I’m Black & I’m Proud

I’m Black and I’m Proud  /īm blak and īm proud/  phrase. – a phrase from James Brown’s 1968 song “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.” The song addresses the prejudice towards blacks in America, and the need for black empowerment.

Interview with Tre (Robert Coppage III)

Tell me about yourself. What’s your background?

So, okay, my name is Robert Coppage the third. I’m from Wyandotte County [Kansas]. I was born and raised here. I am an actor. I teach, I’m a teacher. And I’m an entrepreneur. And I’ve been acting forever, since I was a kid, professionally and I just realized recently how much of a passion I have for it.

Before I started acting full time as an adult, I was very heavily involved in ministry and missional work and so I was working with kids a lot and their families, and I did a lot of community work. So what I’ve learned to do now is bring those two together — bring in community work and my care for kids and people in general. Being able to inspire some creativity and just get some momentum behind kids reading books and using their imaginations and dreaming big and trying things, doing things.

And so that’s a little bit about me. Um… I got married when I was 19, I’m 28 now, and I had my son right before I turned 21. He’s 7. His name’s Kurij. And Khrystal Coppage is my partner. And, yeah, that’s a little bit about me.

How would you describe/define beauty?

Beauty in general is… it’s all relative, I believe. It’s like, you can find beauty in anything. So for me, like things that are natural and beautiful, you know, like, grass, trees, the wind, the sky, the clouds, the moon, and all of those things, that’s very beautiful. And also people being natural and naturally themselves, doing natural things…crying, laughing, nurturing, helping, trying, failing…those types of things are something beautiful. But as far as, like, people are concerned, I feel like people are their most beautiful when they are their natural selves. And so to me, I think that where you find a lot of beauty is inside of passions.

“People being natural and naturally themselves, doing natural things…crying, laughing, nurturing, helping, trying, failing…those types of things are something beautiful.”

How would you describe/define Black beauty? Black style?

It is like the ability to grow and adapt. That is what I’ve seen Black beauty as : The ability to move and do and allow all along the way, keep a sense of self, keep a sense of the heart or the soul.

How would you define or describe Black culture?

One of the first things that came to me is that James Brown song, Say it Loud. It just gives me a vision of some pride, some excitement, some joy, movement and like dance. Honestly, that’s what I think about when I think about Black people, Black culture, is that excitement that’s behind us and also the movements that our body does because of that excitement.

“Honestly, that’s what I think about when I think about Black people, Black culture, is that excitement that’s behind us and also the movements that our body does because of that excitement.”

What societal pressures do you feel because of your race?

So, like, I’m a self proclaimed sociologist and so I like to think of things as far as, you know, culture, subcultures, norms, societal norms…but then you’ve got those values on the smaller scale. So it’s like society, outside society, I’ve never felt the pressure to be anything except for, like, assimilated, right? I’ve got to fit in. I got to play the game in order to move ahead.

And, uh, I was able to go to schools outside of my district, to come into contact with a lot of different people, and I was able to just be a part of a lot of different things that let me see a lot of different people. But I’ve found most of the pressure, or anything like that, has come from inside of my culture –to be a certain way, to speak a certain way, to look a certain way, to think a certain way. And that that would be the society pressure that I’ve felt. And sometimes it is because of the outside society that has infiltrated our culture and our way of life. It’s like…you got to make sure that your pants are up. You gotta make sure that you don’t listen to your music too loud. You gotta make sure that you pull over where there’s light and in public in order to not be killed by the police. You got to make sure that you aren’t too loud in public. You can’t say too much. You can’t do too much. Like, just don’t draw attention to yourself.

Why do you think Black people are so hard on themselves?

I feel like it was something that was ingrained in us. I mean, this is how we have survived for so long and this is what the successful ones who look like us, this is what they did. So we need to quickly jump on board with that, jump on board at least just to survive. I feel like it was very much forced on us at one time to the point where…because it was forced on us so much, we have adapted to it and started to force it on ourselves. Even after some might say everybody else was doing it, now we’re the ones doing it to ourselves as one of those survival tactics.

