Black Power Salute

Black Power Salute  /ˈblak ˈpau̇(-ə)r sə-ˈlüt/  slang. – the raised fist, or the clenched fist, is a symbol of solidarity and support. It is also used as a salute to express unity, strength, defiance, or resistance. See also. Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics, of the Black fisted afro-pick.

Interview with Patrick

Tell me about yourself. What’s your background?

My name is Patrick Lee Riley Jr. I was born in Kansas City, Missouri. I was born to Dionne and Patrick, Sr. Shortly after…I was, maybe, three, four — toddler ages — my dad, he decided to walk out on us… And it wasn’t so much that he walked out, when I think about it, but my mom kinda left him. He wasn’t a good guy at that time, you know…abusive and things like that. And my mom was young, she had me when she was 19. So I had a young Black mother, who had an abusive boyfriend, and she’s a single parent now. And we lived in the inner city of Kansas City, Missouri, off 37th street. That was kind of the foundation and really set the tone in my life. But, I stayed in Kansas City all my life…I’ve never left except when I went to go off to college.

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So, I grew up in Kansas City and I kind of lived a weird dichotomy in my life. I was in the streets and from the streets, but I was never “street”, if you will. Or, I wouldn’t be classified as “street”, I guess. I was always more into books and science and things like that. Although I was from the hood, I can remember people protecting me from certain things that will happen as far as being in gangs, getting in fights, dealing with guns and drugs, and all those things like that. They really looked out for me, in that sense. I never really understood why, but later in life, it kinda made sense. So we stayed in the hood, in the city, all the way up until I was in 10th grade and in 10th grade we moved out to South Kansas City, by Bannister Mall — Bannister Mall was still around at that time — and I started going to Hickman Mills and from there I started to be exposed to a different way of life. In South Kansas City, there were a few more opportunities. Better living too, as far as houses looked and things like that. So, it kind of opened up my mind to the possibility of some things that could be different if neighborhoods were different. That was the first time I started to notice how construction and architecture was different in different parts of Kansas City. I mean, I really started to realize that.

So I finished high school and went off to college, I went to Mizzou for a year. Lived the life that was just fast and not focused on anything but basketball and clubbing…and I ended up being on academic probation. Academic probation led to getting a letter that I couldn’t return unless I went to summer school. I decided not to go back and Mizzou and I started to pursue basketball. I grew up playing basketball — I played in high school and then I ended up playing again in college. And I bounced around a few different places. Was in Iowa…St. Louis for two years…then I landed in Nebraska for my final years of my undergraduate and the final year of my basketball career. I was in Peru, Nebraska at Peru State College. I had a lot of fun there and I was really good at basketball, but I tore my meniscus my senior year and was like a shell of who I really was. So, that was something that I had to battle and deal with.

I grew up not really knowing who I was as a man, because I had no father and a lot of my role models were dead or in jail or on TV, who I never could really meet, so I had to kind of figure things out on my own. And I had my grandfather, he was around, he was always there. But he wasn’t someone that would really sit and talk to you about your problems. He would just kinda tell you what not to do. And as I look back, those things were helpful, but it was not what I needed at that time. So I graduate college and 2013 with my Bachelor’s in Psychology and they have from there I come back to Kansas city and I’m living in Kansas city. I’m just working and things like that. I’m thinking about going into counseling and I ended up going to seminary — I go to a seminary to get my Master’s in Counseling. At this point, the Holy spirit has been tugging on my heart.

Now, about 2013, I gave my life to Christ. I started to feel that, you know, I was being called…to be much more than just some regular person attending church service every Sunday and going to Bible study on Wednesdays. In my journal, at the time, I started to feel something different for my life. I didn’t understand what it was, but it was revealed to me after much prayer and meditation over a period of three years. 2014 is when I started my master’s degree program in counseling. I started all that work and then close to the end of that counseling degree, when I’m almost finished, I get a call from my church and they tell me that there’s a pastoral residency position available and asked me, Was I interested in it? And you know, of course I said yes and with the demands of a full time ministry, I had to stop doing the counseling program and I just picked up with the Masters of Divinity, which is just the study of God. I was able to finish that and I graduated in may of 2019. So I started my residency in 2017 and I am still a pastoral resident at Macedonia Baptist Church.

