My beloved son:
You are so smart, inquisitive and brave and now in your world of superheroes and wrestling action figures you are the master – you are in charge and you wield all the power. My heart breaks at the thought of you growing up and forgetting, or worse, relinquishing this power.
I know you are only 7 and right now you won’t understand much but I decided to pen this letter to you now, in an age where racial tensions are raging, in hopes that perhaps if you have an early understanding of the reality of the times, I could give you enough information to save your life.
I want you to have a healthy concept of the law. I don’t want to burden you with hatred for other races or contempt of police. I don’t want you carrying around a chip on your shoulder thus subconsciously making yourself a target. You are not a victim and no one is out to get you.
Nor do I want to excuse you from personal responsibility or accountability – whatever your choices are in life, you must accept the consequences. No one owes you anything.
That said, you are only seven now but eventually you will grow into a young black man.
And as a young black man, like Trayvon Martin you may wear hoodies.
Or, like Amadou Diallo it is quite likely you will carry a wallet.
Like Jordan Davis you may want to play your music loudly in your car. You may even jaywalk across the street like Mike Brown (because hey… everyone in New York jaywalks.)
Or more than likely you may make eye contact with a cop like Freddie Gray.
For all these seemingly inconsequential actions someone’s son died because they were black. And most of them – and so many others I don’t have room enough to name – died at the hands of the police. The very same police who, in your make believe world of cops and robbers, only exist to protect us from the bad guys.
So my beloved, if you should ever be in the unfortunate circumstance of being accosted by police (and more than likely you will). Just Stand. And it is critical that you know and understand this because you will inevitably cross paths with them and most will have already criminalized you simply because you are black.
Stop and slowly raise your hands where they can see them.
Talk quietly and respectfully. Yes sir, no sir.
Announce your moves if instructed to produce ID.
No sudden movements.
Do not resist.
Stand in your integrity Stand in your strength. Stand in the knowledge of who you are. Stand in the power of the God you serve.
As you are taught to do with all people be kind, be courteous, and be respectful and brave. Prove nothing. Just stand.
I know that it’s unfair that in this land of the free and home of the brave, a land founded on the principles of freedom and equality, that your actions should be dictated by another man’s perception of you. But your life may depend on it. And your life matters.
This may cause you anger. You have every right to be angry but you must exercise self-control. Anger has had a long history of bringing about change but it must be controlled and with purpose, directed ultimately to a greater good. Understand that courage doesn’t always roar but it is always relentless in its pursuit of justice. Stand so you can live to fight another day – in a more effective and meaningful way.
My son, this is not to say that all police are bad. I believe the majority are good, that most are genuinely committed to the law and to righteousness and that they risk their lives every day, not for selfish ambition, but to protect and to serve the good of humanity.
Nonetheless as it stands, you are a black man in America and for you “one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all,” may not always seem true.
Even so, see that you do not demonize the police as a whole. There are corrupt people everywhere – In politics, in church, in the schools, in the banks – just about anywhere where there are people there will be some who corrupt the integrity and mission of an institution out of the ugliness in their hearts. And for as long as the earth stands this will be our reality.
Over the course of your life you will come across many perverse people – people in your everyday experience who will discriminate against you simply because you are black. They will not know you. They will not give you a chance but they will have already made up their minds about who you are.
It will hurt you. But, my beloved, pay no mind to them. Their ignorance and hatred does not define or diminish you. Know that they just haven’t been loved enough and without love there is no light in them. The darkness in them must not extinguish your light. When you come across such people, bless them silently and walk away. It will be their loss, to miss out on your love, your brilliance, your deep philosophical musings about life, your wonderful sense of humor and the kind loving heart you have. You are a gift to the world and there will be people who celebrate you. Hang on to them and leave the rest behind.
As for the rest, we cannot make them love us. We cannot make them accept us. It is not nor shall it ever be our duty to change the way people feel about us. But we can fight our rights, we can fight for laws to protect us and we can refuse to be oppressed. We can educate ourselves, we can love them despite their small mindedness and we can grow and prosper so much so that our power and influence is undeniable. For hundreds of years our enslaved ancestors sacrificed their lives building this country. You have the inalienable right to prosper here.
We can make it so that a black President and black heads of state is no more an anomaly or something to celebrate – but the norm. We can band together, uplift one another, mentor those of us who are not so privileged and rise up in positions where we can make the way for others. Each one teach one.
Black people are beautiful people. Black people are strong resilient people. Like the Israelites in the days of Moses, the more they afflict us, the more we grow.
You are from a rich legacy of overcomers, barrier breakers, world changers and people who refused to accept the lot in life they had been assigned. People like Martin Luther King Jr, Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X and so many others who were not afraid to fight or to die for what they know they deserve.
Be proud of that legacy.
We have a black president now, but be not deceived. This is not a testament to how far America has come.
It is a testament to how far black people have come.
It is the testament of a people who will not be put in their place.
It is the testament of a people who, like their ancestors, refuse to be bound by other people’s notions of them.
My son, I pen you this letter now while nothing is impossible in your seven year old mind – not to frighten you – but to give you the information necessary to empower you. Knowledge is power. Regardless of the social challenges and racial barriers of this age, you have the power. Wield it wisely. Your life matters.