Talk Back

Keeping Young Black Men Alive & Hopeful

Four of my favorite people on this earth are Black. Not just Black, but “Most Likely to be Gunned Down for Being Black” Black. If a crime is committed and they’re walking in the vicinity, it’s a surefire bet they will be stopped and questioned by the police. One look at them equals justification for suspicion of illegal activities. For what reason? Because they are Black, male, and young.

These fit-the-profile people are my little brothers. Not little in the physical sense, as they all tower over my 5-foot-8 lanky frame. Little in the chronological sense as they’re younger than my 34 years: 28, 22, 21, and 20.

Like most Black sisters, mothers, grandmas, aunties, girlfriends, and wives, the news last week reignited fear that lay dormant but never dead. With the most recent killings of two African-American men by the police, we lost yet another layer of hope for the safety and security of our Black brothers, sons, grandsons, nephews, boyfriends, and husbands.

The deaths of Alton Sterling–pinned down and shot multiple times–and Philando Castile–shot multiple times in a routine traffic stop in the presence of his girlfriend’s young daughter–have squeezed our hearts and won’t let go. For me, it’s the heartbreaking scene of Alton Sterling’s 15-year-old son, who has an uncanny resemblance to my youngest brother, Markenzie, crying, “I want my daddy,” that I can’t get out of my head.

Not only had he lost his dad, but had he also lost all hope for his own future? Was he wondering if, at some point in the next 22 years, he would face the same morbid fate as his 37-year-old father?

With each new Alton, Philando, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, I wonder about the dwindling hope level of the young Black men and boys in this country. In my own life, I think first of my 22-year-old brother, Stanley. Why him? Because he is the kid that, even at his most disappointed, can always find the strength to believe that there’s something brighter on the horizon. Even when hurt, Stanley manages to keep seeing the good in this world; the good in people.

What do we do for the Stanleys in our lives?

How do we protect them from a world that insists on chipping away at their genuine belief of a better future? How do we help them fight against injustice without becoming bitter, resentful, and hateful? How do we protect the love that’s in their heart?

My answer is pray. I will continue to pray. And pray hard. God, who is love, did not create in us hate. That’s a human failing. I will pray that my righteous anger at this system built to be unfair and unjust to Black lives will not turn to hate towards the people who benefit most from its failings. I will pray to keep trusting that there are police officers – Black, White, and other – who are compassionate, caring, and live to honor their oath to serve and protect. It’s prayer that will give me the strength needed to keep believing these things are true. Otherwise, the more lives we lose like this; the more jaded I will become.

But I don’t ever want my cynicism to take away from Stanley’s certainty that change is possible. I don’t want to crush his trust in humanity. Because hate wins when the Stanleys in our lives lose their last shred of hope and faith.