Oh, I also want to mention that in the midst of that learning who I was, you know, I was a womanizer. I had a lot of issues with insecurities and used women as a coping mechanism, if you will, something just to make myself feel good about myself…get confidence. But I dealt with that and I had some very hard relationships and I learned some very hard lessons that hurt some people along the way. But once again, God being faithful, he sent me a beautiful young lady who I never thought that I would be with. She’s now my wife and come April, we’ll be married two years. And it’s been a blessing. It’s truly a blessing. That’s who I am.

“So all those things that happened…all the protection…God’s grace in his hand opened to me…was preparing me for the things that I am starting to see in do today so many years later.”

How would you define beauty?

Yeah, so beauty to me is a definition that I think is kind of multifaceted. I don’t think that it is necessarily a standard of dimensions and things that are like cookie cutter. Beauty transcends culture and race and it has many definitions. So for me… I’ll say beauty is how I view the world, how I see things, how I translate it in my mind. And as I’m thinking through that more, it’s kinda hard to define beauty…. But, beauty to me is natural and organic. And beauty comes from the heart and it comes from the master creator, meaning God. So, beauty is the essence of those things, I guess.

How would you define Black beauty? Black culture?

Black beauty is all shades, all colors, all sizes. Black is so beautiful. Black is, you know…there are some people that are so dark that you’d look at them and you’d say, Wow, look how rich their skin is, how it looks like it’s so vibrant or it’s like full of nutrients and things like that. So it’s like, Man, that’s that’s some beautiful Black skin, the color of like mahogany, or ebony. or, Brown, that’s beautiful. So Black beauty is in all things…Black leaders….and not just people, but I believe you can see the beauty of Black beauty in films in a way that a Black person may pull out the Black culture and the Black way of life in a movie or even in music.You can see the beauty of Blackness in music…the way that the cadence is, the tones, to phrases. Language is another way that you can see a beauty in Blackness, a Black beauty in it. Languages. I speak the dialect, the the slang, all those things are just culturally what Black beauty is. And, of course, you know, being a Black man, I believe it’s all Black is beautiful. You know, I don’t, I don’t care for a light skin / dark skin type thing…Black is Black and Black is beautiful and we have to encourage ourselves because Black has always been seen as bad, it’s been seen as negative….“White is right”, but Black is beautiful and from Black comes out things.

So, you grew up in a predominantly Black neighborhood… So, how did the culture impact you?

Yeah, so the thing that gives me joy about being Black and Blackness is the fact that we know our struggle…We know that we do struggle, but yet we stay together. We can see community. Now, there are some Blacks who are not together and it makes me sad, but through the struggle, we have persisted. And you can see a great sense of community amongst Black people in the midst of the block that has drug dealers on the block. And you know — right, wrong or indifferent — you have people who look out for those drug dealers, look out for that house, let them know, Hey, something was going on over at your house and I know what you’re doing,you shouldn’t be doing that. But you know, I’m looking out for you.

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Also another Blackness is how the Black church is the center of everything. And we are kind of drifting away from that now, but the Black church has always been a center of civil rights, education, and changes in the community — the Black church was always the hub or the spot where it all started. And those are the things that I like….the fact that we know that we have struggled, but yet we say, You know what? We’re persistent. We are resilient people. And that, to me, is the most amazing thing. Even in the 60s, after the Voting Act was passed, how we were allowed to vote, so many Blacks took advantage of the opportunities to learn and get education, not only on the jobs, but in schools. They took advantage of that and they said, I want to learn everything that I can learn. And that to me was like, Okay, you held us down for so long, but now we’re getting a chance. We’re gonna take advantage of it. And that is what I admire about Blackness.

“The Black church has always been a center of civil rights, education, and changes in the community — the Black church was always the hub or the spot where it all started. “

What societal pressures do you feel because of your race?

