belonging. There are definitely a lot of spaces where I feel like I do belong, like the ACSU, the African and Caribbean Students’ Union. That’s one space that’s specifically also for me, being both Tanzanian and Jamaican. When I realized there was a group surrounding African and Caribbean identity all in one place, it was like a gold mine.

And that place accepted my queerness and all of these other things that come along with who I am. That was one place that I felt, over the years, that I’ve belonged. Also, the QRC, the Queer Resource Center. I’ve worked there for my entire time at Amherst, and it’s a space that I’ve been able to make my own, but also been able to be in community with a lot of other people that I might not otherwise be in community with. That part around challenging and supporting, and advocating—like, that has really been, I think, at the core of my work in the QRC and how I’ve felt I belong there.

When I think about my time in Amherst and belonging at Amherst, I think mostly about those two spaces. The rest of Amherst, which is really broad and really vast ... I mean, I feel I don’t really have words about. I don’t know if that’s kind of strange.

There are things and institutions and structures that make me feel like I don’t belong. And, a lot of the time, I still feel some sense of belonging, because if I wasn’t at Amherst, I don’t know where I would be, just because I really have no idea where else I would be. It’s the only school I applied to, and I got in Early Decision, so there’s nowhere else but Amherst.

At least, right now. That’s going to change in a month, when I go to the Smith [College] School for Social Work. But, for the past four years, Amherst has really been the only place that I could see myself, that I could really envision myself. Even just that gives me a sense that I belong to Amherst in some way and Amherst does belong to me.

Amir:   I’m thinking about the conditions on which I feel like I belong, because an extroverted personality thrives here. People love that shit. So, like, in my freshman year, when I had the energy, I feel I was very welcome in all spaces that I walked into, which is an incredible privilege. I mean, in freshman year I was always just asking people questions, you know what I mean? I would just sit down, if I didn’t know you, I would be like, “Hey, what’s up?”—like, having conversations. I carry joy well and easily.

It became that I was welcome on the terms that I would be a particular person. For me, the struggle has been about sharing that idea of myself that I presented to people. Even though I am extroverted, there are times when I’m introverted and quiet and low-energy, and finding ways to insert that self into other spaces, which has been really difficult.

So far, the most comfortable spaces are really Nayah’s room or mine, for that person.

It’s because of people in my life like Nayah, who, I don’t know, just bring that in, and fortunately this body carries that, right? I want to share it with people, because I’ve been fortunate to have that shared with me and have genuine love, and care, and affection from people like Nayah shared with me, and so I’ve always felt like I had to disseminate that.

Yes, so that’s come in certain ways. It’s come with always having a smile on, even if I’m not happy at the moment, greeting people all the time even if it’s not necessary. You know, having conversations that I might not really be in the space to have, laughing when expected instead of when it’s funny, and that kind of thing. That’s how to keep up, even though it was novel, and the novelty of it fed my ability to carry that joy into certain spaces, and then cementing my identity within that.

On the experience of being photographed:

Nayah: While we were there, we were looking through some inspirational photos, or some photos for inspiration. There was one with two people, and so Maria asked me if there was anyone that I would be comfortable doing a two-person shoot with. So I texted Amir.

Amir: She texted me while I was in church. I was just trying to praise the Lord!

Nayah: If Amir didn’t work out, Maria and I also decided to pick up the flowers I got that day from the African and Caribbean Students’ Union’s Wave Your Flag event, for being an active member of the group. I got an award. That was kind of the one prop that we had, but that came about through our conversation. It wasn’t really planned prior to that. Yeah, so then, when we were shooting, we did some without the flowers, and then we decided to do some with the flowers. 

Amir:  We were against the flowers. Well, I was against the flowers.

Nayah: Yeah, I didn’t like them either, for a while. 

Amir:  It just looked like a prop—you know what I mean?

Nayah: Yeah, they were kind of random.

Amir:  Extraneous. Why did we go back to it?

Nayah: I don’t know. 

Amir:  It worked out. 

Nayah: It worked out. 

Amir:  In retrospect, after we got that photo when we were trying the flowers again, I was like, “Damn,” you know, “This one is it.” For me, I really enjoy that she is the center of that photo. I am kind of the accessory, because I’m pretty popular, so people see it the other way around. Sometimes they don’t see Nayah well enough. In reality, that’s literally our friendship. I think the flowers fit well to symbolize her incredible dedication not only to this club, but to other people in general—you know what I mean? It’s a symbolic thing that really came through—and it’s right by her heart in the picture.