Today, I turn 34 years old. You and I both know what the world is going to ask me...
“Are you married?”
“Do you want to get married?”
“Do you want me to set you up with my cousin’s niece’s friend's nephew?”
“Do you have any kids?”
“Are you sure you want a career that requires so many hours?”
It seems like each birthday since age 27 the number of times I get these questions doubles.
Do you know that before I pull down my shirt and latch my baby to my breast my entire body tenses up? I brace for what you are about to say. I’ve checked out of the conversation. I’ve stopped eating my meal. I’m silently calming my panic because I know your eyes and mouth are about to come for me with insensitivity and sometimes cruelty.
A World Cup Junior champion, a Stanley Cup champion and an Olympic Gold Medalist, by most people’s standards, despite challenges, I achieved success in life through my hockey career. But I don’t believe I found true success until I encountered you.
You are only five years old but I keep having this recurring nightmare about your teenage years. In this nightmare, you are in New York City where we live with a bunch of other kids your age. The cops are questioning your friends, but they skip you. You tell everyone you have to get home. So, you dip out and head back as if nothing happened.
“Please, let out your emotions. Don’t hold them in.”
Those are words from a letter my friend and former Notre Dame football star George Atkinson III wrote just over a month ago to children who are struggling.
I had a choice to test for certain conditions when I was pregnant with my daughter, Amy, but I turned them down. My reasoning was that the results wouldn't matter to me one way or the other. I, of course, would love my child regardless. So, on June 27, 1994, the day I first touched my beautiful daughter, was the same day I found out that my baby had Down syndrome.
You are only three years old but I already know exactly what I want for each and every day of your life. Happiness. To be happy you need to love yourself. Despite the fact that the name Creed means a guiding principle, as a child, you follow by example, which is why I know for you to be happy, it is important that I am happy too.
There is a lot about you I do not know. You were secretive about many aspects of your life. We never talked about your hopes or your dreams. I am not sure what your life entailed before you had a family. And for a long time, Dad, I truly didn’t know if you loved me.
There are eight billion people in this world with all different politics, perspectives and opinions, leading to conflict, debate and at times, even violence.
But if all eight billion people woke up and said, “You know what, once a month I will do one act of kindness,” - that would change the status of the world.
At 14 years old, Clawdeena9 was what I called my YouTube channel as opposed to what I called myself. During that time, I was someone who felt angry and unheard. So, I grabbed a bottle of pills and took a handful. When I realized I regretted taking the pills, I told my sister and I was rushed to the hospital. I didn't attempt suicide because I wanted to die. I attempted suicide because I wanted the pain to stop. I wanted someone to hear me even though, like you, I was living in silence.
On my first day of kindergarten, we stood in a circle and said the Pledge of Allegiance. The teacher asked everyone to hold hands. When I reached out to my classmates, no one would touch me. No one would hold my hand. At five years old, I looked around the classroom and I immediately knew the reason. I was black and everyone else was white.
My phone started ringing. Text messages from friends across the country began to pile in. Then, I saw for myself. My f-bomb became a national story. While you may have read in the paper or on the internet about my gaff on air, what reporters didn’t write is that the f-Bomb wasn’t just a headline in the news, it was a breaking story in my life.
I was in so much pain and on so many pain killers, drugs and IVs that I just knew that I could not live that way any longer. While I didn't know what life was going to be like the agony of the situation far outweighed the fear of the unknown.
Please stay strong - stay strong and trust the process. Like you, I know what it is like to be in a low-income community, where there are not a lot of opportunities and there are a ton of broken homes. I know what it’s like to be taken from your parents to live with a family that’s not yours. It’s strange. As a kid, it’s hard to even understand what’s happening.
You, your husband (Dwyane Wade) along with Ciara and Russ Wilson are producing a movie about my life. It’s important to share my story because of the lessons I learned and the adversity I have overcome. However, most importantly, I want to bring justice, purpose, and understanding to my mother’s life and story, as well as peace and love to our ever-so-complex mother-son relationship.