So I didn’t realize that there were pressures growing up, as far as what society had put on me. But, I felt it once I got to the 10th grade. Well, I realized that when I was in the 10th grade and look back on my life, there was pressure on me as a Black boy in a predominantly White school to be the best at basketball, to know all the best dances, to keep up with all the latest trends, and all the music that that came out at that time. So I was like that Black guy that knew everything and there were a few of us, not many, but that was the pressure in school…

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Society has put on me the pressures of trying to prove everybody wrong. I remember I’m walking through my life and thinking about my life and I used to have long dreadlocks. Now I’ve got a fade. I felt like I had to work extra hard to try to change the perception of what people thought about me when they looked at me. Sagging your pants was the style and it was what Black people did…right, wrong, or indifferent… And at times I would sag, but it’s like when I was around, I guess, “White society” or where I thought society was, I would have my pants up. I would walk upright. I would walk straight because I do not want to be judged and put in a box with the other Black people or how society sees Black people. I was told by my mom and my grandmother — who tried to protect me — that White people really don’t like Black people. Yeah, they’ll get along with them, but you have your place and that’s where you kind of need to stay. So I never wanted society to see me that way and I felt that pressure try to conform to what I thought was society. But in actuality it was kind of White society. So I was suppressing myself and who I was in order to not cause any, if you will, fear or discord amongst you know, society.

Have you ever experienced racism or discrimination?

Yes, I’ve experienced racism and discrimination before. My cousins and I… it was four of us…and we were on about 43rd and Montgall, if I remember correctly, which is just a block in the hood. We were walking from around the corner from one of our friend’s houses. We had just finished playing with Pokemon cards, you know, we’re kids, and we were just looking at our Pokemon cards. Next thing you know, a police car stops right in front of us and they get out yelling, screaming…you know guns drawn….Keep down. Get down… and, you know, screaming like that. We’re just kids. We’re kids…I think I was in fifth grade…and they told us that we matched the description of the people who were in the neighborhood and who were stealing and they put us in cuffs and we were all crying and things like that.

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And, you know, they were saying things like, Shut your Black a** up and, you know, just talking to us in a very, very negative way. And we were scared out of our minds. I honestly cannot remember how we got out of that situation. It was just like something happened and they left us alone… you know…. they didn’t, like, beat us….I mean, they were very aggressive and rough with us. It was all because we were Black and we fit whatever that description was…And we’re kids. We’re fourth and fifth graders, you know. And I just didn’t understand it at that time, but later I grew up and I said, Wow, that was racism and discrimination all based on the color of my skin.

So, how did this encounter with the cops impact your worldview?

Yeah, so for me it was the world…I mean, I guess I don’t know how much it changed me directly, I’m sure there was some subconscious and some subliminal things there, but more noticeably was the fact that I hated the police after that day. Prior to that, police officers would give out baseball cards…Man, I would always get baseball cards from police officers. But after that I hated the police and I never wanted to be around them or I’d get anxious and have anxiety when one would get behind my car.

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Whether I had my tags right, all my tail lights, and everything because I was afraid. I was learning about how police brutality worked. You know, I started to follow NWA later in life and I’m like, Why are they doing these songs about F*** the police? What’s that about? And I started reading more and it just built this hatred…I started to think about how the police organization got started — it was originally to catch slaves…and it started in the South — and how that transgressed and progressed to what it is now. Hatred just built up in me. So when I walked around, I was prepared at any point, if you will, to risk my life and if I had to fight a police officer because I felt like I had to defend myself from those who said they were to protect and serve. I felt like they weren’t protecting and serving me. So I was angry. I had anxiety. I just did not want them to be around me. I hated them. And, hate, it’s a strong word. I never used a word like that, but I hate it. Police officers and everything they stood for, to me, they were never good. And even to this day, I honestly have never called a police officer for anything. I don’t hate them now, but it’s just something that’s like, You know, you don’t, you don’t call the police, you deal with it yourself or call somebody else. And that affected me greatly.

“I felt like I had to defend myself from those who said they were to protect and serve. I felt like they weren’t protecting and serving me.”

How did you find people to not have disdain for the cops?

I’ll say this first, there was not to my knowledge until later in life any police officer that came and changed my perspective. You know, now on social media you’ll see videos of police officers playing basketball with kids in the neighborhood and see the stuff like that. That never happened for me. Nothing like that changed my perspective of how I felt about police officers. And I’m sure those things were happening, but I never allowed myself to really change.

