Black Panther on Two Continents

I am fortunate. I am fortunate to be in South Africa at the moment and that Black Panther was released only nine days ago before I left the U.S.

I saw it in Michigan on Thursday, February 15 and I saw again in Port Elizabeth SA ten days later; I saw it today. Both viewings were sold out and there were some great similarities between each viewing – the laughter, the appreciation for “colonizer” jokes, and the excitement for whenever the Dora Milaje hopped on screen to fight!

In the US, I celebrated, watched through the eyes of a hopeful African-American, sitting alongside many Black people who enjoyed it just as I did. It was a community event! As the film paced on perfectly, I thought of my journey to South Africa. Would I have the same joy similar to that of T’Challa when he proclaimed “This never gets old.” as he passed through the cloaking shield? Would I be welcomed? Would I smile as he smiled and would others smile back at me like Shuri, Okoye, his mother Ramonda as he walked off the Vibranium Bugatti Spaceship? I walked out smiling ear to ear, proud of what I just witness and joyful for what was to come for me, so sure of what this journey would mean to me.

Like with many aspects of life, things are not as simple as they might seem and my journey has been much more complex. There have been joyful moments and celebrations while here, but there have also been moments of pain and heartbreak.

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In Port Elizabeth, I waited in a long line, decided to buy the ticket on my phone while waiting, and luckily, I purchased the last ticket. As soon as I received the confirmation email, the manager walked over to the cashiers and put up a “sold-out sign” over the Black Panther poster. I found my seat as the opening played. I was more excited to see it here than in the states for a variety of reasons, the most important being that this film seemed to mirror part of my story – born in the United States and traveling to Africa for the first time in my life.

As I sat there, I watched as an American, no more African than before. No less an outsider looking in, looking for a sense of belonging. Here, I watched through the eyes of Killmonger, with pain in my heart and frustration in my bones. Aching to know why Black People, and many people of color, suffer so much more than the rest of the world. Aching to find a solution, a way to deal with the rage and pain all the same.

As I watched Black Panther the second time, memories flashed through my eyes. “There’s about two billion people out there that could use your help.” (Semi-direct quote). Here in Port Elizabeth, I had the opportunity to visit a nearby “unofficial” settlement, Missionvale, a township community with more than 130,000 people unemployed, living in small homes, and experiencing a much harder life than I will ever know. All the while, “tourists (myself included)” ride through in a Mercedes Benz chartered bus and walk through a small community center taking photos of and selfies with “poor black children.” Infuriated by this, I lingered toward the back of the group silently. I was fortunate to steal a smile from a group of young children in green and orange school uniforms, who played with unending joy despite their circumstances. Three students double dutched, a small group of boys played their version of rugby, and I listened to two young girls read to each other on a bench, trading a printed book back and forth with short sentences on it. “Mom likes our house.” “Dad likes our house.”

I took no photos. I had not earned the right to plunder their community for my own gain. I wished not to steal anything more than the memories that were made by being present.

In that moment I saw my own community, which revealed to me a much deeper pain than I ever thought possible. One of the fellow conference goers, pulled me back and whispered, “Is this the liberation of South Africa?” It broke my heart. All I could think about was how little I’ve done to serve my own home, Detroit. “Is this the liberation of Detroit?” What can be done? What can I do? What can I give? How can I support what is already happening for the good of local people? How can we ensure that the people who suffer most still see themselves as valuable, as significant, as worthy of the beautiful humanity they already possess, when life has told them they are none of those things and less than human. How can I hold a mirror so they see themselves as whole people, as capable, as having something to offer, as having hope. In the small children, I saw hope, the innocence of having not be broken by the world. In the adults, I saw Kilmonger, hurting, angry, uncertain of how to change things for themselves, but willing to try anything.

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Will this feel like home?

This trip feels different. I’ve traveled to around the USA a bit, I’ve seen a few countries in Europe, but this one feels different. It feels heavier.