Nearly four years ago, I was just a fan and one of your half-a-million Instagram followers. Nonetheless, I decided to sit down and write you a very long message. When I pressed send, I didn’t expect you to respond at all. My parents warned me not to get my hopes up. They explained to me that as an NBA player you probably receive hundreds of messages a day and my note would most likely get lost in the mix.
This is my first year as your head varsity basketball coach. During the summer I got the job to not only coach you, but to return to the conference that I competed in growing up. We will be going against my old coach, my alma mater and my nephew. The competitor in me can’t wait, as I have an innate drive to compete and to be the best at whatever it is I am pursuing. But as the season approaches and we come together as a team, I want you to know that as badly as I want to win, being a coach means so much more to me than accolades and titles.
You may have never met my son Mikey, but he too knew how it felt to be stuck in the hospital for days on end. He knew how it felt to be pricked with needles and pumped with medicine while other kids are at baseball or soccer practice.
Before I met you, I was 12-0, an undefeated professional boxer. I was featured in national Super Bowl commercials. My fights were in some of the world’s most famous arenas, including Madison Square Garden, Cowboys Stadium and MGM Grand in Las Vegas. I had fans and I had fame, which made me feel invincible.
You told young girls like me to make sure we wear makeup, do our hair and wear the perfect dress, while we wait for a guy to change our whole story. The women you told us about include Cinderella and Snow White. No offense to Snow White, but she just laid there until some guy kissed her and woke her up.
For a long time, I was hurting from your absence but deep down I always hoped some day we would repair our relationship. We share the same name and for a long time, that gave me a chip on my shoulder. You were a very good local athlete, who played football and baseball and ran track. I wanted my shoes to be bigger than yours.
Early in my rowing career, I was focused solely on improving myself and my abilities in order to excel. Now, my focus has somewhat shifted. With the 2020 Olympic Games less than eight months away and as I near the sunset of my elite rowing career, I’ve also begun to think about how I can help to improve the sport.
I remember the last thing I felt from you. It was your heels hitting the ground and then you went completely numb. I remember laying there and the trainers asking me if it was my head or my neck and could I feel this or could I feel that.
I have tried to thank you but you won’t let me. You don’t like the recognition. You are such an important part of my development, as it’s been your words and your wisdom that has shown me the way throughout my young life.
Family matters. Ever since I was little, my grandfather has talked to me about the important role education plays in our family. He went to college on the GI Bill, which helped veterans pay for tuition. Education brought so many amazing blessings to his life, including my grandmother, who probably wouldn’t have married him if he hadn’t gone to college
“Don’t get beat by a girl.”
That was the mentality you passed down to your sons simply by the way you treated me. You were the parents of players on the opposing teams. I heard the comments you made and the gossip that went around every time I stepped on the mound.
My brain protected me when you failed to do so. Nearly 60 years ago, when I was 13 years old, I saw Dr. Reginald Archibald. He was a Pediatric Endocrinologist recommended to parents who worried about their children not growing.
Before high school, my parents sat me down in the living room and told me I had autism. I didn’t even know what autism was at the time. But that’s when I learned about some of you, my earliest doubters.
When you were a baby Dad would wake up in the middle of the night and run down the street to the church and pray and pray and pray. All we wanted was hope but we could not find another child with similar circumstances to give us that hope.
Mama would always say, “You are never going to go up until you hit rock bottom because when you hit rock bottom there is nowhere else to go but up.”
Well, thanks partly to you, I hit rock bottom. But I didn’t stay there.
In my worst moments, I would ask myself, “Why me? Why did this happen to me?”
I was trying to be a good person. My faith was strong and I felt like I was on top of the world in every aspect. Why did my whole world just come crashing down?
