It’s time to listen to young black men and boys. The media pundits need to shut up. The politicians and community leaders, educators and youth workers need to sit down with black youth and hear their stories and then move to real action, with youth involvement and leadership.
Regardless of my adult readers’ opinions about the tragic events in Missouri and elsewhere across this nation, we all need to hear the pain of young people and respond to their anger and frustration. Young men, I get it that you feel under attack. And you deserve to speak, to protest, to cry out, and to rage against the oppression you experience. Black youth have a constitutional right to free speech, and to peacefully assemble and demonstrate, just like every other American citizen. And I say that, just like other Americans, you deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
To the young black men in my life, to my sons and my grandsons, to their peers, to my students, to my friends, to the sons of my friends and colleagues, to my neighbors, to the unknown youth standing at the bus stop, I hear you and I see you. Understand, not all of us are afraid of you.
Not all adults see you as criminals. We all don’t discount your perceptions and your stories of daily harassment by police and security guards and neighborhood watch patrols. We believe you, especially those of us who used to be young black men, just like you. Even with your swagger, your sometimes irreverent attitudes, your sagging pants and cocked caps on sideways, even with your loud music and your sometimes jarring slang, some of us do love you. And we defend your right to protest and to be heard.
We understand how hard it is to move about freely without being seen as a suspect. We get it that you feel that you are not given basic respect. We understand that you can barely get through your daily routine without any number of people you encounter ready to write you off without any reason other than their basic racial fears and contempt for youth. We get it that adult society needs to share more of its resources so that you have an equal shot at the American dream, to a decent job and education, to a future full of hope and possibility.
As an act of solidarity with you, I am posting pics of some young men I have had the privilege to work with and who agreed to pose for these photographs. All of these beautiful young brothers are portrayed through the crosshairs of a gun. That is intended to show in an artistic way that young black men are targeted and under assault and constant surveillance. Many of the models posed with exposed skin to symbolize the fragility and vulnerability of young black life. I show these unsettling images because I stand with young black men, and I want to call attention to your plight. I show these images to remind us all how precious and valuable you are. Each and every one of you.
As an African American father and grandfather, as a former black youth myself, as a foster care alum, as a transracial adoptee and member of a multiracial family, as an educator, and as an ally, I declare that I am on your side. I stand with you in your struggle for survival, for dignity, and for freedom.
I will close by saying this: You have the right to do whatever you need to do to defend yourself and protect yourself from unwanted and illegal harassment and profiling. You have the right to exist and to be free. Stay strong to survive. Live to fight another day.