Have you ever experienced of racism or discrimination? If so, any stories you would be willing to share?

Yeah, for sure. That has been a thing since, you know, forever. I mean, even if you go as light as you somebody who’s another nationality or culture…whether they’re white, they’re Mexican, or Asian, or whatever….and they’ll come up to you — especially growing up in the 90s — they’ll come up to you and be like, Yo, what up? Or, Hey, G or, you know, homeschool and biscuit…those types of things. Which, they’re called microaggressions now…but you know, at the time it was just, What the hell are you doing? Like, Why are you talking to me like that? You don’t talk to everybody else like that. Why are you assuming that I speak like that or that is what I would understand or respond to?

Going to something more heavy along the lines of growing up…. One time, going to a fast food place — myself, my uncle who’s about five years older than me, and my cousin who was about three or four years older than me — we’d go to this Wendy’s and we were in our car, at the drive through, and my cousin and the lady who worked there and got into some type of argument about her giving him his change back. Apparently she had taken some money that she thought was a different deal than what it was, or something. I don’t know. But he was like, you know, You thought that I gave you this, but I really gave you this, give me my change. So we weren’t moving until we got our change. Well, apparently they had called the police and she told them that we had a gun in the car. And so the police come up to us, it’s three cop cars that come up behind us, and in the three cop cars that come up behind us there’s a white man that comes out of one of the squad cars, a Black man comes out of the squad car, and then the last one is an Asian guy. And all the officers come up and they ask us to get out of the car. Then they have us put our hands up onto the car — and it’s raining outside at this point — And my uncle, I guess under all of the excitement or he was scared or whatever, he left his keys inside of the car and so we were locked out of the car after they didn’t find anything on us or in the car. And it was like, Yo, all of this was definitely not necessary. If the person, you know, made a mistake, they made a mistake. But why would three cop cars need to come up and pull kids out of the car and have us put our hands up on the cars and taken all of this time out of our day because we want food?

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

Number one. I’ve made a human being, which to me is still incredible and marvelous. Looking at my son is something that definitely makes me very proud. And then to see the changes that I’ve made in my life, that my real father was not ever able to take a hold of…You know, just changing an entire mentality and not being what I came from, but choosing to be something different. Respecting women, taking care of my responsibilities, and then taking care of my son, and then being creative at the same time, being able to have influence. Being able to be somebody that people, when they say my name, it makes them happy. You know, it brings joy or it makes them think of a person who has integrity, who follows through, or who works hard. Instead of having a reputation for damage, or violence, or anger, or fear. I give the opposite of fear, I give love.

So that’s something I’m really proud of. But also, just the work that I’ve done in my community for the people. Working with children — putting them up, helping them read books, helping them feel comfortable in themselves. Creating opportunities for not only myself, but other young people who want to pursue. I’ll always go 100% for people. And I’m really proud of just the person that I’m becoming.

There is the stereotype that Black fathers abandon their kids. However, you have made a clear goal to not let the stereotype impact parental duties. How did you navigate these parental ideologies? 