This journey, I imagine, will become a pillar in time for me – a moment that will forever be etched in my mind as a doorway back to something I lost generations ago. Many of you may have heard the narrative, become desensitized to it, and are maybe even tired of hearing about it. Slavery, Racism, Apartheid, Violence, Stolen Bodies, Broken Families, Erasure of Culture and Life. There is no path back to my historical roots beyond the connection I have to slavery. The idea of no connection or place of origin occupies such a large space in my mind. Some might believe it shouldn’t matter this much, but it does. My great-great grandmother, who I knew for several years, was one generation removed from slavery. I remember conversations with her and the closeness I felt to her – her powerful, yet calm voice, her tender but protective tones, her resolute strength and also her exhaustion. Her father was the son of a slaveowner.

This experience, this monumental moment to even fathom that there is some tie to Africa as a whole is earthshaking to me. The desire to see home as a place and a people pushes me to tears whenever I contemplate the moment that the plane touches down. I’ve reflected for weeks on how to put into words what landing in, setting foot on, and simply being in Africa will mean to me. I’m speaking of the diverse and rich continent – I’ll get to South Africa in a moment. I believe every Black person in the United States should have the opportunity to visit the continent, or wherever their true north points.

I’ve listened to and read stories of how “we” are descendants of kings and queens and yet much of our collective “life” here and other places has been defined by suffering and struggling and resilience and pain. I’ve searched for, and found, stories that champion our heritage, highlight our contributions to the world, and recognize and admire our beauty. Even I had to unlearn the lies I believed about my people. Even now, I am unlearning what I was socialized to believe, intentionally or unintentionally. Even now, I take responsibility for the change I want for myself.

As I wrestle with the memories and experiences and beliefs I’ve held, and unconsciously still hold, I know that this experience will be one that cracks open the last wall that I’ve built up to see my blackness as empty, and the rivers, waterfalls, and oceans will pour into me as though I cannot be filled and they will pour and pour and pour until I see my own reflection as beautiful as powerful as complex and as deeply human, deserving of every human right and dignities that should be afforded to all people. My blackness will no longer be equated with only fear and pain and worry and preoccupation and stress and anxiety and suffering. I will be all of myself, joyful, happy, passionate, intelligent, caring, human, vulnerable, hopeful, realistic, and much much more. I will acknowledge and appreciate the humanity of all other black people.

This confirmation that there is a place from which I originate is heavy, emotional, powerful, and still uncertain, especially because my journey takes me to South Africa, a place plagued by its own violences and vices, a place with its own heroes and champions, a place with its own complex history and challenges. I can say with certainty that I am open to the possibilities of what this could mean for me and many others. I’m open to how my perspective might change or how I’ll change after this experience. I’m hopeful that there is some remnant or lingering air of connection to those few hundred years ago and the experiences of the South African people less than a century ago. If I can’t have that, I will at the very least have Wakanda Forever.

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A Hope for 25

“25 seems young, but important.” – Evelyn Lauer

Turning 25 feels like a beginning. What are the clichés? Turing a new page. Starting a new chapter. I don’t know if it should feel as big as it does, but quite frankly it feels like it should be an important time in my life. When you’re five or six years old, meeting someone in their 20s felt like meeting someone who had been alive forever. You think, that’s so far away. I’ll never get to that point. I’ll be young forever. Then you wake up at 25 and realize just how ridiculous that notion was.

I find myself feeling a variety of things – excitement, joy, nostalgia, hopefulness, uncertainty, pride, and gratitude are among the few emotions that come to mind. The last 24 years have been full of experiences. I’ve traveled a little bit. I’ve gotten a few degrees. More important than both of those things, I’ve made some really important relationships and I’ve started going after my dreams. I’ve learned that the people are just as important as the experiences. In thinking about what I’ve experienced, all I can say is that I want more. 

Let me clarify. My curiosity is at an all-time high right now, which means that I have to be particular about how I spend my time. I’ve read a few books and a lot of blogs about the 20s, and how they are supposed to be building or learning years. So far, that’s exactly what they’ve been for me and I want it to stay that way. I want to go more places. I want to meet more people. I want to learn more. I want to learn so much about what I want in a career. I want to learn more about myself. I want to set more goals and achieve them. I want to learn more from my failures and mistakes. I want to spend more quality time with the people I care about. I want more time to clarify what I want more of. I want to become more disciplined. I want more opportunities to give something good to the world. I want to build toward contentment and satisfaction. 