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So, it wasn’t until I was maybe 23 or 24 years old that I started to really think about what it means to be a Christian and what it means to love people that don’t look like me. It took a while because, like I said…you grew up in the hood, you know not to call the police, you know that the police are not our friends and that they are the enemy. So now I have to erase this hood doctrine of who the police are in a short amount of time. I have to understand, as a new believer, why I shouldn’t hate the police. So I wrestled with that for even many years after that. And it wasn’t until maybe 26 or 27 that I was fully over that hate. And it really just came through having a few run ins with them…like traffic tickets and things like that. And nothing happened. And nothing happened. And then I started to build relationships with police officers. I would talk to them about different things and different struggles that they had. They would remind me that if I took that bad experience and I put a blanket statement over all cops, then I wasn’t fair to them. And…they didn’t use words like, you know, “blue lives matter” or stuff like that and their concepts and their terms weren’t geared to that. They were just really saying that, This is not fair to me, that they don’t deserve it. It’s the same thing with Black people. There’s a group of Black people that act a certain way and then all Black people get classified as that. And they said, that’s the same way. And this love of Christ..understanding that they’re my neighbor….and loving my neighbor. So it took time. And now I’m to the point where I’m at my church and I work very closely with our local district, which is one right down the street from us. And we partner with different things. One of my close friends, he’s a police officer and I’ve got a family member who was a police officer and I know many police now and I don’t have an issue with them or the organization, now.

Do I still hold true to how they started deeply rooted in the systematic inner workings of the police system and things like that? Oh yes. That’s not gonna change because that’s the reality. That’s a fact. And in a police department across the nation has never came out and said, Look, we know we started with slavery backgrounds and we know that there’s some things that we need to work on. They don’t say that. There’s not been an apology statement or anything like that. So it’s no recognition of and no acknowledgement of it. But what I have learned to do is understand that there are good cops and not every cop is bad.

What do you feel you have accomplished if your life? What are you proud of?

What I’m most proud of is honestly…I’ve got a little brother who is 15, and then besides myself — all the other males on my mom’s side of the family are no longer living, well, I have an uncle…outside of him… most of them, as far as intermediate family are no longer living — I am very proud of the accomplishments that God has used me for as far as my family members know Jesus Christ. They know Jesus Christ and they have a deeper relationship with him because God has used me from birth to now to be there for my family. And it’s weird to me when I get calls from my mom or my grandma or my aunts or cousins and they’re asking me for spiritual advice or life advice. And that is something that makes me proud.

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It makes me proud that I was able to transcend out of the hood and beat all these statistics that are against little Black boys and single parent homes. It makes me proud that I’m able to do that. It makes me proud that I have a chance to teach my children how to be Black, how to be proud, and how to not conform to White society. To recognize their Blackness and make others recognize their Blackness. Don’t settle for cop-outs like, I don’t see color. You know, I am proud that I get to be a part of my family’s life. I’m proud that I get to be a husband. I am proud that I get to lead people to Jesus Christ. I am proud that I just had these opportunities. I’m proud because I did not let my past struggles and failures and obstacles tear me down to the point where I gave up.

” It makes me proud that I have a chance to teach my children how to be Black, how to be proud, and how to not conform to White society. To recognize their Blackness and make others recognize their Blackness.”

Why should we lead with a lead with a perspective of love or compassion even to our enemies?

So, the first thing that comes to mind is, You’ll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar. So naturally, because everything in the narrative for Blacks had been that they are violent, that they rape our women, that they are animals, that they are a super predators….There have been many Black stereotypes of who we are naturally just based on the color of our skin. And, don’t be athletic, don’t be in shape, cause you immediately bring fear to the minds of officers or White people. And what happens when people are fearful is that they act irrationally. They get into either fight, flight, freeze. Most of the time police officers choose that fight response and they feel like they may be attacked, although it is not really that. So when I think about pursuing with love, let me say this, It’s not easy. It’s not easy at all. And it’s not something that I have perfected and it’s not something that will be perfected overnight.

