I have been looking at the news coverage and for every city they mention, I realize that living in the nation’s capital has given me the opportunity to meet people of all types from all over this country and the globe, and how fortunate I have been to not be siloed away from “others.”
I know former DC residents that have moved (or are originally) from Atlanta, Boston, Richmond, NYC, Seattle, LA, etc. They are of different races, faiths, education levels and political affiliations. They have challenged, supported and inspired me, and I believe I have returned the favor.
That’s the value of diversity for me: seeing people as whole, actualized beings with similar values.
When my sister and I were in elementary school in PA, on more than one occasion my father would be pulled over by cops at a speed trap a few streets before the building.
Each time he got pulled over it was something different. A turn signal, a busted light, etc. Basically, it was a nuisance toll he had to pay before continuing on with his day.
Dad had just gotten a job as an insurance adjuster, and he went from janitorial work to wearing a suit everyday, and that glow up filled me with such pride.
We had one car. My mom would wake us up at 4:30am, and we’d drive an hour plus to her job, and back so that my dad could drop us off at school before heading to his job.
We made that ride for a few years before they were able to get another car, but this is one of my earliest memories: Sacrifice, and us being a united front, achieving a goal.
So at 7:30am, he would be on the side of the road as people rode past our car, gawking (or at least I felt stared at). After ten minutes or so, my dad would tell me to hold my sister’s hand and he’d watch us walk into the school. Before we departed the car, he would always say, “I will be here at 2:30pm.”
So I would leave him, not knowing if what he said was true, and in the time before cell phones and email, I would spend my day wondering if he would keep his word. Not focusing on my studies. Not being a child.
Learning how to be anxious around police.
Thankfully, he would always return. In a life of regular indignities, he stomached humiliation and stress just to try to give me a shot at having more than he had.
I have never forgotten it, and if you have seen my life, you know I am a humble servant, and I try my damnedest to be kind to everyone I encounter.
And yet, even I was held at gunpoint by police and had my father’s car illegally searched when I was freshly 16 years old outside of our development in Bear, DE for “fitting a description.”
Had it not been for a neighbor who rushed to the house to tell my parents I was being detained, I could have been a hashtag before a hashtag, just for being in a neighborhood someone else determined I shouldn’t have been.
I once was driving back to DE from Philly with two white girlfriends when I was pulled over at the border. The cop walked over to the passenger side window and asked if the ladies “were alright with me,” before telling me to “get these girls home now.”
I could go on with at least three more stories, but I have tried my best to be my best, and what I see in the world is a reminder that at any given moment, someone can determine your worth and be your judge, jury and executioner. In spite of having a degree and appearing on TV, I still have to suffer daily indignities: people clutching their purses or checking for the placement of their wallet as I pass on the street minding my own business.
And just to be sure, social media will provide my feed with any number of videos of brutality against Black men, women, and the LGBT community to let me know at all times that I am not safe either.
There is no “woe is me” here. This is the life God afforded me, but my “free” looks little like your “free,” and we’d all be better if we were able to step into each other’s shoes. I was raised to question everything, because my life depended on it. I didn’t have police buying lemonade, or rescuing kittens from a tree growing up but I truly believe every one of us wants the same thing at the end of the day: to make it home and to get a fair shake in life. That’s it. It is really that simple for any person on this planet.
I am horrified by our country right now, and the apathy of so many of our citizens.
But I am looking at the TV and I am not seeing aliens. I am seeing MY community, and they aren’t only Black people. I want us all to win. I want us all to survive. I want us all to thrive… but you can’t drive a car on three wheels. Lift up Black folks and I assure you, this country will rise from the ashes and be more than the advertising and slogans we have NEVER lived up to. Don’t let anyone else’s joy or hope be stolen. Don’t take anyone’s life for granted. Be as angry as we are, because this division tarnishes your quality of life too.
I am nothing special, believe me. I am far from perfect, or a “model minority.” I have a family of dynamic people just like “me.” I have Black friends and their families are just like “me.” Take a little time to learn about people like “me.” Your life will be richer for it.
Photo credit: Brett Sayles/Pexels