In the same right, I want less. I want less external pressure to do things traditionally, conventionally, or within the “perceived” timeline of others. I want less stress. I want less laziness from myself. I want less fear. I want less wasted time. I want less baggage. I want less drama and unnecessary worry. I want less violence in the world, less suffering.

I’m fortunate to be in a position to get most of the things I want out of life at this point in time. With the tremendous support of others, I’ve laid a solid foundation from which to launch. So, here’s to the big 2-5 and all that’s coming with it.

An affirmation of the five things I want for myself beginning at 25:

  • Deeper, more meaningful relationships w/family, friends, and Maggie (in no particular order lol) 
  • A better quality of life (physical & mental health, meaningful experiences, quality time spent in new places, financial security, and pursuit of new learning opportunities)
  • A commitment to service, travel, and generosity with time, skills, and resources
  • Contributing to the betterment of humanity through work, word, and collaboration
  • Exploration and personal growth

 

Growing Pains #14: Curiosity

” I got, I got, I got, I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA.” – Kendrick Lamar

My passion for learning and having unique experiences has led me to some interesting places. Most importantly though, I’ve searched for the feeling of “home” for quite some time. In fact, it was something that claimed my attention until the summer of 2016. I’ve been fortunate to travel abroad a few times and build relationships with people from different pockets of the world. I traveled out of excitement and curiosity, but also because I was searching.

I spent the start of 2016 in Ireland. My friend Rachel and I decided to go to Ireland and parts of the UK and we ended up in Dublin for New Years. On one of our other days of traveling we decided to go out with some people from our hostel and we ended up meeting up with people from Montreal (Canada) and Geneva (Switzerland). We ended up walking back to our hostel with our new friends. We found out that they were both engineers on vacation and that they went to grad school together.

Grego, from Geneva but working in Burkina Faso, asked, “Where are you from?” I said the United States, and after recognizing confusion on his face, I asked did if he meant something else. He changed his question. “No, no, what is your origin?” He was speaking of my ethnicity. He was curious about my heritage, which sparked my curiosity as well. He had seen my features before, but not my complexion. He also displayed genuine curiosity when asking. My family always talked about our Black, Native American, and Irish roots, but I never really looked too much into it. His question prompted a mini-identity crisis, but in a positive way. I just gave a generic response, but that question stuck with me. What is your origin? (PS. It’s definitely a United States norm to explain your genetic make up to other people.)

The question carried me into this year. I decided to try the Ancestry DNA kit. I sent the package in and eagerly awaited the results. What is my origin? Where do I come from? One of the common statements that prominent black people in the US frequently use is that “we don’t know where we come from.” Because of slavery, we don’t have a definitive place to point back to and say “I am from X and this is My Culture.”

The day came when I received the email, and I would discover the direction in which I could travel to learn about my heritage. I take great pride in family heritage, generational stories, lessons, and ties to the past, but this gave me a place on a map, well a few places. I intend to visit most, if not all these places. I discovered my origin and no I’m curious to learn about the cultures and histories so I can better understand myself and the world.

My curiosity is at an all time high right now. I’ve loved learning all my life, but right now I have more access than I’ve ever had before. I have time and resources to have new experiences. I am in the mindset that possibilities are endless and that I can become more and more myself each day by peeling that the curtains back one by one. It is a privilege to have time and freedom to seek these things out. There are so many who don’t have that luxury, which is why I’m also compelled to make a better world for others through my work. I am living my best life right now, and it is only the beginning. The relationships, interests, jobs, and opportunities have aligned and continue to align in such a way that I get to do all that I want to do, which isn’t me saying that I can go and do anything I want. But instead, saying that I can choose. I can say no to the things I don’t want and yes to what I do want. I’ve found direction, but most of all, I’ve found home, in myself.

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The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skill, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #15: Authenticity will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #12: Reflections (i)

I am black. I own my blackness. I love my blackness. I love your blackness. I see my reflection. I see myself in the black community.  I see my blackness as valuable. I see my blackness as worthy and equally as important as all the other parts of me. I see your blackness as worthy and equally as important as all the other parts of you. I am happy. I am proud. I am thankful. I am who I am and that included my blackness. I reflect that into the world.