My mom, when I was younger, she used to make me say, I am a champion. I’m the best of the best. I can do anything through Christ, who gives me strength. And I’m a leader and not a follower. And those are the things that she literally made me say all the time. One time after watching the Lion King — there was this scene where Simba steps into his father’s footprint and his paw is smaller, but you know, it’s showing that he’s gonna step into it and be like him — I asked my mom, Hey, whose footsteps should I follow in? She was like, What are you talking about? I’m like, Should I follow your footsteps? Or follow my dad’s footsteps? And she was like, Make your own footsteps. And at that moment, I was little..I was a very young kid…under 10 for sure. And that’s when I made the decision to do things differently. To think things through and think about things all the way to the end. It’s one of the 48 Laws of Power, I know that now, but just have a plan. And then my dad, my real dad, he taught me a couple of things…but he used to tell me that I’m a champion. He would say what my mom told him to say to me, I’m a champion. I’m the best of the best. I can do anything. I’m a leader and not a follower. But then he went on to tell me like, if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. You know, he told me that and I remembered it. And then he also taught me about momentum. He taught me that once you are in movement, if you’re in motion, don’t slow down. Don’t slow your momentum because you won’t be able to hit as hard — and this was football, of course — they were like, You won’t be able to hit as hard. You’ll be receiving the impact instead of blowing through and being their impact. And so, I took that and made that a part of my everyday life. I quit football, but I made that a part of my everyday life. Like, I can be different and it’s okay to be different. As a matter of fact, you probably want to be different, it brings a different outcome. That has always been a motivating factor. And then of course, having a feeling like I’ve got to prove something — maybe not to everybody else, but to myself — that I can do whatever it is that I wanna do. I can want to do good things. I can want to do things that benefit and that other people will be able to benefit off of what I am no longer here. So those are some motivations for me to make my own ideas and ideals and create my own identity.

What advice would you give to your son at this moment in your life?

Love yourself enough to be honest with yourself. Enough to trust yourself. Enough to listen to yourself. Love yourself enough to do for yourself. Love yourself enough to create good boundaries for yourself. Love yourself enough to create a safe place within yourself. And then show other people what that looks like by loving them the same way that you love yourself. And..respect. Love, respect, and in God, those would be things that I would love to pass down to him right now. Because with that self love, comes everything else.

I mean, you’re going to work hard. You’re not going to be a quitter. You’re going to consider what you do and how it’ll affect you, but you’ll also think about how it’ll affect others. You’ll have integrity and you’ll make right decisions for yourself. That’s my assumption at this point, at least. Giving him a foundation of love will help translate into everything else that needs to happen.

“I can be different and it’s okay to be different. As a matter of fact, you probably want to be different, it brings a different outcome.”

What are your personal dreams?

For myself, I’d like to live to be an old man. I want to be somebody’s great grandfather. And I want to have set my generations up for success in terms of not needing to depend on anyone else, but being able to lend to people and help people and being able to be self sufficient and provide other things for other people and for their communities. I want to leave the impact of love, you know, everywhere that I go. I want to be the best version of myself. Even in my acting, I want to inspire kids especially, that will eventually turn into adults. I want to inspire them to be on the same type of way that I’m on, as far as the love is concerned and helping and considering each other and just being smart. I love reading books, so I’m a huge advocate for book reading and I’ll tell people to read.

I mean, in the end I guess…I just want to do some great things. I want to do films, which I mean I’ve already started, but I want to do some great ones. I want to be a part of some history. I want to do Broadway shows. I want to write. I want to, eventually, take up a leadership position in my own community, and help in even politically, eventually….maybe.

Whether it’s TV, Movies, Books, People… What has shaped your life and your perspective about the world?

There’s a book called As a Man Thinketh by James Allen. And it was basically a rip off of the scripture that, uh, I believe it was Jesus who said it, but it’s like, as a man thinks, so is he. And so it’s like, how you think is how you live. I mean, whatever’s going on in your head is what you are displaying out into the world and then whatever you are displaying to the world is what the world displays to you. Beneath the Surface, it’s basically the idea of what’s in your mind is a iceberg and people usually only see the top part, but beneath the surface the iceberg is actually bigger underwater than it is on top and those thoughts and those things are really matter the most. The Alchemist, which is by Paulo Coelho. That’s a great book that I read a few years ago that really stuck with me. The whole message of turning lead into gold. And how learning how to turn things into gold, that process actually turns you into gold. And so the search for gold actually takes you to becoming trash, but the search for becoming gold helps you to make more gold. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. The Game of Life and How it’s Played. The Bible.

