Almost two years ago, I met a guy in a coffee shop on 14th Street. It was busy Summer day and I needed a little kick for what was sure to be an overwhelming trip to Trader Joes. The coffee shop is on the smaller side with minimal outside seating and on this particular day, it was overflowing with neighborhood hipsters and moms with Uppababy strollers. There was only one seat open and it was across from a tall, lanky black guy with those cool, clear glasses everyone has now. I asked him if I could sit down and he happily obliged. We sat in grateful silence for a few moments until I saw him journaling, which was what I was about to do myself. Our shared interest in writing led to a complex discussion about politics, education, upbringing, and race.
"This seat was open for almost an hour before you got here," he told me.
He went on to share how he had been the only black man in the establishment for a couple of hours and how he'd watched countless people look for tables to share but I was the first that asked for a seat at the table with him. There could be a number of reasons why this was but let's just call it 'curious' for now.
We sat for a little while longer, exchanged numbers and said we would do it again, though we didn't, until almost a year later. A new coffee shop, fresh conversation, and life updates led once again to the topic of race. I shared with him that despite my blackness and Howard University, degree I'd just finished a course on race literacy which had left me with a fresh perspective on race relations and a hopeful spirit surrounding racial conciliation in our country and world.
His demeanor immediately changed. He became cross and almost angry. He called me naive and revealed to me a snippet of his current mindset surrounding race and race relations as a black man in America:
"I feel like I'm walking through a narrow tunnel with just enough room for my shoulders and the walls of the tunnel are covered with shards of glass laced in poison...at this point, I don't see anything changing, I don't believe anything they(white people) say and all I can do at this point is survive in a world they have created."
I cried the second I got in my Uber that afternoon.
I was talking to my teenage brothers, who live in the predominantly white suburbs of North Carolina, about their experiences in recent years concerning, race, friendship, life etc. One of them shared that most people just have surface level conversation with him perhaps for fear of hitting a subject that they may have opposing views on. The other agreed and expanded saying:
'In the last year, I've witnessed a heightened level of ignorance. I think that many of the people who I associate with have families who support certain ideas and they are definitely on guard with what they have to say in regard to race because in my generation it's not cool to be racist. I know many white kids hang out with black kids but know that their views would definitely cause a disturbance in their social status and relationships.'
Here is what is on my heart for my little brothers, my big brothers, my Kingdom brothers, my brothas...
I always want to have conversation that is below the surface with you and the profound complexities of your mind never cease to amaze me. I see you trying to find your way through a homogeneous space that doesn't understand the colorful layers beneath your skin. I see you in my future and I want my children to be just like you. I see you in the coffee shop and in the security booth. I see you trying and succeeding at keeping your cool when you're upset, I know that your passion is sometimes misunderstood.
I always feel more comfortable when you're around. I love how you can lean your seat back so far and yet are completely in control of the car.
I think that the atmosphere shifts when you are vulnerable and honest. Please know that you have more self-control than you think. Understand that although you are a product of your experiences, your experiences do not have to keep you in bondage. You may look like your father but you are not required to live the life that he did, good or bad. If you've never seen anyone do what you believe you are destined to do, create the vision.
And if you ever feel like your back is against the wall, or that you are stuck in a tunnel covered in shards of glass, remember that true freedom is a gift that is available to all. Remember that I'm here for you and I always will be. I'll sit with you. I'll pray for you. I'll take a knee for you.
You are so very handsome and your life has always and will always matter to me.
I love you madly and I hope all your dreams come true.