“I love myself.” – Kendrick Lamar

“I am my ancestors’ wildest dream.” – Ava Duvernay

The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skill, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #13: Mirrors will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #9: Space & The Escape

Solitude. Reflection. Silence. Empty Space. I crave it. I need it. I can’t operate without it. I attribute this to the way my mind works, but also always having people around as a child. I can’t process information in overstimulating environments. In crowded spaces, I check out. In busy or loud environments, I’m unfocused or hyper-focused on one thing. In moments characterized by loud sounds, lots of people, and conversation, I just take in all the information, noise, and movement around me or I take in none of it. I need empty space to find clarity. Sometimes, I even need to be outside because some spaces aren’t large enough. I need the entire sky to fill my thoughts.

The summer after sophomore year, I got all the solitude and silence I needed, two months worth of it. Not total solitude for two months, but I spent more time alone than I did with people. It may be my favorite summer. It was the perfect time to “restart” my life. I had time to grieve, process, learn, make sense of, and understand all that I had gone through and was going through. I just needed to stop creating distractions. I know myself very well now, but at that time I knew nothing about myself. I saw no reflections. I wasn’t trying to see any.

I learned the most important lesson about myself that summer. I learned how to learn about myself. It was a know thy self type of situation. I needed to learn how to be authentic. I went inward. I learned how to ask myself questions that I needed answers to, but may not have wanted. I learned how to be honest with myself about everything. I recognized myself for the first time and I was just lost. I was a black man (still a teenager at the time) who had grown to outwardly hate and avoid anyone who looked like me, thus hating myself. Feeling guilty and unsure of what to do next, I saw my reflection for the first time.

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When I had the space to think about it, I started to notice my behaviors. My unconscious actions that distanced me from other black people. I noticed that my unresolved frustrations and biases influenced how I built relationships. I spent what felt like all my life separating myself from other black people – intellectually, socially, emotionally, psychologically. I found ways to not see the mirror. The reflections were always present, but I chose not to see them. This was the first time I was seeing myself as a black man. How could I possible come clean about this? Who can I tell? How will they feel? What do I do now? What does it mean to be black? These questions left me wanting, but paralyzed by guilt and uncertainty. Critical reflection started me on a path toward self-love, but I’d need a few earthquakes to shake the path so I would move forward.

The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skill, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #10: Resentment will be up and ready for your reading.

 

Growing Pains #5: Resentment

Everywhere I turned, I saw someone to blame. Everywhere I turned, I saw someone who looked like me. Everywhere I turned, I pointed the finger. Everywhere I turned I saw no mirrors. Well, there were mirrors… I just didn’t see myself. I didn’t want to see myself.


*Context*

I saw being black as a detriment. I believed being black was a setback. I saw being white, and even non-black, as better. In school. At home. In the activities I participated in. In life. I saw myself as better because I believed I was “non-black”. I was “50%” this, “20%” that. The last thing I was, and most times by default, was black. I would only claim to be black because it was so obvious that I was. I didn’t want to be associated with blackness. I hated that part of my life. The black experience in the United States was, and still is, defined by struggle and suffering. More than that, it seemed like everyone around me was defined by struggle and suffering. You know how tired I was of hearing about and seeing struggling and suffering. You know the type of hopelessness that creates?! It’s all you see. It’s all you hear. It’s all around you. In not owning my blackness, I felt like I didn’t have to deal with it. I was 10 years old and exhausted from life. How does that happen?

Even now, it’s exhausting to always explain to people what’s going on and things like Black Lives Matter or systemic oppression. It’s exhausting to deal with systems that ruin lives everyday.  Eventually, I saw a way out – getting through middle school and high school as soon as possible. – *exhales after getting that out* (Scroll below for content.)


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*Content*

By the time I was in sixth grade, I changed schools five times. There was a cycle. Start over, make a few connections, change schools, start over, make a few connections, start over. My parents just wanted to find the best education for my brother and I, which meant trying schools out and seeing what happened. I just floated through school.