But, movies… you know, any ‘90s hood movie. I grew up on a movie, Friday by Ice Cube. But I mean, all of those things helped me see regular people that look by me and people that I know and it was showing them in different types of environments, But I knew that they were actors so I always knew that I could do that…cause I would reenact them, I would act them out myself and I always wanted to do that.

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

For me… it would be art. Art is happening all around us 24/7. And a lot of Black people that I’ve come in contact with are missing out on it. They’re not connecting to it and a lot of the art is not accessible to them. And even then, they’re not interested in it because they are bogged down with surviving, you know, just making it. And it’s like they don’t have time to stop and see how beautiful the world is and what’s going on around them. How everything looks in their house, in their car… All of this started out as art. It was all created and designed and somebody’s idea at first. And because of that, our ideas are powerful. So that’s one thing that I feel like Black people are dealing with right now — just lack of connection to art. And I really want us to be able to connect to art and see how impactful it is and how much power art has to offer us.

“Art is happening all around us 24/7. And a lot of Black people that I’ve come in contact with are missing out on it. They’re not connecting to it and a lot of the art is not accessible to them.”

Why do you feel it’s important for Black kids to have access to art?

Art is literally life. And if you did not have access to art, that really limits where your ideas can go. It really limits how much you feel like you can create. If you feel like everyone else is doing all of it or you feel like somebody else will take care of it, then you won’t even put any types of thought or energy towards it. But there’s so many things that we can give answers to if we simply had access to that part of our brains and did not shut it down. Even from childhood, a lot of times we tell our kids things like, Sit down. Be quiet, Don’t be extra, Get out of the business. Or whatever. Just those small things, they limit us.

We feel like we have no expression. There is no point of expressing anything because it’s just going to get shut down anyways. And, I mean, largely because of that we’re not able to get to our full potential. You know, sometimes, athletes turn sport into art… think about Kobe Bryant. I mean the art of The Mamba Mentality is like…you think you can, so then you do. So imagine if there was a kid who liked to play with some science stuff and whatever, you know, he wanted to do these experiments and he wanted to try new things in the kitchen….You know, it can lead to something else. Your ideas…they connect and they bring you to other things.

It’s like, the more freedom that children have, the more freedom that we have as a people to express ourselves or to see our ideas come to life. The more we want to do, the more we’ll try to do. And it’ll bring answers to things like… Why is there such disconnect from rich neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods? Why are people getting out of school and not going to college? Why are people not trying to do this? Or not coming up with ways to heal ourselves, even?

So that there are people who dedicate their lives to healing and coming up with different medicines through plants, or whatever. Or coming up with different designs for buildings that are coming up with things that will actually help us save us. For example, we live in a place where tornadoes happen. Well if you live in a place where tornadoes happened, maybe one of our minds can come up with a type of building or a type of house – some type of structure – that makes it impossible for the tornadoes to do such and such. Or, if we live in a place where there’s snow, then maybe we can come up with a new design or a new idea for tires so that they won’t, you know, slide easily on ice that they’ll be able to do this and do that. Like…just the idea of it and being able to cultivate it and experiment…that leads to more greater things.

What are you dreams for society?

Honestly, I do not have one. I mean, I would hope that people help each other, you know. Um, I’m a Libra, I don’t know if that has anything to do with it, but I like balance, you know. And I feel like in order for us to appreciate some things, sometimes we have to also come into contact with the people who are against what we are for. In that we’re able to appreciate and cultivate and come up with even more ideas. So it’s like, I just want society to keep moving and don’t get hung up on today’s problems, or this or that. But just keep moving and keep growing and keep trying and keep going towards what you’re going towards, whether it’s something that helps the rest of society or hurts the rest of society. I just want people to be true to themselves, whoever they are. So that’s my hope for society, that they would just continue to do exactly what we do… which is just be human. But I would hope that we make it easier for ourselves. But you know, in that hope somebody is hoping the exact opposite…possibly because they make money off of it. But you know, that’s life, right? Push and pull.

How do we make progress on your dreams for society?