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But when we lead with love, not only does it make better for reconciliation and better for relationships between whoever you hate, and you feel better as yourself. You can’t take in all that bitterness and that hate because then you don’t ever have a freedom of yourself, you’re not able to let go of some things. And it’s not wrong to get upset when we see injustices, but it should lead to, What can I do to change things? And I think that’s a problem with people who are filled with hate and people who are filled with love. People who are filled with hate and people are filled with love both ask the same question, What can I do to change this? But the people filled with hate leads to violence and rioting and looting and things like that. And the people who are filled with love leads to clergy or a group of people who meet with lawmakers and decision makers to make this better.Or how can I show love in my community? How can I say, You know what? Let me pray for this person. Let me forgive this person.

How can we make this better…and actually make some changes because we know that violence and looting and all that stuff like that, those are things that break the law. So we have broken a law and we are upset with the people who enforced the law. So now we are upset with the people who are going to come deal with us because we have broken a law. So it’s not logical that any good could come out of that. So operating out of hate is not beneficial. It’s an emotional trigger. And I’m not talking about my people…I love my people…but it’s rooted in ignorance. It’s rooted in ignorance because there’s a better way to do it. And if more people took the better way, then we’d be fine. Or let’s say you continue to hate these people, but you don’t have to act out in those ways of violence and looting and things that threaten any progress that can be made. You can hate them, but you can still act peacefully in the midst of them to get some things done. I think that that could happen as well. But, love covers a multitude of sins when it’s all said and done. First Peter 4:8: “Love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sin.” That is how I’ve gotten over it. I was terrible and I’m still terrible. You know, I just don’t struggle with the same things that I used to struggle with and God showed his infinite love for me — a messed up, raggedy, wretch. Why can’t I do that to somebody else? If I am getting that, I should dispense it out. That’s why I lead with love. And believers, we should leave with us.

What are your personal dreams?

I have big dreams. The biggest dream that I have is a desire to pastor a church. One day I would like to pastor a church…and not only a church, but I want to create a whole community of Christ centered services and hospitality. A community that has a hospital, you have counseling, you have community centers, you have apartments, senior living, you have schools, you have colleges, you have daycares. I mean, create a whole community — and I’m not saying that everybody is devout Christians, everybody can come –but the overarching thing is that when you come, you’re going to get loved on. It’s going to be hospitality. You’re going to feel that love of Jesus Christ. You’re going gonna feel the love of God. That is my dream to create that in the urban core. Now, I don’t know if it’s going to be the urban core of Kansas City…or whatever city it may be…but that’s the dream I want to create. It doesn’t even have to be all in the same neighborhood. I mean… in a city, in an urban core, I want to saturate that city or that area with the love of Jesus Christ and many services that the community needs, like a grocery store that has very good quality food in the middle of a food desert. That is my dream to provide whatever the community needs all for the sake of the gospel. That’s my dream.

What is one major problem minorities face that you would like to bring awareness to?

So, many problems…but, I think this is one problem that I want to bring awareness to, and nobody likes to talk about this…But taking accountability… we…Black people, many Black people are very quick to put their blame on someone else, but not take accountability for their actions or actions of past ancestors or different things. And I’m not saying that it’s right, I’m not saying it’s wrong…whatever happened. But at some point, if we are asking the oppressor — the majority or whoever they may be — to be held accountable, then we have to look inwardly and hold ourselves accountable to what we may or may not have done. And that is something hard and it’s not something that we want to do. So that, to me, is one of the biggest problems — we don’t hold each other accountable.

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And I want to mention another one…I think another one is that we don’t take care of things that we are given. So not only do we not hold ourselves accountable, but we ask for many things and some of these things are given to us. But we do not take care of them. And that can be homes and grocery stores and different things within our community that we vote for or lobby for. But once we get them, we tear them down, we depreciate the value of them, and things like that. And that furthers feeds into the stereotype that, you know, Black people can’t take care of nothing.

“I believe that it was never the intention for us to do things alone and there’s always a way to bring in community and bringing in partners in whatever that you’re doing. So it’s not a zero sum mentality. There’s enough for everyone.”

You mention accountability… But some might say that Black people aren’t to blame for the problems we’re facing. It didn’t start with us. Shouldn’t we focus on the outside oppressor issues instead of our Black communal challenges?

