Dear Jaye, CJ, & Cameron,
I’ve spent the last several hours sitting down trying to come up with the proper words to fully articulate how I’m feeling today. I am hurt, sad, frustrated, angry, and if I’m being completely honest, I’m scared. “Here we go again” is all I keep saying to myself. Here is yet another deplorable and senseless act of violence by two white men, captured on video, against an unarmed black man, who was simply jogging in his neighborhood. Boys, every time moments like this happen, the level of anxiety I feel as your father intensifies, because I never want to receive “that phone call” like the parents of Ahmaud Arbery received on that fateful day in February.
It brings me back to why I taught you guys how to drive the way I did. You remember, instead of focusing first on your speed, how you approach a turn, paying attention to your blind spots, we talked about the 6-step protocol for when you’re being pulled over by police: (1) if possible, pull over into a well-lit and fairly populated area, (2) keep your hands at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock on the stirring wheel, (3) while your hands are on the stirring wheel, have your driver’s license and insurance card in your hands before the officer gets there, (4) limit eye contact with the officer, (5) always respond “yes sir”, “no sir”, and (6) explain what you’re about to do before you do it.
As your father, I’ve always tried to be honest with all three of you about the ugliness of prejudice, discrimination, and racism in our country. However, at the same time, I’ve also tried to teach you guys the truth that the actions of one or a few does not represent the heart, feelings, or mindset of all. Hate and evil has no color, socio economic, or political affiliation. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…”, (Ephesians 6:12). Yes, you’re going to experience moments where people will pass negative judgement on you, and you will be presumed guilty. Yes, there will be moments when your limited privilege will be superseded by a greater privilege. Yes, there will be moments when you’re not allowed to love who you want to love because the color of your skin doesn’t meet the family requirement. However, in spite of these realities, don’t ever compromise your integrity, perpetuate any negative stereotypes, or feed into the divisive propaganda that is out there. Be change agents and hope dealers.
Always be proud of your rich heritage and culture, but don’t ever get it twisted; what will ultimately define you is your unwavering commitment to being young men of faith. You see, your ethnicity will present moments of limitations, but as sons of God, your spiritual benefits are endless. Also, my prayer for the three of you is that you will lead, love, and do life with people who may not look like you, but they have the same values, morals, ethics, and beliefs as you do. Never do life with someone just because they’re black. Do life with people because they’re living right.
You guys already know how fortunate I’ve been to have a dear friend, who doesn’t look like me, that I get to do real life with. I love the fact that you guys respect and admire him because of the father, husband, and leader he is. It’s super dope to me, that you’ve never referred to him as my white friend. But only as someone you guys love listening to and learning from! Like us, he finds these acts of senseless violence and racism just as disgusting as we do. He’s even having his own conversations with his son, like I’m having with you guys because his heart breaks over the fact that issues like this still exist. Boys, that’s the type of friend you want to have!
Through our relationship, we’ve both discovered that a lot of the ignorance and prejudice (with all people) that has plagued our country comes from two places: (1) hate and (2) having a single-story perspective. We both also wish that we did not have to have conversations to distinguish whose life matters and whose life doesn’t. That’s why my legacy to you is to challenge all three of you to not engage in frivolous social media rants or temporary moments of trending topics and emotionalism but sit down and have a conversation with people. Don’t take a defensive posture, take the posture where you want to help bring understanding, clarity, and insight with the hope to bring unity to our culture in the midst of dealing with moments like this.
My sons always remember that you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14). Therefore, unapologetically live a life where your faith screams loudly and you never settle for mediocrity. I believe with all my heart and soul, you three will be a catalyst for change. I speak that over each of your lives. But in order to do so, you must be willing to always see the best in people. Seek to be understood, not heard. Speak the truth in love. Never respond with feelings, only facts, and most importantly, let your faith be the filter through which you process everything. I love the three of you more than life itself. You guys are the very best parts of me. You’re my legacy.
Love, the proud father who adores you!
I write this with a heavy heart. I am confused and yet have clarity. I am caught off guard and yet not surprised. Another act of violence was committed against a young man in which his life was taken, just because of the color of his skin. He was jogging when two white men, a father and son, chased him down and murdered him in cold blood. The entire thing was captured on a camera phone. It went viral, and this is how most of us learned the name Ahmaud Arbery.
My son, we have lived a sheltered life, somewhat in a bubble, because we are white. You go for a jog most mornings on a public street; never once have I feared for your safety due to the color of your skin. Our whiteness gives us a privilege. I know you didn’t ask for it, neither did I, but nonetheless privilege we have been given because we are white in America. I emphasize this point to you because some of your closest friends, some of my closest friends, will never experience such freedom. And, so I feel I must define ‘white privilege’ for you since there are so many opinions in our culture concerning this phrase. It means that there is a benefit of the doubt, a positive assumption, made about you because you are white. People may assume you won’t steal something from a store, have drugs in your car, and never wonder if you are in the ‘wrong’ neighborhood, all because of your skin color.
I know this privilege, that you would be given the benefit of the doubt while others, your friends who are black, would have negative assumptions made about them, simply makes you sick in your stomach. I know you are torn inside because one of the men you look up to the most in life is a black man. To you he is simply a man of God that inspires you, challenges you, and loves you unconditionally. But Gabriel, there is a part of the world who sees him very differently. Those with a racist mindset do not judge him, to borrow a phrase from Dr. King, by the content of his character, but rather the color of his skin.
So, take all that frustration and anger and confusion and set it aside for just one moment to consider this: your black friends feel a pain, a hurt, an anger, a confusion, an indignation that you and I could never fully experience. Even the phrase in that sentence, ‘your black friends’, is a contradiction to the way our family sees people and it makes me sick to my stomach to write it that way. We’ve never taught you to think of friends in terms of ‘black’, ‘Hispanic’, ‘Asian’, and so on. Now consider one more idea: how difficult it must be for that man, who just happens to be black, that you look up to, who is also the father of three sons.
Son, this is not the world I wanted to give you. Honestly, there have been moments in my adult life where I thought we, as a society, were healthier than this. With that said, Gabriel don’t let a broken world break your spirit. Grow into a leader who refuses to compromise on issues such as racism, and who leads others to see the error of such unintelligent thinking. Be the type of leader who doesn’t see this as a problem “out there”. But rather, just as the story of Adam and Eve is the story of us all, likewise, we cannot be divorced from the evil narrative unfolding in present day. Realize that the toleration of evil in our culture reflects the tolerance of sin in our own lives. And we must never tolerate in our own lives the sin that Christ died for. It is only then that you can have a faith that leads to engage a culture, being the salt and light that Jesus once preached about.
Know that as long as God gives me a beating heart and breath in my lungs, I am praying for you. That you will be the kind of man who loves well and longs to see “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
I love you to the moon and back,
Your loving and proud father