I’m going to quote one of my good friends, her name’s Alexis, and one thing that she told me was, you know, “Whatever brings you peace, pursue that.” That’s really something that I started to live by after I heard her say it. Like, I was already doing it but she put a name to it, she put a phrase to it, what I was doing. She was like, Find your peace. And that will be one thing that I would definitely say to everybody… just find your peace, your actual peace. Like what not necessarily makes you feel comfortable… What makes you feel satisfied. What makes you content? What makes you feel loved? What makes you have desires to do even more things? Like, what brings you peace? Peace is different for everybody. Peace looks different for everybody. But for you, specifically, focus on what brings you peace. Cause then you’ll make the world more peaceful. You’ll make your neighborhood more peaceful. You’ll make your job and workspace more peaceful. If you are continually searching for what brings you peace and actually being okay with being peaceful.

What advice would you give to other black people?

Take your power. Use your voice. Create. Think. Encourage. Empower others. Yeah, that would be my advice for Black people. I feel like we are a very strong people — in spirit, in mind, physically. And we can do some beautiful things. So just appreciate the beauty and appreciate the process that leads to the beauty. Because when you plant something in the ground, it doesn’t automatically become beautiful. It comes with work and time and rain and sometimes getting burned…you know, it comes with that. And then you can appreciate the beauty that comes out of it. So appreciating that whole process. That’s what I would tell Black people, appreciate the process. Like, we’re not all the way where we are wanting to be, obviously, but we are definitely headed towards it. And so looking at it in that way would help us.

What advice would you give to not black to help them understand the black experiences?

Read. It’s everywhere. It’s in books. It’s in newspapers. It’s in articles. It’s on television shows. I mean, it’s everywhere. Like, read and listen and empower and encourage and teach. Spread the word — not just to Black people. Don’t just talk to Black people, talk to white people, talk to Asians, talk to Mexican, talk to other people. Because honestly I feel like Black people, as far as the world goes, we are the collective group that is loved and hated the most. Like, if you’re going to have a feeling about somebody, it’s us. And you think that we’re lazy or you think that we’re dangerous or scary or, you know, loud, or super creative, or super talented, whatever it is…Like actually get to know individuals and be okay with the individual being the individual.

All Black people are not the same. You know, however many of us there are, we’re all that many differences. Like, we’re not the 12% of America, we are those individuals that make up that 12%. So treating us as individuals and listening to us as individuals. And, finding a way to not take advantage of your supremacy or your advantages that you have that we do not have, but finding a way to dismember those and really be an advocate for something besides yourself. And yeah, I mean, just, hear our voices.

Music is one of those things….It’s like one of the few barrier breakers that brings people together. Is there any way that we can take that music influence and spread it out to common situations?

I mean I think that’s happening more and more, especially with social media. I mean TikTok is huge and it’s all just goofy rap songs and White kids and Black and Indian and Asian….It’s all everything. And it’s all just because people want to do the things and people want to be seen, people want attention, and people want a community. It’s all the same stuff. So, that is going to continue to happen more and more and more. The more opportunities, the more platforms, and the more ways we have to share our experiences, the more that’s going to happen.

Staying on the music metaphor… How do you get somebody that traditionally doesn’t want to dance, to start dancing? How do we get people to learn about things they weren’t initially interested in?

I think there are a lot of tactics and I think that there are a lot of ways and I don’t think that there’s just one way. I think it’s just being and just seeing it out in the wild. Honestly, not so much bringing it to someone’s doorstep, but bringing it with you wherever you go, in a small dose. Because I find that people learn the best and people see and absorb the best when they weren’t even expecting it, when they weren’t being forced into something. When something just happens to land in their lap and then they have to digest it later on. And that might be in some sort of some sort of conversation, some sort of a get-together, might be out at a bar, might be out at a coffee shop, might be any sort of way. Experience is the best teacher of all time. As long as people get that experience naturally, I think that’s the best way.

Additional Information

Interview Date: February 24, 2020

Story posted on June 21, 2020

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