THURSDAY, APRIL 26, 2018
To Our Youngest Son, Pierce on your 14th Birthday
Dear Pierce, Happy Birthday young brother! It is with a deep sense of gratitude and thankfulness that your Mom and I greet you on this special day. You are entering your 14th year of life! What an incredible joy it has been to see you go through your stages from a bouncing baby boy, to a curious and energetic toddler, to a little boy wanting to learn about everything to the thoughtful, compassionate, kind and amazing young man you have become. We have seen so many sides of you; an active member of The Dance Zone in Michigan, baseball player, basketball player, volleyball player, actor, usher, son, brother, uncle and nephew. You have already given us a floodgate of memories. I remember in our former church how you became so excited when you learned what certain people did and where they sat in the sanctuary. Your were about five years old. One Sunday you sat with the Deacons. The next Sunday you sat with the Trustees. The following Sunday you sat with the choir and then you asked if you could sit with me in the pulpit. I said, “Sure, why not?”
Your very nature is one of inquisitiveness. I could say a lot more but would not dream of embarrassing you in social media. What I want to do now, is simply offer a bit of advice as you reach an early plateau in your movement from being a black child towards becoming a black man, from being the coddled and adorable African American boy with friends of all shades and hues, to becoming an African American man in a world of people governed by stereotypes, racism and hatred all aimed in your direction. Some of this, you know already for what loving and caring African American parents do not carefully and cautiously take their sons and daughters to the side on their journey, to teach them some of the lessons of life? Your mother has taught you so many of the social graces and lessons that come so naturally to her. And I have attempted to share some spiritual and theological lessons as well. Of course, she and I often overlap where she teaches things of the spirit and theology, while I offer my own views on social lessons.
At fourteen, you are nearly 6’ tall and 180 pounds. You already have a mustache and side burns. From a distance you look like a man. People who don’t know you, society that has a projected perspective based upon placing you in a category, law enforcement officers, store owners, mall security, will all look at you and not see our 14 year old son. They will see a black male and place you in their bag containing all black males, which most likely will endanger you in one way or another. You will have to exercise greater care and caution as you go from home to school, from school to the YMCA, and even on your walk to the church or community center. You will have to be keenly aware and focused in how you respond to people- teachers, administrators, and police officers (to name a few). Because if others sense that you are being aggressive, or too forward, or anti-authority, they will feel it their appointed duty to “put you in your place.” African American men have become an endangered species. So many of us are buried in cemeteries before our time, in prisons and jails, or simply living as castoffs in a society that refuses to embrace the full extent of our humanity or the depth of our personhood.
People will see you and not see you. They will talk to you and not hear you. They will be in your space but have no interest in knowing you. To be a black man in America today, even at the age of 14, is to personify the ghostly reality of Ellison who writes, “I am an invisible man, simply because people refuse to see me.” You are going to encounter the ugliness of hatred and racism that will be aimed in your direction. You are going to be blamed for things you did not do. You are going to be accused of being something that you are not. But our prayer Pierce, is for you to know this going into your journey of manhood. Know it. Be aware of it. Prepare for it. So when it comes, you will not lose your mind or your life fighting against it. Know that this world is unfair and that it has stacked the odds against you. Know that people who are in positions of authority and power, often have hearts that are cold and cruel against black men. Others in authority and power may have warm and kind hearts, but are still representing a system and structure that is cold and cruel and against black men.
Pace yourself, son. Do not strive to dedicate your entire life towards fighting against injustice. Fight against injustice, don’t get me wrong. But at the same time, live your life. Enjoy yourself. Have fun. Travel. See the world. Fall in love. Find hobbies that will bring joy into your heart. Do everything in your power to refuse becoming “the angry black man.” Such anger will only harden your own heart and cause you enduring pain. At the same time, re-direct your anger down paths that will yield significant results. Be angry at unjust systems and then work to change them. Be angry at racists and make sure they possess no public office or influence. May your faith in God, the kindness of your heart and the goodness within you combine to give you courage in the face of opposition.
And Pierce, know that you have a well spring of support that is far too numerous for you to count. Your Mom and I will fight every evil power that exists to help, protect and guide you. Your family will do the same. Your extended family will do the same. The African American church will do the same. The African American community will do the same. And a great many of our family and friends who are white and other, will also do the same. As you reach this early level of manhood, know that there are legions who are with you and other Black young men just like you. No matter what the odds may be against you, there is no way that you can lose. Ultimately, God has your back. As do we all.
Now go and celebrate, enjoy, smile and laugh and be proud of your strong, beautiful, powerful, magnificent black self! You are a fearfully, wonderfully made, young Black man!
Mom and Dad