I have these conversations pretty often, and in these conversations most people think that it’s an either / or…Why is it not a both / and? Why is it not addressing what they did and also, in addressing thatm, we talk about accountability.

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Now when you address this whole slavery thing, they had a head start on us. Many, many years of head starts. And when we finally got some equality, everything’s already owned. So, I get it. However, when we had a chance — this is where the accountability comes in — because when things were starting to be made equal, with some things starting to get leveled out, the accountability came in then. And most people did not take advantage of that. So to me it’s not an either / or…it’s a both / and. Talk about what happened, talk about what they did, and talk about how we need to hold ourselves accountable and hold them accountable too…it’s a both / and.

I’m saying that it’s a two sided coin and in this conversation of race, Black people only talk about what the White people have done and it leaves us out. It’s like when I read autobiographies of certain people and I notice that somebody is not telling a complete truth when they tell some stories of controversy or something like that and they leave themselves and their dirt out of it. They just omit themselves from everything, like they were just all good. They don’t tell what they did, but they’ll talk about somebody else or talk about another situation. But it’s like, Well, you were a part of that, but they never mentioned that. So I’m not saying that Black people had a part to play in racism and not having equality and things like that. No, I’m not saying that at all. But what I am saying is that we had a part in not taking accountability for doing everything in our power to take advantage of the things…It gets kind of tricky, it’s based on circumstances. I can’t say that as a blanket statement cause there are just some things that are like planted in our neighborhoods for us to fail. You know, if you believe crack and drugs are planted in our neighborhoods for us to fail. And how in Kansas City on 18th and Vine, they put all the Blacks in one area to create a ghetto and had prostitutes and things like that prevalent and it’s like different things, alcohol, liquor stores, drugs in our communities for us to fail. So, it’s very tricky. But I will say to sum it all up… is that it’s both / and in that there are things that we can hold ourselves accountable for. But as far as how we got to where we are and things that we had no control over, we can’t hold ourselves accountable to those things that we had no control over.

Again… I feel like some one might say, ‘I’m trying to take care of me and mine. I don’t have time for society to figure it out.’ What are you thoughts on that type of response?

Yeah. So that’s another one of the problems that we as Black people have, but it’s a very selfish mentality. It’s a very “crabs in a bucket” type of mentality. It is called the zero sum mentality. People who have a zero sum mentality or this idea or concept is they feel like that is not enough for everyone, that only so many can get it and everybody else can not, whatever “it” is. It’s a zero sum mentality. And that is one of the things that are keeping us down as a community. We see how much the White dollar, compared to the Black dollar or the chinese dollar or the middle Eastern dollar, those types of things, how powerful they are. And then you read studies about how powerful the Black dollar could be if everybody came together. So it’s just like everybody wants to go get theirs, go get their own, and inherently there’s nothing wrong, but instead of creating a table and then moving a table, you should create a table big enough for other people to be there… find out ways that people can work together in unity and they can make this work.

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I can go on and on about this, but sometimes I even wonder if it’s kind of who will be the leader of these types of things? Who wants the recognition for these types of things? I’m going to get mine, because we were taught through music and songs. Not to pick on Drake or Trey Songz, but I used to listen to the song “Successful” and it said basically, Do it in private, don’t tell nobody what I’m doing and then just basically show up like I did it, and you know, like be a loner. We’re taught to be loners in order to be successful. I mean, there’s so many different ideologies. There’s so many different things from media and music that has influenced our minds where it feels like we cannot work together. But that’s not what is meant to be. We were created by God to be in community. Adam was by himself and yes, a woman was sent for him for procreation and other reasons, but the main thing was it’s not good for man to be alone. And I think that transcends through all the creation. That is not good for us to be alone. So us, alone trying to accomplish things and it will not get done. I believe that it was never the intention for us to do things alone and there’s always a way to bring in community and bringing in partners in whatever that you’re doing. So it’s not a zero sum mentality. There’s enough for everyone. And because many of us have that idea and that thought and that misconception you see a deterioration of the Black community, the Black life through generations.

What are you dreams for society?