I was part of another environment that seemed to drain imagination and creativity rather than cultivate it. In sixth grade, I was testing two years higher in all subjects and my teacher brought up the discussion to promote me to the eighth grade. I WAS OVERJOYED. It was happening! I’d get to leave sooner than I thought. You can imagine the pride and joy I felt about having this opportunity.

After thinking about it, my parents declined. “I wasn’t socially ready to be in the classroom with eighth graders.” “I was already young for my grade and I wouldn’t be prepared for the changing environments.” I was devastated. I was defeated. I RESENTED THEM more than I ever had before. I couldn’t make lasting connections anywhere. School was failing me. I was fed up. I was a grudge holder. I was so damn tired. They took away the one chance I had to leave it all behind sooner than I anticipated. That chance was gone before I could even blink.

I shut down. I checked out. I didn’t even try. The same feelings of arrogance and disdain toward my peers came back around. My frustration and anger even reached my brother. Kyle and I would’ve been in the same grade. For the longest time, I thought my parents were trying to protect him. I took every opportunity to bring up being promoted publicly to jab at them and remind them that I was angry. I can never apologize enough for how vindictive I was.

*I want to be a parent some day, but it scares me. I can’t thank my parents enough for how they handled me as a child. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done in this situation. They just loved me through it. In hindsight, they made the absolutely right decision. There are so many things I would’ve missed had I moved on too early.

The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #6: Tipping Point will be up and ready for your reading.

Growing Pains #4: The Escape (Gymnastics and the Ocean)

Growing Pains #5 – The Escape

You’ve probably reached this point and have thought, “wow this guy’s childhood was rough.” We all have our rough spots, but my life was full of love. It took me some time to see it and appreciate it. It wasn’t all bad. In fact, there are bright spots that I reflect on now. I was a competitive gymnast in traditional gymnastics as well as trampoline and tumbling. (I’ve included links for trampoline and tumbling because people are less familiar with them.) I started at age four and rounded out my competitive journey at 17 before I left for college. Gymnastics gave me freedom. It was my escape.

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First National Competition. First National Championship. (It sounds cooler than it is. It was me and one another kid in the division. I only beat one person lol)

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I could spend hours in the gym. I wouldn’t even have practice and I’d want to be at the gym. It helped that my mom coached and eventually started her own team. There’s a certain level of peace you get from leaving the ground and just being still in the air for a moment. Yes, there’s the rush of trying newer, more difficult skills, but there is nothing like flying through the air detached from everything for a moment.

 

Our family vacations coincided with Nationals or the Junior Olympics. My favorite competitions happened in Florida and Virginia. I was near the ocean. Similar to the feeling of flying through the air detached, there’s nothing like the stillness beneath the waves in the ocean. I felt so much peace in the ocean. My life felt less chaotic, less loud, and less crowed. The ocean gave me rest and it always seemed to come at the perfect time.

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The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #5: Resentment will be up and ready for your reading.

 

Growing Pains #3: Space (The Beechdale House)

The Beechdale house was in my family for three generations. Decades of family history filled the walls. It is a four bedroom house. My favorite part of the house is the French doors that separated the living room from the dining room. Twenty-eight small windows filled each door. Anytime you entered either room, it felt like a grand entrance had to be made. There are seven stairs from the bottom floor to a landing with two windows that let light in halfway up to the top floor, and eight stairs followed upward after a short turn. The living room had three beautiful bay windows, a fireplace, and enough room for everyone. I loved that house. I didn’t love living in it.

There are plenty of happy moments. Like setting up my mom’s old gymnastics mats to have wrestling matches with my brother and our cousins in the living room or playing hide and seek in the dark with 10 people. Even family dinners at my grandmother’s victorian dining room table were very much enjoyed. Those happy moments will always be a prized possession. They also gave way to some of the pressure and anxiety I felt as a child.