Former University at Buffalo football star, Alex Neutz, writes an open letter to his one-year-old son about his past with addiction. He shares with his son the struggles he went through, the lessons he learned and how being a father has impacted him.
I am a comedian making a living uploading videos of funny sketches with me and a puppet.
When I look at it from the outside, sometimes I am like, “Hold up, this sh*t really worked?”
But the truth is I always believed. I just felt it.
I know exactly how you feel. When I was eight years old I didn’t feel good enough. I did not think I was cute. My best friend was skinnier than me and it was no secret. “Bigger boned” is what my parents would say about me when they jokingly compared me to my friend.
I used to have this recurring dream of a little girl sitting on the steps. I wondered why no one would rescue her.
Angela as a teenager with her oldest child
I would pray, telling God, “She needs help. She needs someone to come get her.”
You are the men who silenced me. You made me feel like I did something wrong. You made me think I was the little dirty whore in the community. I really thought I did this to myself. But in reality, it was all of you who did this to me.
I still remember the last words you ever spoke to me just before you passed away more than 20 years ago.
“Be happy,” you said.
As simple as those two words sound, they held so much weight at a time when I was just alive but not living life authentically.
Throughout the last four years I have seen someone get shot in the head. I have answered the call for stabbings and rapes. I recently responded to a call about an 11-year-old boy who was beaten up and killed. I have walked into a scene where a lady slashed her boyfriend’s stomach from the top all the way down to the bottom. It is hard to witness such crimes; but I still want to be here. In fact, when I graduated from the police academy in 2015 I chose to be here. I believe my purpose in life is to help the hopeless find hope.
To my sister with Down syndrome - thanks for showing me the way
I remember the day you were born like it was yesterday. Your dad, my step dad, pulled me and our brother to the side and told us you and your twin sister finally arrived. He then told us that you Ariel had a condition called Down syndrome. I was seven at the time so I questioned what Down syndrome actually meant. My step dad told me you were different. He told me people might make fun of you or laugh at you. As your big brothers, he asked us to watch out for you and take care of you. I have tried to guide you as best I can but as I look back it's actually you who has shown me the way.
I was completely out of my mind. One morning I had this psychotic break where I took a GoPro and violently threw it at my door and broke it. I felt high. I felt angry. I had flashes of feeling like a total monster. Concerned and frightened, my wife called my friend. He came to the house and they both took me to the emergency room because they thought I must be doing cocaine among other drugs.
You told me you’d never leave me. But you did. I know you were just looking for peace. Yet sometimes I’m so sick with grief and sadness that I’m mad. I am mad that you’re not here. I am mad that I’m alone. I am mad at every person, moment and unknown that contributed to you developing that horrifying disease that ultimately took you from me and from the world.
When I was young, like you, I was considered an at-risk youth. My family struggled to the point where there were nights that I went to bed hungry. But even though we didn’t have a lot of money or even a lot of food, I didn’t worry and I don’t want you to worry either.
I know if you were here right now you would pop me upside the head and say, “Boy, chin up, head up and keep going.”
But Mom, it hasn’t been easy.
You are the one who taught me about wins and losses in life, especially early on. We lived in gang neighborhoods in Los Angeles: first 52nd and Hoover and then we moved to 5th Avenue and 60th Street. We lacked money. We were a lower-class family in a tough environment.
I often interchange the words community and family. Communities should watch out for each other. Families should watch out for each other. Communities should help each other out. Families should help each other out.
I am now seven years removed from the last time you put your hands on me. Seven years ago my words to you would have been a lot different than they are now because I was really broken. A lot of your lies, a lot of your behavior, a lot of the things you said to me absolutely broke me. I trusted you. I really cared about you. I didn’t realize at the time how much the way you treated me negatively impacted me and my self-image.
It has been almost exactly four years since you died and there is not a day, not a second, that I don’t miss you. More than anything I just want to tell you that I love you. I vividly remember the day I lost you. Mom and I were holding your hands when you passed.