My dream for society is equality. When I say equality, I mean complete equality. The same loans that a White person would get in a Prairie Village is the same loan that a Black person would get in Prairie Village. The same schools…the same attitudes and mindset…I would just like a total society of equality. And I can’t make anybody do anything that they don’t want to do. But if everything is equal and there’s completely a fair and equal playing field, then it’s up upon that person to create and do whatever they have to do. But right now the playing field is not equal, it’s not leveled. So everybody is everywhere. But for society, I just want it to be a level and an equal playing field. That’s my dream. And I would like to see for all to come back to the church. I do. I would like to see it all come back to the church because I cannot name one thing in this world that transcends God.

How do we make progress on your dreams for society?

First word that comes to my mind, forgiveness. That would be the first step. And forgiveness is admitting that you did something wrong and then treating that person as if they have not done anything to you. Once that forgiveness happens, I think that breaks down the barrier to start making those changes that need to happen in legislation and in society and all of those other changes that need to be made. And there’s a whole gambit of them. Total equality…I mean it would stretch across the board so far, so wide, so deep. But I believe, I believe one of the first steps is forgiveness. Admitting that there was a problem, really admitting it, and then forgiveness. Then treating people like they have done no wrong, and build on that relationship. That’s all a part of the reconciliation part.

“Be open to the awkwardness of building relationships amongst different races.”

What advice would you give to other Black people?

Read, read, read and then read some more. Read things you agree with, read things you do not agree with. Read about your history, learn who you are. First…often…early…soon…before anybody has a chance to tell you who you are. That’s my advice.

What advice would you give to non-Black individuals to help them understand the Black experiences?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong or when you don’t know. Be open to the awkwardness of building relationships amongst different races. Be open to the fact that whether you realize it or not, you have privilege. You have advantages in this life that come naturally based on the color of your skin that a minority, a Black person, does not have. So being available for change is the piece of advice I have.

One last question… You talked about your trials and tribulations growing up, how did you navigate thoughts of society thinking of you as a Black stereotype?

I always wanted to be totally opposite of the Black stereotypes. And I’m not sure when that happened and I’m not sure if it’s even something that I did intentionally. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had people always tell me, Man, you sound White. You’re proper. I mean, there were people who questioned my sexuality because of who I was as a proper speaking Black boy they questioned my sexuality. Your kid, he’s gonna grow up gay…My mother told me these type of things.

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So,I don’t know when I realized that I did not want to be the stereotype and I live my life according to that, but I did realize when I fell into that statistical number. It was the first time that I was at Mizzou and the first time being away, I got caught up in some stuff, hanging out with some people and I made some bad choices…And ended up going to jail. And when that door shut, I instantly thought to myself, I said, I have just become what I did not want to become. I have become a statistic going to jail at the age of 18. Black man going to jail by the age of 18. And I kept saying that over to myself. And it brought tears to my eyes, but at the same time I could not cry because I’m in jail with all these guys and all I know is that I cannot be seen as soft, I cannot be seen as weak.

Oh, and I can also recall saying that I’m not going to be like my dad. I had so much resentment towards him. I did everything not to be like him. He was abusive to women. I would never be abusive to women. He didn’t take care of his kids. I had kids out of wedlock, I take care of all my kids. Everything that he did, I did not do. So he would drink beer. I never drank beer. He sold drugs. I didn’t sell drugs. I wanted to, I thought about it, almost did it, but I didn’t do it because I had so much resentment for him. And I really should thank him for being a bad dad. I know that sounds weird, but if it wasn’t for him being as bad as he was as a father to me, I probably would have fallen into the things that he was doing. Because he wasn’t going to change, that was all he knew. He just knew how to go and grind and get it and hustle. Didn’t have education, didn’t have any other skills, personality, did not want to use none of that. He just knew how to go get it and grind. And if he had been just a little bit better, my mom would have let me spend more time with him and I probably would have not come out to be who I am. So that’s what I remember. I don’t remember intentionally asking myself, You know what? I’m not going to be a Black stereotype. I don’t remember that.

Additional Information

Interview Date: January 12, 2020

Day 24 — Story posted on February 23, 2020

U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos raise gloved hands skyward during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze for the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City, 1968. Photo by AP Photo.

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