My biggest fear as a parent is that something will happen to my son that he can’t recover from. I think about who he would become if he were convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, if my husband or I died unexpectedly or if he were ever harmed as a result of racial profiling. My worries are just as endless as my desire to protect him, whether I’m alive or dead. I wrote this for my son.
I love you. I will always love you. I will always try to protect you, and I will always be proud of you because you are good. You are sweet and loving. I have so many hopes for you that there aren’t enough words to list them all, but I will try.
I hope you will celebrate who you are every day. I hope you let people see your heart and give them a chance to get to know you. They won’t always deserve it, but give of your self anyway. You are the greatest gift anyone could get. I hope you find someone to love who is worthy.
But this life thing is not all about love.
You have a responsibility to help others and to do unto them as you would have them do unto you. That should not be taken lightly, but deliberately.
You have to think about the kind of person you want to be. How do you want others to see you? How do you want them to treat you? Do you want to be taunted, bullied and taken advantage of at your weakest? Do you want to be lied to, beaten senselessly and stolen from? Do you want to be made to feel less than human, less than a man?
I know you don’t. No one does. I want you to have peace in your home, in your mind and heart, and that seldom comes from mistreating others.
I can’t promise you a fair world.
In fact, the world you live in will seem everything but fair at times. You might not get the apology you deserve, the promotion you worked for or the marriage you envisioned.
Because you are a black man, you won’t even get to cry or be angry in public without being seen as an immediate threat. That is unfair. I am so sorry, but let me fulfill any desire for an apology you may have.
Don’t attach your peace to someone else’s apology. It may never come, but you must have peace.
You are not allowed to give up on life, love or yourself.
You don’t get to wallow in your failures or to let how others mistreat you determine who you are and how you act.
You determine who you are, and that is the person you are when no one is looking.
Other people will be unkind. They will be jealous, vindictive and manipulative, but you are not them.
You are kind. You are brilliant, and you are beautiful.
Know that you can be anything you want to be in this world. But because you are tall, strong and black, people will use those attributes to place limits on you.
You are worth far more than they can envision for you. You are worth far more than you can envision for yourself.
Have faith that God has a plan for you greater than anyone can imagine. The only way to fulfill that destiny is through prayer and action. So dabble in every hobby and profession you can think of, and never pass up an opportunity to learn and create.
Do the things you are most afraid of.
Take that trip. Study that course. Start that business. Love that girl or boy. Push through fear. Push past it.
Your teachers may underestimate you. Your peers may overlook you, and police officers may mean you more harm than protection. But how others perceive you is not your reality.
Know who you are and what you stand for, and be true to that.
There’s no place for naivety for a black man in America.
Be aware of yourself and your surroundings. Always have an escape plan, and never break the law. Your white friends can afford to make childish mistakes. They can afford to get caught with weed or driving after drinking. They can afford to fight, mouth off to police officers and loiter without purpose. You can not, and know that every time you do, you are risking your life.
I don’t care if five police officers are beating you senselessly. Shield your vital organs to the best of your ability, but do not fight back. Do not bad mouth off. Do not lie or run.
This is about your survival, not your feelings.
You can feel later when you make it home safely to the people who love you.
In the meantime, be polite when interacting with police officers. Address every cop you come across as “ma’am” or “sir.”
If you ever start to feel like a suspect when police are questioning you, ask if you are under arrest or free to leave. If you are arrested, don’t answer any question beyond your name and address without your guardian and attorney present.
Say: “I would like to remain silent, sir.”
Request your one phone call when you are booked.
Do not consent to a search of your car or home without a warrant, and it may not always seem like officers are preparing to do a search. They may simply ask to come in. Say: “I would rather we talked in front of the house, sir.”
You don’t have to say why. Say: “That’s simply my preference, ma’am.”
If you feel you’ve been racially profiled, memorize the officer’s badge number, but say nothing about it on the scene.
I know this may feel like a lot, but it is vitally important that you know this. Practice it, and prepare to hide your emotions. Push them down when dealing with cops because your anger, frustration or fear won’t serve you in those moments. Only your knowledge will.
If a cop stops you while you’re driving, quickly and inconspicuously tap your phone on to record before the cop gets to your car. Then, keep both hands on the wheel at all times.
Announce every movement before you make it.
Ask is it OK to reach in your glove compartment to get your registration. Ask if it is OK to get your wallet out of your pocket.
The officer may ask you if you know why he is stopping you. Always say “no sir” or “no ma’am,” and remember that is always the truth. You don’t really know why that officer is stopping you, so you can’t afford to make any assumptions.
Don’t argue or admit anything, no matter the situation.
If the officer asks if you are aware you were going 20 miles over the speed limit, say you were not aware. If the officer asks why you were speeding, say I wasn’t aware I was speeding.
If the officer asks what you observed after a robbery, say I would like my guardian to be present before I answer any questions.
Again, you never know why that officer is talking to you, and to some people, you will always be a suspect because of the way you look. It is not right, but it’s a truth you must prepare for.
I know you are not a criminal.
I know you do not break the law. You are the beautiful boy who giggles when I spin you around, but one day you will be a man. If I’m not around when that time comes, I want you to know how to survive, how to thrive and how to heal.
Save your money, yes, but also invest it.
Vary your investments, and plan for the future early.
Start building good credit early. Credit cards aren’t for buying lavish things you can’t afford. They are for building your credit and lengthening your credit history. Pay off your balances each month, but try not to close a credit card account. Lenders want to see that you have a long history of borrowing money and paying it back.
If you dabble in the business of lending money to friends and family, never lend what you can’t afford to lose. It is not your job to take care of girlfriends, friends or family financially or otherwise. It is your job to help them better themselves and to make sure you are improving in the process.
Don’t allow people to take from you without giving.
All they may have to give is laughter or praise, but that’s more than enough if they are good and honest people. You may become the people you spend the most time with, so always make sure they are good and honest.
Don’t invite people into your home who you don’t know. Your home is your place of peace. You must protect it because protecting it means protecting your sanity. It may be the only place you have to cry, yell, fall apart and calm down. Cherish it. Clean it and meditate in it.
The people you love won’t always bring you peace.
So you have to prioritize your own peace above all else. Don’t run to drugs or alcohol to avoid dealing with your feelings. Don’t have sex to avoid relationships. Do the hard work.
Be honest about your feelings and your intentions. That honesty may cause you to lose friends, family and acquaintances, but you can survive that.
Keep exercising. Keep reading. Keep eating.
Keep drinking water. Keep sleeping. Keep wearing condoms. Keep working. Keep praying.
You may be worn down and broken emotionally, but you need your body to work. You need your mind to work. You need peace.
Time will heal the rest.