To My Community,
They say the United States is a free country, but it doesn’t feel like a free country. My voice, black people’s voices, are being ignored. It’s been that way for a long time and sadly, part of our community is no different.
Four years ago, when I was 13 years old and began to look more like a man than a child, I noticed some people staring at me in our community. When I would walk into a store, people’s demeanor would change, as they would move away or clamp up. They were and still are scared of me.
I knew then and I know now, it is because I am black. My grandparents taught me about the history in our neighborhood. We live close to Hough in Cleveland, Ohio. In July of 1966, there were riots known as the Hough Riots. Anger and violence overtook the community and my grandmother feared for our family’s safety.
Today, all over the country, we are seeing riots for the same reasons we did 54 years ago. Those reasons include racial inequality and police brutality.
When I saw the video of an officer killing George Floyd, I was hurt. The fact that a person could put their knee into someone’s neck for more than eight minutes and no one around them could do anything except film, hurt me.
As a young black man in this country, I am scared to go out into the world. I am terrified that I could walk outside and a white person could potentially walk past me and try to kill me. I am worried that if I get stopped for a traffic violation, I might not make it. I could get a ticket, or I could die.
Honestly, I am thankful to all of you who are protesting. Thank you for fighting for me and my future. But I also want to tell you violence and looting isn’t the way. The other night, I went to get some food and saw the national guard fly by with a police escort. I can’t help but wish our community and our nation would act a little more like my high school.
My class is the founding class of Campus International High School in Cleveland, Ohio. My classmates and I decided we wanted to set the tone of our campus for years to come. When I go to school, I see all different races. And unlike the world I am about to enter, kids in my class, regardless of race, all come together.
At my school, we take the time to get to know each other. We have real conversations and learn about each other’s lives. I have a lot of white friends and black friends. We hang out, talk, stay up-to-date on each other’s lives and make sure each of us is good. One time I felt stressed out about my grades and it was getting to me. My friend, who is white, called me up and gave me a pep talk.
He said, “Take your time, relax and let everything flow. You let everything flow and things will come back.”
He was there for me and his advice was just what I needed. Race doesn’t make a difference to us.
Also, at my school, we know how to work together. After several school shootings, we decided we wanted to take action. As a group, we agreed on a message and also on a method to create change. Together, we made signs and went to Washington, D.C., to protest. We walked down to Public Square in Cleveland and we attended school fairs. It wasn’t black kids or white kids voicing their opinion. Everybody spoke up.
We are lucky to have a good leader. Our teacher, Mr. Dutton, is white, but he connects with all of us. He wants to make sure we are all OK. He wants to make sure nobody is ever left out. Mr. Dutton stands up for all of us, which has made me realize racism isn’t blacks against whites; it’s non-racists against racists.
If my grandparents were still alive, they would be so disappointed that their grandson, me, 54 years after the Hough Riots, still has a target on his back.
Just like my class is setting the tone for our school, it’s time for this generation to set a new tone for our country.
Violence won’t help. We want people to hear our words instead of criticizing, or even laughing, at our actions.
I am proud of my class, what we stand for and how we treat each other. And I want the same for my community and my country.
When I walk into a store, I don’t want anyone to be scared of me. Instead, I want people to say hello. I am very friendly and I promise I am not going to harm anyone. Hopefully, no one will harm me either.
Right now, we are in a community and part of a nation that is hurting. These problems go deep into our history.
My school gives me hope that there is a way to begin to make it better.
See, the difference between my school and our country is that at Campus International High School when someone talks, no matter who they are, what their culture is or where they are from, we all take a moment to listen.
It’s time to stop hurting black people and start hearing black people.
My future, my life, depends on it.