I felt like I was suffocating more and more each day. I couldn’t wait to go in my room and shut the door. I just wanted to be left alone. I just wanted my one space. Everywhere you turned, despite having an immense amount of space, there seemed to be no room for anyone. Throughout my childhood and teenage years someone lived with us –  a cousin, an aunt, a family friend, another cousin… multiple people at the same time. Honestly, the list could go on. I didn’t fully understand the role poverty played in creating these circumstances. I didn’t know people chose between paying rent, buying food, or buying school supplies. I didn’t understand how difficult it must have been to ask for help. I just saw the people taking up space as a burden.

I resented my parents for always welcoming people in. I resented people who seemed to always lean on my parents in a way that took them away from me. At ten years old, I remember breaking down to my dad. We sat in our basement for what felt like hours. He asked over and over again, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Help me understand what you’re feeling. What’s wrong?” Each question landing on my ears the way a sledge hammer lands on a wall being knocked down. I searched for the answer with each question. I clawed deeper and deeper to find nothing. Uncontrollably, I responded “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t. I don’t know.” With tears pouring down my face “I DON’T KNOW!” I didn’t have the words to communicate what was crushing me. We left that that moment unresolved, hanging over us like a storm cloud. A few weeks later, I went to a few therapy sessions and it helped a lot. All I wanted was my family. (GET HELP IF YOU NEED IT! THERE IS NO SHAME IN TALKING TO SOMEONE.)

Even to this day, I am very selective of who gets to meet my family. The few people who have met my family have done so mostly because of circumstance. It has absolutely nothing to do with me not wanting people I care about to meet my family. It’s more so about privacy and separation. You see, I love people and I learned that from my parents first. The values my parents demonstrated were love, compassion, humility, and dignity for all. Give as people need. The values communicated by their actions became my core values. People are worthy of dignity and respect, regardless of their circumstances. It took so long for me to learn that.

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The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #4: Resentment will be up and ready for your reading.

 

Growing Pains #2: Where Do I Fit?

“It comes as a great shock around the age of five or six or seven to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you. It comes as a great shock to discover that Gary Cooper killing off the Indians, when you were rooting for Gary Cooper, that the Indians were you. It comes as a great shock to discover that the country which is your birthplace, and to which you owe your life and your identity, has not in its whole system of reality evolved any place for you.” – James Baldwin, novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic.

Quiet hallways. Cinderblock walls painted white with deep brown stripe painted to divide the top from the bottom. A sea of brown faces. No Mirrors.

I started to notice differences immediately. I couldn’t see myself in the people around me. At St. Mike’s, I couldn’t tell you the ethnic make-up of the class because it didn’t matter. I mean I didn’t know it mattered to me. When I arrived at Thomas Gist, there was a pronounced feeling of difference. I was different. I didn’t see myself as black. I saw everyone around me as black. I was the exception, which is why I was ahead of everyone else. Unconsciously, I thought myself better than others because I was different, and at the time different meant better to me.

I understood this difference to be “black people are less capable of achieving,” which is absolutely not the case. However, there was something more significant that was influencing my perspective – social class. At both St. Mike’s and Thomas Gist, messages of success, brilliance, and imagination were espoused weekly, if not daily. Each teacher communicated that we were all capable students and that we’d one day succeed in reaching our dreams. There was only one difference, a subtle one to a six year old – less resources. Without similar resources and support, I recognized the difference as being the result of the people and not the system around the people.

In unconsciously blaming the people around me, I struggled to make connections with students who were “so different” than me. I didn’t fit. I didn’t know how to build new relationships with other black kids. Martez was my only friend, which was probably a result of him looking like my cousin Josh. For those years, I was very much an outsider and very much alone. I became more introspective and unwilling to interact with others. A quiet second and third grader found himself trying to understand why he felt so alone.

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Martez is in the front row and to the right of me.  He is wearing a gray shirt, black pants, and black/white tie.

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The Growing Pains series will continue each day until the full story is shared. It is an honest look at how socialization, poverty, changing circumstances, and perceptions influenced me to hate myself, my skin, and my community, but ultimately how authentic relationships, challenging questions, and a deep look inside helped me learn to love myself and love my people. You see, I’m black and I love it, but that wasn’t always the case. Check tomorrow for the next chapter – Growing Pains #3: Space will be up and ready for your reading.